Constructing and Contesting Structural Inequality

K. Sabeel Rahman


Many forms of economic, social, and political inequality are the product not of individual actors but rather of larger systemic and structural arrangements. How should we conceptualize and then respond to such structural inequalities? This paper highlights two areas of current debate in legal scholarship and public policy: the changing nature of work and urban inequality. Each of these areas of debate provides examples of how law and policy construct structural forms of inequality—and how such inequality can be contested. As this paper suggests, structural inequality is best understood as an aggregate, cumulative product of legal and policy decisions. Such structural inequality requires similarly structural remedies that go beyond incremental, “meliorist” approaches. Specifically, the paper suggests three strategies for redressing structural inequality: limits on private power, investments in public goods, and oversight and enforcement by administrative agencies.

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