Strategies For Social Justice Via Economic Theory

Wendy Olsen, Daniel Neff, J. Rangaswamy, Vincent Ortet

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Using transdisciplinary social theory, we reinterpret the social position and agency of some people working in rural India. We aim to transcend the classic polarity between choice-oriented economic theory and constraint-focused Marxist theory. We offer an innovative theory about the strategies that people (and more generally agents, such as couples) have for their economic and other fields of behaviour. A sociological theory encompassing agency along with economic resources and people’s desires or ’visions’ offers a fresh way forward. The paper develops one chunk of such a theory by drawing upon Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and his integration of cultural factors, which he called cultural capital, along with social and economic factors. The strategies of the agents are listed for a series of 39 household ‘cases’ using a mixed-methods triangulated data set which we have created for two South Indian villages. A dialectic is represented through a longitudinal dataset consisting of both interviews and a survey – a useful data source, since strategies are not fixed, but instead are developed, deliberated, and changed in the light of events using judgemental rationality. The hypothesis that social class or human-capital assets determine the workers’ degree of resistance to employers’ control found no support. Instead strategies in the labour market could best be understood using qualitative data linking their visions with the current actions. Thus our agency-focused approach avoids the determinism of old forms of structuralism, not only by assumption, but also in practice through a qualitative research method. In concluding, we stress the local and particular nature of the findings, whilst also summarising the more general benefits of using this particular social theory framework. Specific benefits include (1) linkages with policy intervention; (2) pluralism of theory of social change i.e. transdisciplinarity; and (3) deep understanding of a local scene whilst having middle-range theoretical concepts that can be transposed to other scenes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEconomics of Social Justice
Subtitle of host publicationA Handbook for Students
EditorsMiriam Kennett, Iolanda Cum, Sabeeta Nathan
Place of PublicationReading, UK
PublisherGreen Economics Institute
Number of pages43
ISBN (Print)9781907543463
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


  • habitus
  • social justice
  • theory
  • agency
  • cultural factors
  • economics

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities


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