The widespread belief among political and social actors is that a considerable part of the middle class can invest a portion of its income to access effective and high-quality private health services or private pension schemes.
For low-income households, it is assumed that many of them do not deserve the benefits they receive and do not do everything they can to find work.
The attitudes and living conditions both for low-income households and middle classes are very different from how they are recognised and discussed in public debate.
We are experiencing a long-lasting transition from a simple modern society to a complex modern society that simultaneously and radically fragments the social fabric and destabilises all certainties. The uncertain and contradictory responses of institutions and most social and economic subjects make this transition particularly complex.
A large and growing body of literature has investigated the radical activism of the middle class and its changing relation to the welfare state as a linear effect of relative deprivation or as a reaction to the profound cultural changes in Western social values.
The book’s overall aim is to propose an alternative perspective and a broader analytical structure, taking into account the specific social context in which the dynamics of deprivation and cultural changes happen.
Over the past two decades, a long-lasting transition is simultaneously and radically changing all the contexts where people live as well as all the institutions and is destabilising all the certainties upon which modern societies are founded.
Resentment against institutions and some target groups are forging the moral identities of a vast stratum of middle-class people.
The radical activism of significant segments of the middle class is creating growing social and political instability and is increasing support for configurations of welfare that exploit and exacerbate existing economic and social divisions.
The central focus of the chapter is the crisis of the kind of individualism of people who compete in relatively ordered ways, abide by the rules and who contribute to creating these rules through their own personal commitment and autonomy (‘institutionalised individualism’).
The chapter starts by analysing the impact of the processes of individualisation that are weakening traditional and new bonds and collective belonging. Main institutions encounter increasing difficulties in creating new forms of reintegration suitable for contemporary societies.
On the one hand, a multitude of individual and collective subjects are continuously promoting new processes of the ‘disembedding’ of institutions, relations and values in endless initiatives of ‘detraditionalisation’.
On the other hand, our societies do not find social resources, subjects, social groups or associations able to face these dynamics of ‘disembedding’. European societies are not able to build new integrative forces, institutional resources, new forms of sociality or belonging, which might help individuals to actively live in a highly individualised society.
This chapter sums up the public and academic debate on the recent activism of the middle class and on the role played by the unequal distribution of wealth and income on living standards or, alternatively, by the profound cultural changes in social values in many Western European nations.
This research has produced contrasting evidence for both economic and cultural causes and has generated an intense academic and public debate.
Much of the research highlights single deprivations or conflicts appearing within the process of the decline of the middle class, failing to recognise both the critical role played by the context in which the economic and cultural dynamics develop and the agency of social actors that mediates the effects of economic and cultural dynamics
We need to understand the context in which the dynamics of deprivation and cultural changes happen and which other causal relationships exist and could interfere with the causal power of these dynamics.
These interactions offer a more productive understanding of the recent activism of the middle class and its shifting relations with the welfare state.
The intensification of individualisation is contributing to creating a new politically and socially unstable stratum at the centre of the social stratification in all European countries.
This is a multitude of active and reflexive individuals, with weak collective ties that voice radical activism that institutions are progressively less able to manage.
This extended social stratum, formed by the majority (a large part of the middle and working classes), feels, to various degrees, that they are in a shared condition of economic difficulty, lacking security, status and trust in the future.
Their deprivations are experienced mostly individually and are perceived and dealt with by individuals with weaker social networks.
Unlike the traditional middle mass, the new ‘middle mass’ is a sort of a multitude of individuals, a heterogeneous entity despite having shared values and concerns.
A combination of socio-economic uncertainties, fragilities, vulnerabilities and the risk of atomisation affects the quality and the direction of their life relationships and collective activities and expectations.
In the last two decades, all European welfare states have been reconfigured towards progressive deregulation and privatisation of welfare policies, increasing state control over public welfare expenditure, and a stronger emphasis on the importance of individual choice and individual responsibilities.
These recalibrations of the welfare programmes do not seem able to cope with the changes in the living conditions of the majority of households.
Nevertheless, many low-income families, minority ethnic groups and many more marginalised claimants are increasingly sanctioned or pushed out of welfare and the work system.
Continuing from the age of dualisation, a ‘third welfare system’ provided by charities is being strengthened, inhabited by social groups expelled from public social welfare.
However, it is possible to pursue a more inclusive, non-discriminatory and non-divisive social policy strategy overcoming some limitations of the prevailing frameworks in Europe.
The programmes conceived in the past decades were intended to respond to growing social risks associated with an ageing population, lack of self-sufficiency, and difficulties reconciling work and family responsibilities.
The chapter highlights that it is necessary to observe more carefully the transformations that are taking place in most people’s living conditions, ordinary human relationships, and the capacity of institutions to reproduce and mobilise communicative resources.
A reconceptualisation of the relationships between state, market and the informal sector can help to recognise the plurality of resources that the individual can have at their disposal in each sphere of life (informal relations, market, welfare) and promote new welfare strategies.
Adopting this perspective, the chapter outlined some proposals to change key welfare programmes with the aim to create more collaborative relations of welfare institutions both with the majority of people and with minority groups; to promote institutional programmes more grounded in the communicative sphere, as well as activation programmes founded on a plurality of social resources.
In many European countries, processes of individualisation have contributed to transforming the middle class into a multitude of people, a sort of ‘middle mass’ with an unstable social identity and radical activism. The different ‘worlds’ of European welfare states seem progressively less able to manage this new kind of middle-class activism.
This book is an essential contribution to ongoing public and academic debates on the unpredictability of middle-class attitudes and on their changing relations with the welfare state. Identifying key trends in the literature, it considers the impact of recent welfare reforms on the needs and preferences of the middle class.
This practice paper reflects on the experience of delivering leadership development for the voluntary sector through open-access online learning. We outline key elements of learning design and explore the potential and challenges of widening access to leadership development through this form of learning. We note the importance of aligning the conceptualisation of the leadership approach to learning and the principles of open access. The paper ends by offering insights for leadership development practitioners.
The issue of leaders’ influence has not received much attention in civil society studies, classical leadership literature on the voluntary sector and elite research. This article explores self-representations of the different kinds of status and influence among Italian third sector leaders. It is based on 35 interviews with the leaders of major Italian third sector organisations and on an analysis of the self-representations of their status and influence and representations of their civil society colleagues. Following a critical anthropological perspective, it argues that a qualitative investigation of the different forms of influence can help to broaden scholarly understanding of the growing power stratification in the third sector and the elements that seem to be required for being considered a key leader actor or a civil society elite.