The Transnational Social Question

Authored by: Thomas Faist

Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory

Print publication date:  March  2011
Online publication date:  March  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415548250
eBook ISBN: 9780203875575
Adobe ISBN: 9781135997946


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The world's greatest inequalities seem to be defined by national borders in addition to and overlapping with well-known markers such as race, class, or gender. At the beginning of the twenty-first century manifold inequalities characterize relations between social groups: The most widespread measure, inequality among countries’ per capita incomes, accounts internationally for two-thirds of overall income inequality. Average incomes in the richest countries far exceed those in the poorest countries, with estimates of incomes that are 40 to 50 times greater in the former (Bourguignon and Morrisson 2002). Equally or more important, access to food, nutrition, formal education, and medical care is vastly unequal. Resulting effects such as malnutrition, ill health, and low life expectancy, and inadequate social protection to protect against risks, threaten the lives of many. This situation is reminiscent of the living conditions of a majority of the population that obtained in a large part of nineteenth-century Europe. At that time and in that particular world region, the ‘social question’ was the central subject of extremely volatile political conflicts between the ruling classes and working-class movements. Nowadays, the protests of globalization critics, for instance at the World Social Forum, can certainly not be overlooked. There is also an abundance of political groupings and NGOs rallying across national borders in support of numerous campaigns such as environmental, human rights and women's issues, Christian, Hindu or Islamic fundamentalism, or food sovereignty (Evans 2006).

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