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WealthTalks: The (Re-)Production of Wealth Inequality in Everyday Talk

About the project

Why does the public oppose wealth inequality but not support measures to change the distribution of wealth? WealthTalks offers a novel perspective on the production and reproduction of wealth by examining how ordinary citizens discuss wealth and inequality in everyday conversations. We assume that everyday talk reproduces grand narratives of meritocracy and is, thus, prone to make the accumulation of wealth seem desirable and wealth inequality unavoidable.

WealthTalks will describe the prevalence, topics, frames, and sequences of arguments of wealth and inequality in online and offline conversations in five countries: Botswana, Brazil, South Africa, Germany and the US. Subsequently, we examine how the form and content of these conversations varies across individuals, situations, and the larger social context. Our country cases allow us to study how conversations on wealth and inequality differ between the Global South and Global North, and vary with the salience of race in the national discourse on wealth inequality. In the final step, we test how the nature, form, and sequence of conversations influence people’s perceptions of inequality and their attitudes towards wealth redistribution.

WealthTalks answers its research questions through two lanes of empirical work. First, we produce a large corpus of transcripts of everyday conversations on wealth and inequality in the five countries. Towards this aim, we collect data from debates in social media, organize a series of deliberative focus groups, and run moderated dialogues in public places. These data allow us to study in depth everyday talk as it occurs in natural settings and as it is conditioned by the situational context. Subsequently, drawing on the research insights so generated, we will run iterative rounds of online experiments in which we test how varying frames and argument sequences affect people’s beliefs and attitudes about wealth inequality and redistribution.