Information Technology Professionals and the New-Rich Middle Class in Chennai (Madras)
Since 1991, when the policy of economic liberalisation began in earnest, the size and prosperity of India's middle class have grown considerably. Yet sound sociological and ethnographic information about its social structure and cultural values is still sparse, and as André Béteille (2003a: 75) comments: ‘Everything or nearly everything that is written about the Indian middle class is written by middle-class Indians…[who] tend to oscillate between self-recrimination and self-congratulation’ (cf. Béteille 2003b: 185). The former is exemplified by Pavan Varma's The Great Indian Middle Class (1998), which excoriates this class for its selfish materialism and the ‘retreat from idealism’ that was manifest in the smaller, ‘traditional middle class’ of the earlier, post-independence period (ibid.: 89). A good example of the opposite tendency is Gurcharan Das's India Unbound (2002), which celebrates ‘the rise of a confident new middle class’ (ibid.: 280). Das's diagnosis of what has changed is actually very similar to Varma's, but he insists that the new middle class is no ‘greedier’ than the old one, and the ‘chief difference is that there is less hypocrisy and more self-confidence’ (ibid.: 290).
1 Research in Chennai was carried out for about twelve months in total between August 2003 and February 2005 by Haripriya Narasimhan, although Chris Fuller worked with her for about two months in total. The text of this paper was written by Fuller, although we have discussed it together extensively and it represents our joint views. The research has been supported by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of a research project on ‘Regionalism, nationalism and globalisation in India’ in the Department of Anthropology at the LSE. For useful comments on earlier drafts of this article, we thank Véronique Bénéï, Henrike Donner, Peggy Froerer, John Harriss and Johnny Parry (our colleagues on the research project), André Béteille and Penny Vera-Sanso, and participants at seminars in the LSE, the Madras Institute of Development Studies, the University of Oxford, Columbia University and Yale University.