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Title: Is There a Tongan Middle Class? Hierarchy and Protest in Contemporary Tonga 
Author: James, Kerry
Date: 2003
Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
Citation: James, K. 2003. Is There a Tongan Middle Class? Hierarchy and Protest in Contemporary Tonga. The Contemporary Pacific 15 (2): 309-36.
Abstract: Benguigui used the term “middle class” in a way that suggested it exerted significant
social agency in contemporary Tonga (1989). My review of his analysis concludes
that there is no coherent, durable middle class in Tonga capable of the
effective class action he claimed for it. Instead, the social struggles of recent
decades, typically led by members of commoner educated elites, may be seen as
protests against the traditional patriarchal hierarchy and especially what they
perceive to be the actions of an arrogant, paternalistic government. Rather than
issues theoretically associated with class, the struggles have involved commoners’
claims to respect from socially superior leaders and recognition of the covenantlike
relationship that ideally should exist between them within the body politic.
The sporadic protests or fragmentary proto-conflicts that have occurred might in
time produce significant class consciousness and appropriate forms of class organization.
But they probably will not because of the people’s continuing adherence
to particularistic ties—to family, locality, church, and chiefs. While the crusading
efforts of protesters have created a more informed and active public sphere, most
educated achievers are more concerned with personal advancement and entry
into newly created status groups than with membership in a common class that
seeks appropriate political expression for a unified common social purpose. The
increasing social visibility of educated professional and business people should
be seen as part of the changing patterns of social stratification instead of class
ISSN: 1043-898X
Keywords: elite, class, hierarchy, protest, public, social stratification, Tonga
LC Subject Headings: Oceania -- Periodicals.

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