India’s New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform
by Leela Fernandes
University of Minnesota Press, 2006
Cloth: 978-0-8166-4927-3 | Paper: 978-0-8166-4928-0
Library of Congress Classification HT690.I4F47 2006
Dewey Decimal Classification 305.550954
Reference metadata exposed for Zotero via unAPI.
Introduction The most striking feature of contemporary India is the rise of a confident new middle class . . . whether India can deliver the goods depends a great deal on it. Das (2000) Harsh Gahlaut's three-month-old Hyundai Accent still smells new. But the 27-year-old is already thinking about his next car . . . Gahlaut works up to fifteen hours a day-often seven days a week-to earn his living. It is just that he is uninhibited when it comes to spending his earnings-current or future. Consumers like Gahlaut may have existed before too but only as exceptions. Today he is a new breed of consumers sprouting across cities and among income classes. Goyal (2003) A cadre of ambitious government officials, pricey consultants, and local high technology entrepreneurs is trying to accomplish something almost as ambitious- transforming this sleepy farm state capital into the "technology hub of northern India.'' . . . As tens of thousands of service jobs continue to flow to India from the United States and Europe, small cities like Chandigarh offer even lower labor costs than India's "first tier" technology hubs like Hyderabad, Bombay, and Gurgaon, outside New Delhi. Rohde (2003) In recent years, rapid socioeconomic changes in cities and small towns in India have sparked the local, national, and transnational imaginations of writers and political analysts. Small towns are increasingly marked by mushrooming institutes for computer training, Internet booths, and satellite dishes-symbols of India's high-tech globalizing economy. Comfortable middle class housing colonies have sprouted up and new brands of cars have displaced the Ambassador car that was once an iconic signifier of middle class status. India's larger metropolitan cities like Bombay and Bangalore now aggressively seek the status of global cities and their urban middle classes assertively claim a national visible role as the agents of globalization in India. Transnational and diasporic representations of this new middle class have captured audiences through public cultural representations in film, theater, and the media both through the traditional "Bollywood" films as well as by new genres of diasporic films such as Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, which brought the image of India's upwardly mobile middle classes to global audiences. Meanwhile, transnational views of India's new economy have also begun to turn from celebrations of a burgeoning 250 million strong middle class consumer market to anxieties over an educated workforce that now threatens the U.S. and European middle classes through the outsourcing of service sector jobs. Such perceptions point to the growing significance of the urban Indian middle classes in local, national, and transnational imaginations of globalization in the twenty-first century. These examples of public cultural representations and political rhetoric point to the rise of a new middle class identity, a political phenomenon that has begun to shape contemporary politics in India in distinctive ways. Explanations of the political dynamics of transnational processes such as globalization and answers to comparativist questions that ask how groups resist or consent to policies of economic reforms require an analytical lens that can address the political emergence of groups such as the new middle class. An analysis of the rise of the new Indian middle class provides us with such a lens, one that demonstrates the ways in which an analysis of the processes, practices, and identities involved in the politics of group formation provides a deeper understanding of the sources of democratic contestation both over policies of economic reforms and over the broader trajectories of globalization which such policies embody. Consider the links between the implementation of economic reforms and the rise of a new middle class in contemporary India. Policies of economic liberalization initiated since the 1990s have been accompanied by an array of visual images and public discourses that have centered on a shifting role of the middle classes. Such public rhetoric has focused on changing middle class attitudes, lifestyles, and consumption practices associated with commodities made available in India's liberalizing economy. Popular stories, advertising images, and news reports about the spread of consumer items such as cell phones, sharp rises in wage levels for the managerial staff of multinational companies, and the expansion of consumer choice for goods such as cars, washing machines, and color televisions have produced an image of the rise of an emerging middle class culture in India that is associated with policies of liberalization. These representations have identified economic liberalization with new opportunities for the middle classes to exercise consumer choice. The result has been the creation of an image of the rise of a new Indian middle class, one that is intimately tied to the success of economic reforms. The growing visibility of this new Indian middle class embodies the emergence of a wider national political culture, one that has shifted from older ideologies of a state managed economy to a middle-class based culture of consumption. While in the early years of independence, large dams and mass-based factories were the national symbols of progress and development, cell-phones, washing machines and color televisions now seem to serve as the symbols of the liberalizing Indian nation. Middle class consumers represent the cultural symbols of a nation that has opened its borders to consumer goods that were unavailable during earlier decades of state-controlled markets. While earlier state socialist ideologies tended to depict workers or rural villagers as the archetypical objects of developmenti, such ideologies now compete with mainstream national political discourses that increasingly depict urban middle class consumers as the representative citizens of liberalizing India. Preliminary evidence of the public impact of such shifts can be seen in public political debates on the social and political implications of the rise of this new Indian middle class. Proponents of economic liberalization portray the middle class as a group that is fundamentally tied to the success of economic reforms. For instance, advocates of reforms have portrayed the middle classes as a sizeable market, one of India's major selling points in attracting foreign investment. Furthermore, supporters of reform have adopted consumer-based understandings of the middle class and have argued that the middle classes have benefitted from economic reforms through the availability of new commodities and opportunities for consumer choice. Critics of liberalization, on the other hand, often point to the negative social and cultural effects of consumerism and have condemned the middle classes for their vulnerability to the excesses of consumerism. A classic example of such a reaction is the public debate sparked by the publication of Pavan Varma's The Great Indian Middle Class (1998).ii The book launched a sharp attack on the declining social responsibility of the Indian middle class and its gradual abdication of a broader ethical and moral responsibility to the poor and to the nation as a whole. Varma argued that in the early years of Indian independence, Material pursuits were thus subsumed in a larger framework that did not give them the aggressive primacy that they have acquired today. There was less of the feeling that one must have it all in the shortest time possible. Even the more well-to-do families felt that to flaunt their assets was in bad taste. Indeed there was a sense of slight disdain for those who lived only at the