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The Global Middle Classes

Theorizing Through Ethnography

Edited by Rachel Heiman, Carla Freeman, and Mark Liechty

Surging middle-class aspirations and anxieties throughout the world have recently compelled anthropologists to pay serious attention to middle classes and middle-class spaces, sentiments, lifestyles, labors, and civic engagements. Middle classness has become a powerful category for self-identification, as political and corporate leaders increasingly hail “the middle classes” as the ideal subject-citizenry. Ethnographically rich and culturally particular, the essays in this volume elucidate middle-class experience and discourse and in so doing add critical nuance to theories of class itself.

2012. 368 pp., 16 figures, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Krisztina Fehérváry, Carla Freeman, Rachel Heiman, Carla Jones, Cindi Katz, Mark Liechty, Samuli Schielke, Sanjay Srivastava, Rihan Yeh, Li Zhang

Download an excerpt.

“The middle classes, robust in some countries, but fragile in others, exert significant impact on the fate of nations and continents. In a trailblazing departure, The Global Middle Classes identifies the middle class as the lens through which anthropology contributes to the study of contemporary globalization. From Egypt to Hungary, India to Indonesia, Kathmandu to Kunming, the New York suburbs and Mexican border to the Caribbean islands, the authors present compelling portraits of how middle class practices and aspirations are contingently connected to global capitalism.”
—Aihwa Ong, coeditor of Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments in the Art of Being Global


“This outstanding collection casts light on the cultural worlds of the global middle classes, showing that they are connected by webs of consumption, aspiration, and communication but are also distinct in their styles, priorities, and anxieties. These essays are ethnographic jewels covering India, Mexico, China, and several other sites, but are also beautifully linked to a wide body of social theory and historical comparison. This book is a feast for anthro- pologists, sociologists, and historians concerned with globalization and with class as emergent phenomena of the world we live in.”
—Arjun Appadurai, Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU


“Thought-provoking, theoretically sophisticated, and empirically rich, this superb collection draws attention to the diversity of middle classes in different parts of the world.”
—Akhil Gupta, director, UCLA Center for India and South Asia


“These 11 impressive essays are a product of the…Advanced Seminar at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They contribute both a re-examination and reinvigoration of class analysis in anthropology and a comparative investigation of the origins, identities, and cultural practices of the middle classes in a variety of locales, ranging from Nepal to New Jersey…. There is much to be learned about the emotional aspects of class identity, and the essays do an excellent job of breaking down artificial barriers between the public and private aspects of class definitions and identity. Additionally, most of the papers clearly demonstrate the relationships between class, gender, ethnicity, regionality, and state power. The book begins to fill a major hole in the anthropology of class.”
—B. Tavakolian, Denison University emeritus, Choice, January 2013, vol. 50, no. 05


“As part of a recent growing body of scholarship on its topic, this volume features ethnographically rich and theoretically-driven chapters that seek to rethink the global formation of the middle classes across different geographical locations…. A short review cannot do justice to this thought-provoking [book].”
—A. Ricardo López, Western Washington University

  1. Introduction: Charting an Anthropology of the Middle Classes
    Rachel Heiman, Mark Liechty, and Carla Freeman
  2. Living in the Future Tense: Aspiring for World and Class in Provincial Egypt
    Samuli Schielke
  3. National Identity, Bedrooms, and Kitchens: Gated Communities and New Narratives of Space in India
    Sanjay Srivastava
  4. Neoliberal Respectability: Entrepreneurial Marriage, Affective Labor, and a New Caribbean Middle Class
    Carla Freeman
  5. The Postsocialist Middle Classes and the New “Family House” in Hungary
    Krisztina Fehérváry
  6. Women in the Middle: Femininity, Virtue, and Excess in Indonesian Discourses of Middle Classness
    Carla Jones
  7. Just Managing: American Middle-Class Parenthood in Insecure Times
    Cindi Katz
  8. A Middle-Class Public at Mexico’s Northern Border
    Rihan Yeh
  9. Private Homes, Distinct Lifestyles: Performing a New Middle Class in China
    Li Zhang
  10. Gate Expectations: Discursive Displacement of the “Old Middle Class” in an American Suburb
    Rachel Heiman
  11. Middle-Class Déjà Vu: Conditions of Possibility, from Victorian England to Contemporary Kathmandu
    Mark Liechty
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.

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