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The middle class are any class in the middle of a social schema. In Weberian socio-economic terms they are the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socioeconomically between the working class and upper class. In Marxist terms, middle class commonly refers to either the bourgeoisie before or during capitalism, or some emergent new class within capitalism. In common parlance middle class refers to a set of culturally distinct contemporary Western cultures that emphasise sedentary consumerism and petty property ownership within capitalism.

History and evolution of the term

The term "middle class" has a long history and has had several, sometimes contradictory, meanings. It was once defined by exception as an intermediate social class between the nobility and the peasantry of Europe. While the nobility owned the countryside, and the peasantry worked the countryside, a new bourgeoisie (literally "town-dwellers") arose around mercantile functions in the city. In France, the middle classes helped drive the French Revolution.

Within capitalism, middle class initially referred to the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie. However, with the immiserisation and proletarianisation of much of the petit bourgeois world, and the growth of finance capitalism, middle class came to refer to the combination of labour aristocracy, professionals and white collar workers.

The size of the middle class depends on how it is defined, whether by education, wealth, environment of upbringing, social network, manners or values, etc. These are all related, though far from deterministically dependent. The following factors are often ascribed in modern usage to a "middle class":
  • Achievement of tertiary education.
  • Holding professional qualifications, including academics, engineers, and doctors regardless of their leisure or wealth.
  • Belief in bourgeois values, such as high rates of house ownership and jobs which are perceived to be "secure."
  • Lifestyle. In the United Kingdom, social status has historically been linked less directly to wealth than in the United States , and has also been judged by pointers such as accent, manners, place of education, occupation and the class of a person's family, circle of friends and acquaintances.
  • Cultural identification. Often in the United States, the middle class are the most eager participants in pop culture whereas the reverse is true in Britain .
The second generation of new immigrants will often enthusiastically forsake their traditional folk culture as a sign of having arrived in the middle class.

In the United States by the end of the twentieth century, more people identified themselves as middle class than as lower or "working" class (with insignificant numbers identifying themselves as upper class). In contrast, in the United Kingdom, in recent surveys up to two-thirds of Britons identify themselves as working class. The British Labour Party, which grew out of the organized labour movement and originally drew almost all of its support from the working class, reinvented itself under Tony Blair in the 1990s as "New Labour," a party competing with the Conservative Party for the votes of the middle class as well as the working class.

Geographic terms

Geographic terms such as "Heartland America", "Middle America" and "Middle England" are used to refer to a concept of the middle class of a country being located in the centre of that country.

Middle America

Middle America suggests a small town or suburb where people are predominantly middle class. The economy of Middle America is traditionally considered agricultural, though most Middle Americans now live in suburban locales, and a person may hold Middle American values while not living geographically in the Midwestern United States, and vice versa.

The phrase Middle American values refers to more traditional or conservative politics like family values.

Middle England

Though Middle England more commonly denotes the middle class of non-urban England, it also has connotations of "Deep England". The BBC described the Kent town of Tunbridge Wellsmarker as the "spiritual home" of Middle England.

The term is used by journalists to refer to the presumed views of mainstream English people as opposed to minorities of all types (the rich or the poor, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, the politically active, the intelligentsia, etc.) In particular it is used more and more to denote the rather right-wing views of those who are not in such minorities; Daily Mail readers, for example, are often characterised as being from Middle England as are members of the Countryside Alliance.
Residents of Middle England are also sometimes referred to as the "silent" or "moral majority" in the British media.


Middle Australia

The term Middle Australia, to describe suburban, middle class Australians,

gained a place in the Australian political vernacular during the 2004 federal election. Opposition Leader Mark Latham used it to refer directly to families "on thirty, forty, fifty thousand dollars a year"
. Middle Australia became a target constituency to which policies of financial security were pitched.

 Latham's definition is normally at odds with the definition of middle class as professional or tertiary educated individuals on average or greater incomes, and his other term aspirationals reflects far more the class grouping he was targeting.


Marxism and the middle class

Marxism does not necessarily see the groups described above as the middle class. The middle class is not a fixed category within Marxism, and debate continues as to the content of this social group.

Marxism defines social classes not according to the wealth or prestige of their members, but according to their relationship with the means of production: a noble owns land; a capitalist owns capital; a worker has the ability to work and must seek employment in order to make a living. However, between the rulers and the ruled there is most often a group of people, often called a middle class, which lacks a specific relationship. Historically, during feudalism, the bourgeoisie were that middle class. People often describe the contemporary bourgeoisie as the "middle class from a Marxist point of view", but this is incorrect.

