Hi-Tech and Alternative Medicine: The Role of the New Middle-Class in the Globalisation of Culture Student: Nicolas John Supervisor: Dr. Eva Illouz



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Theoretical and historical background


Today’s formulations of the new middle-class have their roots in New Class theory, which was developed in order to correct that aspect of Marx’s theory that referred to the bourgeoisie and its role in the capitalist mode of production. The history of the concept and its 19 century origins are well known (Burris, 1986; Szelenyi & Martin, 1988), but since Szelenyi & Martin wrote their important survey, the concept, and the people it endeavours to incorporate within it, have continued to change, such that more recent works, even if they place its development in structural terms, tend to talk about the new middle-class as most closely related to issues of culture. Featherstone is particularly notable in this regard, as he links the new middle-class to consumerism and post-modern culture (see for instance, Featherstone, 1989). From here it is a short theoretical step to current interest in New Social Movements (of which more below). It is this aspect of the new middle-class that I refer to below, which begins with Szelenyi & Martin’s third wave – the knowledge class – but also refers to later new middle-class developments.
It is worth nothing that the concept of the new middle-class in Israel has a further twist in terms of its attitude to the state: while New Class activity is generally associated with encouraging wider state involvement in the economy and a larger government, it is hard to say the same about Israel. Because of its particular historical circumstances, namely that it was only in the mid- to late-1980s that the state began to relinquish control over vital areas of day to day life, in Israel at least, the growth of the new middle-class is associated with a reduction in state activity.th However, this does not mean that the concept is of little or no relevance here. Indeed, the 1980s and 1990s in Israel were characterised by a growing middle-class (Ben-Porat, 1993, esp. p. 156) and a boom in New Social Movements (Ben Eliezer, 1998). In the following paragraphs I shall outline the main characteristics of the new middle-class, paying special attention to its almost Janus-faced nature. This in turn leads me to my double-pronged research strategy. For if, as I suggest, globalisation requires us to take a new look at the new middle-class, then this must be done whilst taking into account both its more technical and conservative as well as post-material and critical sides.
In its latest incarnation, one of the subject’s first theoreticians was Alvin Gouldner (1979), who intimately linked the new middle-class with the cultural capital of its members, as well as with technical expertise. Gouldner’s seminal book has a distinctly Marxist tone, which has been dropped by a lot of contemporary theorists, but his definitions and distinctions still form the backbone of much current research. Broadly speaking, the new middle-class can be broken down into two separate, but not independent, parts. One characteristic of the new middle-class is its possession of expertise, both technical and cultural. The idea of technical expertise is captured by Giddens when he talks about how late modernity is typified by the growing number of experts in specific, ever-narrowing areas (Giddens, 1990), and is also suggested by the term “knowledge workers”. Cultural expertise is expressed in both the production and interpretation of culture or meaning, hence the term “cultural specialists”. A related term – new cultural intermediaries – is also relevant here, referring as it does to those people via whom culture passes from one place to another (see especially Bourdieu, 1984; Featherstone, 1989; Featherstone, 1991). Thus advertisers, movie directors, writers, and media people, as well as academics and critics can be considered as part of the new middle-class, from which it can be understood that issues of consumption and commodification must not be ignored, both in terms of the consumption patterns of new middle-class members, and their influence over those of others. All these people “earn at least a middling income from the application of a relatively complex body of knowledge [and have] advanced training in a field of learning and [perform] non-routine mental operations on the job” (Brint, 1994, p. 3).2
Such skills as they posses can be used in either conservative or subversive ways, which leads us to the second face of the new middle-class, namely activity of a critical nature with regard western culture, post-material attitudes, and so on. This critique finds its strongest voice in the various New Social Movements (NSMs – most famously, but not only, the Green movement), which, researchers tell us, are strongholds of the new middle-class. “Insofar as the constituencies of the NSMs have been described in terms of class locations,” writes Kriesi, “observers have agreed that their mobilization potential is primarily located in parts of the new middle class” (Kriesi, 1989, pp. 1079-80).3 Research on the ambiguity inherent in the concept of the new middle class has also been carried out in Israel around the production of music videos.4
Because the concept of the new middle-class includes these two contradictory features, Bell termed it a “muddled concept”. Yet he too distinguishes between structural and attitudinal elements. Structural features include the increasing “strategic centrality of information and knowledge” and “the growing importance of the science-based industries in the last half of the twentieth century (e.g., electronics, computers, optics, polymers)” (Bell, 1979, p. 175), and the accompanying changes in industrial and employment arrangements – the growth of the professions, white-collar workers, and service industries, including those populated by “cultural experts” of various kinds. And on the other hand, he points to attitudinal features, broadly summed up as a “growing dislike of materialism and an emphasis on the quality of life – e.g., a concern with the environment, pollution, and the like” (ibid.). Gouldner also spots a contradiction within the new class – “between (technical) intelligentsia and (humanistic) intellectuals” – which roughly parallels that referred to by Bell, and which receives quantitative backing from Brint (Brint, 1984; Gouldner, 1979).
