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Historical explanation of the lack of class consciousness in Brazil's middle sector today. Klem, Frederick Hadley

Abstract

Social stratification is a major area of thought in theoretical social analysis. Although much has since been said in this area, the theories of social stratification put forward by Karl Marx remain fundamental. The necessity for a social class to possess class consciousness is basic to Marx’ theories. A middle social stratum has been rapidly growing in Brazil since the Second World War. This expansion is due to the growth of industry, urban centers, government bureaucracy, and other factors. Yet, this middle group seems to lack both an awareness of themselves as a group and a unique set of values. To some extent, the middle stratum identifies with the upper class. Clearly, the middle stratum lacks class consciousness. For this reason I refer to this group as the middle sector. The problem is: why does Brazil's middle sector lack class consciousness? The hypothesis I propose in solution to this problem is as follows: Brazil's middle sector is, in a sense, a misfit in the stream of Brazilian history. In more than four centuries of European settlement of Brazil, the society has been characterized by factors contributing to a bi-polar tendency in social stratification. In testing this hypothesis, I will examine three of the areas of factors in terms of the roles they have played in social stratification. Although the list of areas contributing to a bi-polar tendency is long, I have limited myself to the economic factor, the kinship factor, and the racial factor. These three factors will be examined throughout the course of Brazilian history. The economic structure has been largely characterized by large-scale agriculture, feudalism, and slavery. These institutions involve the control of the many by the few. Two contemporary phenomena which polarize Brazilian society have come out of this heritage: paternalistic treatment of employees, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a relatively few. The kinship system has strengthened the bi-polar tendency in several ways. The aristocratic patriarchal family, which dominated Brazil for centuries, served to maintain the position of the upper class, and establish a dependency of the poor on the rich. The upper-class family continues today as a maintainer of the status quo. The institutions of patronship and godparenthood continue today to foster a dependency of poor on rich. Perhaps the most obvious contribution to the bi-polar tendency is seen in the historical role of the racial factor. Slavery existed from the founding of the colony until abolition in 1888. Masters were white and slaves were non-white. The non-white population continues to largely occupy the lower class, and this situation is maintained by often-subtle racial prejudice. To gain an understanding of the growth of the middle sector, a fourth factor must be noted: demographic changes. Recent phenomena are extensive European immigration, and the development of urban centers. The recent nature of these phenomena is linked to the recent growth of the middle sector. Although Brazilian society continues, in many ways, to be bi-polar, the existence of a relatively large middle sector prohibits a perfect bi-polarity in social stratification. The existence of the middle sector may be a misfit in Brazilian history in one sense, but this sector's values do not run counter to the historical flow. However, the middle sector is yet in an early stage of development. A later stage of development may include the formation of a class consciousness.

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