What does it mean to be middle class in a globalizing world? Does it mean the same thing to be middle class in New York as it does in Chongqing? Drawing off years of ethnographic research on the emergent Chinese middle class, this talk will examine (and make a case for) sociological approaches to the middle class, its emergence, and development, especially the ways that sociologists can better account for class and class structure in countries like China that are undergoing rapid development, as well as sustained processes of cultural and structural change. This talk will elucidate the ways that authoritarian governance, the discursive legacies of Marxism, and especially ontologies of development have all shaped distinct and empirically relevant Chinese understandings of class — and, particularly, middle class development — as embedded within a broader project of nation-building; such distinctions are often misunderstood or altogether ignored in both popular and academic literature for a variety of reasons that will be explored. As a recourse, this talk makes a case for boots-on-the-ground theory building and a Weberian approach to social analyses that considers class as a fluid and agentic process where culture and discourse provide a bridge linking individual interpretation and action to macro-level structure.
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