Position and Power: Relational and Resource Inequality in America

How do ideas about what constitutes inequality shape policies designed to respond to inequality?

Applicants for our reducing inequality initiative often lack fully developed conceptualizations of inequality. Reeves will draw on his training in philosophy to develop a paper that examines how concepts of inequality are defined and used in contemporary scholarly and policy debates. He will also examine the relationship between relational and resource inequality. Relational inequality concerns how people are positioned in relation to one another and how they interact; this involves social capital and experiences of respect, discrimination, and exclusion. In contrast, resource inequality revolves around income, wealth, and education. Both relational and resource perspectives on inequality inform different policy approaches. A focus on resource inequality might encourage income transfers whereas a focus on relational inequality might encourage equal opportunities for youth. In some cases, policies designed to address resource inequalities have exacerbated relational inequalities. Reeves will provide illustrative examples of the conditions under which relational inequality can co-exist with resource inequality. Lastly, Reeves will draw on the social science and philosophical literatures about inequality to identify measures of relational inequality and the outcomes that related policies are designed to achieve. The paper will provide a resource to those developing better measures of relational inequality and demonstrate the importance of deeply conceptualizing inequality.

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