Where has the middle class gone? Brief notes on the concept and the Portuguese reality


  • Elísio Estanque




The present text focuses on the concept of middle class and its sociopolitical implications. Inasmuch as this is a topic that has been fuelling successive arguments in the academic field for some two hundred years, the author’s approach seeks to “deconstruct” some of the commonplaces that have involved this category over the years — particularly the connotation with political apathy, individualism and uncritical adherence to the “bourgeois” status quo. He takes examples from the recent cycle of social rebellions generated by the economic crisis and austerity policies — especially the protests that took place in Southern Europe and Brazil — to explore the hypothesis that the potential radicalism and transforming force of these movements are due not to a sense of “vanguardism” or “proletarian” identity, but rather to a “middle class initiative” derived precisely from the values and lifestyles incorporated — but not consolidated — by these segments. To put it another way, the discontent of the middle class (both the sectors that are moving upwards and those that are in decline) is a result of expectations, ambitions and desires to climb the social ladder, which the current economic system and governing class “promised”, but were unable to fulfil, with the middle class now threatened with impoverishment instead. The possible resurgence of conflict, be it either progressive or nationalist and conservative in nature, will certainly entail a prominent role on the part of these categories, marked as they are by instability, job precarity and the social model they once dreamed of.