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Angela Wigger fights social inequality for an alternative future

Date of news: 20 April 2021

Angela Wigger has been aware of social inequality almost all her life. The Associate Professor deals with global political economy and does not shy away from activism. ‘Being truly critical involves an emancipatory agenda.’

Even as a child on a farm in Switzerland, she saw the gap between the rich and the poor. “I really wanted to ride horses, but it was something for rich people. My parents could not afford it. I started working in a stable so that I could occasionally ride for free. I saw the disparity, but I could neither explain nor understand it.” Later, when she travelled the world as a teenager, she was shocked by the poverty and inequality she saw in Morocco and Latin America.

Wigger went to study Political Science at the University of Bern. “I was looking for answers to my questions about power relations, the organisation of the global economy and poverty. When I did not find those answers, I started to focus on global political economy. It is part political science, part political economy, part sociology and much more. Great thinkers like Karl Marx and Adam Smith did not confine themselves to strictly defined disciplines either. They wrote about everything under the sun.”

Reversal

Wigger came to the Netherlands at the turn of the century through an exchange programme. She obtained her doctorate at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and then got a job at Radboud University. In Nijmegen, she researches capitalist competition and competition policy on a global level. “I study capitalism, the forces and power relations that arise from it, the crises that come with it and how these crises can lead to shifts in attitude.”

Her focus is on industrial and competition policy and the unbridled power of financial capital. “For example, I study how and why the political direction of new EU industrial policy favours the financial sector and disadvantages workers and poorer regions. For this, I look at the regulation of financial markets, shadow banking and the debt economy. The central questions are: how do we organise the economy, how is it changing and why is it changing in a certain direction?”

Process

Wigger’s activism plays a clear role in her research. “I am a critical political economist. Being truly critical requires an emancipatory agenda. As the British economist Susan Strange said: ‘You always have to ask the question: cui bono, who wins and who loses? And at the end of your research: so what? What effect does it have?’ This process is central to my work. I don’t have a blueprint for how things should be done differently, but I am looking at the outline of an alternative future.”

According to Wigger, many scientists think that whoever is critical is also normative. “But if you only analyse the established power system and say nothing about it, you legitimise it and are therefore normative. I make my normative assumptions explicit and my analysis is as thorough as that of others. However, I go a step further and try to offer perspectives of political change.”

‘Sand im Getriebe’

Wigger publishes in top scientific journals, but also shares her findings with civil society organisations, political parties and NGOs. “In addition, I am regularly invited to Brussels - for conferences on competition and industrial policy, for example. European Commissioners are open to disagreement and appreciate my work, but it hardly changes the system. It is quite frustrating. All I can do is keep going. That means supporting warring factions with my scientific analysis and trying to be – as the saying goes in German – Sand im Getriebe.