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In search of a Tawney Moment: income inequality, financial crisis and the mass media in the UK and the USA

McGovern, Patrick ORCID: 0000-0003-3984-2080, Obradović, Sandra ORCID: 0000-0001-7930-3909 and Bauer, Martin W. (2023) In search of a Tawney Moment: income inequality, financial crisis and the mass media in the UK and the USA. The Sociological Review, 71 (5). 1213 - 1233. ISSN 0038-0261

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Identification Number: 10.1177/00380261231176365


Has rising income inequality become a scandalous social problem as the English ethical socialist R. H. Tawney anticipated in an earlier era? We examine the salience and framing of income inequality within major UK and US newspapers over the period 1990–2015. Specifically, this includes the global banking crisis of 2008, which was the most significant financial crisis in capitalist economies since the Great Depression of 1929. Did this event trigger a public outcry? We divide the overall search into a full corpus for quantitative analysis of media salience and a smaller corpus for in-depth qualitative analysis of media frames. We find that media coverage of income inequality increased across the period in both countries and especially after 2008. With this increase, there is a shift in frame prevalence, with pre-2008 frames focusing on conceptualising rising income inequality while post-2008 frames focus on managing rising inequality (through interventions, policies and identifying scale of solutions needed). This shift is accompanied by a more polarised sentiment on income inequality, an increase in moralising language and a more balanced political slant. The proposed ‘solutions’ become absorbed within established repertoires offered by the political right and left, limiting the emergence of a Tawney Moment. Consequently, the rise in income inequality has not generated the kind of scandalising public outcry that Tawney would expect. We conclude by examining the possible reasons for the lack of outrage in the mass media.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author(s)
Divisions: Sociology
Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Date Deposited: 21 May 2024 14:27
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2024 02:09

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