level of their material acquisitions. There were other countervailing concepts such as status and respect which had a higher priority in the scale of social values. Status, and the respect it earned, was not so directly linked to what one owned; it still had more to do with what one did or what one had achieved. Keeping up with the Jones was somehow a less compulsive pursuit than keeping up with the image of refinement associated with a restraint on materialistic exhibitionism in a poor country - an ideal directly imbibed from Gandhi, Nehru and the freedom movement. (40) Aside from his idealized image of earlier historical periods, Varma's commentary echoes a wider form of public moralism that has focused on the negative effects of middle class consumerism and what Rajni Kothari has termed a "growing amnesia" (1993) towards poverty. While such public critics of liberalization have tended to focus on middle class consumerism, proponents of liberalization have projected this new middle class as an idealized standard for an Indian nation that is finally competing in a global economy. Both views, while located on oppositional poles of the ideological spectrum converge in their conception of the urban middle classes as a self-evident force of consumption and as the prime recipients of the benefits of liberalization. In contrast to the public visibility of the urban middle classes, academic scholarship has been marked by a relative lack of sustained research on these social segments.iii Existing academic research that has addressed the middle classes in relation to economic liberalization has largely tended to echo the two variants of public discourses that I have outlined above. On the one hand, existing analyses have either focused on estimating the size of the middle class or have pointed to the growth of such intermediate classes as a potential base of support for liberalization.iv On the other hand, culturally oriented research has tended to analyze the middle classes through the lens of consumption, an approach that has rested on an underlying conception of the middle class as a consumerist class.v I analyze the political processes that result in such associations between the middle classes, consumption and a pro-liberalization orientation and then move beyond this naturalized association and examine the internal differentiations and political practices of this new middle class. I specifically argue that an analysis of the rise of the new Indian middle class deepens our understanding of the political dynamics of economic reform in contemporary India. Such a project specifically entails a shift away from the assumption that the middle classes are self-evident beneficiaries or proponents of economic liberalization. Scholars writing about economic reforms and globalization have for the most part tended to assume that the middle classes benefit uniformly from policies of economic liberalization. This assumption has tended to ignore important internal differentiations within the middle classes.vi For instance, Satish Deshpande's assertion that "if there is one class for whom the benefits of globalization seems to clearly outweigh the costs, it is the middle class, particularly its upper (managerial-professional) segment" (2003, p150) rests on a slippage between a particular segment of the urban (metropolitan) middle classes and the middle classes in general which is a much wider group that includes the rural middle classes and urban middle classes in small towns.vii The middle classes are differentiated in terms of their economic standing in ways that make generalizations about the effects of liberalization at best premature without systematic research. For instance, the restructuring and privatization of public sector units yields short-term costs to some segments of these middle class workforces (Sridharan, 1999, pp124-125)viii and we cannot assume that all of these segments will transition smoothly to new economy jobs. Furthermore, the middle classes are shaped by various internal social hierarchies such as caste, region, religion and language. The emerging liberalizing or "new" middle class is not identical with a generalized sociological description of the middle classes. My central argument is that the rise of the new Indian middle class represents the political construction of a social group that operates as a proponent of economic liberalization.ix This middle class is not "new" in terms of its structural or social basis. In other words, its "newness" does not refer to upwardly mobile segments of the population entering the middle classes.x Rather, its newness refers to a process of production of a distinctive social and political identity that represents and lays claim to the benefits of liberalization. At a structural level, this group largely encompasses English-speaking urban white collar segments of the middle classes who are benefitting from new employment opportunities (particularly in private sector employment).xi However, the heart of the construction of this social group rests on the assumption that other segments of the middle classes and upwardly mobile working classes can potentially join it. For example, the privileged lifestyles and patterns of consumption depicted in media images are associated with individuals who can afford English-based higher education and credentials such as MBAs. However, youth in the lower middle classes in small towns and rural areas may attempt to adopt credentialing strategies by refining their public speaking skills or accumulating marketing diplomas through unaccredited institutes. Furthermore, to take another example, individuals in the middle or working classes may use the purchases of particular kinds of commodities and brands as symbolic strategies of upward mobility. This potential access to membership makes the boundaries of this interest group both fluid and political in nature. As I have noted earlier, estimates of the size and nature of the Indian middle classes vary greatly.xii In the face of such diversity, the identity of the new Indian middle class provides a kind of normative standard which this larger group can aspire to.xiii The boundaries of this emerging group are fluid precisely because they hold the promise of entry for other social segments.xiv The underlying claim is that individuals from varying social segments can acquire the kinds of capital (such as education, credentials, skills and cultural resources) that can provide them with access to membership in this distinctive middle class. The result, as I will argue, is that the emerging politics of the new middle class have broader national political and material implications both for the Indian middle classes and for more marginalized socio-economic groups. My argument is not that the effect of this rising social group is all encompassing or that its political ascendancy is predetermined. For instance, the rise of such aspirations can have diverging political implications. One the one hand, the belief in the promise of access and the promise of future benefits can lead to support for reforms. For example, segments of the middle classes employed in both the private and public sectors have been faced with retrenchment, job insecurity and increased workloads. However, this is not necessarily transformed into resistance to economic restructuring when individuals believe they can still benefit from a globalizing economy through future job prospects or through the consumption of new commodities. On the other hand, discrepancies between lived realities of the middle classes or upwardly mobile social groups and the idealized representations of the new middle class can lead to frustration and opposition to reforms. Moreover, as I will argue in later chapters, the rise of this group can also exacerbate conflict, for instance in cases where there are conflicts of interests between the new middle class and subordinated social groups. Thus, my concern is not just with the rise of