Are “Middle-Classes” in the Global South Always Classes? a Comparison of Cultural and Structural Elements of Middle-Income-Strata in Kenya and Brazil

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Florian STOLL, Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies/ Bayreuth University, Germany
This contribution puts the middle-class concept under scrutiny by examining its applicability in urban Kenya and Brazil. The crucial question is if there are common characteristics of the middle-income strata in both settings that make it possible to speak of a middle-class or do we find rather diverse subgroups with distinctive features and values. For studying the connection between culture and social structure, the paper discusses how structural elements such as income/consumption and occupation consciousness, economic interests, and status relate to sociocultural elements of conducts of life. Consequently, the author suggests that it is only under certain conditions appropriate to speak of “middle-classes” and introduces as an alternative to the milieu concept.

While milieu research examines in a first step cultural characteristics, it can consider in a second step if milieus fall together with vertical positions of income and occupations. In contrast to class studies, which construct groups by structural factors such as similar occupations and income, milieu approaches identify groups according to specific sociocultural features such as common mentalities, consumption patterns, and leisure activities. Different basic orientations in life, values, and specific activities show significant characteristics of groups that do not necessarily overlap with vertical stratification.

Research on middle-income milieus in Recife/Brazil and Nairobi/Kenya shows how the milieu concept helps to understand fundamental differences in both settings. While cultural characteristics of milieus in Recife/Brazil overlap to a high degree with vertical social structures, the differentiation of milieus in Nairobi/Kenya is more complex and includes many horizontal/cross-cutting influences such as urban-rural ties or ethnicity that are less significant (or even nonexistent) in Brazil, Europe and North America.