“While there is much agreement about the usefulness, indeed necessity, of the concept of a new middle class”, wrote Barbalet over fifteen years ago, “there is a good deal of disagreement about the precise composition of the class, the basis of its formation, and even the name which can be attached to it” (Barbalet, 1986). This may still be true, but it does not detract from the relevance of the concept. Instead, it can be seen as adding validity to my approach in this research: rather than try to tip the balance one way or the other (who really represents the new middle-class – managers and technicians, or post-materialist ecologists?), I will study both. This approach is further justified if we consider the possibility that there is nonetheless something common to both faces of the new middle-class.
Therefore, to the two seemingly contradictory features already outlined, I would tentatively suggest a third, namely that the new middle-class is (becoming) a global class.5 Several considerations suggest themselves as supporting such a claim. Firstly, new middle-class members often have professional affiliations, which are increasingly transnational (examples abound: academics often travel widely, networking with colleagues working overseas; many of the professions have international bodies that publish journals, organise conferences, and so on; finally, as more companies become “international” (and a company with no overseas contact at all is today a rare breed), more workers find themselves communicating with distant colleagues or clients on a daily basis (see for instance, O'Riain, 2000)). Hannerz makes a related point, when he argues that people with decontextualised cultural capital and transportable knowledge are typical of the new middle-class as a whole, in other words, that their very jobs and specialities increase their affinity with processes of globalisation (Hannerz, 1990). In addition, the financial status of new middle-class members allows them to lead a certain lifestyle with notable “cosmopolitan” elements, expressed in terms of travelling and dining out at restaurants offering “foreign” cuisine, for example. Finally, consider the following three spheres, at the centre of each of which stand members of the new middle-class:

  1. Information and knowledge as key resources in a post-industrial global economy

  2. Media and telecommunications as central vehicles in processes of globalisation

  3. New globally-oriented ideological affiliations – the New Social Movements

In other words, the new middle-class appears to be intimately involved in globalisation, both technically and symbolically, as well as providing the basis for (global) protest movements that seek to challenge the perceived wrongs of globalisation. It seems that today the most relevant way to study the new middle-class is in terms of globalisation, and particularly the globalisation of culture. The two groups to be studied in this project are clearly part of that process.
However, “globalisation” itself is also a contested term, though Robertson’s definition seems to provide a starting point for many: he defines globalisation as a set of “processes and actions” concerning “both the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole” (Robertson, 1992, p. 8). This could be paraphrased as saying that globalisation involves two main elements: firstly, the transfer and movement of culture around the world, including the very means that make such movement possible (i.e., information technologies); and, secondly, shifts in identity – from nation-state based identities, to transnational identities, identities whose cultural content is not rooted in one society alone. This implies that everybody is caught in the net of globalisation, that it impinges on the lives of all, and that it must be understood as affecting more than just a jet-setting, wealthy elite (Tomlinson, 1999). Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that different groups have different roles with respect to globalisation in its many forms, or that there are those who have more influence over its shape and direction than others.6
There are two broad approaches to the concepts of global culture, or the globalisation of culture. The first approach is interested in the way in which local cultures develop given processes of globalisation, and tends to restrict its analysis to clearly defined units, be they tribes, ethnic groups, cities or even nations. In other words, the researcher focuses on a particular social unit in an attempt to see how globalisation, however he understands it, affects it.7 This is the model of much of the research conducted on Israel and globalisation.8 Such research takes a certain culture as its object of study, and documents how that particular culture changes as it is impacted by globalisation.