this social group but with the fissures between hegemonic representations of new middle class identity and the contradictory socioeconomic realities of those who both constitute and aspire to this group. As I demonstrate, it is precisely such fissures that produce the anxieties, responses and practices that constitute the dailiness of contemporary democratic politics. Elites and the Politics of Economic Reform The argument that I am making builds on and intervenes in a longstanding debate in Political Science that has addressed the relationship between the consolidation of economic reforms and political processes of democratization.xv Such scholarship has demonstrated that economic reforms can be undertaken in the context of political democracies and has challenged earlier assumptions that political democratization necessarily produces opposition to reform.xvi As Przeworski (1996) and Stokes (1996) have argued, while economic reforms create at minimum a transitional economic decline for some segments of the population, this decline does not necessarily lead to political opposition to reform in democratizing societies. The political responses that stem from such a decline depend on the ways in which various segments of the population interpret it. For instance, Przeworski notes that in the case of Poland, while economic conditions declined, the government was able to use the legacy of communism as an effective explanation for this decline (1996). This process of interpretation, which Przeworski terms a form of "intertemporal interpretation," is a critical factor in shaping public opinion and political responses to the policies of economic reform. In other words, an anticipation of future benefits mediates the immediacy of political opposition to the economic disruptions or deterioration produced by reforms. It is this sense of temporality, that I argue, is at play in the way in which the construction of the new Indian middle class is mediating public responses to economic reforms. Idealized images of middle class consumption signify such future benefits which upwardly mobile segments of the population can aspire to. Such an analysis builds on existing research that has demonstrated the importance of the role of elites in pushing forward reform processes and in mediating the relationship between state policies and mass political responses (Chhibber and Eldersveld, 2000, p354).xvii The rise of the new Indian middle class represents an emerging political elite that is shaping political and social responses to the effects of economic reforms. An understanding of such processes, however, requires a departure from two central conceptual assumptions that underlie existing studies of elites, public opinion and the politics of economic reform. First, existing studies of elite politics have tended to focus primarily on political elites, whether at the national or local levelsxviii an approach which has led to a neglect of the impact of the new middle class. Second, studies that have attempted to assess mass public responses to economic reform have either focused mainly on formal voting behavior (that is how attitudes to reform shape electoral politics) or have sought to measure public opinion through survey research data on attitudes to reform (Chibber and Eldersveld; Przeworski, 1996; Stokes, 1996) My approach calls for both a shift from an analysis of political to socio-economic elitesxix and more significantly for an analysis of the political processes involved in the creation of new groups and identities that mediate consent to reform.xx What traditional studies of economic transitions often miss is that public responses to reforms may be culturally coded in ways that do not correspond to more formal kinds of knowledge or opinions either about specific policies or about the question of economic reforms in general. For instance, existing research findings suggest that (1) knowledge about economic reforms in India is relatively low and that (2) despite evidence of negative views on its effects, the question of economic reforms has not been a major mass electoral issue in previous elections.xxi However, conflict and consent over policies of economic reform do not play out only in the formal domain of electoral politics. Moreover, perceptions of reforms are often shaped by local cultural and social meanings and practices that may fall outside survey codings of formal forms of knowledge.xxii For instance, as I will argue, consent and conflict over reforms often unfold through a range of middle class contestations over issues such as the restructuring of urban space, competing definitions of national culture, and identity-based conflicts. An understanding of these forms of politics of the rising new middle class requires an in-depth interpretative approach. In other words, if we are serious about understanding the ways in which "intertemporal interpretation" shapes the political dynamics of reforms, we must understand the politics of this group in terms of a project of interpretation rather than one of pure measurement.xxiii For instance, as we will see, the emergence of a middle class consumer identity has significant political implications not because the middle classes are a consumerist class or are following the teleological pattern of modernization of advanced industrialized countries, but because emerging consumption practices represent an important set of everyday signs and symbols through which people make sense of the more abstract term, "economic reforms."xxiv The most visible cultural coding of economic reforms that I have noted is the emergence of consumption patterns and lifestyles associated with newly available commodities. Contestation over shifts in economic policy therefore often unfold in the space of public culture and involve conflicts over cultural globalization (such as the threat of westernization). Certain strands of cultural nationalism often represent negotiations over changes associated with shifts in economic policy. Or to take another example, I will demonstrate the ways in which processes of economic restructuring unfold through the spatial re-organization of neighborhoods within cities and small towns. In this reorganization, the middle classes develop new suburban aesthetic identities and lifestyles that seek to displace visual signs of poverty from public spaces. Such middle class practices provoke conflicts with the urban poor over the control of public space. For example, spatial practices produce conflicts over whether street vendors should be able to sell their wares in middle class neighborhoods in a city like Mumbai (Bombay). While on the surface this might appears to simply represent a local political issue, I demonstrate that it is fundamentally linked to the rise of an assertive new middle class identity in the context of liberalization. Furthermore, street vendors represent a burgeoning working class service sector that has been absorbing workers from manufacturing sectors such as the textile industry that have experienced economic decline in the face of global competition. Such local conflicts between street vendors and middle class civic practices then are structurally, culturally and politically linked to broader processes of economic restructuring. These spatial practices and contestations thus serve as important sites where responses to liberalization are negotiated. Such practices, which constitute the substance of daily democratic politics, usually fall under the radar of studies whose analyses of the political dynamics of reforms are based on narrower definitions of democratic politics or associational life. Chhibber and Eldersveld, for instance, argue that "India, despite its democratic lineage, has not developed strong independent interest groups. Few Indians belong to associations"(356). However, such an assumption only holds up if associational life is strictly defined in terms of formal organizations - a definition that excludes an array of