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The Polish Middle Class

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Henryk Domański

This book discusses the viability of «importing» the middle class to Poland. The 1990s were a step forward in the formation of the Polish middle class and, systematically yet barely discernible in daily life, the process was triggered by an increase in consumption and affluence. However, the changes of attitudes, life goals and value systems distinct for the Western middle class are ambiguous and rather slow in Poland. They ensue mainly from the changes in new social structures and the behavioral rationality of consumers. It appears that the middle class in Poland will not emerge as an exact copy of the original middle class – rather, it will be its contextually modified variant, affected by Polish cultural traditions.
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Chapter I: The Heartening Myth

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Our task is to allow more people to become middle class. The Labour Party did not come into being to celebrate working-class people having a lack of opportunity and poverty, but to take them out of it.

Tony Blair, Sunday Times, 1 September, 1996

“The middle class” is made up of such divergent categories that it cannot legitimately be called a “social class.” Shopkeepers who struggle to make ends meet have little in common with renowned surgeons and university dons, not to mention the prosperous owners of law firms and corporation managers. Telephone operators, supermarket sales assistants, office auxiliaries, postal cashiers, waiters, chefs and many other people in low-status jobs – they all identify with the middle class. For Charles Wright Mills (1951), small farmers were the American middle class in the settlement epoch. What is particularly peculiar about the middle class is the very fact of it being called a class even though it includes individuals of divergent educations, discrepant standards of living and uneven incomes, who differ in consumer preferences and enjoy unequal esteem. The middle class may not be a social class, but it is one of the most important elements of market society. It mobilises for action. “The middle class” stands for effectiveness and is a factor in social stability. If we ponder the feasibility of transplanting that notion onto Polish soil, we must answer two questions: What is the middle class? And what benefits and risks inhere in the role...

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