Wealth inequality and the super-rich
: how talk about psychological concepts are used to legitimise extreme wealth

  • Philippa Carr

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Wealth inequality is a social issue that is exacerbated by the practices of the super-rich. Extremely wealthy people have limited social visibility as they can use their wealth to live separately from other groups. Some theoretical approaches such as individual differences do not acknowledge how inequality is socially constructed. As a result, there is a lack of recognition of the individualistic ideology underlining psychological approaches that legitimise wealth inequality in society. In this thesis, I explore how the super-rich account for their extreme wealth using discourse about psychological concepts in television programming. Forty-one and a half hours of non-subscription terrestrial UK television data was gathered throughout 2016 that included the term, ‘super-rich’ in the title, programme summary or subtitling transcript.
    Discursive Psychology was used to analyse the corpus which allowed for the exploration of how individuals draw upon lived ideology in their talk to manage their accountability for their wealth acquisition and expenditure. This research demonstrated how a discursive and rhetorical approach can be used to analyse television documentaries. It was found that super-rich individuals legitimise their wealth acquisition and spending by presenting themselves as psychologically superior to the less affluent and as a result, deserving of their extreme wealth. By drawing upon meritocratic ideology, individuals managed their moral identity as their wealth and consumption is warranted as earned.
    The presentation of wealth as earned extends to wealth gained as a result of inheritance as heirs present their privilege as earned due to their enhanced work ethic. Super-rich people present their ostentatious consumption as normal
    and construct themselves as reticent to discuss costs to comply with societal norms. The presentation of the super-rich on television uses talk about psychological concepts that presents wealth distribution as an individual issue indirectly resulting in the collective effect of wealth inequality being ignored.
    Consequentially, psychology is used to provide an individualistic rationale to sustain wealth inequality in society.
    Date of AwardApr 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorSimon Goodman (Supervisor), Adam Jowett (Supervisor) & Jackie Abell (Supervisor)

    Cite this