DIGSSCORE Seminar: Four Arenas of Inequality Conflict

Linus Westheuser
Kimi Palme

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Linus Westheuser, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Social Sciences, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, will present for us today. The presentation is titled "Four Arenas of Inequality Conflict".

The event is in a hybrid format, you are welcome to join us for lunch from the Corner room at DIGSSCORE. Food is provided on a first-come first-served basis. Zoom link for digital attendance.

Background for the presentation:

Four Arenas of Inequality Conflict
Steffen Mau, Thomas Lux, Linus Westheuser (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Newer conflicts over migration, climate protection, and the recognition of societal diversity have complemented older forms of redistributive conflict, in Germany as across Western democracies. Yet it remains controversial how we are to describe the resulting conflict structure. Do attitudes on the new conflicts coalesce into a single ‘second dimension’ divide or do they form multiple independent dimensions? Are the new conflicts driven by common structural transformations? Do they follow similar logics of conflict? And are these conflicts fueled by the ideological antagonism of a common set of sociostructural groups?

Bridging studies on cleavage structures with the sociological literature on inequalities, and drawing on extensive original survey and focus group data from Germany, we develop a theory of fourdimensional political space. Against the assumption of a unitary second dimension divide, we maintain that conflicts over redistribution, migration, diversity, and climate protection form four independent ‘arenas of inequality conflicts’. Contestations in each of these arenas revolve around distinct social goods (wealth, membership, recognition, and environmental integrity), each of which is distributed unequally in specific ways, and each of which is made salient by a different set of macrosocial transformations.

Using factor analyses, we show that disagreements in the four arenas form independent dimension of public opinion, each with their own patterns of social structuration. Further, we draw on in-depth qualitative analyses of focus group data to reconstruct the argumentative and moral repertoires that structure ordinary citizens’ reasoning about each of the four arenas. While the distributive ‘topbottom arena’ is characterized by conflicts over (un)merited wealth and (un)deserved solidarity, the migration-related ‘inside-outside arena’ revolves around the (un)controllability of migration flows and the cultural requirements of membership. In the group- and identity-centered ‘us-them arena’, a notion of recognition as tacit toleration clashes with an understanding of recognition as a public revaluation of norms. The climate-related ‘today-tomorrow arena’ is structured by a tension between concerns about future environmental harm and concerns about current scarcity or the potentially unjust outcomes of ecological transformation. Even while political actors on the left and right seek to bridge the four conflict arenas, these arenas (thus far) operate according to idiosyncratic conflict logics in the political reasoning of citizens.

The theoretical and empirical lens provided by our multidimensional model of inequality conflicts allows for a richer, more in-depth and sociologically informed analysis of today’s pluralized landscape of political conflict. For cleavage theory, this approach can help identify links between historical transformations and changes in public opinion; as well as allowing for a differentiation between fullblown cleavages in a sociologically ‘thicker’ sense, and ‘thinner’ issue-based divides.