I think the
questions of inequality and freedom are really central to
many of the debates that are taking place across the world,
particularly in the United States and Canada.
a very important concept, and very problematic – it’s
often defined in very limited terms.
It tends to
be freedom from: freedom from government interference, freedom
from anyone messing with an individual’s self-interest,
freedom to do anything one wants, regardless of the consequences.
removed from questions of social responsibility. This type
of freedom is often used in the service of right-wing movements
to legitimate projects of exclusion, privilege and harm.
Elizabeth Anker has called the latter the “ugly freedoms,”
which are often used against movements for universal health
care and policies that protect the common good, such as
vaccination efforts and mask mandates.
here is that you can’t just talk about freedom from,
you have to talk about freedom to: the freedom to be able
to establish one’s agency, to be able to flourish
– and you can’t have that if you have economic,
political or social inequality.
In the book,
we talk about how inequality produces violence against women,
violence against the environment, against people with disabilities,
against minorities. It covers a range of issues, like poverty,
race and racism that are often missed when talking about
freedom and inequality.
The book tries
to be a comprehensive analysis of the various spheres in
which inequality merges with freedom in ways that reduce
the possibility of agency, the possibility of having one’s
full capabilities emerge, and the possibility of being able
to live in anything other than the discourse of survival.
For the last
40 years, the globe in general – but particularly
the United States – has lived under a neo-liberal
ethos that says you only have to be concerned about yourself,
that the only thing that matters is money, that inequalities
are normal, and that good fortune is a matter of personal
an enormous culture of cruelty that is now used to legitimate
a notion of freedom that is grounded in greed, selfishness
lost the language of community, we’ve lost the language
of justice, we’ve lost the language of compassion
– and the book tries to rectify that.
Q: The contributors
to this book come from five different continents. Talk to
me a little about the move to make the book as far-reaching
as possible in terms of where your contributors are from
and the disciplines they represent.
We really believe
that to be voiceless is to be powerless – people who
come from different positions, different geographies and
different spaces of inequality need to narrate themselves.
We wanted to
include people who are smart, and who have a sense of justice.
We wanted to include women, people from other countries
and people from different backgrounds – inclusion
is central to questions of freedom.
The book combines
ethnographic studies and an enormous amount of empirical
work – you can’t just toss it away and say,
oh, this is just a series of opinions. It’s not –
it’s a series of rigorous studies that take the question
of economic inequality and freedom seriously.
Q: How is the
idea of agency related to inequality?
This book is
tied to questions of social and economic justice but, more
importantly, it’s about agency. In this case, agency
foregrounds the degree to which people have the power, skills,
and critical competencies to exercise control over the varied
conditions and contexts that bear down on their lives.
If people aren’t
free, in terms of not being slaves to forms of poverty and
economic deprivation, then every other form of freedom is
meaningless – what does political freedom or individual
freedom mean if you don’t have economic freedom to
have agency over your own destiny? We argue in the book
that political and personal rights and freedoms are important
but often become dysfunctional for people who lack economic
What are your
hopes for this book?
hoping that people will learn from it and organize around
it – move from the realm of understanding to the realm
of collective action.