activities, practices and discourses in civil society. Moreover everyday examples of associational activity are also often overlooked because they do not appear as self-evident or explicit cases of political responses to economic policy.xxv For example the rise of a new middle class identity begins to take the form of organized associational activity as segments of this social group form civic and neighborhood organizations in order to reclaim public space and consolidate a style of living that can adequately embody its self-image as the primary agent of the globalizing city/nation. Such examples demonstrate that an understanding of the rise of this social group necessitates a move away from a focus that is restricted to formal electoral politics. How then do we begin to conceptualize the politics of this emerging group? This project requires an adaptation of James Scott's reconceptualization of social movements and his call for a move away from the grand narratives of organized large scale movements and revolutions to a focus on the everyday, informal forms of politics or as he puts it, "a social movement with no formal organization, no formal leaders, no manifestos, no dues, no name, and no banner"(35). However, in contrast to the peasant protests which Scott analyzes, the everyday politics of such "elite revolts" (Corbridge and Harriss, 2000) unfold in distinctive ways. For instance, while Scott argues that for everyday peasant resistance, "By virtue of their institutional invisibility, activities on anything less than a massive scale are, if they are noticed at all, rarely accorded any social significance," (1985, p35) the politics of the new middle class are somewhat more contradictory. The new middle class is marked by its social and cultural visibility, yet its political role is often invisible. Meanwhile, its claims tend to be coded in terms of representative citizenship yet in practice are often defined by exclusionary social and political boundaries. Consider for instance the example of the politics of urban space which I have outlined above. In such cases, emerging middle class civic organizations make political claims on public space by invoking discourses of citizens' rights and public interest. In the process, middle class practices transform citizenship into a category that is marked by exclusions based on the social markers (such as caste and class) that delineate the identities of the urban poor. The result is that the rise of this social group has broader implications for our understanding of the links between economic policies and processes of democratization. The New Middle Class in Comparative Perspective The rise of the new middle class is not a political process that is distinctive to India. The significance of the new middle class in the context of economic globalizationxxvi can be demonstrated in comparative contexts in the cases of other newly industrializing countries. Various case studies in Asia, Latin America and Africa have begun to examine the rise of the new middle classes (Robison and Goodman, 1996; Pinches, 1999).xxvii Such studies have drawn on two dominant approaches in their conceptualization of the new middle classes. On the one hand, a central trend in such studies is the adoption of a consumption-based definition of the new middle classes (Beng-Huat, 2000). On the other hand, the new middle classes are defined through occupational-based definitions corresponding to white collar professional-managerial workers (Embong, 2002; Pinches, 1999). Michael Pinches for example has identified the growth of the new middle class in terms of "highly educated salaried professionals, technical specialists, managers and administrators who assume powerful positions in the running of large corporations and state agencies" (25). It is this occupational grouping which Pinches goes on to argue is fundamentally linked to the rise of consumer cultures in cross-national contexts. While both elements of these approaches are important, a limitation in these conceptualizations is the association of the new middle classes both with the upper echelons of white collar work and with consumerist behavior. A comparative perspective demonstrates that the new middle classes have a much greater degree of differentiation both within and across various national contexts. For instance, the expansion of white collar work is not limited to the upper tiers of the professional-managerial workforce but also includes a much broader set of white collar jobs (for example secretarial/administrative jobs and wide range of occupations within the service sector). Meanwhile, less-privileged segments of the middle classes may participate in consumption practices based on emerging trends of consumer cultures simply as a strategy of upward mobility that leads to access to membership in the new middle classes. For example, Solvay Gerke has argued that in Indonesia, members of the middle classes have deployed a form of "virtual consumption," a set of strategies designed to display standards of living that they in fact could not necessarily afford (2000).xxviii Such processes of differentiation have been intensified in those Asian countries that were affected by the Asian economic crisis. The crisis had uneven effects for the middle classes. While some segments were seriously affected by processes of retrenchment, others with financial resources were able to take advantage of the scarcity in credit. xxix While there were strong variations in the effects of the crisis in east and southeast Asia (Pempel, 1999), such examples are significant because they serve as a corrective to generalizations regarding the assumed homogeneity of the socioeconomic position of the new middle classes. xxx The effects of the Asian economic crisis have served as a cautionary note to earlier idealized representations of the "new rich in Asia" (Robison and Goodman, 1996), representations which have led to conceptual slippages between the new middle classes and the rise of the "new rich", the uppermost tier of the new middle classes that have traditionally benefitted from economic globalization in comparative contexts. While Robison and Goodman do address internal differences within the middle classes, they present a broad definition of the new rich in which they argue that the social basis and power of the "new rich" is derived from "capital, credentials and expertise" (p5) rather than from their position in the state apparatus.xxxi Their definition encompasses members of various segments of the middle classes (ranging from wealthy entrepreneurs to managerial employees with MBAs to secretarial staff and employees working in call centers) who attempt to negotiate the labor market through access to education and credentials and places them within a homogenized category of privilege, "the new rich." This problem of homogenization has also tended to characterize recent trends in studies of globalization and diasporic elites. Such studies have tended to overlook internal and cross-national differences and produced an image of the new middle class as a transnational set of circulating elites. For instance in the Indian context, Salim Lakha has argued that in the definition of the middle class, "a rigid distinction between diasporic Indians and locally based Indians is not particularly meaningful" (1999, p252).xxxii Such an assumption too easily glosses over the ways in which the socio-economic circumstances of particular nation-states and their levels of economic development shape the lives of the middle classes in general and the emergence of the new middle class in particular. Problems of definition and differentiation stem, in part, from the fact that the categories are derived from older conceptions of the emergence of the new middle class in advanced industrialized contexts. C.Wright Mills in his classic formulation defined the new middle class in the United States in terms of the rise of salaried white collar professionals with a