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[OUTREACH] María Luisa Méndez on her new book,”The upper-middle class challenges social cohesion towards the rest of the social structure”

María Luisa Méndez, Modesto Gayo

“Upper Middle-Class Social Reproduction” captures the interconnections between macro and micro social dimensions such as urban dynamics, school choice, cultural repertoires, and socio-spatial trajectories. This book, written by sociologist María Luisa Méndez and political scientist Modesto Gayo, both academics from the Diego Portales University, offers a detailed description of elite training, intergenerational accumulation, and the dynamics of economic, cultural, and social heritage.

The book “Upper Middle Class Social Reproduction” was written as part of Regular Fondecyt project Nº1140136, “The upper middle class in Chile today: old and new barriers, practices, and costs of the reproduction of class position”, led by María Luisa Méndez, principal investigator of COES and director of the School of Sociology of Diego Portales University, and whose co-investigator is Modesto Gayo, political scientist and academic at the same university. Through this project the academics seek to identify the practices, barriers, and costs associated with the position of the upper middle class in Chile today, characterizing changes and new demands in the real estate and educational markets, as well as in parenting practices and the development of social and cultural capital, among other key areas of social reproduction.

This research project examines the old and new mechanisms of social reproduction in the upper middle class, that is, people who occupy privileged professional and managerial positions in the social structure. To do so, Professors Méndez and Gayo combined georeferenced data and multi-stage conglomerate analysis, capturing the interconnections between macro and micro social dimensions such as urban dynamics, school choice, cultural repertoires, and socio-spatial trajectories. In Chile, Santiago concentrates more than 60% of all the middle classes of the country and the bulk of what is traditionally known as the ABC1 group –a socio-economic classification that identifies the Chilean upper middle class, made up of groups A, B, and C1, the most privileged sector in Chile in terms not only of income but also of social and cultural capital.

In particular, the upper middle class in Chile lives in five or more districts of the Metropolitan Region, which constitute the high-rent cone: Providencia, La Reina, Las Condes, Vitacura, and La Dehesa, plus –during the last decade– the conurbanization of the area near Colina and Chicureo. “This is where the greatest opportunities for social mobility are in the whole country… the highest number of jobs in certain high-demand and high-status occupations. All of the country’s resources are concentrated in this area and this social class,” says sociologist and co-author María Luisa Méndez. “In this area, you also find the schools with the best reputation –elite schools, as they are known in the literature– which vary in terms of language, colonies of origin, and/or religious aspects”.

In contrast with other contexts, where the elites are totally and completely segregated from the rest of society, in Chile “there is a need to inhabit exclusive spaces but not in such an exclusionary sense. In other words, we see that high-income cone neighbourhoods include or have the capacity to include professional sectors that, of course, have significant advantages with respect to the rest of society but do not live in a situation of complete exclusion and polarization”, says María Luisa. In turn, it is interesting to analyze “to what extent these positions work (or fail to work) as a stepping stone for the rest of society, because here we find the position of their groups or members of a high or upper middle class, which have belonged to the same families and have attended the same schools for several generations, and have to somehow protect their privileged position”.

In these more privileged groups, some positions are taken up by groups that are oriented more by merit, these are recent arrivals are looking for the principle that will regulate membership of this social group. “They are guided by merit, they are very much in line with Shamus Khan, that is, merit understood not as a valid principle for all, but as a principle that I aspire to be personally credited for to the exclusion of others”.

The relevance of studying the upper middle classes in Chile lies in the fact that “there is an accumulation of advantages clustered around the same pattern, such as intensive parenting and residential school choice; therefore, there are difficulties for others to access those opportunities (…) and in that regard, the upper-middle class challenges the social cohesion of the whole social structure”.

About this book

“Méndez and Gayo initiate important new conversations with the international social science community of inequality experts, as they deploy impressive new empirical-based theoretical arguments about this group. Their book is a must read for anyone interested in the sociology of social class”.

Michèle Lamont. Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies and Professor of Sociology, Harvard University, USA.

“This book offers an unprecedented account of elite formation and inheritance dynamics in Chile, using trailblazing, very granular data and sophisticated methods. This will make this a `must read for sociologist of elites, class, and stratification across the world”.

Mike Savage, Professor of Sociology and co-Director of International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics, UK