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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Taking class seriously : alternatives to the 'income paradigm' Haworth, Byron


The recent surge in literature on economic inequality in the United States has provided new insights into the political ramifications of growing economic stratification. This literature has also revealed particular methodological standards by which such inequality is measured and understood. In lieu of more robust, sociological conceptions of class, political scientists largely conceive of group-based economic inequality in terms of continuous proxy variables, such as income. This paper addresses the underlying logic and motivations of this practice, sometimes referred to as the ‘income paradigm.’ The paper is divided into two sections; in the first, prevailing income-based research strategies are evaluated in terms of their generic and specific advantages and disadvantages. I argue that income is a less productive measure in describing the nature of actual inequality than is frequently assumed, and suffers from problems of causal ambiguity in the explication of satisfying and comprehensive causal explanations. In the second section, I propose three alternative conceptualizations of class developed in the sociological tradition of class analysis. These class models, derived from Weberian, Marxist and contemporary empirical traditions, are advantageous over proxy-based standards because of their a priori theoretical robustness. I argue that political scientists should transgress the disciplinary boundaries which have implicitly prohibited the use of class-based methods.

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