"To live a better life": the making of a Mozambican middle class
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation is a cultural history of the making of a Mozambican middle class in the capital city of Maputo. It focuses on multigenerational debates, anxieties, and struggles among men and women over the meanings of, and aspirations for, economic and social inclusion in the modern world. The study spans the colonial-capitalist, socialist, and post-socialist eras in Mozambique’s modern history, and is set in the young city that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as the Portuguese colonial capital of Lourenço Marques, later renamed Maputo in 1976 after independence. The rise of urban African middle classes as the key to modernizing Africa has come to the fore in recent scholarly and popular analyses of the continent’s economic and political future. Debates over how to define the middle class have revitalized the relevance of class analysis for understanding inequality and social change in urban Africa. However, little work has thoroughly examined the central role of changing gender relations in processes of middle-class formation. This dissertation begins to remedy this gap by examining the gendered relationship between class and culture that yields new insights into the lives and experiences that have occupied spaces in between wealth and poverty in an African city. Based on interviews, archival collections, newspapers and other print sources, I argue that Mozambican middle-class culture is the product of stitching together old and new ideas about what it means to live a better life, fueled by gendered debates over the role of “tradition,” and the position of women, in modern urban society. Focusing on debates surrounding assimilation, marriage, public life, and managing the home, I contend that men and women have negotiated, shifted, and redefined possibilities for upward social mobility in pursuit of education, meaningful work, loving relationships, and desires for greater comforts of urban life. The process of middle-class formation in Maputo has reflected shared aspirations among upwardly mobile women and men as stakeholders in colonial and postcolonial promises of “progress” and “development,” and been conditioned by periods of possibility and constraint under Portuguese colonial-capitalist, postcolonial socialist, and post-socialist Frelimo state rule. Ultimately, my research shows that the middle class has been unified over time by ambitions to modernize Mozambique, but fractured by deeply gendered debates over how to modernize.