Approaching the 'middle class' as object of state intervention, this panel investigates the role of formal institutions and processes in mediating class aspirations and contributing to class formation. It explores how, through these, ideas of the state itself are reconfigured.
The 'African middle class' has become the subject of euphoric narratives of growth and improvement. Various definitions have underpinned global attention from mainstream media, international financial institutions, and social scientists. Whether identified with aspiration, consumption, the market, or democracy, middle-class people are often viewed as model citizens and 'agents of transformation'. They have also become the object of government interventions and social engineering, ranging from the 'national bourgeoisie' of (post-)socialist countries to the presumed 'bastion of liberal democracy' targeted by international development agencies and IFIs. This panel explores the connections between bureaucratic infrastructures and middle-class lives, complicating sharp dichotomies between state procedures and apparently independent self-making. Rather than focusing on 'African middle class' aspirations as such, the panel invites scholars to investigate the role of formal institutions and processes in mediating these aspirations. How do state institutions and processes (e.g. inheritance; taxation; homeownership, business or entrepreneurship schemes) contribute to class formation? How do they both deliver on the promise of social betterment and reproduce entrenched inequalities? How do they generate urban-rural cleavages or connections? How, along the way, are ideas and ideals of the state, and 'state'/'citizen' relations, played out and negotiated in interactions with bureaucrats?