Stuart Ewen’s Chosen People
“It’s not what you own its what people think you own” (Ewen 183). Consumerism is fueling today’s “middle class”. Stewart Ewen’s “Chosen People” goes into detail about the rise of the materialistic middle class. As Ewen begins by describing the two contrasting perspectives of social reality. “It described factory industrialism as producing the accoutrements of a democracy, one which invites every man to enhance his own comfort and status. Equating democracy with consumption” (Ewen 187). Ewen recognizes that “Mass production, according to this outlook was investing individuals with tools of identity, marks of their personhood” (Ewen 187). One side of the perception of social reality is production. Being able to identify oneself with the help of mass production could be a way for people to deal with the identity crisis described earlier in his essay. Ewen then goes into the second perception of social reality. “For those laboring in many of the factories, however, industrial conditions systematically trampled upon their individuality and personhood” (Ewen 187). Industrialization did not create a way for people to deal with the identity crisis in the industrial revolution; it created even bigger problems of identity. Ewen then illustrates that out of the two ways to look at the new social reality came two ways to differentiate status and class. “One way of comprehending class focused on the social relations of power which dominated and shaped the modern, industrial mode of production” (Ewen 187). The first way to comprehend class is in terms of production in which a person’s success is defined by what they do for a living. Ewen then explains the second outlook of comprehending class. “American society gave rise to a notion of class defined almost exclusively, by patterns of consumption”(Ewen 187). Ewen finally makes his point in defining the American middle class as consumer based. To further explain his point, Ewen introduces Karl Marx and Frederick Engels who go into more detail about the different ways of identifying class and status. Marx and Engels hoped that people would identify themselves and others by class position, or in other words, where they were in the objective relations of power (188). However they recognized that Class identity was primarily dictated by images. “By the middle of the nineteenth century, the expanding market in appearances was helping to feed a notion of class defined primarily in consumptive rather than productive terms” (Ewen 189). The American middle class was destined to be defined by appearances rather than on the person’s job or productivity. Later in his essay Ewen explains that “judgment about a person is not based on what one does within a society, but rather upon what one has” (Ewen 194). Ewen then adds the perspective of Karen Halttunen who describes Europe’s “middling class” and America’s middle class to points out their differences. “the term middling class referred to the people who occupied a static social position between the extremes of peasantry and aristocracy, a position believed to offer only modest opportunities of advancement” (qtd. in Ewen 189). Halttunen believes that the “middling class” is different from the American middle class in many ways, “in America however, middle class began to take on a new and volatile meaning, one which assumed that more and more people were engaged in a passage from a lower to a higher social status” (qtd. in Ewen 189). While Europe’s middling class was static and had little opportunity to rise or fall, Ewen uses Halttunen’s argument to explain how the American middle class were “defined as men in social motion, men of no fixed status” (qtd. in Ewen 189). Ewen describes how dependent the American middle class has become on the American dream. In other words the dream that anyone, no matter what conditions they are born into, has the chance to “strike it rich”. Ewen explains that this dependence on...
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Ewen, Stuard “Chosen People. Literacies 2nd Ed. Brunk, Diamond, Perkins, Smith. W.W Norton & Company Inc. 2000. Print.
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