Middle Classes, De-Middledization and Stratified Societies: Observations of the Heterogeneity of Self-Employment

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Dieter BOEGENHOLD, Alpen-Adria University, Austria
In the recent discussion about the future of modern capitalist societies many well-thought speculations rely on the interplay between continued processes of globalization, increased trends of so-called digitalization and other forms of technological progress and their effects on the system of social stratification and social mobility (Wallerstein et al. 2013). Middle classes serve as a kind of conflict buffer of modern societies. In his discussion why there is no socialism in the United Stated which was questioned in book format by Werner Sombart in 1906 (see Sombart 1976), the upcoming middle classes and their related relative wealth played a central role. Sombart argued that if people earn means to engage in different consumption activities they start to arrange positively with a political-economic system receiving a status, which is worth defending. With roast beef and apple pie all socialist dreams disappear, was somehow the answer by Sombart to the stability of capitalism in early 20th century.

According to Collins (2013), technological displacement of middle-class labour is not much more than twenty years old whereas it took almost 200 years to destroy the working-class labour force. Therefore, none of the previous ways to compensate job losses will work effectively anymore in the future. Now the twenty-first century trajectory of technological development is likely to push the middle classes into redundancy.

This paper is about a sociology of middle classes in a theoretical discussion and empirically focussing at the occupational group of self-employed people. This category of the labour market as a whole was very much connected to ideas of a typical “middle” position. The paper wants to question this assumption theoretically and empirically by referring to the heterogeneity of self-employment, which may give proof for Collins’ thesis of an increased de-middledization.