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I am learning about nationalism in Europe in the latter half of the 19th century, and my history book uses the terms "urban working class", "middle class", and "land-owning peasants". What were some of the occupations of the middle class? Would buisiness owners be considered part of the middle class? I thought that the middle class was the urban working class.

Some excerpts from where the book uses class:

"Parliaments and political parties were not the answer [to economic problems of all the people], according to Louis Napoleon. French politicians represented special-interest groups, particularly middle-class ones."

(this is from a list of reasons as to why Louis Napoleon was so popular) "Second, as Karl Marx stressed at the time, middle-class and pesant proprety owners feared the socialist challenge of urban workers...."

The book I have is "A History of Western Society", 10th edition by Mckay, Hill, Buckler, Crowston, ....

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Samuel Russell, jwenting, Kobunite, Steven Drennon Mar 3 '14 at 5:55

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

For the most part professionals such as Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, businessmen (import/export, distributors) and shop-owners such as jewellers and smiths of various types. –  Pieter Geerkens Feb 22 '14 at 22:22
As there's no way to know which system of classes is under discussion from the question, the question is currently unanswereable. Your book should make clear from its own wording what it means, if it doesn't, I would suggest your book is junk. –  Samuel Russell Feb 22 '14 at 23:26
@SamuelRussell: That's not particularly helpful - if it is a textbook OP has no choice in the matter, as the University/school board has made the selection. –  Pieter Geerkens Feb 23 '14 at 0:01
@Ovi might, for example, try reading for the point at which "class" is introduced, search "class" in the index, or quote small portions of the text where class is discussed to help us. Answers will be wildly different depending on which schema of class is in use. –  Samuel Russell Feb 23 '14 at 1:47
@SamuelRussell I looked in the index and didn't find too much information about what exactly they meant by the social classes. I added a couple excepts from the book that might be helpful. –  Ovi Feb 23 '14 at 2:13

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The first problem is that you're reading a textbook. Textbooks are not ways in which historical research is reported; they're primarily teaching tools and are highly criticised and considered bad for teaching in some systems.

Your textbook gives us some clues about how the authors are using "class," a complex theoretical tool.

as Marx stressed…middle-class and peasant property owners feared the socialist challenge of urban workers

We can unpack this.

There's an offhand reference to Marx. Marx views social class as determined by a person's relationship to the means and tools of production in capitalism. For Marx:

  • The middle-class owns capital, they are "the bourgeoisie," and their nearest analogue in today's society could be familiar to you as "the 1%": those people who own or control the productive capital of society. In Marx's day this class was larger, and owned smaller companies or factories.
  • The peasantry who "own property," the text is referring to occupying owners of agricultural land who still predominantly work their own land despite using levels of hired help.
  • Urban workers. This is problematic. Marx and Engels certainly concentrated on the industrial and productive portion of the proletariat, or "working class," but their category wasn't "urban workers." So we have a clue that your text book isn't using Marx's categories but a different set.

The other clue is in "French politicians represented special-interest groups, particularly middle-class ones." where classes are depicted as (primarily) segmented interest groups. Not as relations to production, but as ideas groups.

We can assume that the language being used is untheorised identification of past self-representation by status group, "the middling classes" etc. Here "middle class" would mean, rather than those people who owned capital and subsisted off extracting surplus value, it would mean people displaying the culture of the urban burgher and the rural farmer: people who incidentally owned capital, but who could be identified by their tight closed sitting rooms, control over parliamentary politics, inheritance strategies.

More Bourdieu or Weber than Marx.

I thought that the middle class was the urban working class.

This is a conceit almost entirely confined to US internal propaganda, and a particular kind of instrumentalist sociology that likes to divide populations based on decile groups of income received. There will always be that 40-60% of income receivers who earn greater than the bottom 40% and less than the top 40%. This is not a coherent theoretical tool.

What were some of the occupations of the middle class?

Using Zola for second empire France: financial speculator, manufacturer, wholesaler or mass retailer, rentier, government minister, politician, medium and small retailer, farmer (ie: production using labour for profit without working the land oneself), certain kinds of priest, banker, officer (above certain ranks by mid career), food market wholesaler, wife, scientist, unmarried daughter, expert whore, coal mine owner.

Would business owners be considered part of the middle class?

In the textbooks' understanding of class: yes, all except owner-operator peasants and the most destitute small shop owners or stall holders.

I do not believe the textbook to be correct, useful, or representative of the state of research.

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+1 great answer. I'm a senior in high school and I'm really starting to get interested in history. What do you recommend to read instead of textbooks? I know that there are many books on specific topics but I think it might be a good idea to get a general feel for history from the textbooks before I read about more detailed topics. –  Ovi Feb 23 '14 at 7:38
I'd suggest trying to find University course guides for the object of your interest, and look at their reading list. University textbooks should be superior to high school textbooks (if still radically deficient). After that, look for the "monographs," the single author research books in the reading list. For example, if you were interested in the English Working Class I'd probably suggest Hammond & Hammond's Town Labourer or Engels English Working Class in 1844 or E.P. Thompson's Making. These should appear in a reading list on UK industrialisation. –  Samuel Russell Feb 23 '14 at 7:40
Ok thanks. This is actually an AP (college level) textbook which I am reading so I guess its not so bad. –  Ovi Feb 23 '14 at 7:45
@SamuelRussell: Many of your "theoretical" answers come across very dry to me, but this one was a fun read in addition to being informative. +1. –  Pieter Geerkens Feb 23 '14 at 23:28
Thanks! "Class" is unfortunately a big powerful tool that is often hidden beneath multiple incompatible theories, and "narrative." Gives me an idea of a question, actually. –  Samuel Russell Feb 23 '14 at 23:32

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