From Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter and the recent Bernie Sanders election campaign, voices speaking up against social inequality are inspiring new and important conversations across the country and around the world.
Acting on inequality is not limited to protests and political platforms. In fact, some of the most significant participants in the social inequality debate include academics and researchers with backgrounds in the sciences and humanities.
Professionals in fields as diverse as economics, anthropology, sociology, and epidemiology are coming together to assert the social sciences’ place in tackling the ‘inequality paradigm’—the pattern of widespread social inequality in modern times.
Here are three ways you can join in this important work with a social sciences education.
1. Study Inequality at the Personal Level in Social Sciences Courses
Inequality is often spoken of in broad terms and impersonal statistics, like Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99%” slogan and politicians’ focus on accountability for the “big banks.” Details of how forms of inequality impact the individual, often intimately and distinctly, are not always clear to see.
How do race, gender, sexual orientation, language, ethnicity, ability, and education play into these numbers and names? How do they intersect to elevate or diminish one’s experience of social inequality? According to social scientists like Mike Savage from the International Inequalities Institute, an important step toward understanding the inequality paradigm is to recognize and analyze these more personal and human aspects of the issues at hand.
Students in social sciences courses gather to consider important social issues at campus events
Studying questions of race, economic class, and other social qualifiers is usually classified as sociology, and studied alongside statistical sociology in social science curricula. By recognizing the intersectional complexities of social inequalities, you’ll be better equipped to grapple with their potential problems and solutions.
2. Closely Analyze Economic Explanations for Social Inequality
Why economic inequality has risen over the past 50 years—and whether it will continue to rise—is still a matter for debate. Recently, work from the French economist Thomas Piketty has popularized the historical study of inequality. His 2013 book Capital in the 21st Century tracks income distribution over 250 years, and finds that economic inequality has risen steadily. On the other hand, some economists believe that globally, inequality has actually decreased over the past 20 years, with individuals from poorer nations benefiting from globalization.
To be able to consider these arguments from all sides, understanding both popular theories and fringe ideas, you’ll need to develop finely-tuned critical thinking and analytical skills. You’ll be better equipped to study Piketty’s conclusions and the criticisms against him by critically engaging with foundational texts throughout your social science education courses. If you find that you’re passionate about reading primary texts related to economics, you can even choose to pursue economic research and analysis as a career after graduation. Your experience and expertise can help promote deeper understandings of social inequality’s financial roots.
3. Take Action on Inequality with Your Peers in Social Science Courses
At small liberal arts colleges like Shimer, students can put their knowledge and passion for social equality into practice through a range of volunteer and outreach initiatives. With your understandings of the complex intersectional and economic roots of inequality, you can choose to invest time and energy into initiatives that will truly make a positive difference in your community.
The final course Shimer’s social sciences students take is called Social Perspectives and Social Action. Here, they dissect conceptual frameworks and methodologies for taking informed, ethical action against social, racial, gender-based, and economic inequality.
Shimer students make blankets for Project Linus, a local initiative for children in need
With the valuable insight and experience that come from time at a small liberal arts college like ours, you can more effectively promote social justice and help puzzle out the inequality paradigm.
Are you ready to participate in this progress?
Visit Shimer to take your first social science courses.