Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

A. Ricardo Lopez and Barbara Weinstein, Eds., the Making of the Middle Class: Toward a Transnational History

Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

A. Ricardo Lopez and Barbara Weinstein, Eds., the Making of the Middle Class: Toward a Transnational History

Article excerpt

A. Ricardo Lopez and Barbara Weinstein, eds., The Making of the Middle Class: Toward a Transnational History (Durham: Duke University Press 2012)

The Making of the Middle Class is an impressive 393-page compendium of essays that grew out of conference sessions of the American Historical Association and the Conference on Latin American History in 2004, and from a specialized conference on the global middle class hosted by the University of Maryland in 2006. The collection has three important aims, the first of which is to provide historical context for recent discussions in the popular media that assign "the middle class" a central role in the recent phenomenon of "globalization." The second is more grand: to query the ways that the middle class has been both the motor and product of modernization. The third aim is as ambitious as the second: to examine the middle class as a "transnational" phenomenon, but to call into question the prevailing assumption in the historiography that middle-class formation was a 19th-century North Atlantic (specifically British and American) invention that was only later imported and adapted to other parts of the world. As the book's introduction explains, this discussion seeks to disrupt that tired teleological narrative of "first here, then there."(7) To do so requires that we re-centre our focus, and begin to consider middle-class formation from the so-called margins, in a comparative, transnational framework.

As most historians who have examined it would admit, the middle class is an impossibly messy historical subject, and the structure of this volume reflects that fact. The volume features sixteen essays, which the editors have divided into four sections. In Part I, "The Making of the Middle Class and the Practices of Modernity," readers encounter essays on class formation and the meaning of modernity in colonial Lucknow and Southern Rhodesia and in post-World-War-II Canada, along with ponderings about class identities in British and American historical narratives. Part II purports to examine "Labor Professionalization, Class Formation and State Rule," doing so in an eclectic selection of essays that discuss middle-class constituents as varied as Mexican agronomists in the 1920s, social service workers in Colombia in the 1950s and 60s, social reformers in colonial Bombay, and folk dancers in 20th-century America. The third section of the book examines political manifestations and is titled "Middle-Class Politics in Revolution" (though the term revolution does not quite fit as a descriptor). These essays study Aprismo in mid-20th-century Peru, urban politics in post-Revolutionary Mexico City, and the obstacle of Muslim/non-Muslim sectarianism in the making of middle-class identity in early 20th-century Aleppo. In Part IV, the editors gather essays on "Middle-Class Politics and the Making of the Public Sphere." Here, essays on 19th-century German women's voluntary work and the place of Catholicism in the bourgeois French children's literature are joined by pieces on the literary images of social climbers in turn-of-the-20th-century Chile and Peru and on the place of whiteness in changing articulations of "middle class ' in mid-20th-century Argentina. As this necessarily cursory description of the book's contents indicates, The Making of the Middle Class has an impressively large geographical scope. It will undoubtedly push scholars of social class to look beyond their borders and make their own comparisons to the processes of middle-class formation in other regions and nations. To each section, the editors have appended brief commentaries that attempt to tie together the disparate essays, pose questions, and point to future directions for analysis. Finally, the book is bracketed with an Introduction and an Afterword that are each useful and challenging.

This is a commendably ambitious book. It captures in one volume much of the latest thinking about one of the most problematic subjects in social history. …

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