The rising invisible majority

The rising invisible majority

Emanuele Ferragina, Alessandro Arrigoni & Thees F. Spreckelsen
Review of International Political Economy
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The rising invisible majority
Bringing society back into international political economy

Review of International Political Economy

First published 30th July 2020
Read or download here the paper (Taylor & Francis Online)

The paper develops the concept of a rising invisible majority and explores the interconnections between the political economy context and the changing composition of European society.
The concept illustrates how the transition from the Fordist to the neoliberal phase of capitalism is leading to a similar – if differently paced – transformation of the social composition across Europe.
The material basis of the ‘invisibility’ manifests itself in a structural increase of unemployment, labour market precarization, and poverty.
‘Invisibility’ makes growing segments of the population less likely to participate in the institutions that regulate social life, while mainstream parties and trade unions no longer represent them adequately in the public arena. The authors suggest this trend will continue, and eventually concern a majority of the population, unless the neoliberal mechanisms of regulation are slowed or reversed.
Enriching Karl Polanyi’s double movement logic, the paper hypothesises the existence of feedback effects from this transformation of the social composition to the political economy context that could lead to countermovements.
The reasoning is systematised in an analytical framework, complemented with a historical analysis of the Italian case, and a quantitative measurement of the magnitude of this transformation across 14 European countries.

In conclusion, authors argue there are no classes or social groups but only a multitude of individuals with their own experiences. A part of the population is materially and socially marginalised by the regulatory mechanisms of the neoliberal phase of capitalism. This opens significant space for feedback effects and perhaps countermovements. These societal reactions could in the long-run potentially even unravel the present economic and political order.

The rising invisible majority is not a passive by-product of the shift to neoliberalism, nor is it a revolutionary social force. It is instead a holistic concept that helps us to bring society back into international political economy: narratively, conceptually and empirically.

Emanuele Ferragina is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Sciences Po - OSC & LIEPP, Paris.
Alessandro Arrigoni is an independent researcher.
Thees F. Spreckelsen is a Lecturer for Research Methods at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow.

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