Most of the existing social science literature understands inequality and stratifi cation primarily as processes that occur within national boundaries. Such a focus has produced a number of infl uential overarching narratives. One such narrative is that people’s relative well-being is shaped most fundamentally by the capacity of homegrown institutions to promote economic growth and/or equity. Another, that people over time have become more stratifi ed by their relative achievement and effort rather than by the characteristics with which they are born. A third one, a corollary of the other two, is that contemporary upward social mobility is fundamentally the outcome of the adoption of better domestic institutions by countries, and/or the acquisition of greater human capital by individuals. In our recent book, Unveiling Inequality (Korzeniewicz/Moran 2009), we argue that looking at the unfolding of social inequality, stratifi cation and mobility in the world as a whole over a long period of time –in other words, from a world-historical perspective – calls these narratives into question.
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