The Anthropology of the Middle Class Across the Globe

Donner, Henrike. 2017. The Anthropology of the Middle Class Across the Globe. Anthropology of this Century, 18(1), [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In the last two decades anthropology has seen a surge in studies that focus on practices and ideologies associated with what may be described as a global middle class, or the global middle classes. We have learned about the rise of lavish weddings, interior design consultations, fashion shows, and entrepreneurial activities of various kinds. The wide-ranging institutions seemingly beloved to middle-class citizens across the globe – be it marriage, the nuclear family, education, multinational employment, etc. – are reflected in media discourses and increasingly in scholarly work, highlighting the lifestyles of those who are relatively affluent inside and beyond academia. But whilst practices ranging from the celebration of Valentine’s Day in India to private clinics providing in vitro fertilization in Egypt, or from “eating out” in urban China to investing in an apartment in Istanbul may be seen as recognizable markers of a shared global middle-class culture, the topic of the middle class remains problematic in anthropology. Interestingly, while more and more communities and individuals around the world adopt the discourse and practices of being ‘middle-class’, anthropologists continue to struggle with work addressed both to class in general and to the middle class in particular.

But if class has remained a contested notion for anthropologists and other social scientists (Waquant 1992, Kalb 2015), the ethnography of middle-class lifestyles is booming. Even where class per se is not acknowledged as the focus of analysis, a whole host of issues related to middle-class life are being explored. As such it seems appropriate to find some common denominators in the analysis of the middle class, especially where claims of being middle-class (or not) and aspirations of becoming middle-class are shared amongst those with whom we do research. Not only are terms of identification intimately linked to questions of identity, we can also learn a lot from looking more closely at what ethnographies of the middle class contribute to the wider analysis of social inequality around the world.

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Middle class; Anthropology; Ethnography

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8 January 2016Accepted
8 January 2017Published

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08 Sep 2017 10:18

Last Modified:

10 May 2018 16:03


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