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«academy reflects 1 Socio-Cultural Diversity of the African Middle Class The Case of Urban Kenya Dieter Neubert and Florian Stoll 14 Bayreuth African ...»

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4 Conceptual conclusions and further challenges The milieu building blocks and typology presented here represent a first attempt to describe socio-cultural differentiation within the Kenyan middle class. Our identification of the milieus is based on an on-going qualitative field study. Without systematically collected quantitative data, it is not possible to determine the size of these milieus, nor to say for sure whether they constitute a complete picture of all social milieus in urban Kenya. Highly visible and distinctive milieus can be identified and described using the qualitative data. Visibility is created by common institutions (such as churches), common organizations (such as so-called councils of elders as keepers of ethnic traditions), or socio-politically active groups (such as women’s rights organizations). Public self-representation is also helpful for identifying and describing specific milieus. For example, the “young professionals” milieu is easy to identify because its members demonstratively spend high sums on specific leisure activities. By contrast, for a long time we failed to register the milieu we have called “apolitical stability oriented pragmatic”, since, apart from paid employment outside the home, the main activities take place in the home.

Although this is still an on-going study, our results confirm the existence of different milieus. The analysis of socio-cultural differences adds a new dimension to any purely socio-economic division into classes. The Christian milieu, for example, spans different socio-economic classes. Each church community may be relatively homogeneous in socio-economic terms, but the different communities share the same basic ideas and everyday practices that transcend socio-economic boundaries. With improved data, the picture can be completed and sharpened. An important general finding is that milieu membership can be determined in the first place only for individuals, not for families. This can be seen for instance in the case of the Christian milieu, in which women predominate. The church is often not the middle point of their husbands’ lives, even if these are practising Christians and regular church-goers. Moreover, it is not uncommon for husband and wife to belong to two different churches.

But before the backdrop of the milieu structure outlined here we need to ask whether the macromilieus capture all members of the Kenyan society. In the course of our fieldwork we began to doubt whether the whole of the Kenyan population can be allocated to macro-milieus. According to our findings there are a number of individuals who cannot be unequivocally assigned to a particular macro-milieu because they combine features of several milieus or switch between milieus according to the social setting. However, the milieus identified here and the two examples discussed show that there really are subcultural units in Kenya consisting of people who share similar ideas and lifestyles. In these cases, where most social contacts outside the workplace happen in a uniform social space, the concept of macro-milieus serves very well. These individuals share much more than just the specific behaviour and norms of a part-time setting in a particular place (such as a fitness studio, a discotheque or a women’s group). The common social reality of the members of such a milieu is comprehensive and consists of many overlapping small lifeworlds.

Furthermore their commonalities are based on shared basic norms and values and go far beyond a social network with a specific purpose or a loosely connected small lifeworld. We are therefore 14 Socio-cultural diversity of the African middle classes inclined to conclude that the macro-milieu concept (as in the Sinus model) and the small-lifeworld concept are not mutually exclusive. Rather, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that in Kenya there are macro-milieus which can be described in social structural terms, and a considerable number of Kenyan citizens who cannot clearly be assigned to any of these milieus. This latter group is involved in several different small lifeworlds with differing, and in some cases contradictory, values. 11 We therefore plead for a comprehensive analysis which distinguishes certain milieu cores, around the borders of which are people who only partly share or live the basic values and practices of the milieu in question. This results in clear overlapping areas between milieus, and a large group of people who belong simultaneously to very different milieus or small lifeworlds.

This leads to the question whether this open milieu approach could also be used to describe societies in the Global North. The continuing statistical accuracy of the macro-milieu method suggests that in Germany and Europe there might also be milieus which could accurately be described as milieu cores. This also suggests that further conceptional work on group structures is necessary, using the available data. It is important to note here that in Germany and Europe, too, families and households do not necessarily belong to the same milieu, as many studies seem to suggest. At the same time, the small-lifeworld approach makes it possible to include those people who do not fit into the fixed pattern of macro-milieus in an analysis of socio-cultural differentiation on a lower level of social aggregation. This takes into account the fact that these small-lifeworlds are too diverse to be considered as macro-milieus. Additionally, this concept allows us to analyse how these small lifeworlds are connected.





For the analysis of African societies it is necessary to continue developing the criteria for distinguishing different milieus (milieu building blocks), making them as specific and meaningful as possible. Only then will it be possible to produce empirical evidence of the existence of sociocultural milieu cores by means of quantitative studies.

This socio-cultural analysis of the African middle class (taking Kenya as an example) is only a first step. In a subsequent step, the analysis must be extended to include the upper class and especially the quantitatively dominant lower class. Our study of the middle class may serve as a beginning.

Because of their better socio-economic position, members of the middle class have more freedom of choice with regard to planning their future and consumption preferences. They are able to put different values into practice which makes socio-cultural differences clearer. At the same time the middle class is more easily accessible for research of this kind than the upper class, which is often isolated and aloof. An analysis of socio-cultural differentiation in the middle class can close an important gap in the analysis of the structure of African societies.

One example is a young woman who is an active member of a Christian women’s group which strictly refuses alcohol 11

–  –  –

As we said in the beginning, focusing on socio-cultural differentiation should not lead to leaving out the existence and consequences of social inequality. Employment insecurity, the uncertain success of small and medium-sized businesses, and dependence on socio-political power structures that go beyond milieu boundaries are common conditions affecting peoples’ lives which cannot be ignored. This has been described and analysed for people living in poverty (Freeman et al. 2004; Githinji 2000; Ouma 2006), but also applies – with less severe consequences – to the middle class. The next step towards a comprehensive analysis of social structure would be the combination of socio-economic inequalities with all its consequences with the analysis of socio-cultural differentiation. Our contribution to this much larger project is to underline that the analysis of social structure needs to include the socio-cultural diversity. We contribute with the analysis of marco-milieus despite the limits an approach that reaches beyond ethnic or religious differences and might pave the way for the conceptualisation of socio-cultural differences against the backdrop of socio-economic inequality.

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