Political scientist Joseph Schwartz explores inequality at talk

Matthew Hart

Temple University political scientist Joseph M. Schwartz’s academic focus explores the rise in inequality as a result of neo-capitalism and the overlooking of an individual’s ability to perform his or her way out of material poverty.

Schwartz’s talk Monday revolved around his exploration of a fragmented society due to ever-evolving pluralism. He said he became obsessed with the question of how we build some sort of interest and common view of social justice among a world that is much more plural, global and diverse.

“How do we create democratic politics that affirms and cherishes diversity, culture and plurality?” Schwartz said. “And can you have meaningful democratic difference if it is institutionalized under radical terrain of social inequality?”

Schwartz compared his research to transgressing the norms of being a good university student by reading only what is intellectually interesting and skipping over material that is dull.

As radicals of political theory have focused on questioning the nature of the self and how performative resistance of the self takes place in society, Schwartz said neo-capitalism has generated a record rise in inequality.

“You can’t perform your way out of being unemployed, and many people, under the Marxist analysis, face problems with labor under capitalism that makes most people task executors and not task definers,” Schwartz said.

Adding to this notion, Schwartz said many of LGTBQ activists do resist a lot of heterosexual norms in our society. But even there, there are limits to resistance based on material power including violence. He said Matthew Shephard really couldn’t perform his way out of the homophobia of Wyoming in which he was targeted and murdered for his sexual orientation.

Sociology student Elizabeth Cozzolino said the post-structural turn in political theory has focused away from the larger trends in equality.

“While concern for group difference is crucial, this must exist within a larger framework or shared commitment to equal rights of all human beings,” Cozzolino said. “Political theorists must not retreat from analyzing the material inequalities that shape access to opportunities from members of various groups, whether they be opportunities for resources, for rights or even opportunities for microresistance. This entails a recognition and analysis of how the social equality norm has been eroded by neo-liberalism.”

Schwartz said he thinks there has been a lot of attention paid to the nature of knowledge and the nature of subjectivity. While some believe one can get a vision of what is a just society from a capacity to reason and communicate, others say power is an open contestation. 

“Democracy may not win,” Schwartz said. “It is an open struggle.”