Consuming Distinction. The Constitution of the Italian Middle-classes through Housing, Food and Cultural Good
Dipartimento di Studi Sociali e Politici University of Milan Milan, ITALY
Dipartimento di Discipline della Comunicaizone University of Bologna Bologna, Italy
Dipartimento di Studi Sociali e Politici University of Milan Milan, Italy
The paper develops from the understanding that the so-called "crisis" of the Italian middle-class is a representation of a real or presumed discomfort at the challenges experienced in every day life as to chances of social and civic participation via economic opportunities. Consumption is an essential way this participation takes shape. Consumption is both an ordinary social practice and a fundamental identity mechanism especially for middle-classes: historically, they have had the leading role in the diffusion of distinctive or competitive consumption, due to their median and fluid position, easily prone to slight but important shifts in social hierarchies. What we call "middle-class" is often nothing else than a social space of sharing and of "competitive comparison" and "imitation" of tastes, properties, and life styles. Following this approach, this paper is based on a large qualitative research project conducted via ethnography and in depth interviews in two gentrifying neighbourhoods in Milan and Bologna. The research firstly investigates status dynamics in Italian middle-class households, by analysing how members of a sample of family units, differentiated by occupational status, cohort, and cultural capital, choose their homes and take possession of the house they live in. It then focuses on two key areas of consumption, food and cultural consumption. The paper aims to contribute to an understanding of how, through the cultural investment of lifestyle choices in these three areas of consumption, class relations are reproduced, the boundaries between consumption and production are managed, and finally the divide between private and public is continuously realized.