Indian Economic Nationalism and Middle CLASS. Middle Class As Contested Cultural Project(s)

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 00:00
Oral Presentation
Stefanie STRULIK, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Geneva, Switzerland
Recent years have seen an increased sociological interest in the middle classes of the Global South from a comparative perspective. The paper argues that in addition to sociostructural analysis, Weberian or Bourdieuan conceptualizations it might be worthwhile to look at national and transnational discourses on middle class, i.e. to study middle classes not as descriptive facts but as cultural projects.

This paper assumes middle class to consist of a specific set of subjectivities that are articulated with regard to gender, national belonging, religion, modernity, the West and others. Class is conceived as being simultaneously lived experience and a relational and interproductive phenomenon. Consequently, middle class then would be a fragmented category of aspiration and imagination with contested boundaries of membership that draw on different narratives and embodied practices.

The paper works with ethnographic material from India to show how middle class subjectivities explicitly need the opposition of other middle class subjects and that internal fragmentation is one of its typical constituents. Comparisons with ‘the other’ - e.g. a supposedly global middle class or different middle class milieus within India - is part and parcel of ‘being in the middle’. Moreover it discusses how in the case of India a new economic nationalism is intertwined with discourses on middleclassness and Indian modernity.

While the paper does not intend to claim that discourse analysis or ethnographic research on the relation of emic and etic conceptualizations of middle class should supersede classical sociological middle class research, it contends that for a deeper understanding of transformatory processes in the Global South, as well as for a comparative perspective, it is needed that middle classes are (also) studied as contested, often politicized cultural projects.