Inequality has been the single most important object of study in the social sciences, ever since sociologists started questioning social processes in the 19th century. In fact, it could be argued that the twentieth century was that of inequality and its discontents: from Marxist analyses of class stratification to DuBois’ assertion of the centrality of the color line in America, questions related to economic, social, and cultural inequalities have shaped the way we understand our society. The social transformations that have happened in the wake of World War II have been rooted in debate over inequalities, from the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements to to immigration rights and marital equality. In the past few years, inequality has come back to the forefront, perhaps unexpectedly. Since the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president in history, the resilience of race as a central mechanism of inequality in American society has been questioned and debated. In several states, labor unions have been legally weakened and their power limited; from “binders full of women” to the “47%,” inequality was central to the 2012 presidential campaign.
During a year-long Ashby dialogue, we will explore these issues that are central to our local communities: inequality and poverty. Not only does inequality structure the society we live in: it is an eminently local and global issue, which our students do not only study in the classroom but also experience first-hand. We propose, with this Ashby dialogue, a continuous dialogue on race, class, and gender inequalities over two semesters, based on documentary film screenings and readings of studies of inequality in the social sciences. The films and related readings we have chosen will provide students with practical and theoretical ways to better understand the complex consequences of inequality (from health to the environment to immigration) and the society they live in.