Tidings of a shrinking middle class in one part of the world and its expansion in another absorb our attention, but seldom do we question the category itself. We Have Never Been Middle Class proposes that the middle class is an ideology. Tracing this ideology up to the age of financialisation, it exposes the fallacy in the belief that we can all ascend or descend as a result of our aspirational and precautionary investments in property and education. Ethnographic accounts from Germany, Israel, the United States and elsewhere illustrate how this belief orients us, in our private lives as much as in our politics, toward accumulation-enhancing yet self-undermining goals. This meshing of anthropology and critical theory elucidates capitalism by way of its archetypal actors.
“This is a subtle contribution to the emerging anthropology of social class. In a wide-ranging and thoughtful contribution, Hadas Weiss shows how notions of investment, accumulation and property undergird the appeal of middle class ideology across the globe.”
“With a wink to Postone, Lukacs and the classical Frankfurt School, anthropologist Hadas Weiss tells us that our embrace of the middle class bespeaks our collective powerlessness in the face of financialized capital. Reflecting on her own ethnographic research in Germany and Israel, as well as on the current literature, she has lots of understanding but little patience for the myths we have come to live by.”
“Maybe we already knew the middle class to be a myth, just as a child may have an inkling that Santa Claus isn’t real. But when the adults in the room keep telling you that good boys and girls will keep getting presents, it can be hard to give up the faith. We Have Never Been Middle Class puts the matter to rest. In this extraordinary book, as relentlessly smart as it is astonishingly moving, Hadas Weiss tells us not only who put the presents under the tree but why. With remarkable grace and acuity, she is able to simultaneously conjure up and deconstruct the ideology of today’s financialised capitalism. The lessons are unnerving, but they are neither melancholy nor nostalgic. Just because things are worse now doesn’t mean they were better then.”