distinctive lifestyle (Mills, 1951). However, the specific conditions of late-developing nations distinguish the politics of the new middle class in significant ways. For instance, the new middle class in late developing countries may be smaller in terms of size (in proportion to the national population), may lack access to similar levels of infrastructure (such as roads, electricity) and may represent an emerging rather than a stable socioeconomic group.xxxiii In late-developing nations, the new middle class is still in an emerging relationship with traditional segments of the middle classes that are still largely dependent on state employment. Furthermore, the national role of the new middle class (and its implicit claim that it can be representative of the goals of national development) is one that is still in the making. For instance, in the Indian case, the identity of the new middle class continues to compete with other national political forces such as the rise of caste-based movements and politics. Moreover, the making of this identity is often pulled between its secular-modernist orientations and a growing identification with the Hindu nationalist movement.xxxiv These factors point to the cultural and political dynamics of the role that the new middle class plays in shaping national development. In her study of the rise of the new Malaysian middle class, for instance, Maila Stivens has argued ,"what really stands out in all the present commentary about the future of Malay society is the way that the development of these new [middle] classes is seen as a cultural phenomenon, a cultural project" (1998, 92). The rise of the new middle class is a cultural and I would add a normative political project because it helps shape the terms of development and national identity. The new middle class is marked by a set of interests that are identified with India's embrace of a free-market -oriented approach to development. In other words, the new middle class in late-developing countries such as Malaysia or India serves as a group that represents the promise of a new national model of development, one with a global outlook that will allow such nations to successfully compete with the advanced industrialized countries. The distinction between late-developing and advanced industrialized (and particularly American) ideas about the new middle class are important because western categories have historically provided an ideal type with which the non-western middle classes have been measured. Brian Owensby, has noted that the Brazilian middle class has historically been judged in terms of a "standard to be met," (1999, p9) or as he puts it, through a kind of "invidious comparison, so that the existence of the Brazilian middle class was always unsettled in relation to what were assumed to be proper European and American middle classes" (1999, pp9-10).xxxv These invidious comparisons have tended to transform the middle class in non-western countries into an overladen (though understudied) sociological category. Comparative scholarship has historically pinned hopes for successful modernization and democratization on the role and leadership of the middle classes. Consider the way in which Political Science literature, in particular, has grappled with the role of the middle classes within political and economic transitions. With the emergence of modernization theory in the 1950s and 1960s, studies that argued that economic development would further political democratization were based on an underlying assumption that the emergence of the urbanized middle classes would play a central role in the development of civil society and the resulting democratic transition (Lipset, 1963).xxxvi When the middle classes have behaved in more contradictory ways and political events have not measured up to such assumptions, scholars have often responded by resorting to more static notions of cultural difference (for instance by arguing that non-western middle class culture is antithetical to liberal democratic values) or by turning way from the study of the middle classes altogether.xxxvii A central challenge in studying the rise of the new middle class is to circumvent the limitations of such invidious forms of comparison with the American or European middle classes. Certainly, any urge to assume that the politics and contradictions of the new Indian middle class are simply hurdles as the new Indian middle class matures into an American model of the middle class is ironic in light of current debates on the politics of outsourcing. Significant sections of public and political rhetoric in the United States have begun to view the rising Indian middle class as a threat to the security of the American middle class. Images of middle class Indians working at computers now routinely flash on American television as the visual sign for white collar and service sector job losses in the United States.xxxviii Furthermore, these examples serve as an important reminder that the politics of the new middle class is as much about labor (the global competition over jobs) as it is about pre-defined images of consumerism (the global competition over consumer markets) and that the new middle classes do not constitute a singular transnational elite. My study of the new Indian middle class contributes in a number of ways to the questions and debates that I have outlined above The study seeks to move debates on globalization away from a simplified opposition between global elites and subaltern groups. Aside from the literature on transnational elites which I have discussed earlier, interdisciplinary political economy literature which has generally been critical of the effects of reforms has tended to focus primarily on subaltern social groups such as urban and rural workers.xxxix This research has produced important insights on the impact of globalization on labor and on the reworking of identities of class and gender (Ong, 1988; Bishop and Robinson, 1998; Chang, 2000, Parrenas, 2001). However, such scholarship has often been restricted to an analysis of the politics of reforms and of economic globalization in terms of an interplay between multinational companies and international organizations such as the World Bank and IMF on the one hand and marginalized social groups on the other.xl Meanwhile, analyses of the politics of class and gender has tended to focus almost exclusively on patterns of employment within export-oriented processing zones.xli Furthermore, by focusing on the rise of the new middle class as a pro-reforms group, I contribute to existing Political Science scholarship that has tended to focus primarily on interest groups that are opposed to reforms (for instance organized labor, state bureaucracies, political parties and organizations that espouse economic nationalism). Finally, the study contributes to the comparative literature on the rise of the new middle classes by addressing three central areas that have been understudied in the existing literature on the new middle class. First, I examine the rise of the new middle class as an ongoing political project - one that results in the creation of a unified political identity that co-exists with the internal socioeconomic differentiation within the middle classes. Second, I examine the restructured relationship between the new middle class and the state and demonstrate that the state continues to play a significant role in shaping the politics of the new middle class.xlii Finally, I examine the implications that the rise of the new middle class has for processes of democratization. Rather than assuming that this group has an essentially democratic or anti-democratic character, I argue for an approach that examines the ways in which this emerging group engages in everyday practices that shape the substantive content of democracy and citizenship.xliii Conceptualizing the Middle Class: Boundaries, Practices and the Mechanisms of Group Formation I have argued that the rise of the new Indian