The second approach is more concerned with transnational cultures, that is, cultures that are not tied to a particular place, but which cross national boundaries. Leslie Sklair’s concept of the Transnational Capitalist Class is an excellent example of a group of globally oriented people with a shared transnational culture (Sklair, 2000). Those same people are the subject of Bauman’s even more critical discussion of globalisation, to which he also adds a transnational understanding of poverty (Bauman, 1998). Further examples are provided by what Connell calls “transnational business masculinity”, by which he means a defined cultural mode which is shared by certain powerful men around the world, and Appadurai’s interest in diasporas (Appadurai, 1990, 1996; Connell, 2000). These are all examples of types of cultural identity, where the members who share that identity are spread around the world, and are aware of the transnational nature of that identity.
My research will draw from both approaches, and will be concerned with Israel both as a locale undergoing globalisation, and with the creation of a global class and transnational cultural identities. Such identities must be seen in context. Perhaps they can be seen as providing an alternative to the strong identity claims made by day-to-day life in Israel (the local), as a way of forging a non-Israeli identity, or perhaps they constitute an attempt to change something about Israeli identity itself, to make it more global in its outlook.
Notwithstanding the two different approaches just outlined, theory on the globalisation of culture has reached a point which is by now very widely agreed upon, and which can be summed up in a single buzz-word – hybridisation (see especially Garcia Canclini, 1995; Hannerz, 1992; Nederveen Pieterse, 1995). This concept emerged out of a recognition that theories of straightforward cultural colonialism fail to take account of the more subtle processes at play when a fragment of one culture finds its way into another. It seems that most sociologists and (particularly) anthropologists today agree that a piece of culture (a book, a television show, an idea, a managerial practice) undergoes a certain transformation as it travels from one culture to another.9 In contrast to the grandly titled “global homogenization paradigm” (Howes, 1996), and in opposition to views that see “Americanisation” as a simple process of exporting American cultural goods and models overseas, this process has been variously labelled hybridisation, adaptation, indigenisation, domestication, or creolisation, with the idea common to these concepts being that the cultural artefact in some way changes to fit in with the local, host society. Nothing is simply uprooted and transplanted somewhere else in toto without it undergoing certain processes along the way. Much use has been made of these concepts in explaining at least part of today’s “complex” and “multi-dimensional” global situation, words which appear time and again in writings on globalisation – they are used to convey a situation in which the relationship between the nation-state and culture is far from simple; in which local affiliations intensify just as global identifications are also on the rise; and in which culture does not simply move unimpeded from centre to periphery, to name but three of the most commonly cited causes of complexity in the global situation.
James Watson’s excellent collection of ethnographies of McDonald’s restaurants in the Far East shows how the local franchisees manoeuvre between demands from HQ in America and local expectations of what is considered a restaurant, a meal, hygiene, and so on. The book convincingly knocks down the idea that the arrival of a McDonald’s restaurant necessarily means the arrival of “America”, and shows how McDonald’s restaurants in each country are actually a hybrid of foreign and local cultural practices and values (Watson, 1997). Aviad Raz performs a similar task in his book on Tokyo Disneyland, in which he shows how “the local can appropriate, domesticate, and steer, as well as travel with, global forces such as leisure, post-industrialism, and consumer and service culture”. In other words, he argues that Tokyo Disneyland has been “Japanized” (Raz, 1999, pp. 12-13). A further example is Judith Fadlon’s recent doctoral research on alternative medicine in Israel, in which she persuasively argues that a particularly Israeli version of oriental medical practices has developed, as alternative medicine undergoes a process that she calls domestication (Fadlon, 1999).
