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Inequality on a world scale

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Wealth, power and prestige differ between countries

There are four main theories of global stratification.

The idea of global stratification is one that looks at inequality or stratification between whole countries.

We have a range between rich countries and poor countries, but stratification means much more than relative per capita income.

The relations between countries is related to where they are ranked on a stratification scale.

Those relations are mainly economic, but also political and have elements in all six dimensions.

These are the four main theories and explanations for global stratification patterns: (1) imperialism, (2) world system, (3) culture of poverty and (4) dependency theories.

While imperialism goes back in history to the empires of China, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Rome, it is with the advent of global interaction and colonization by European countries of the rest of the world where this theory rests.

Exploitation of colonies set the scene for continued exploitation of natural resources from them.

Technically Canada was a colony, but it also has participated in the exploitation of colonies in the British Empire.

Wallerstein proposed world systems theory identifying the rich countries as core nations, and those around them as semi periphery and periphery states that depend upon core nations for trade, providing raw materials for the core nations to use in manufacture and sell back as finished products.

External nations, mainly in Asia and Africa, were left out of the trade.

Dependence theory attributes the low income of least developed nations to the dominance of most developed nations.

Single crop economies are associated with least developed nations.

Canada has elements of both, but being wealthy, tends to benefit from a world system in spite of being a producer of raw material.

Galbraith suggested that nations at the bottom of the stratification structure remain there because they have values, customs, traditions and ways of life that hinder them from taking risk from breaking out of the constrictions of poverty, and hold them in place at the bottom.

This resembles a “blame the victim” theory.

The simulation game, the Power of Suns, is a good "doing" method to learn about inequality.

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Last update: 2011.05.22

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