14 kinds of research we need for #reducinginequality

I leave a WT Grant Foundation grantees’ meeting on Reducing Inequality with a rough mental list of types of research that we need:

  1. Descriptive research on what is unequal, for whom, where.
  2. Causal research on what promotes inequality or inequality, and on the effects of various kinds of inequality.
  3. Descriptive and interpretive research on the lived experience of the poor or the relatively poor–including research that challenges simple assumptions about deficits and suffering. (E.g., Annette Lareau’s research on ways that working-class kids live better lives than middle-class kids.)
  4. Philosophical or other normative research that asks what should be equal for whom; how equality trades off against liberty, innovation, environmental sustainability, and other goods; and which interventions to enhance equity are ethically permissible–or obligatory–under various circumstances. (Cf. “we are for social justice, but what is it?”)
  5. Conceptual research: how should we define and operationalize such relevant concepts as human capital, political influence, or social capital. (See, e.g., this post on different theories of social capital or this one on defining equity versus equality..)
  6. Intervention research on programs and policies that improve the absolute or relative situation of the disadvantaged.
  7. Research about scaling: when and why do successful programs expand, and when is scaling beneficial? (A program that helps at scale X can be inappropriate or even counterproductive at 10X).
  8. Descriptive and interpretive research on the advantaged. What are their lives like, what deficits as well as advantages do they manifest, and how do they think about and treat the disadvantaged?
  9. Intervention research aimed at the advantaged. What works to change their behaviors to improve equity?
  10. Research on public opinion about inequality. Who thinks what, why, and how does that change?
  11. Research on what changes political decisions relevant to inequality. What are the effects of social movements, leadership, public rhetoric, and organizations?
  12. Research on when and why good research is used for policy or programming.
  13. Research on phenomena that lie between individuals and the whole society, such as networks, communities, movements, and markets. (See against methodological individualism.)
  14. Intellectual work that builds ideologies (in the good sense of that word): broad views that serve as heuristics. Think of the intellectual contributors to New Deal liberalism, Western European social democracy, libertarianism, or feminism.

(Thanks to Hiro Yoshikawa and Prudence Carter for stimulating some of these thoughts, but I’m responsible for omissions and mistakes.)

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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