The second of two related “identity” PowerPoint Presentations, (the first looked at occupational identities) identifies four cultural factors – two that could be loosely called “positive” (social and cultural capital) and two that could loosely be called “negative” (disgusted subjects and not being working class) that contribute to the shaping of middle class identities.
The Presentation is, in this respect, indicative of how “two-sides of the middle class identity coin” are related: the negative is a strong driver of the positive in the following ways:
1. “Not working class” is a significant descriptor because while the middle classes have signficant economic advantages that differentiate them from the working classes, they lack the strong wealth foundation of their upper class peers that serves to secure long-term class reproduction. While middle-class parents, for example, may be relatively affluent there is no guarantee these economic advantages can be used to secure the long-term future of their children. There may, for example, be no great body of wealth middle class parents can pass-down to their offspring through inheritance.
The maintenance of a “middle class lifestyle” is also a signficant factor here, both negatively, in terms of an economic drain on resources and positively in terms of “taste” and the development of “taste cultures”.
2. The idea of the middle class as “disgusted subjects” links into the above by suggesting that one important element of cultural differentiation is the presence or absence of “taste”. This is something that, in terms of middle class identities, both the working classes and upper classes generally lack: the former because their cultural pursuits are characterised as disposable and transient (they lack any long-term cultural value) and the latter because ostentatious displays of wealth and privilege can be characterised as vulgar, “tasteless” and similarly lacking any intrinsic, lived, value.
3. Social and cultural capital are the other side of the coin in the sense they represent positive features of middle class identity in terms of the various ways they can be used to support the ideas of “not being working class” and “disgusted subjects”.
Cultural capital, for example, can be employed in two ways: firstly in terms of “taste” as a commodity owned by the middle classes that enhances their sense of identity as a distinctive social grouping and secondly, in terms of the value of something like education.
While educational qualifications have no intrinsic economic value – a degree, when all’s-said-and-done, is just a piece of paper – they embody symbolic cultural capital. The ownership of qualifications is a form of cultural capital that be exchanged for access to the kinds of well-paid, high status, generally stable, occupations on which a middle class identity can be built.
Social capital, while arguably less-valuable in contemporary capitalist societies, is nevertheless significant as a way of creating and maintaining middle class identities – from gaining access to the “best schools” to developing social connections with the “right people” who may, at some point, be leveraged to lend a helping hand…
These ideas, introduced in the Presentation, are designed mainly to be “talking points” that can be developed and criticised as part of an exploration of “middle class identities” – feel free to add to them or subtract from them as and how you see fit.