Thursday, 22 December 2011

Researchers: No Australian "middle class" any more

Dr Letitia Stork-Wang in the Centre for
Human Studies lab in Sydney yesterday.
There is no longer such a thing in society as a "middle class" say researchers at a distinguished Sydney research centre that focuses on cultural studies. Two years of studying the Australian resident in every concievable setting - from coast to coast, and from Bar to barroom, lab wits affirm - allows the prestigious non-profit Centre for Human Studies, headquartered in Rhodes in Sydney's west, to release a new document showing that the term "middle class" no longer applies to any of us. We've never had an "upper class" anyway, for many reasons, say researchers. For the vast majority of Australians a niche can be found within a new set of classificatory intruments that have been developed in conjunction with the Humanities Science Lab at West Texas Pentecostal University in the United States and Denmark's Royal Institute of People-Technics.

"The idea of a 'working class' and a 'middle class' no longer applies," said Letitia Stork-Wang, who is also chair of the government's long-standing Social Index Reform Committee, which advises on a range of matters relevant to a number of ministerial portfolios.

"The working class ceased to exist during the era of the Keating government and Howard virtually finished off that project. We talk of 'Howard battlers' but what we should be talking about is 'bogans'."

The CHS document proposes two major classifications for Australian residents. Australians living overseas were excluded from the study because of difficulties in matching overseas cultural 'markers', or cognates, with those "more specifically" found in Australia, according to reasearchers.

As well as the 'bogan', Dr Stork-Wang and her colleagues here and overseas came up with the term 'elite' to encompass those who might formerly have been labelled 'middle class'. 'Snob' was canvassed as an option but, says Dr Stork-Wang, many found it distasteful. It also had a strong link to outdated systems of societal classification.

"Our research told us that the term 'elite' was equally disparaging in the Australian context. I mean, who wants to be called "elite"? There has been a trend in popular discourse for decades that makes it actually quite undesirable to have that label attached to you nowadays, I think."

Dr Stork-Wang is confident the new labels will eventually meet with broad community approval and says that the research method has been particularly rigorous, and strictly follows international best practice.

"If we use the old labels based on income generating capacity then everyone would now be middle class, with a few exceptions," says Dr Stork-Wang. "In the new scheme it's not how much money you earn but, rather, what you do with it. We decided to base the classification system around notions of cultural production and consumption. This was more realistic we found. Otherwise so many people would just have dropped off the map."

The term 'bogan' has been a term of disparagement for a long time, however Dr Stork-Wang says this will now change as the government introduces a new series of policies in a range of schemes that will derive from the comprehensive CHS study, which was funded mainly from private sources.

"You have two main types of bogan," says Dr Stork-Wang. "There's the 'dependant bogan' on the one hand and the 'independent bogan' on the other. These terms refer to the person's income-generating capacity. With the elites, you've got the 'consuming elite' on the one hand and the 'productive elite' on the other. These terms relate to the person's range of activities within the distinctive cultural milieu that he or she inhabits. Is she involved in the production of cultural products, or is she just a consumer?

"Both types of 'elite' like the same things, but some of them are actually making stuff that they and their peers consume. The rest of them just go to arthouse movies, read literary fiction, and eat croissants. Both demand espresso coffee but that's also a characteristic of the 'independent bogan', who can get fairly good coffee pretty much anywhere in the major cities nowadays. We call this the "Westfield effect".

"'Dependent bogans', on the other hand, generally will take whatever they can get. Even International Roast is good enough if the water's reasonably hot. Which it often isn't in many households."

Details of the document, which has not yet been published due to uncertainty as to which ministerial portfolio owns it, are due to be released in the near future in the form of a four-colour pamphlet with photographs and prepared for broad distribution at libraries, doctors' offices, and many government agencies. The CHS media unit says that most Australians will be able to locate a free copy on the counter next to the rubber plant or near the water dispenser.


Milk Maid Marian said...

So where does a farmer who's too far from Westfield to drink espresso but has her own coffee machine; and too far from the city to watch arthouse movies but close enough to town to watch the kinder ballet concert fit?

Maybe nowhere! Maybe there is no rural Australia anymore either.

Matthew da Silva said...

Definitely elite, Stork-Wang would advise.

Milk Maid Marian said...

Not sure. There were definitely plenty of bogans at the concert...Some probably have coffee machines as well.

Matthew da Silva said...

The bogans have to wait until the clapping starts before they clap.