embourgeoisement thesis


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embourgeoisement thesis

the argument that the working class in modern capitalism has adopted the lifestyle and political attitudes of the MIDDLE CLASSES. In the case of Britain, this thesis gained currency in the 1950s and 60s in a number of different spheres. Social commentators, political analysts and politicians contrasted the condition of the WORKING CLASS before the 1930s (in terms of income, housing, employment, health and leisure interests) with its improved situation after 1950. They argued, or assumed, that the establishment of the WELFARE STATE, relatively full employment, real improvements in living standards and the mass production of consumer goods, had removed material and cultural differences between the classes. They also attributed the success of the Conservative Party throughout the 1950s to these changes, arguing that material and social changes had had a major impact on working-class political consciousness, leading, again, to an identification with the middle classes (e.g. see Rose, 1960). These factors, welfare state, political conservativism, etc, led a number of sociologists to speculate about the end of ideology (see END-OF-IDEOLOGY THESIS) as a factor in voting and social behaviour.

A most interesting effect of the embourgeoisement thesis was its influence on the major political parties and in mass media coverage of politics during the period. Within sociology, some work (e.g. in studies of family relations) was thematically consistent with the embourgeoisement argument, but the most influential and most direct response to the thesis, the AFFLUENT WORKER studies, refuted it in terms of workers’ attitudes, while earlier work on the extent and distribution of poverty had shown that there were still great numbers of people who did not enjoy a ‘middle-class’ standard of living. See also CLASS, CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS, CLASS IMAGERY, UNDERCLASS.