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7th Conference 2005 in Torun

'Rethinking Inequalities' from 9 to 12 September 2005

The theme of our conference has several quite obvious meanings. The first is that we are interested in various kinds of social differentiation. The second is that we believe that what we had thought about these kinds of differentiation has become, at least to some extent, outdated and we shall have to consider them again. What was the traditional way of thinking about inequalities? Over last fifty years, i.e. in post World War II sociology, inequalities were approached in three basic ways. First was that of neo-Marxist model of class structure as defined in terms of fundamental division between the owners of means of production and the working class - owners of the labour force. Second was the neo-Weberian model emphasising a multidimensional view on social inequalities based on the market power, social status, and occupational divisions. Third was the functional stratification model derived from theories of Parsons and Davis and Moore and developed in empirical research based on the theories of modernisation.

The backbone of “traditional” inequalities is labour market. In the post World War II period, slowly but steadily, new factors came to the fore. Let us name three. First was the ethnic dimension. It became obvious that European countries have not only traditional ethnic composition, resulting from their history and shifts of borders, but they have a growing immigrant population coming from out of the continent. Second became the gender dimension. Empirical sociology disclosed the “income gap”, the “glass ceiling”, the feminisation of poverty, etc. To these two, we can add the third dimension, of much more global character. This would be the “North-South” cleavage. Although Europe (at least most of it) has as such belonged to the Northern pole, this global kind of inequalities had to be and was taken into account by social scientists. In “Western” Europe its equivalent was the division between the northern countries and the Mediterranean. Neither can one ignore the persistent division between the democratic, market oriented West and the autocratic (“totalitarian”) political systems linked to the centralised systems of planning and management in economy in the East.

Why “rethink” inequalities in Europe? What has happened? What kind of the cumulating of processes do we witness now in Europe? It seems that we undergo simultaneously several processes: globalisation in all its dimensions, systemic transformation from authoritarian socialism to democratic market societies in a half of the continent, European Union enlargement to include not only the Central European countries, but potentially also Orthodox Eastern Europe (Ukraine) and Muslim South-Eastern Eurasia (Turkey). All these processes generate new inequalities within individual countries and also between the countries, within Europe, but also potentially between Europe and other regions.

Our semi-plenary sessions address some of these problems. In these sessions, we ask whether the class divisions still matter. We ask about the role of migration (this already “traditional” one, coming from other regions to Western Europe, this relatively new one from Eastern and Central Europe to Western Europe, this potential one from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia to Central Europe, etc.) as an equaliser or an amplifier of social inequalities. With the enlargement of the EU and migration, but also with the war on terror, we could ask about the role of religion as a factor creating or reducing inequalities. We ask about gender and about ethnicity, old and new. We ask about generation differentiation. We ask about the transformations within the societies of Central and Eastern Europe. We ask about the political dimension of inequalities. We rethink inequalities.