The Conduct of Life As Conceptual Framework for Middle Class Studies

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:50
Oral Presentation
Stefan HOLUBEK, University Bremen, Germany
With view on the rapid growth of middle-income groups in countries such as China, India or Brazil a sociological discussion on a ‘coming middle-class century’ (Therborn 2012) emerged. However, the income related conceptions of the middle classes are confronted with a wide variety of living standards and consumerism across countries. In my presentation, I will suggest a conceptual framework that focuses instead on the ‘conduct of life’ (“Lebensführung”, in the sense of Max Weber) as a mode of living which systematically generates certain practices that could be used as an alternative base for comparisons between national dynamics.

In our project, we assume that the specific mode of ‘doing life’ in Germany has been and largely still is characterized by a continuous investment of economic and cultural capital to pursue the reproduction and, if possible, improvement of one’s social status. Empirically, we conduct and analyse narrative biographical interviews with members of the German middle-class. In my presentation, I will rely on preliminary results to give an overview on a variety of elements of the conduct of life that are considered to be typical for middle class members, such as an orientation towards continuous individual status-improvement, a meritocratic ethos and a planning imperative. The empirical investigation and analytical conceptualization of such practices and underlying orientations appear as a promising attempt to compare national developments despite varying income levels and cultural settings.