petty bourgeoisie

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Related to petty bourgeoisie: lumpenproletariat, petite bourgeoisie

petty bourgeoisie


petite bourgeoisie

the class of small capitalist business owners. Some theorists also include self-employed artisans, middle and small peasantry and other smallholding farmers. The term has its origins in MARX's work. He distinguished between the social and economic situation of big and small businesses and argued that the logic of competition and successive economic crises in CAPITALISM is to encourage the growth of monopolistic big business (and CLASS POLARIZATION and PROLETARIANIZATION of the petty bourgeoisie). In practice, despite the insecurity and instability of small business ownership (only about 20% survive for more than five years, see Fidler, 1981), the rate of establishment of new small or independent concerns remains very high and may have been encouraged by high unemployment and recession. Empirical studies of the petty bourgeoisie suggest that their social and political attitudes can be characterized as individualistic and independent-minded, mistrustful of large organizations, generally conservative and antisocialist (Bechhofer et al., 1974). The support of members of the petty bourgeoisie is usually considered significant in the rise of European FASCISM in the 1920s and 30s in Germany (see Franz Neumann, 1942). More generally, they are found disproportionately among the supporters of right-wing and extreme right-wing political movements. e.g. McCarthyism in the US (see BELL, 1964).

A recent theoretical redevelopment of the concept occurs in Poulantzas (1973). He has proposed that the non-manual MIDDLE CLASSES can be best conceptualized as a NEW PETTY BOURGEOISIE on the grounds that they are not members of the bourgeoisie, since they do not own the means of production, but nor can they (contrary to the PROLETARIANIZATION thesis) be members of the working class. Their role as assistants of capital and their ideological identification with capitalist interests makes it more appropriate to see them as identified with the ‘old’ petty bourgeoisie. In many ways, however, this theory is better seen in the context of the debate about the NEW MIDDLE CLASS than the traditional conception of the petty bourgeoisie (see CONTRADICTORY CLASS LOCATIONS).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
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