Who Is in the Middle: Social Class, Core Values, and Identities in India

Tereza Capelos, Ipshita Basu

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This article examines how middle-class identity is experienced and employed by traditional and neo-middle-class identifiers in India. The economically and socially heterogeneous middle-class identifiers vote similarly, but we know very little about what they want out of politics. We focus on the subjective experiences of middle-class identifiers, we theorize the expressive function of middle-class identities, and we examine the socially and personally focused core values of traditional middle-class identifiers and neo-middle aspirers. We introduce the "Class as Social Identity" scale and analyze qualitative interviews with strong middle-class identifiers (Study 1) and the 2006, 2012, and 2014 World Values Survey India segments (Study 2). The interviews show that upper middle class and lower middle class identifiers express similar socially focused values but different personally focused values. The WVS analyses show convergence of upper-middle-class and lower-middle-class identifiers on conservation and self-transcendence in line with dominant political narratives and divergence on materialism, hedonism, and stimulation in line with their rising differences in income and every-day life pressures. We discuss the significance of these findings for the understanding of the political function of middle-class identities in India in the context of heightened Hindu nationalism and recent socioeconomic challenges aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Psychology
Early online date9 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Apr 2021


  • Hindu nationalism
  • Identity
  • India
  • core values
  • middle class
  • political psychology


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