The three arenas of new conflicts over inequality. An analysis of the relation between social structural positions and attitudes towards redistribution, migration and sexual diversity

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Abstract

Many Western societies debate the question of redistribution with revived interest. However, the debates on identity politics and migration brought further social conflicts to the forefront. Academic as well as journalistic contributions often assume a two-camp polarisation in which groups with higher social status endorse migration and diversity against the opposition of groups with lower social status. In this view, the constellation of these new conflicts is at odds with classic conflicts over redistribution, in which higher social status groups typically show a greater tolerance of inequality compared to lower social status groups. The paper develops a conceptual framework that goes beyond the dominant two-camp polarisation theory and systematically distinguishes three dimensions of inequality conflicts and attitudes: firstly, classical up-down inequalities referring to economic redistribution, secondly, us-them inequalities relating to societal recognition of diversity, and thirdly, in-out inequalities concerning openness toward immigrants. Based on the SOEP Innovation Sample 2017, it is demonstrated that these attitudes constitute relatively independent dimensions. Compared to higher social groups, lower social status groups are more critical of economic inequality, while the two new conflicts indicate a reverse picture. However, only attitudes toward migration are substantially polarized, whereas little evidence can be found that points toward the formation of the two distinct cleavages that are frequently assumed in public discourse.

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Mau, S., Lux, T., & Gülzau, F. (2020). The three arenas of new conflicts over inequality. An analysis of the relation between social structural positions and attitudes towards redistribution, migration and sexual diversity. Berliner Journal Fur Soziologie, 30(3–4), 317–346. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11609-020-00420-8

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