United We Stood, Divided We Fall: The 21st Century Paradigm of Inequality and Polarization in the United States

University essay from Lunds universitet/Ekonomisk-historiska institutionen

Abstract: Polarization as defined by the Merriam-Webster (2020) dictionary is “a state in which the opinions, beliefs, or interests of a group or society no longer range along a continuum but become concentrated at opposing extremes.” In theory, polarization is a static condition which can impact a particular group. In this thesis, it is argued that polarization is more dynamic than previously implied and that the intricate bonds which shape communities consist of various preconditions including socio-economic and sociopolitical factors. The case of the United States has become particularly relevant in recent decades as political polarization has become widely discussed in academic and public sources alike. Globalization and its impacts are discussed as a baseline for the pervasive conditions of economic inequality in the United States. These themes are interrelated to changing sociological frameworks including the decline of socio-economic mobility, the erosion of social networks (social capital), and cohesion of communities. Discussed separately, these conditions hold independent arguments; however, in culmination, impacts arising from imbalanced socio-economic disparities have led to divisions in class structures, divergent cultural and social norms, and eventually, a deterioration of mutual trust and reciprocity leading to polarization. Social and economic polarity have fostered political reactions such as the rise of populism, increasing political partisanship, and the erosion of traditional American institutions. In this thesis, existing literature and theory are evaluated followed by an online survey of seventy randomized adult Americans. The intent of this survey is to assess how demographic identities correlate with perception of others, the economy, local communities, and political ideology. Responses are then analysed and discussed in an effort to understand how a growing paradigm of polarization is impacting the population as well as the fundamental frameworks and institutions which Americans rely upon.

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