By Addison Martin
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, joined a list of speakers on Monday at the University of Iowa’s Inequality Seminar series.
Tomaskovic-Devey’s research focuses on workplace inequality and the place of income distribution in societies.
“If all the high earners are dumped together in a society, they never experience the real society … they don’t experience even as much of their own firm, much less as much of their society,” Tomaskovic-Devey said in his presentation.
These seminars were put together by UI sociology Assistant Professor Sarah Bruch.
Bruch said the reason she began hosting these seminars is that her own work focuses on inequality. When she came to the UI, she was searching for other people in her department interested in these areas. Not only is she a UI faculty member, she also is the director of social and education policy at the Public Policy Center.
“I not only want to know what the other people in the Sociology Department are saying, but in order to really answer the bigger questions that actually matter in real people’s lives, it’s better how political scientists view inequality verses how sociologists would view inequality,” Bruch said.
These seminars are meant to be a accumulation of what different disciplines think about inequality as a broad subject, Bruch said, and a way for people interested in similar studies to connect and share interests and research.
UI Associate Professor Freda Lynn is a part of the planning committee that is responsible for selecting candidates for the seminars. She said the members look for a variety of aspects in candidates, including current work in the area of inequality.
“There are so many things I don’t know; going into these kinds of seminars is a great way to keep learning,” Lynn said. “… A good way to maintain creativity in your own work is to stay abreast of what leading scholars are doing in a variety of different ideas.”
For Tomaskovic-Devey, this kind of research has been a lifelong interest.
“I’ve been interested in it since I was an undergraduate. And in my mind studying inequality has always been tied to worrying about moving toward understanding how we can have a more just world … and in some ways I’m lucky because now it’s a really politically important issue,” he said.
On the topics of politics, Tomaskovic-Devey said President-elect Donald Trump was able to tap into people’s frustrations with inequality.
“Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders tapped into a real anger that the economy is not working for many people, and in some ways they shared a promise of how they were going to solve the problem: control global capital, increase employment and the quality of jobs,” he said.
Tomaskovic-Devey also discussed the idea that people have both an “in” and an “out” group, and their views of these affect their responses to different people.
“For ‘out’ groups, we’re more likely to use stereotypes and think as morally or intellectually or in other ways less,” he said. “We spend most of our social life with our ‘in’ group … we develop bonds of respect and attention and tolerance. Think of your most annoying uncle, you’ve probably developed a tolerance to them. You wouldn’t spit on them, or beat them.”
However, Tomaskovic-Devey said there has still been great progress in expanding who fits into these “in” groups.
“We’ve been expanding our tribe,” he said. “We think of more and more people as deserving of dignity.”