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Att räkna värdighet: Privatekonomi och medelklasskultur vid mitten av 1900-talet
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economic History.
2013 (Swedish)In: Scandia, ISSN 0036-5483, Vol. 79, no 1, 87-121 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Counting worth. Personal finances and middle class culture in the mid twentieth century

The article discusses how culture and economy are melded together in everyday definitions of class and classification processes, using as a case-study the heated press debate in Sweden in 1950 about the supposedly worsening economic circumstances of the middle classes. Under the slogan 'Rattvisa at medelklassen' ('Justice for the middle classes'), the debate introduced the statistical concept of lifetime earnings to a wider public. My ambition here is to analyse how this new calculative device (also called life incomes) was launched, and how it was used to define and redefine the middle classes. The empirical study highlights new aspects of the history of the middle classes in the twentieth century, a topic otherwise rarely studied by Swedish historians. The focus here is on the discourses about middle-class identity and class distinctions in the middle of the century. I then consider the theories of class analysis, arguing for a cultural-economic approach; more specifically, the ideas on the 'economies of worth' developed by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot (2006 [1990, and David Stark (2009) as analytic tools. What counts? How is the calculation of lifetime earnings and domestic budgets bound up with culture? An analysis of both the historical practices of calculating and the discourses about private economic issues reveals the problems inherent in the conventional understanding of class in binary terms. Although most social scientists now agree that the economy and economic practices are culturally embedded, it is common in class analyses (including those inspired by Weber or Bourdieu) to distinguish between the 'objective' and instrumental economic criteria of class on one hand, and the 'subjective' and normative cultural criteria of class on the other. It is shown here that such criteria not only are combined (or embedded into each other), but, in fact, they dissolve in practice. The calculative devices used to define the middle class in objective economic terms were culturally created, and thus the debates about middle-class personal finances were inescapably also a debate about culture, (normative) values, and worth(iness).

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 79, no 1, 87-121 p.
Keyword [en]
middle class, economies of worth, lifetime earnings, personal finances, culture, calculative devices
National Category
Social Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-203699ISI: 000319855400005OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-203699DiVA: diva2:637344
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2013-07-17 Created: 2013-07-17 Last updated: 2015-01-21

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