Social justice: The material culture drivers of inequality

Claire Smith, Jordan Ralph, Kellie Pollard, Cherrie De Leiuen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In 1832, Alexis de Tocqueville argued that injustice is perpetrated by differences in material living standards that inhibit empathy between different social strata. He contended that substantial differences in material conditions prevented the French nobility from empathizing with the sufferings of peasants, and that these material inequalities also explained why slave owners in America did not empathize with the sufferings endured by slaves.1 More recently, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett2 have demonstrated that material inequalities can have powerful psychological effects on individuals, altering how they think, feel, and behave. They argue that when the gap between rich and poor increases, so does the tendency for people to define and value themselves and others in terms of superiority and inferiority. Within this scenario, material culture can play a role in social inclusion and exclusion and, through this, in perpetrating or challenging social injustice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge handbook of material culture studies
EditorsLu Ann De Cunzo, Catharine Dann Roeber
Place of PublicationCambridge, United Kingdom
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9781108474610
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameCambridge Handbooks in Anthropology


  • social justice
  • cultural heritage
  • inequalities


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