Is There a Tongan Middle Class? Hierarchy and Protest in Contemporary Tonga

Date
2003
Authors
James, Kerry
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Publisher
University of Hawai'i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
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 formation.
Description
Keywords
elite, class, hierarchy, protest, public, social stratification, Tonga
Citation
James, K. 2003. Is There a Tongan Middle Class? Hierarchy and Protest in Contemporary Tonga. The Contemporary Pacific 15 (2): 309-36.
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