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Why social inequality persists

Danny Dorling
Hardback, 399 pages, 216 x 148 mm
Other formats available
21 Apr 2010


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North America customers can order this book here from the University of Chicago Press.

"..salutary, shocking reading."
Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
"Original and angry"
Wall Street Journal
"For decades researchers have shown the damage inequality does to all society and Dorling's wonderful book extends this. With brilliance and passion Dorling analyses the mind-set of entitlement among those who hold ever tighter to money, power and life's best rewards, generation to generation."
Polly Toynbee, The Guardian
"A powerful and entertaining read, which sets forth a bold, innovative .. thesis about contemporary inequality"
Sociological Research

About This Book

REVISED EDITION NOW AVAILABLE New Foreword by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, authors of The spirit level Afterword by Daniel Dorling updates developments in the last year Few would dispute that we live in an unequal and unjust world, but what causes this inequality to persist? Leading social commentator and academic Danny Dorling claims in this timely book that, as the five social evils identified by Beveridge are gradually being eradicated, they are being replaced by five new tenets of injustice, viz: elitism is efficient; exclusion is necessary; prejudice is natural; greed is good and despair is inevitable. In an informal yet authoritative style, Dorling examines who is most harmed by these injustices and why, and what happens to those who most benefit. Hard-hitting and uncompromising in its call to action, this is essential reading for everyone concerned with social justice.

Author Biography

Danny Dorling is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield. With colleagues he has published 25 books, including 8 atlases, one now translated into 7 languages. In 2007 (Sir) Simon Jenkins described him as 'Geographer Royal by Appointment to the Left', in 2008 he was appointed Honorary President of the Society of Cartographers, and in 2009 he was presented with the Back Award of the Royal Geographical Society.


Foreword ~ Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Inequality: the antecedent and outcome and of injustice
'Elitism is efficient': new educational divisions
'Exclusion is necessary': excluding people from society
'Prejudice is natural': a wider racism
'Greed is good': consumption and waste
'Despair is inevitable': health and well-being
Conclusion, conspiracy, consensus


ReviewsOwn it? Review it!


Although the evidence that inequality and injustice underlie most social ills has been known and (perhaps partially) understood for some while, suddenly in the UK there is a growing body of evidence coming into popular public view. This is partly because we are at one of those points when inequality is at its greatest (despite the investment of time and money in trying to tackle it) and partly because people are trying to find explanations for the current financial crisis and investigate how this could have happened (and what can be done to deal with the economic situation).

So, this book has appeared just after the publication of 'The spirit level' [Wilkinson, 2010] and 'The Marmot Review' [2010], and, with them, helps build a picture of and provide the evidence for injustice and inequality in the UK.

In 'The spirit level', the authors draw on evidence to demonstrate inequality in nine key areas:Community life and social relations; Mental health and drug use; Physical health and life expectancy; Obesity; Educational performance; Teenage births; Violence; Imprisonment and punishment; and Social mobility: unequal opportunities.

In 'Injustice', Daniel Dorling begins by arguing that we have got to this position by adopting five new beliefs, the 'five tenets of injustice' [p1]: Elitism is efficient; Exclusion is necessary; Prejudice is natural; Greed is good; and Despair is inevitable.

He then briefly sets this in a broader, historical context, before giving an overview of the ways that these 'five new faces of inequality' [p25] have grown from and perpetuate injustice.

To ensure that the arguments in this book are clearly understood, Dorling ends Chapter 2 by stating that 'the argument at the end of this book is that recognising the problem is the solution' [p25], and then provides a very brief summary of the way forward to tackle each of these inequalities.

The major part of the book focuses on the 'five faces':

- 'Elitism is efficient - looking at education, and the continuing (and renewed) divisive nature of education'

- 'Exclusion is necessary - looking at ways in which people are excluded from society (eg via debt, geneticism, segregation, the escapism of the rich behind walls' [p124])

-'Prejudice is natural - looking at a wider racism (eg the different economic performance of regions, Darwinism)'

-'Greed is good - looking at consumption and waste

- Despair is inevitable - looking at health and wellbeing (including anxiety, competitiveness, culture, and putting profit above caring [p291]).'

Finally, Daniel Dorling draws together conclusions and, helpfully dispelling media myths, shows that there is no great, well-orchestrated conspiracy of the rich, just a few schools of free market thought, a few think-tanks preaching hate, but no secret all-powerful committees. [p307]

Given this, our power and way forward has to be in joining together, making alliances, making everyone's voice heard: 'we realise that, although none of us is superhuman, neither are any of us without significance.' [p320]

This is an immensely important book, a source-book of data with which to support the argument that we have to pay attention to inequality if we are to tackle social injustice, and, as such, highly recommended.

It is not, however, really a book to read from cover-to-cover (as I have just done for this review)! It is very densely argued and bristles with references and quotations, all extremely valuable, but quite hard to digest in one read.

Personally, I find charts and graphs very hard to understand (and not a way in which I learn easily), so I did struggle with the volume of information presented in this way. It may therefore be me, but one figure (Figure 6, p94) seems completely confusing, and I still do not understand what it is saying!

I would have liked to see some additional issues tackled. For example, the position of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people in the UK in 2010 is still grim, despite the social advances of the last 13 years, and it would have been very interesting to get Dorling's analysis of the reasons for this (it would have fitted neatly into the chapter on prejudice).

Those small issues aside, to sum up, this is a major work which must be widely used as a source-book to help realign the current discourse about social ills in the UK (and the wider world).

John Vincent: The Network - tackling social exclusion in libraries, museums, archives and galleries -

(joint author of the forthcoming book, 'Public libraries and social justice')


'The Marmot Review', Fair society, healthy lives: a strategic review of health inequalities in England post-2010. The Marmot Review, 2010

John Pateman and John Vincent. 'Public libraries and social justice'. Ashgate, Sept 2010

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. 'The spirit level: why more equal societies almost always do better'. Penguin, 2010

Reviewed by John Vincent

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