These analyses, however, only tell part of the story, and this stems from a tendency to see the host society in rather one-dimensional terms. They do not pay attention to the processes taking place within the host society itself that influence, or even control, the hybridisation of a given cultural import, or, more accurately, the exact type of hybridisation that the cultural import undergoes. It is common enough to state that when a cultural entity reaches its destination it becomes, say, Korean, Italian, or Israeli. However, such talk glosses over the contested meanings of Korean-ness, Italian-ness and Israeli-ness, and treats the host society’s cultural identity as just that – one identity – and not as a series of identities in perpetual negotiation, in which interests conflict, in which certain groups are stronger than others, and so on. Fadlon, for instance, refers to “order creating mechanisms” that “translate diversity into versions of a dominant narrative” (Fadlon, op. cit.., p. 206), and talks in general terms about what society “will and will not tolerate” (p. 59) in a medical system. Howes also talks vaguely about the “values of the receiving culture”, as if each culture has one set of values, instead of a culture comprising several sets of competing values (Howes, 1996).
Lacking from these analyses, and from analyses that follow a similar model, of which there are plenty, is an attempt to define exactly whose toleration is required in order for a certain medical system, for example, to strike root and survive in a new society, or according to whose values a new commodity is interpreted. I argue that we shall find new middle-class activity at the sites where cultural hybrids are being formed, both because of their dominance in cultural matters, and because of their affinity to processes of globalisation, and it is their activity at such locations that I shall be researching in this study, both in terms of how the new middle-class asserts its dominance, and in terms of the consequences of their involvement for Israeli society.
Fadlon comments that “[i]t is difficult to try and pinpoint the exact process of how [non-conventional medicine] became popular in Israel” (p. 157), however I argue that not only should we endeavour to understand how it became popular, but also that we should strive to account for the factors that made it as it is. This, I maintain, is equally true of any cultural import, and requires historical research. The tendency of the new middle-class to become global is an historical process, and one which can be traced through certain fields. This requires an understanding of the historical background of the research fields.
The historical context of this research, as mentioned, will be Israel of the 1990s.10 In the first decades of its existence, the state of Israel was characterised by a remarkable degree of collectivism. Politics, economics and culture were intensely intertwined, and all served the national cause. In the field of economics, for instance, there was an almost formal connection between economic and political power. The state made politically-motivated appointments to business positions and funnelled very large funds into various industries, and agricultural and workers’ cooperatives, which in turn were steady suppliers of employment (Shapiro, 1976). Thus the Israeli economy developed as an extremely centralist one, with remarkably high levels of state intervention for a non-communist state.
However, the 1980s saw a period of rapid change, led by the Emergency Stabilization Plan, which was intended to deal with a period of three-digit annual inflation. At root, the changes involved increased market influence on the economy. This included a program of privatisation, albeit a limited one, and the focus of industry shifted to exports and hi-tech (Shalev, 1999). Meanwhile, Israel was placed under pressure by the US to tie itself into the global economy, with the result that a large number of Israeli firms were no longer competitive, as protective tariffs were gradually cancelled. By the end of the 1990s, Israel was held up “as a model of economic liberalization and successful adaptation to globalization and technological change” (Shalev, 2000, p. 129).11
This was also the era of the Oslo Accords, and the beginnings of serious hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. Significantly, these hopes were sometimes expressed in blatantly economic terms of a peace dividend to be reaped from both reduced military expenditure, and increased trade as a result of the end of the Arab boycott of Israel (Ram, 2000; Shafir & Peled, 2000). And indeed, the early- and mid-nineties were years of economic growth and foreign investment. This “normalisation” also had a cultural side, as Israel experienced changes in patterns of consumption – shopping centres were opened all over the country, filled with more and more American shops (such as Pizza Hut, Ace hardware stores, Ben and Jerry’s Ice-cream, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Domino’s Pizza, Office Depot, Toys R Us).
