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Eyes on the world: III research expands its focus

Global Inequality Observatory and Politics of Inequality research theme launched and two new theme convenors named

I am delighted to welcome Stephen Jenkins as Head of GIO and Ellen Helsper, Neil Lee and Alpa Shah as theme convenors, and to express my pleasure at Armine Ishkanian taking on an additional role as co-convenor of the Politics of Inequality theme.

Professor Francisco H.G. Ferreira

The International Inequalities Institute’s thematic, interdisciplinary and global approach to research into inequality continues to expand and evolve. As a fourth research theme is unveiled, new convenors will take over at the helm of two of the three III research themes announced in 2019. In addition, a Global Inequality Observatory aimed at monitoring inequality worldwide will launch in this academic year.

Politics of Inequality, a new III/AFSEE research theme, will be overseen by Professor Ellen Helsper of the Department of Media and Communications and Dr Armine Ishkanian, Executive Director of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme and Associate Professor in the Department of Social Policy.

The Global Inequality Observatory (GIO), a cross-cutting initiative based at the International Inequalities Institute that will intersect with all four research themes, will focus on income and wealth inequalities and their nature, causes and consequences around the world. The Observatory will be headed by Professor Stephen Jenkins, a world-renowned inequalities scholar based in LSE’s Department of Social Policy.

The III research theme Global Economies of Care gains a new convenor in Professor Alpa Shah (Department of Anthropology), with Professor Neil Lee (Department of Geography and the Environment) taking over leadership of the Jobs, Cities and Economic Change theme. Wealth, Elites and Tax Justice, which rounds out III’s complement of four research themes, will continue to be led by Professor Mike Savage, Martin White Professor of Sociology in LSE’s Department of Sociology and outgoing director of III.

Director-designate Francisco Ferreira: ‘Great scholarship, fresh perspectives’

Professor Francisco H.G. (Chico) Ferreira, the Institute’s Director-designate, said: “As a new, and particularly challenging, academic year begins, I am delighted to welcome Stephen Jenkins as Head of GIO and Ellen Helsper, Neil Lee and Alpa Shah as theme convenors, and to express my pleasure at Armine Ishkanian taking on an additional role as co-convenor of the Politics of Inequality theme.

“All five scholars have been longstanding supporters of the Institute, and I am grateful to them for taking on these positions of intellectual leadership in our research. All five bring great scholarship, fresh perspectives and lots of energy to the III.”

Professor Ferreira continued: “I would also like to thank David Soskice and Beverly Skeggs for their pioneering roles in leading the Jobs, Cities and Economic Change and Global Economies of Care themes during the themes’ first year. Both have had profound influence on the Institute, and I am very pleased that both plan to remain closely connected to our work.

“Finally, it is wonderful that Mike Savage will continue to lead the Wealth, Elites and Tax Justice theme into its next phase. As co-founder of the Institute, Mike deserves most of the credit for our achievements so far. The challenges of multifaceted, and often rising, inequalities are greater than ever, and I am grateful that we will benefit from Mike’s wisdom and energy in the years to come.”

The Global Inequality Observatory: world-spanning insights

In recent decades, advances in data-gathering and methods have allowed scholars to carry out research on income and wealth inequalities in all corners of the globe; to reach back further into history; and to document important trends.

The Global Inequality Observatory (GIO), set to launch later in the 2020-21 academic year, will bring together new and existing work by III affiliates and partners around the world on the nature, causes and consequences of these economic inequalities.

Professor Jenkins, who will lead the Observatory, said: “The combination of more and better data with a great deal of public interest make this a very exciting time for the rigorous study of income and wealth inequality – not only in the UK and Europe, but around the world. I look forward to working with III colleagues in this effort to make our coverage and understanding of inequality truly global.”

The Politics of Inequality: a joint III/AFSEE initiative

The Politics of Inequality’s work on economic and socio-cultural inequalities will consider resistance, mobilisation and contestation. Its research will have an international and comparative focus, and adopt an intersectional lens to explore how different vectors of identity shape and inform collective action and everyday forms of struggle. As a joint III/AFSEE research theme, it will actively engage the expertise of Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity.

According to Professor Helsper, the theme will focus on “how inequalities shape the lived experiences of ‘ordinary’ citizens in different contexts around the world. While it is interested in how inequalities are reproduced in everyday actions and discourse, it will be unique in its examination of how inequalities are resisted and contested. Our aim is to go beyond economic inequalities and consider civic, cultural and social inequalities. Bottom-up resistance to (and justification of) processes of political, civic and cultural disempowerment through classism, racism, sexism, ableism and homophobia will be central to its work.”

Global Inequalities of Care: studying ‘the crisis of our times’

Professor Shah, speaking on the Global Inequalities of Care theme, said: “If there is anything revealed by the global crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is how central a role care plays in global inequalities. This is not only a question of the decades of undervaluing our care workers (our health workers, our carers, our cleaners) or the stark ‘care inequalities’ faced by different communities across the world in access to care, but also how central care is for life itself. It is the question of the centrality of social reproduction – bringing up children, looking after the elderly, running households, educating, protecting the environment  – for the global economy and how under capitalism this care is so easily hidden and devalued.”

She added: “Care is the crisis of our times, and this theme will insist that we pay close attention to its significance. I’m delighted to be continuing the project that Professor Beverley Skeggs began, which is to put care at the heart of our understanding of inequalities.”

Jobs, Cities and Economic Change: tracing opportunity’s uneven geography

The theme Jobs, Cities and Economic Change, previously named Jobs, Cities and the Knowledge Economy, will focus on what Professor Lee, its new convenor, calls “the global challenge of the uneven geography of opportunity.

“Technological change has benefited major urban areas, with peripheral or rural areas often left behind. COVID-19 is likely to disrupt these trends, with new winners and losers emerging, but early signs are that its impact has been to reinforce disadvantage. This theme considers the complex geography of winners and losers from economic change, and will look at the causes of geographical division, the consequences, and what policy can do to address these challenges,” he said.

Professor Lee added: “I am delighted to be taking over this theme from Professor David Soskice, who has laid such strong foundations for its work. Building on its achievements so far, the theme’s multidisciplinary team will extend our analysis to spatial inequality in the developing world, and consider how the COVID-shock will both reinforce old forms of spatial inequality and produce new ones.”

Wealth, Elites and Tax Justice: vital analysis of complex inequities

Professor Mike Savage, who co-founded the International Inequalities Institute in 2015 with Professor John Hills, noted that the focus of the Wealth, Elites and Tax Justice research theme underscores the importance of the interdisciplinary approach that is the hallmark of all III research themes.

“Over the past year I have directed a programme of research involving colleagues from across the LSE and beyond, examining the nature and drivers of burgeoning wealth inequality. We see the analysis of wealth as vital not only because it is more extreme than income inequality, but also because it needs interdisciplinary research to unravel its complex and often opaque forms. As a sociologist I have also been exploring how wealthy elites are an increasing social and political force and how this challenge to democratic values is a matter of major public concern,” he said.

Professor Savage added: “In passing on the directorship of the III to Chico Ferreira, I will have more time to focus on pushing ahead with this important work and collaborating with the fantastic III/AFSEE team in the coming years.”

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