middle class can be understood in terms of a political process of group formation that has unfolded in the context policies of economic liberalization - a process that involves questions of culture/discourse, socio-economic factors and the role of the state. The question that arises, then, is one that asks how one specifies the theoretical and empirical boundaries of this social group; that is what precisely are the mechanisms that shape this process of group-formation? The answer, I argue, rests in the ways in which a range of practices produce the boundaries of social groups. Such practices are not merely individualized or subjective forms of behavior that rest purely on the contingency of daily life; rather they are the outcome of a dynamic set of processes that are both symbolic and material and that are shaped both by longer historical processes as well as by the temporality of the everyday. The generation of such practices, as Pierre Bourdieu has argued, are "classificatory practices" that are developed as individuals and segments of social groups use strategies of conversion of different forms of capital ( sets of cultural, political, economic resources) to preserve their relative social standing and capacities for upward mobility.xliv The ability of individuals and social segments to accumulate capital and engage in strategies of conversion, moreover, are both shaped and constrained by their interaction with existing structures of inequality. Such strategies of conversion, as we shall see, are shaped by the reworking of longstanding social inequalities such as the symbolic and material structures of caste, class and gender inequality.xlv Finally, this process of interaction is shaped by the particular field or site under analysis. I examine the ways in which individuals who either identify with or aspire to middle class status attempt to deploy various forms of capital in four primary fields: (1) the media and public sphere, (2) the labor market, (3)urban neighborhoods and (4) democratic politics. This occurs through a dynamic and interactive process in which individuals and groups accumulate resources, seek to convert these resources into strategies designed to further their social standing and respond to and draw on historically produced inequalities. The outcome is a set of classificatory practices (such as civic practices, discursive practices, consumption practices) that begin to fix the boundaries of this social group (Bourdieu, 1984, p56 &101). It is the dynamic nature of the mechanisms and practices involved in this process that make the boundaries fluid and open to contestation even as they are structured by resources and historical inequalities.xlvi It is this paradoxical quality of a process - one that is both fluid and structured - that allows for the co-existence of the rise of a singular hegemonic representation of "the new Indian middle class" that begins to act with a dominant set of interests, on the one hand, and a range of internal forms of social differentiations that exist within this group, on the other hand. Consider specific examples of the kinds of classificatory practices that have begun to constitute the new middle class in India. Within the labor market, middle class individuals' access to "new economy" jobs may rest on both the ability of individuals to have access to particular forms of cultural and social capital (for example, English education, credentials of higher education) as well as on durable structural inequalities and identities such as gender or caste that track individuals into particular segments of the labor market. For example middle class women with a bachelors' degree and cultural capital such as English education increasingly comprise a segment of lower-tier service sector work in the new economy. Or to take another example, access to the lifestyle of the middle class is shaped by the particular field of media images and the interaction between various forms of capital (income-based economic capital, and individuals cultural capital such as the aesthetic knowledge of what brands or commodities to purchase) and forms of identity (for example discursive images of gendered and class-based models of family and work identity). Consumption practices of the new middle class are not merely determined by shifts in income levels or as a result of individuals responding to advertising images; rather they are a result of the complex interaction between such subjective and objective dimensions of group formation. This structural dimension to the mechanisms of group formation has tended to be neglected by recent research that has tended to reduce practices such as consumption practices to purely subjective or symbolic processes.xlvii In contrast to assumptions sometimes made in culturalist approaches, "structure" is not a deterministic, pre-discursive realm but is reproduced both diachronically through historical processes and synchronically (see figure 1 below) as various forms of capital are converted into classificatory practices.xlviii Consider for instance, the role of middle class civic organizations which I have noted earlier. Middle class neighborhood organizations have increasingly begun to mobilize in an effort to regain their control over public space and reproduce a clear socio-spatial separation from groups such as street vendors and squatters. In such cases, these organizations deploy particular forms of capital such as leverage with the state (political capital) and models of beautification (cultural capital) in their activity. Such organizations stem from longer historical patterns in which the colonial urban middle classes deployed such civic strategies as a means of political self-assertion in opposition to the lower castes and urban poor. The result is a set of aesthetic, spatial and civic practices that create cultural and social boundaries that differentiate the new middle class from subaltern groups. [ INSERT FIGURE 1 ABOUT HERE ] Such historical trajectories that shape the rise and decline of social groups also point to the ways in which the post-colonial specificities of non-western nation-states such as India depart from the European empirical research that Bourdieu drew on in his theoretical formulations. Bourdieu's theory of group-formation which I have been reworking in my conceptualization of the formation of the new middle class rests on an analysis of internal processes within the national context of France. However, a significant dimension that shapes group formation in post-colonial contexts is the ways in which such processes are always simultaneously marked both by internal forms of differentiation as well as by external differentiation.xlix The rise of the new Indian middle class is distinguished by national narratives that seek to manage India's relationship with external forces such as "westernization" and "globalization." The nation is not simply a neutral territorial container of class formation but a central force in the historical (diachronic) making of the new middle class. The creation of the new middle class represents a national political project that unfolds in relationship to economic policies of reforms and that in large part signify a form of interaction with and response to external globalizing forces. The mechanisms involved in the creation of the new middle class that I have outlined represent a set of layered and mutually constitutive set of processes that cannot be reduced to a set of linear or teleological relationships between variables. The politics of the new middle classes is fundamentally shaped by the dynamics that arise through the interaction between these sets of resources, identities and practices. The formation of the new middle class does not result in a homogeneous cultural or socio-economic group. The making of this group is shaped by the internal differences that are in turn created through unequal distributions of capital and structured identity-based inequalities. For