Special issue: Debating Thomas Piketty's 'Capital and Ideology'

01 Apr 2021
01 Apr 2021

One of the most valuable features of Capital and Ideology is its concern to take history seriously and consider how the emergence of different political and economic regimes relate to discourses about fairness and justice across time. This paper pushes this agenda further by acknowledging that the experience of a few developed nations should not be taken as the template for the generalised study of inequality dynamics across time and space.

In this paper, the authors interrogate Piketty's analysis and policy proposals against specificities that are central to understanding the production and reproduction of inequalities within South Africa. They reflect on the South African case, the structure of inequality and its changes since 1994. They review a battery of policy interventions that have been implemented to address inequality in the last 25 years. They emphasise that the long shadow cast by centuries of colonialism and various forms of apartheid strongly affirm Piketty's emphasis on understanding history.

But this is both affirmation and critique given the foundational, imbedded impact that this specific legacy has had on post‐apartheid society and its policies. Piketty is aware that the levels of inequality in South Africa are so high that this is “unknown territory.” They map out some of this territory to reveal how these extreme initial wealth and racial inequities inform the reproduction of inequalities in all dimensions and undermine well intentioned policies. They claim that understanding extractive histories, imbedded wealth inequalities, and complex social and political institutions allows us to understand and confront some of the reasons why even in light of progressive policies, many of which are in line with the proposals from Piketty, government interventions have thus far failed to reduce inequality.


Fabio Diaz, Murray Leibbrandt, Vimal Ranchhod, Mike Savage. 2021. Piketty comes to South Africa. British Journal of Sociology. 2021;72:106–124. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12808


South African inequalities and Piketty’s “Capital and Ideology”, 30 November 2020