A contradictory class location?: the African corporate middle class and the burden of race in South Africa
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The existing literature on the changing nature of workplaces in South Africa either ignores the role played by the emerging layer of black managers, or views them as essentially conservative or as 'sell-outs'. This article problematises this perspective in two ways.
First, through Eric Olin Wright's notion of 'a contradictory class location'. The author shows that a new middle class social status and power in the workplace is complicated by popular notions of how class and race intersect, both among fellow managers and how they are viewed by the primarily black workforces. Second, the author shows that the class position of the emerging African corporate middle class is closely linked to the communities that they come from and is influenced by decisions they make in relation to this. By considering how these managers experience living in the 'suburbs', we can better understand their contradictory class location and how this relates to issues of race and class. Based on 21 in-depth interviews with African managers in a range of industries, this exploratory study shows that far from just being conservative 'sell-outs', the emerging African corporate middle class has constantly to negotiate and re-negotiate its role and identity. It shows that they make different choices which are often informed by their social background. Those who come from a middle-class background tend to cut ties with their former communities, while those who come from working class and trade union backgrounds tend to maintain links with their communities. Indeed, some of these managers still see themselves as being part of the working class.