The Invented Average: University Graduates as the Middle Class in Interwar Japan

Jamyung Choi, Sungkyunkwan University

How and why did educated white-collar workers come to be understood as the middle-class in modern Japan? This idea has existed since the turn of the century, but historians have rarely historicized the association of the idea of the middle class and the rise of a country’s most educated citizens. By analyzing the ways social engineers, scholars, business recruiters, and aspiring individuals discursively constructed the notion of the middle class in interwar Japan, this article highlights how university graduates were reinvented as the average citizens, or common man. Through the so-called linguistic turn, recent social historians explain that social classes were not given, but socially constructed, and the boundaries of social classes were often highly contested. Inspired by this approach, recent historians addressed the inclusiveness of the middle class as a social category. However, this discursive approach is hardly enough to explore the lingering inequalities behind middle-class rhetoric. By looking at both discursive and institutional history, this article explores how university graduates were chosen and presented as the average, relatable citizens of modern Japan and considers what this association meant for the expression and solution of inequalities in Japan and beyond.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 102. The Boundaries of Class: Where Proletarians and Bourgeoisie Meet