instance, the identity of the new middle class is forged through specific kinds of intersections between class identity and identities of gender, caste and religion.l Thus, throughout my analysis I point to the ways in which such intersections shape new middle class practices, identities and politics. Such an analysis does not rest on an assumption that class is a foundational category that subsumes all other social identities. On the contrary, my analysis demonstrates the ways in which middle class identity is constructed through identities such as caste, gender or religion. As I demonstrate in chapter two, historical processes constructed middle class identity through a politics of gender, caste and religion. Caste has continued to provide segments of the middle classes with an important source of capital in ways that have shaped the upper-caste character of the emerging identity of a new liberalizing middle class. The interplay of intersecting identities does not, however, unfold in a formulaic manner; it is contingent on historical legacies, on the strategies that individuals and social groups deploy and on the particular context in question. Thus, while discussions of the intersection between new middle class identity and the politics of gender, caste and religion are continually woven into my analysis, such dynamics do not surface mechanistically or in a predictably uniform manner in each chapter. The dynamics of intersecting identities and inequalities also point to the ways in which the political significance of the new middle class lies in the tension between the emerging hegemonic identity of this group and the differentiation and disparities that characterize the social composition of the middle classes.li The identity formation of the new middle class is also shaped by the often unsuccessful attempts of broader social segments (such as the rural and traditional middle classes and upwardly mobile working classes) to gain access to membership. As Loic Wacquant has argued, the middle class "must be constituted through material and symbolic struggles waged simultaneously over class and between classes; it is a historically variable and reversible effect of these struggles...the middle class is necessarily an ill-defined entity. This does not reflect a lack of theoretical penetration but rather the character of reality" (1991, 57). In fact it is this sense of contested dynamic sense that fundamentally characterizes the politics of the new middle class as it is emerges as a significant historical and political actor. My conceptual approach takes up Wacquant's call for theories of the middle class to "consciously strive to capture this essential ambiguity of their object rather than dispose of it." This requires a move away from more traditional theoretical and empirical approaches to the study of the middle classes which I have outlined in earlier sections. Consider, for instance, traditional approaches to the study of Indian middle classes. Such approaches tend to rest on four central definitions of the middle classes as: (1)an income-based group (Sridharan, 1999 & 2004) (2) a structurally-defined group (Bardhan, 1984 &1993; Rudra, 1989) (3) an aspirational-cultural class (Mankekar 1999; Rajagopal, 2001b) and (4) a product of discourse and the social imagination (Appadurai, 1996).lii Each of these approaches, in effect, seizes on a specific layer of the interactive processes that I have outlined. However, an analysis that limits itself to one definition misses the ways in which an understanding of the politics of the middle classes rests precisely on the slippages, fractures and tensions that arise through the interaction between these layers. Narrower definitions miss the ways in which the politics the new middle class is fundamentally shaped by this underlying politics of classification - one that grasps the range of classifying practices that I have been discussing. In my analysis, I therefore draw on elements of all four of these approaches without resorting to a fixed sociological or anthropological definition or description of middle class identity. In this process, my objective is to use an analysis of the politics of classification to provide a more dynamic understanding of the making of the new Indian middle class. Methodology My analysis of the rise of the new Indian middle class draws on a set of interpretive methodologies that can grasp the various sets of classificatory practices that create the boundaries of this group. The epistemological assumption underlying this methodological approach is that a genealogical approach to the study of categories can contribute to our understandings and explanations of broader political outcomes. In other words, my objective is not to treat class as a variable that can explain responses to reform but to argue that an analysis of the political process involved in the construction of the new middle class broadens our understanding of the political responses to reforms.liii This approach requires a return to the ways in which earlier Weberian approaches to social sciences were based on a connection between the realms of understanding (the construction of categories and meanings) and explanation. A genealogical approach is not simply a descriptive project that traces existing political processes - it is an approach, which allows us to use an analysis of the construction of categories to rethink explanations of particular outcomes.liv On the other hand, my objective is not to reduce my discussion of the formation of this social group to a contestation over competing meanings, representations or discourses. Interdisciplinary approaches in fields such as post-colonial studies and cultural studies have often too easily rejected the significance of specifying and analyzing non-discursive realms such as structure.lv Yet as I demonstrate in this book, a reliance on purely discursive or representational analysis has also led to erroneous images of a burgeoning consuming middle class in contrast to highly differentiated patterns of consumption that exist within the middle classes. The theoretical premise that shapes the methodology of this book is thus twofold. On the one hand, my premise is that the traditional study of political economy in a discipline like Political Science has much to gain from a genealogical theoretical approach that analyses the social construction of a group such as the new middle class.lvi On the other hand, my premise is that interdisciplinary fields such as post-colonial studies will benefit from a return to a more systematic discussion of the relationship between cultural/symbolic politics and economic/structural realms.lvii My methodological approach thus reflects the theoretical premises of the book as it draws on a variety of methodologies and sources of data that are aimed at both capturing the representational, discursive and dynamic elements of group formation on the one hand and assessing the empirical parameters through measures of income and consumption on the other hand. With this endeavor in mind, I draw on three types of data in the analysis that follows. First, I use existing published quantitative data to assess the parameters of the rise of the new middle class, particularly in relation to changing income and consumption patterns. Second, I use archival and secondary source research both to trace some of the historical precedents of contemporary debates on the new middle class as well as to analyze contemporary political discourses and practices. Finally, I draw on qualitative interviews and ethnographic research based in Mumbai that I conducted between 1996-2003.lviii While the field research is based in Mumbai, I have not defined this book solely as a study of the politics of cities.lix My research and analysis focuses on the creation of an elite group with claims of national representativeness. The norms associated with such claims shape the political economy of India in larger ways - for instance by shaping