Chapter 2: Economic wealth and political power in the second Gilded Age
The poor are always with us: especially in the discursive spaces of the social sciences where they occupy a position of some prominence. Studies of the marginal are, paradoxically, at the centre of many academic debates. Poverty is a central focus in the social sciences, a concern that compensates for the poor’s absence in other discourses yet also reflects issues of positionality and power. Attitudes of deference and authority that work to the advantage and comfort of the researcher are built into the relationship of academics and their impoverished subjects. Status may be further enhanced and reputation burnished by the perception of doing good work, giving voice to the marginalized and perhaps even speaking truth to power. At the end of most academic engagements, however, the sad and dispiriting truth is that the poor remain poor. There is an asymmetry in our understanding of the contemporary world. We have many more studies of the poor than we have of the rich, especially the very rich. There are many reasons. The rich inhabit spaces not easily accessible to researchers. They restrict access: part of their power is neither to be intimidated nor overly impressed by academic researchers, who invariably have a lower income level and occupy a less vaunted position in the social hierarchy. The rich easily avoid too much scrutiny.
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