However, as well as being a decade of increased openness, liberalisation and a general acceptance of “globalisation”, the nineties were also years of increased ethno-nationalist particularism, as argued by Shafir and Peled in their latest offering (Shafir & Peled, 2002), and there have been many efforts made to preserve the Jewish nature of the state from various perceived foreign threats, be they non-Jewish immigrants, Reform converts, labour migrants, or “Americanisation”. This opposition to the importing of foreign, especially American, cultures has taken various forms. Israel is home to a small but dedicated group of anti-globalisation activists, and a small number of Israeli’s can usually be found at the major anti-globalisation rallies around the world. Those activists also organise demonstrations in Israel concerning the familiar range of issues: environmentalism, workers’ exploitation at the hands of multi-national corporations, animal rights, consumerism, and so on.12 Opposition also comes from Zionists who fear for the cultural integrity of the Jewish state. This attitude is associated with Ezer Weizman’s famous outburst against “the three Ms” – Madonna, Michael Jackson and McDonald’s – following the death of a number of youths at a rock concert in Arad.13 However, as Illouz and myself argue with regard McDonald’s, the most significant opposition to processes of globalisation within Israeli society comes from religious quarters, and especially the religious establishment (Illouz & John, Forthcoming). The import of western lifestyles is seen to lead directly to serious contraventions of Jewish law, particularly with regard the Sabbath and dietary rules, and is fiercely resisted.
It is not clear how this general opposition to globalisation from various directions affects the two cases studied here. Indeed, they would seem to be fairly uncontroversial in the terms of this study.14 This, though, should not be seen as an obstacle at this stage. Firstly, during the course of the study, I may discover locales of opposition of which I am as yet unaware, and secondly, the lack of a vocal and organised opposition to these phenomena, as opposed to the case of McDonald’s virtually the world over, shows them to be typical of many processes of globalisation, which do not necessarily take place with the fanfare of other more famous examples. Be that as it may, both groups studied here contribute to the globalisation of Israeli society, and that phenomenon, broadly understood, certainly does have its opponents in specific locations mentioned above.
These two directions – globalisation and its opposition – can be termed neo-Zionist localism and post-Zionist globalism or cosmopolitanism respectively (Ram, 1999a), or can be seen in terms of a struggle between liberal and ethno-national discourses of citizenship (Shafir & Peled, 2002), and can be distinguished, among other things, by their attitudes to globalisation – the former looks inward, the latter looks outward.15 A decline in the fortunes of the hegemonic labour Zionist movement is largely responsible for these cultural developments (Kimmerling, 1999, 2001).
Yet even if we accept that the 1990s were remarkable years in Israel’s short history, there remains the possibility that they do not signify anything particularly new in terms of Israel’s globality. Indeed, as is natural for an immigrant society, the early settlers continuously looked over their shoulders at events in Russia, and were using various communist groups “back home” as a reference point for their activities (Shapiro, 1976). By its very nature, the academic community has always been a globally oriented group: attending conferences and taking sabbaticals abroad, reading and writing English and other languages, and dealing with bodies of knowledge developed elsewhere, are the bread and butter of the Israeli academic’s professional life. Industrialists and managers too, influenced by American concepts such as efficiency and productivity, also “took part in shaping the dominant socialist-Zionist ideology long before the state was established” (Frenkel, Shenhav, & Herzog, 2000, p. 65). In other words, to speak of a “local” past as opposed to a “global” present would clearly be an over-simplification, or might even be blatantly false.16 To compound the issue, the groups just mentioned, could also be categorised as members of the new middle-class.
However, notwithstanding broad similarities in terms of socio-economic location, we can see clear differences between groups with global affiliations from thirty and forty years ago, and those of the 1990s. For instance, academics and industrialists constituted relatively small groups of people whose professions required them to maintain contact with colleagues in other countries, mostly the United States. These kinds of international relationships are entirely different from the very perception of the world as a single unit of reference, an outlook which characterises both groups to be studied here: leaders in hi-tech see the world as a single market-place, and take advantage of, as well as invent, technologies that make that vision ever more real, while various New Age practitioners also conceive of the globe as a single entity (in the idea of Mother Earth, say), and holistically link all its parts together. It is this perception of the world as a single entity that is new, as evidenced by Sklair’s analysis of Fortune 500 companies’ logos and “global visions” (Sklair, 2000, chapter 8). Further, the groups studied here, and similar professional groups, are much larger in scope than global elites of previous decades. Significantly, they are also trying to sell their knowledge to the public, be it in terms of alternative therapies, or internet technologies. In other words, not only are the groups to be researched here themselves globally oriented, but they bring this orientation to bear on a very large number of people.

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