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Laura Weinrib, Class and Classification: The Role of Disgust in Regulating Social Status, in The Empire of Disgust: Prejudice, Discrimination and Policy in India and the U.S. (Zoya Hasan, Aziz Huq, Martha Nussbaum & Vidhu Verma eds., 2018).

Abstract: This chapter for an edited volume on the relationship between law, disgust, and prejudice in social and political life explores the role of disgust in structuring class distinctions. It argues that disgust has often been an unarticulated basis for laws that denigrate and quarantine the poor, ranging historically from vagrancy and “unsightly beggar” laws to compulsory sterilization. It explores whether and how law might be used to dismantle the status-based stratification that exacerbates and legitimates disgust. Finally, it asks whether repudiating disgust is likely to facilitate or impede efforts to mitigate economic inequality. If the visceral force of disgust helps to naturalize social hierarchy, then exposing its effects as illegitimate might serve to spur structural reform. At the same time, the power of disgust to unsettle middle-class complacency has occasionally functioned as an impetus for legal and social change.