British social reformer Robert Owen once declared that man is the creature of circumstances. A century and a half later, his famous words still ring true. While many adopt a fatalist approach, believing that their lot in life is inevitable, in fact a number of highly complex social factors determine the outcome of our socioecomic status and integration into society. It may seem unfair, but the conditions into which we are born largely determine the various courses that our lives take. In their highly readable overview authors Lorne Tepperman and Nina Gheihman look to the social inequalities that arise from such circumstances-including those of class, gender, race, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation. In doing so, they uncover the startling observation that in any given society these various manifestations of inequality show similar patterns, revealing a cultural predisposition (or habit ) that favours and promotes inequality. Associated with these social inequalities are a number of hidden costs, ranging from unnecessarily high rates of physical and mental illness, addiction, violence, and crime. With inequality on the rise in Canada, the increase of these social problems is an unsettling reality. In order to address these major inequalities-and to resolve their associated social problems-we must first overcome this underlying habit that connects them all. If that is our societal goal, and the authors argue it should be, we must be prepared to change the way we think about politics, culture, society, and ourselves.
Lorne Tepperman is the author of The Sense of Sociability: How People Overcome the Forces Pulling Them Apart. Problem Gambling in Canada, and Betting Their Lives: The Close Relations of Problem Gamblers, all published by Oxford University Press. A professor at the University of Toronto, he has taught courses on sociology for over forty years and has published over a dozen textbooks in the field. Nina Gheihman is a graduate student of sociology at the University of Toronto, currently studying how individuals' interactions with the cultural milieu around them contribute to the broadly pattered social inequalities that characterize our society.