Introduction: Democracy, Markets, and the Assertive Middle
Introduction: Democracy, Markets, and the Assertive Middle, in Gerry van Klinken and Ward Berenschot, eds. In Search of Middle Indonesia: Middle Classes in Provincial Towns. Leiden: Brill, 2014, pp1-32.
33 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2015
Date Written: January 1, 2014
Asia’s middle classes are in the news. The story is bewitching. Not only are their numbers said to be shooting up towards half the total population, they are democratic and market-friendly. Indonesia’s middle class too, according to this story, has exploded in the ten years from 1999–2009. An Asian Development Bank (hereafter: ADB) study of consumption patterns concluded it had grown from 25% to 43% in that period.
The present book examines this expanding Indonesian middle class up close. Instead of statistics, it contains ethnographic studies conducted in provincial towns, where most of its members live. Less than by changing consumption patterns, we were driven to radically expand our idea of the Indonesian middle class by political events over the last twenty years. Whereas the ADB is mainly interested in consumption, our ideas on the middle class have been shaped by more relational, political questions. Class is not essentially a question of income or expenditure categories; it is a political concept, intended to explain why differences remain between the behaviour of rich and poor people over matters of the common good. By watching how they behave, we have come to know a very different middle class than the one the ADB saw in the statistics. In our experience, the booming provincial middle class favours economic protectionism, wants more state and not less, and practises a flawed patronage democracy.
Keywords: middle class, democracy, Indonesia, Asia, class
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