- Reproducing Class: Education, Neoliberalism, and the Rise of the New Middle Class in Istanbul
Reproducing Class is a fresh and an important contribution to scholarly efforts for understanding the changing parameters of the educational field and class relations during the neoliberal era in Turkey, despite the fact that the greater part of the ethnographic research for this book was conducted in the early 1990s and the constitutive elements of the nationwide schooling system have changed many times since then. Rutz and Balkan observe a significant polarization within the middle classes in Turkey since the 1980s. A new middle class, embracing global norms of consumerism and intimately relating to the major premises of the neoliberal ideology —with its emphasis on competition, freedom, and individualism —increasingly has differentiated itself from the industrial core middle classes of the previous era of national developmentalism. The newly emerging neoliberal landscape, characterized by commodification, financialization, and privatization, aided the new middle class in distinguishing itself from others in terms of work and lifestyles. In this period, schooling increasingly appeared to be yet another important field of social distinction alongside the privatization of the educational sphere in Turkey. This study is mainly concerned with the relationship between the formation of a new upper middle class and transformations in elite education.
The authors emphasize the mutually reinforcing and constitutive role of the neo-liberal state, market, and family in the making of a small, privileged new middle class. The neoliberal state set the ground for the rising ascendancy of the new middle class not only through redistributing resources in favor of capital but also by reshaping the educational hierarchy with the help of educational reforms that "institutionalized and legitimated the values and practices of a new middle class" (p. 39). Here, the introduction in 1983 of a new annual nationwide examination to determine the qualifiers for the "best" middle schools in the country was an important milestone. In other words, by setting the rules and regulations for competition for the best schools, the state retained its importance in the field of education in the neoliberal era. The new middle class regards the elite private high schools, most of which are located in Istanbul, as the main entry ticket to the best universities in the country. They also are associated with a comfortable material and social life, and being alumni of these schools is considered to be a major asset for tapping into different forms of [End Page 679] intergenerational social networks of support and favors. How competition for the highly valued schools takes place was a question to be answered by market forces. The proliferation of market agents and the expansion of the expert services for the preparation of students for the exams led to the emergence of a highly competitive educational field. Private schools, tutors, and lesson schools are the main staples of the growing testing industry, which has become segmented along class lines. New middle class families that are eager to send their children to prestigious high schools are the major consumers of higher quality and more expensive test services. By investing in increasing the social and cultural capital of their children mainly through deploying their familial networks and connections, middle class families seek to ensure that their children will establish for themselves a secure and privileged place in the newly emerging educational hierarchies of the neoliberal era. Hence, according to Rutza and Balkan, the family —surrounded by the rising tide of the market and neoliberal restructuring of the state —remains a vital institution for reproducing new middle classes.
Although neoliberalism has been a common leitmotif in many scholarly studies that seek to explain the social and cultural transformations in Turkey in recent decades, it is rather rare to see empirically well-endowed studies of how neoliberalism works on the ground. This makes Reproducing Class particularly important and useful. Woven with vivid accounts of mothers who take...