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Reviewed by:
  • Discrimination in an Unequal World
  • Amanda Mtshengu (bio)
Miguel Angel Centeno and Katherine S Newman (eds) 2010 Discrimination in an Unequal World. New York: Oxford University Press

Global interaction is a phenomenon that is founded on the interaction between national and international economies. This is intended to remove barriers and boundaries and pave the way for an ‘equal’ level of interaction between nations. The promise of global interaction has at its heart the idea of a world free of discrimination from gender, class, caste, ethnicity or any other form of prejudice. Proponents of globalisation believe that this phenomenon has brought about change for the better.

Discrimination in an Unequal World centres around the debate on globalisation, surrounding whether or not globalisation creates equal opportunities or social hierarchies. Proponents of globalisation assert that ‘in a competitive world no one can afford to discriminate except on the basis of skills’ (Centeno 2010:1). Additionally, they note that globalisation assumes the development and provision of a level playing field and equal opportunities. Conversely, critics of globalisation believe that it results in social inequality and that this is embedded in its exploitative nature, providing certain groups with opportunities over others. Critics further argue that globalisation is based on an ideology motivated by first world countries in order to exploit developing countries; therefore this movement has made the world more unequal than ever before. It is representatives of this spectrum of opinions that the editors of Discrimination in an Unequal World assemble in a collection of essays investigating the problem and complexities of discrimination. [End Page 158]

More specifically, Discrimination in an Unequal World investigates the extent to which globalisation leads to discrimination, utilising case studies from different perspectives to formulate an argument about the complexity and contestation of discrimination and inequalities within the context of globalisation. Miguel and Newman, the editors of this volume, demonstrate extensive knowledge on the subject of globalisation and discrimination respectively. They assemble an interdisciplinary perspective on the subject that addresses the social forces of gender, class, race and caste as indicators of discrimination.

A few critical questions emerge in a first reading and interpretation of this volume. For example: (1) what is the relationship between patterns of inequality and discrimination? (2) Is discrimination integral to inequality or an optional by-product? (3) What is the relationship between the organisation of the market, the hierarchies that result, and the subjective dimensions of social experiments resulting in outcomes which appear to privilege groups defined by characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, or citizenship status? The aforementioned questions seem to contribute to the ideas, insights and philosophy which shape this collection.

Indeed, discrimination is a contested concept, often not easy to define. In chapter three, Pager notes that there are various difficulties with regards to measuring discrimination. One is that the victim may be paranoid to the extent that every activity is seen as a deliberate means of exclusion. The other is that prejudice may be so internalised that it becomes normal. Nonetheless, it does not appear to me that the authors have fully interrogated the conceptual dimension of discrimination – they have rather opted for a circuitous route. They offer in my view an indirect avenue to the definition by tracing its historical meaning through the markers of gender, class, race, and caste.

Examining the book more closely, the opening section provides a historical context to globalisation, wherein (in chapter two) the author reminds the reader that before the present wave of globalisation there were two previous periods of this global movement with disastrous consequences for non-European countries, particularly peripheral countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. The central question in this chapter is how globalisation influences, shapes and textures discrimination and further how it either facilitates or resists the introduction of affirmative action.

Affirmative action is a tool that is used to make right the wrongs of the past through positive discrimination. The notion of affirmative action is [End Page 159] contested and complex and is often referred to as reverse discrimination or reverse racism, particularly in South Africa with regards to the initiatives promoting previously marginalised groups such as blacks, Indians and coloureds...


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