Accepted paper:

The Myth of the African middle class. Diversity in Kenya between cosmopolitanism, neo-tradition individualism and solidarity


Dieter Neubert (University of Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

The middle class narrative makes simple assumptions about values and practices of people with a middle income. However, a closer look on everyday life practices, lifestyles and values shows that this group is more heterogeneous and hardly may be captured with the notion of “class”.

Paper long abstract:

At the first sight, the Kenyan middle-income stratum, usually coined as middle class, seems to represent the typical features of the middle class narrative. People express the notion of individual advancement via education and entrepreneurial activities, a consumption oriented life-style, and a strong support for economic development and a democratic society combined with civil society activism. A closer look shows at first that they it is hardly possible to describe that group via modes of production or socio-professional position. Additionally, people from the middle-income stratum show remarkable differences with regard to the relation between consumption and the investment in future advancement, and a variety of moral attitudes between liberal and conservative values, individualism or group solidarity. There is political commitment, but a large part of the members of the middle-income stratum is not politically active. For some members of the middle stratum urban-rural ties are crucial, others see themselves as city dwellers. Instead of a homogenous class with shared class interest and values, we find a heterogeneous middle-income stratum that is marked by different socio-cultural groups. When we want to analyze the structure of African societies this differences have to be conceptualized. To capture that differentiation we may refer to the "milieu" concept provided by German social structure analysis. According to this approach the members of a society a mainly differentiated via socio-cultural differences including lifestyle, values and attitudes and everyday life practices. Based on an ongoing qualitative research on the middle-income stratum in Kenya examples for a set of different milieus are provided.

panel P124
Rising African Urban Middle Classes: Narrative Mirage or Social Reality?