middle class

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middle class:

see bourgeoisiebourgeoisie
, originally the name for the inhabitants of walled towns in medieval France; as artisans and craftsmen, the bourgeoisie occupied a socioeconomic position between the peasants and the landlords in the countryside.
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Fig. 19 Middle class. The figure indicates the increasing middle-class proportion of the gainfully employed population of the UK in the period 1911-71 (percentages). (Adapted from Routh, 1980.)

middle class(es)

the non-manual occupational groups(s) which are located between the UPPER and the WORKING CLASSES.

The term ‘middle’ itself reflects a widely perceived common-sense conception of a status hierarchy in which non-manual work is accorded greater prestige than manual work, but is recognized as socially inferior to groups with major property or political interests. The presence of a large middle class in capitalist societies has been a subject of interest for a number of reasons. Important changes in occupational structure, involving a large increase in non-manual occupations, have forced a re-examination of the concept of social CLASS, particularly with reference to the social and political role of the ‘middle class(es)’.

Until the 19th century, there existed few relatively specialized occupational roles of the kind that now exist, e.g. accountancy teaching, nursing. This is not to say that ‘middle class’ roles in banking and government, and in the traditional PROFESSIONS did not exist. However, in both industry and government, especially over the last 100 years, there has occurred an enormous expansion of non-manual occupations, while the number of manual workers has shrunk (see Fig. 19).

The growth of non-manual occupations, and also the persistence of small businesses and the professions, poses theoretical problems for some traditional approaches to CLASS and SOCIAL STRATIFICATION. Until recently, Marxist theory especially had no well-developed analysis of the nature and significance of the ‘middle classes’. The problems are compounded by the great diversity of non-manual work which ranges from routine clerical work to relatively powerful managerial and professional roles, with the owners of independent small businesses in between. This has led to radically different ideas of where to locate the middle classes within the class structure. It has been argued, for instance, that a process of PROLETARIANIZATION has reduced the status, pay and working conditions of clerical workers to those of the manual working class. Others (e.g. Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich, 1979) have argued that the ‘professional-managerial class’ is a new and distinct class in its own right, while still others (e.g. Poulantzas, 1975) see the development of a NEW PETTY BOURGEOISIE (see also INTELLECTUAL LABOUR, CONTRADICTORY CLASS LOCATIONS).

Such differences in theoretical perspective reflect the diverse and ambiguous character of the middle class(es). It has often been argued, for instance, that non-manual occupations are distinguished by relatively higher pay, better working conditions, more opportunities for promotion, etc., than manual occupations. This argument cannot be sustained for women working in routine clerical jobs or behind shop counters; their WORK and MARKET SITUATION is quite different from that of higher middle-class occupations. On the other hand, routine white-collar workers do, on average, often work fewer hours per week than manual workers, and commonly enjoy great security of income, better sick pay and pension arrangements and greater job security. The further one moves up the status hierarchy the greater become the advantages of higher pay, career prospects and various ‘perks’ (e.g. company cars, low-interest loans or health insurance). The marked differences that exist within the middle class(es) mean that debates about their class situation and the implication of this for CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS, will continue to be held in sociology. See also MULTIDIMENSIONAL ANALYSIS OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION, CLASS IMAGERY, SOCIAL MOBILITY.

Middle Class

self-satisfied conformer to middle-class ideas and ideals. [Am. Lit: Babbitt]
representative of property-owning class in early 20th century. [Br. Lit.: The Forsyte Saga]
Podsnap, John
smugly complacent in his Britishness. [Br. Lit.: Our Mutual Friend]
References in periodicals archive ?
The research also reveals that just 5% of the Chinese middle class are not intending to buy any luxury item in the next year and the importance of luxury goods is highlighted by the segments the Chinese middle classes intend to invest in over the coming year.
However, the big revolution in China is smartphones with 97% adoption amongst the middle classes.
It would not be wrong to infer from the table that the expanded middle classes and the privileged class are mainly found among: paid employees; self-employed in the non-agricultural sector; and employer with more than ten employees.
Even more significant, Disney made no attempt to revive genteel ideals of the sublime, but created a new kind of playful crowd that would be acceptable to the middle classes.
13) Gunilla-Frederi ke Budde has similarly argued that the middle classes had a social-structural need to cultivate high cultural tastes to demonstrate their individual and class claims to leadership.
Many working-class families also sought to live-up to the domestic ideal established by the middle classes.
One of Meldrum's theses, advanced in an earlier article ("Domestic Service, Privacy and the Eighteenth-Century Metropolitan Household," Urban History, 26:1999), is a critique of the argument by well-known historian Lawrence Stone that the middle classes were searching to increase their privacy by removing servants' rooms to a separate floor in the 18th century.
While women had previously participated independently in the production and sale of goods in farming and other traditional businesses, the rise of the urban middle classes restricted their activities more and more to domestic tasks, while men increasingly assumed sole responsibility for providing the family's income.
Whereas in the eighteenth century the nobility still invoked its "blue blood" to justify its existence, the middle classes set out increasingly to base their own right to exist on their virtue.
Not all the middle classes wanted to join the temperance movement with its rallies and pledges, or the emer ging 'amateur' sporting establishment.
Many were probably read by the wealthy as well as by the middling sort, but the fact that they were intended for a broader audience justifies their treatment as sources of advice for the middle classes.
Their middle classes grew larger and more diverse, while their laboring populations reflected distinctive positions within expanding industrial economies.