Book Review: The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past by Mike Savage.

AuthorCroce, Nicholas

Savage, Mike. The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2021. xi + 422 pages. Hardcover, $35.00.

Peter Salmon, interpreting Derrida's work, writes, "Criticism, in privileging form over force, the static over the genetic, freezes meaning." (1) Mike Savage's The Return of Inequality argues that studies of inequality have wrongfully privileged the form of inequality over the accumulative, longitudinal force of inequality. The text is an ambitious multidisciplinary project. I believe that anyone interested in studying inequality should pick up this book.

Using sociology, public policy, and political science frames, Savage takes readers on a tour, first, of the state of inequality research, especially since Piketty's Capital. Taking a step back, Savage presents Bourdieu's work on social fields, key to the later analysis of national spaces under duress. By the end of the first section, Savage's intervention is clear: the inequality literature has become too concerned with relative and spatial measures of inequality. Visualizations that dig beyond wealth deciles and into the top 1 percent have exposed elites and their pulling-away-from-the-pack wealth building. These visuals have had a role in driving a wide range of organizing, from movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, to populistic projects like Brexit and Donald Trump's politics. For Savage, these spatial and structural depictions of inequality have been useful in fomenting politics around inequality but not always its driver, the over-time accumulation of capital.

Never mentioned, I see Walter Benjamin's reflections on the artist Paul Klee's Angelus Novus as the philosophical guide of this work. Benjamin's description of Klee's "angel of history," the angel of progress, is ever-present: "Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe... This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. The storm is what we call progress." (2)

That pile of historical, yet now-in-motion debris, which Savage argues scholars of inequality and activists alike must address more concretely and now, is capital. With arguments that are more radical than progressive, he begs us to focus on capital as accrual across time.

Did inequality ever go away? Savage's answer is complicated. In a sense, inequality really did go...

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