Global economic inequality is one of the most widely discussed political issues of our time, and we have more statistical knowledge about the gap between rich and poor at our disposal than ever before. Statistics have shaped popular understandings and political arguments in many ways. Most memorably perhaps, the figure of the top 1 per cent has galvanised public debates on social injustices as a global political metaphor popularised by the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. The current political interest is of fairly recent origin, though, and the global knowledge regime as we know it today has come a long way since the inception of official statistics on income and wealth distribution during the post-war era.

The course will historicise debates and epistemological practices in this field during the twentieth century. It will draw on scholarship from various disciplines, including economic and sociological research on trends in global economic inequality both within and between countries. Particular emphasis will be placed on the underlying statistics as social constructs with histories of their own. The genealogies and politics of inequality knowledge have been the subject of growing interdisciplinary scholarship in recent years. In the course, we will engage with this new research trend by studying the making of statistical knowledge and its uses in policy-planning and public debates. Methodologically, the course will present an opportunity for students to learn more about the history of knowledge as a thriving historical sub-discipline.

Semester: SuTerm 2020