Research: Etiquette of Inequality

Etiquette of Inequality in Democratic Spaces
Funded by the Russell Sage Foundation
Project Date: September, 2015 – August 2017
Award Amount:$149,016
Project Programs: Social Inequality

Cultural knowledge, context-specific familiarity, awareness, information, and skills play a critical role in maintaining or increasing social inequality and the intergenerational transmission of advantage. How do everyday practices and meaning systems influence the ways in which persistent inequality develops and is maintained? In other words, how do these cultural differences become social boundaries that reproduce social inequality?

Professor Andrea Voyer of Pace University will carry out an ethnographic study to augment our understanding of how social inequality persists despite efforts to remove explicit barriers to the equality of opportunity. Her project will examine the class-based meaning systems and behaviors that influence interpersonal networks, social efficacy, and community inclusion in everyday settings. Voyer argues that culture’s role in the creation of inequality is readily observed in settings where class inequality is inconsistent with structural equality—what she refers to as “democratic spaces.” Although she acknowledges that these settings are not void of social class, these “democratic” spaces she argues, are explicitly classless in the sense that they favor or are characterized by the ideal social equality.

Voyer’s project is built around three research questions: What are the class manners shaping the behavior of individuals? What impact do those class manners have on subgroup formation, group processes and outcomes? And what are the cultural narratives that justify or challenge the introduction of class-based inequality into the ostensibly class-equal settings? This project will include two years of qualitative data collection in three sites that are explicitly egalitarian and relevant for understanding status attainment and social inclusion: educational institutions, community governance, and religious organizations.

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