Marxism states that the bourgeoisie are the ruling class (or upper class) in a capitalist society.


Marxists vigorously debate the exact composition of the middle class under capitalism. Some describe a "co-ordinating class" which implements capitalism on behalf of the capitalists, composed of the petit bourgeoisie, professionals and managers. Others dispute this, freely using the term "middle class" to refer to affluent white-collar workers as described above (even though, in Marxist terms, they are part of the proletariat—the working class). Still others (for example, Council communists and advocates of Participatory Economics) allege that there is a class comprising intellectuals, technocrats and managers which seeks power in its own right. This last group allege that such technocratic middle classes seized power and government for themselves in Soviet-style societiesmarker (see co-ordinatorism).

Recent growth of the global middle class

In February 2009, the Economist magazine announced that over half the world's population now belongs to the middle class, as a result of rapid growth in emerging countries. It characterized the middle class as having a reasonable amount of discretionary income, so that they do not live from hand to mouth as the poor do, and defined it as beginning at the point where people have roughly a third of their income left for discretionary spending after paying for basic food and shelter. This allows people to buy consumer goods, improve their health care, and provide for their children’s education. Most of the emerging middle class consists of people who are middle-class by the standards of the developing world but not the rich one, since their money incomes do not match developed country levels, but the percentage of it which is discretionary does. By this definition, the number of middle class people in Asia exceeded that in the West sometime around 2007 or 2008.

The Economist article pointed out that in many emerging countries the middle class has not grown incrementally, but explosively. The rapid growth results from the fact that the majority of the people fall into the middle of a right-skewed bell-shaped curve, and when the peak of the population curve crosses the threshold into the middle class, the number of people in the middle class grows enormously. In addition, when the curve crosses the threshold, economic forces cause the bulge to become taller as incomes at that level grow faster than incomes in other ranges. The point at which the poor start entering the middle class by the millions is the time when poor countries get the maximum benefit from cheap labour through international trade, before they price themselves out of world markets for cheap goods. It is also a period of rapid urbanization, when subsistence farmers abandon marginal farms to work in factories, resulting in a several-fold increase in their economic productivity before their wages catch up to international levels. That stage was reached in China some time between 1990 and 2005, when the middle class grew from 15% to 62% of the population, and is just being reached in India now.

The Economist predicted that surge across the poverty line should continue for a couple of decades and the global middle class will grow enormously between now and 2030.

Professional-managerial class

Barbara Ehrenreich and her husband John defined a distinct part of the middle class in 1977 as "salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor...(is)...the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations"; and they named this group the "professional-managerial class".
This group
of middle class professionals are distinguished from the rest of the class by training and education (typically business qualifications and university degrees),
with example occupations including academics and teachers, social workers, engineers, managers, nurses, and middle-level administrators.
The Ehrenreichs developed their definition from studies by André Gorz, Serge Mallet, and others, of a "new working class", which, despite education and a perception of themselves as being middle class, were part of the working class because they did not own the means of production, and were wage earners paid to produce a piece of capital.
The professional-managerial class seeks higher rank status and salary,
and tend to have incomes above the average for their country.


See also



Other:

References

Notes

  1. Georges Lefebvre, La Révolution Française, 1951 1957
  2. http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article1955405.ece Discusses middle class snobbery as regards popular culture.
  3. Middle America warms to Barack Obama - Telegraph
  4. Time: Middle Americans
  5. http://www.newstatesman.com/200710250029 New Statesman - Middle England. They’re nicer than you think
  6. http://www.spectator.co.uk/clivedavis/299276/in-search-of-middle-england.thtml
  7. Australia’s middle has moved | Meganomics Blog | The Australian
  8. Howard aims reconciliation promise at middle Australia - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
  9. The Experience of Middle Australia - smh.com.au
  10. Lateline - 07/09/2004: Latham delivers tax, family policies
  11. Budget courts middle Australia - National - theage.com.au
  12. Middle Australia "mistrusts leaders". | Australasian Business Intelligence | Find Articles at BNET.com
  13. Bigotry by the book - TV & Radio - Entertainment - theage.com.au
  14. Communist League Britain, Marxism and Class: Some definitions. undated. http://www.mltranslations.org/Britain/Marxclass.htm at §The 'Middle Class'
  15. The Communist Manifesto, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm, at Chapter 1, ¶Meantime the markets kept ever growing…
  16. Stewart Clegg, Paul Boreham, Geoff Dow;
  17. Philip Green,
  18. Gail Paradise Kelly, Sheila Slaughter;

Bibliography



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