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7Qs for Academics Edward Webster


Today we speak to Professor Edward Webster, Distinguished Research Professor at the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies (SCIS).

This is an ongoing series where we introduce some key researchers and academics getting to understand their work, their developing research interests as well as what keeps them engaged.

Explain the nature of your work and/or how it relates to inequality.

My interest is in the changing world of work and how it produces and reproduces inequality.  I am currently completing a book length manuscript titled: “Work and Inequality in the Digital Age: A Southern Perspective on the Future of Labour.”

Why do you think inequality remains such an intractable social and economic problem?

Inequality is a structural question and is shaped by power. It is reproduced by a series of interlocking institutions that begins at birth – who your parents are and where you were born (rural /urban, global North /global South) - and continues through schooling, what career you chose, how you live and how you die. It is its multi-dimensional nature that makes it so intractable.

What continues to keep you engaged in your work or areas of research?

I am driven by intellectual curiosity and the ways in which the research I do and the concepts and theories I develop can help make the world a more egalitarian and harmonious place.

What is one thing your field is not focusing on that it should? 

Inequality studies has been dominated by quantitative analysis; focusing largely on money-metric inequality. The concept of power is at the heart of inequality because inequality is a power relation. This requires that the distribution of economic power be confronted head-on. It requires a focus on power that goes beyond the power to control markets and seeks to understand how power manifests itself in structural, institutional and cultural exclusion and discrimination.

Who are some academics (in your field or otherwise) whose work you follow closely? Why?

I am quite eclectic in my approach and tend to use different theoretical approaches depending on the problem.  In my understanding of how society works I have been most influenced by the two Karl’s: Karl Marx and Karl Polanyi but in my research on the world of work I have been most influenced by Harry Braverman and Michael Burawoy.

What books are you currently reading?

Carl Frey’s The Technology Trap: Capital, Labour and Power in the Age of Automation and Jacob Dlamini’s Safari Nation: A Social History of the Kruger National Park.

Complete the sentence: “The first thing I do each morning once I get up is

… go for a 5km jog  in the park , then I swim in my pool and then I read the Business Day.”