Addressing group-based inequalities presents at the APSA 2022 annual meeting

Addressing group-based inequalities presents at the APSA 2022 annual meeting

On 17 September 2022 UNU-WIDER is organising a panel at the 2022 American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Annual Meeting & Exhibition on the topic of Addressing ethnic inequality: Experiences of reform.

The panel, chaired by UNU-WIDER Senior Research Fellow Rachel Gisselquist, presents recent research on the politics and policies of attempts to address group-based inequalities in specific contexts, exploring how initiatives come into being, their impacts on inequalities, and their other outcomes. The panel presents several papers from the UNU-WIDER  Addressing group-based inequalities project. Simone Schotte is discussant. 

The theme of this year's ASPA convention is 'Rethink, Restructure, and Reconnect: Towards A Post-Pandemic Political Science'. The conference is held in Montréal, Québec, Canada, on 15-18 September 2022. 

Session Description

Inequality and exclusion, which have persisted and deepened even amidst economic growth in many contexts, are core global challenges. This panel, which presents selected papers from a broader research initiative, focuses on inequalities between groups in society defined in “ethnic” terms broadly conceived. A growing literature speaks to the significance of such ethnic (“group-based,” “horizontal”) inequalities across diverse dimensions of ascriptive cleavage – for instance, race in South Africa, indigenous status in Mexico, or caste in India (see, e.g., Alesina, Michalopoulos, & Papaioannou, 2016; Baldwin & Huber, 2010; Brown & Langer, 2010; Canelas & Gisselquist, 2018; Cederman, Weidmann, & Gleditsch, 2011; Østby, 2008; Stewart, 2002, 2008; United Nations & World Bank, 2018).

This research initiative addresses the politics of government policies aimed at lessening, or mediating the harms of, such ethnic inequalities. Standard policies to address such inequalities include affirmative action, anti-discriminatory legislation, social protection schemes, and efforts to close gaps in access to public services (UNDP, 2013).

In recent years, broad international consensus around the importance of addressing inequality has attracted considerable research and policy attention. This is underscored in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially the core principle of “leave no one behind” and SDG 10: Reducing Inequality. A rich body of related research speaks to the impact of various policies, offering lessons about which policies are most effective and worth expanding or adopting elsewhere (see, e.g., Abdullah, Doucouliagos, & Manning, 2015; Gulzar, Haas, & Pasquale, 2020; Jorda & Alonso, 2020; Owusu-Addo, Renzaho, & Smith, 2018; Ravallion, 2020). Considerably less attention has been paid to how particular policies come about (rather than others) and are sustained (or not) in different contexts.

This research initiative speaks to this gap, with attention to politics, policy making, and policy implementation. It asks: Why was a particular policy pursed, rather than alternatives? Why was it pursued in one period rather than another? Who were the key champions and opponents? How did the political will for addressing ethnic inequalities – and doing so in this way, rather than another – come about? What other institutions, individuals, and factors played a key role in shaping implementation? What were the major obstacles? How were efforts sustained (or not)?

Core to this initiative is a set of detailed case study chapters. Selected to cover a range of policies and contexts in the Global South, these case study chapters collectively provide a picture of the politics of addressing ethnic inequalities in low- to middle-income countries that offers both breadth and depth.

The proposed panel includes three of the case chapters along with the introductory/framing chapter. While policy discussion often focuses on affirmative action and other group-targeted approaches to addressing ethnic inequalities, the introductory/framing paper makes a case for considering a wider range of policy approaches, in particular a range from explicitly ethnic group-targeted to more universally framed approaches (Horowitz, 1985; Samman, Roche, Sarwar, & Evans, 2021; Weiner, 1983). The collection as a whole then brings together studies of both of key group-targeted policies (such as Reservations in India, Malaysia’s New Economic Policy, and South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment) and other, more diverse policies influencing ethnic inequality.

The three case chapters presented as part of this panel provide illustration of the latter in particular. The two papers by Natasha Sugiyama and Rotimi Suberu explore different cases where policies with clear influence on ethnic inequality do not explicitly target marginalized groups in ethnic terms. At one end of the spectrum, Sugiyama’s paper considers the politics of Bolsa Familia in Brazil, a program with clear impact on marginalized groups that is not framed in ethnic terms. Rotimi Suberu considers the federal character principle in Nigeria, which is framed in regional rather than explicitly ethnic terms. The third paper, by Neil DeVotta, deals with educational “standardization” in Sri Lanka, a policy that on the surface looks like affirmative action elsewhere but functions quite differently given that the target group is politically dominant (if economically disadvantaged historically). Finally, the paper by Rachel Gisselquist, editor of the collection, provides a broader view on the project and its eight core case studies, how the three studies in this panel are situated within, and the comparative findings that emerge from a collective reading of all eight cases.

Simone Schotte, as discussant, will draw on her ongoing research on affirmative action around the world to provide comments on the four papers.

More information about the panel can be found here.