Global economic inequality is one of the most salient political issues of our time, and the current pandemic crisis has only reinforced existing disparities in income and wealth around the world. In the wake of the global financial crash of 2008, rising levels of inequality have also sparked renewed academic interest in the subject across various disciplines.

This course will give students a grounding in the interdisciplinary literature and will introduce them to recent historical research on the subject. In particular, it will take inspiration from Thomas Piketty’s latest work. In ‘Capital and Ideology’, Piketty has posited that existing levels and configurations of inequality in any society past and present have been rooted in underlying ‘inequality regimes’. Inequality regimes, in turn, are based on complex assemblages of ‘property regimes’ and ‘political regimes’, including ideological discourses and power relations that are subject to historical change.

In this course, we will test and build on Piketty’s analytical model to explore historical trajectories, causes, discourses and policies relating to both within-country and cross-country inequalities. To understand discussions of world poverty, development and inequality at the global and European level, we will take a transnational perspective and look at international organisations such as the UN or the EC/EU. We will pay particular attention to the transformative period since the 1970s and 1980s when an increasing number of societies around the world began to transition to the current ‘hyper-capitalist inequality regime’ (Piketty) on the back of deindustrialisation, the neoliberal turn and other socio-political processes. Throughout the course, special emphasis will be placed on theoretical concepts and statistical measurements that have guided political debates and public perceptions of economic inequality to the present day.

We will consider case studies from different world regions and take account of intersectional inequalities of race, class, and gender. In order to explore different historical angles to the themes of the course, we will approach the subject from various methodological perspectives, including social and economic history, intellectual history, cultural history, and the history of knowledge.

Semester: WiSe 2021/22