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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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Introduction

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If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it. And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

In capitalist countries, the middle class is a basic component of the social structure. Why a component rather than a genuine “class” will soon be shown. Our main question is whether the middle class is to be found in Poland, as well. A handful of reflections to start with. It is September, 2002. Thirteen years ago, when the middle class and the appended themes of unemployment and exchange quotation were addressed in the Polish media and political debates, hardly anyone was likely to believe those notions would ever be pertinent to our realities, not to mention that few actually made any sense of them. The middle class became an issue in the early 1990s, when life in Poland gradually came to resemble that of Western societies in some respects. Survey research of the time revealed that, suddenly, 45% to 50% of all adult Poles started to regard themselves as belonging to the middle class.

Thinking about the processes of the middle class formation in Poland has developed along two distinct lines. On one hand, in the media discourse, insights are produced on the spot as politicians and opinion leaders demand instantaneous diagnoses. On the other, sociologists take their time to reflect and draw on systematic analytical findings...

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