cultural norms and practices in small towns and by creating resistances from segments of the middle classes who fail to get access to the benefits claimed by this group.lx Furthermore, throughout my analysis I draw on comparative regional cases and processes outside of Mumbai and Maharashtra. The qualitative field research in Mumbai draws on two sets of data, formal interviews and ethnographic research. Formal interviews were used to obtain data on two dimensions: (1)the political/cultural production of dominant discourses on the new middle class and (2)data on new middle class employment and labor market restructuring that has occurred in the context of liberalization. The first dimension consists of 25 qualitative interviews conducted with cross-section of representatives in leading advertising firms (both Indian and Multinational) as well as journalists and editors of new publications that have been established in the context of liberalization and that consciously target (and construct) the new middle class. Such representatives are explicitly engaged in attempting to determine the size, nature and aspirations of the middle class and provide a rich source of data on changing patterns of middle class behavior. During these interviews, I examined the ways in which creative teams conceptualized and produced images of the middle class. Such interviews also shed light upon the problems of defining the middle class and the ways in which the middle class has in fact often not lived up to hegemonic assumptions that it is primarily a consumerist class. As these firms are national firms they provide insights on national level trends and their campaigns are not Mumbai-specific. I also used formal interviews to obtain data on the effects of liberalization on middle class employment in new economy segments of the labor market. This section of the research provides in-depth qualitative work histories of individuals who are attempting to negotiate the restructured labor market in the private sector. Such qualitative methods are a critical part of the research design as existing census and survey data do not provide information on these areas of inquiry. In addition, existing scholarly research on the employment-related effects of liberalization have focused primarily on the rural poor and working classes. General employment patterns of new economy sectors were obtained through interviews with placement agencies which cater to middle class employees ranging from secretarial workers to upper level management representatives. My fieldwork demonstrates that a sizeable section of the middle class is engaged in a process of obtaining new skills and credentials in order to gain entry into a restructured labor market. While upper layers of the middle class concentrate on credentialing through MBA programs, a majority of individuals attempt to draw on a range of educational institutions that provide diploma courses (such as in computer training, public speaking, marketing). Such institutions provide a critical entry point into an analysis of middle class strategies as they cater to the vast proportion of the middle classes that cannot afford to enter MBA programs. In other words, segments of the middle classes use such strategies in order to gain access to the benefits of the new Indian middle class. I conducted interviews with individuals running various institutes. In addition, I was able to conduct in-depth interviews with a cross-section of graduates of one such diploma program in order to gain an in-depth analysis of individual work histories and attitudes to shifts in the labor market. I was able to use social networks developed by graduates of this program in order to gain a qualitative analysis of the range of occupational experiences of these individuals. Finally, in addition to formal interviews, the book draws on ethnographic research that includes informal interviews at sites such as working women's hostels where white collar women workers from different segments of the labor market reside, media discourses (including both the print media and visual images) and a range of other everyday conversations and interviews with individuals who could provide insights on the political dynamics of the new middle class and economic reforms (for e.g. with white collar union leaders in the banking and insurance industries, small business owners, and white collar workers). The study, as I have noted, is not attempting or claiming to serve as a general sociological study of the middle classes - research that would include a wide range of dimensions including descriptions of personal attitudes, religious identity, family life. Rather, my methodology has sought to capture the fluid symbolic, structural and fundamentally political boundaries of the new middle class that speak to shifts in economic policy and the broader processes of globalization that are unleashed by such shifts. Outline of the Argument I begin my analysis in chapter two with an examination of the historical roots that shape the contemporary politics of the new middle class. In particular, the chapter examines debates on the new Indian middle class in the colonial period, the effects of partition (particularly in terms of the impact on the Muslim middle class) and the relationship between the middle class and the developmental state in the early decades of the post-independence period. This perspective serve to foreground both the historical continuities and discontinuities with the contemporary politics of the new middle class. Chapter three analyses the rise of the new middle class in the contemporary period of liberalization. The chapter begins by analyzing the way in which the representation of this group begins to take shape during Rajiv Gandhi's experimentation with reforms and extends into the contemporary period of reforms in the 1990s. The chapter examines the representational practices(in the media, advertising industry, public sphere and survey research projects on the middle class) that create a hegemonic consumer-based identity of the new middle class. Chapter four moves beyond the lens of consumption through an analysis of employment patterns and the new middle class. In particular, the chapter addresses labor market restructuring and the implications of global outsourcing. I argue that such processes of restructuring are contingent on the acquisition and distribution of various forms of social capital (English education, aesthetic knowledge, credentials). Representational practices that define new middle class lifestyles are transformed into forms of stratification within the labor market. Chapter five examines the ways in which the identity of the new middle class becomes an arena for the negotiation of uncertainties and anxieties sparked by liberalization. This negotiation involves local state practices and formal and informal associational activities of the new middle class. The chapter examines the ways in which this identity is based on a reworking of distinctions of religion, gender and class. The chapter examines the ways in which this identity is expressed in a range formal and informal associational identity. For instance, new middle class identity unfolds through conflicts over public space and the expansion of middle class civic organizations that reinforce conflicts and distinctions from subaltern groups. Chapter six analyzes the ways in which the emerging political identity of the new middle class has been reconstituting meanings of citizenship in ways that accentuate intersecting forms of social exclusion. The chapter then analyzes some of the broader implications that the rise of the new middle class and its claims on citizenship and national representativeness has for contemporary democratic politics in India. Finally chapter seven concludes with a discussion of some of the broader comparative and theoretical implications of the Indian case and the theoretical framework developed in this study. Notes to Introduction