Middle Class, Education, Employment:

The Contribution of the Social Sciences


In 2015, for the third year in a row, the Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge (ISSK) at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, in cooperation with Konrad Adenauer Foundation, organized a conference in Sofia. The aim of this and the previous conferences has been to present the results of ongoing, or recently completed, projects of researchers from the Institute, and to hold an open discussion with prominent representatives of the German academic community, with practical experts, with MPs, and with representatives of government and business. The goal of the most recent meeting was to highlight how the social sciences are contributing to the solution of important public problems related to the development of Bulgaria and Bulgarian society. Thus, the conference topics in 2015 were ‘Middle Class, Education, Employment: The Contribution of the Social Sciences’. Why place the middle class at the core of social sciences research? The central theme of this conference was the concept of middle class. Bulgarian sociology in general, and ISSK in particular, have a long tradition in middle class studies. Here we should emphasize the invaluable contribution made over the years by the late Prof. Nikolai Tilkidjiev, who conducted some of the most important sociological studies on this topic in Bulgaria, and was also the organizer of the first scientific forums devoted to the concept and related research topics. There is a widely shared understanding that the middle class is critical to economic development and political stability (for instance, Torche and López-Calva 2013). The existence of a large middle class is thought to contribute to lowering inequality, to a more stable investment climate, increased savings and human capital accumulation; importantly, it generates the entrepreneurs who create jobs and foster productivity. Thus, countries with a large middle class have stronger internal markets and display more rapid economic growth. There is also a prevalent understanding that middle class individuals share a common identity in terms of goals, beliefs, and social customs. Typically, they all set high value on good living conditions for their children, on spiritual faith, and on respect for the law (Pressman 2007). Addressing the question whether the European middle classes are declining, we find that, regrettably, the results of research give a clear affirmative answer. Most generally, the decreasing trend of middle classes in Europe, for the time being at least, seems irreversible. We register general labour market and job insecurity resulting from modernization and innovations in the organization of work in general and of the workplace and working time in particular. With growing intensity, new information and communication technologies are penetrating the economy, industry, trade and all spheres of social life, including education, skill acquisition, training, etc., which, in turn, leads to changes in the attitudes, values, lifestyles and culture of generations. All this has an impact on the condition and size of the middle class in European countries and on the internal differentiation and proportions of the upper, middle, and lower strata of the middle class. Counteracting this trend, poverty reduction and the expansion and improvement of education are expected to result in a larger, more stable middle class; here the cause and effect principle works in both directions. Тhe conference ‘Middle Class, Education, Employment: The Contribution of the Social Sciences’ and the articles in this publication The conference, hosted in Sofia on 4 and 5 November, 2015, was attended by scholars from Germany, Finland, and Bulgaria, by public figures, politicians, experts from the non-governmental sector and think-tanks, as well as by undergraduate and post-graduate students. The presentations and papers discussed the findings of scientific and applied research carried out by scholars from ISSK and by the foreign guests. Eminent representatives of the German and Finnish academic community, practical experts and public figures from Bulgaria, people with expertise and practical experience in the conference topics, all joined in lively debates regarding the contribution of sociology, philosophy, and the science studies to our understanding of the middle class. The conference addressed the methodological and political dimensions of the concept and traced the historical and contemporary role of the middle class in Western Europe, in post-communist Eastern and Central Europe, and particularly in Bulgaria. The paper readers highlighted the interdependence of the subject of research with factors such as education, employment, labour market, ethnicity, research and innovation, entrepreneurship and business activities. This issue of Sociological Problems offers the reader a large number of the papers presented at the conference. The article by Rumiana Stoilova, entitled ‘The Middle Class: Methodological Challenges and Heuristic Potential’, is a comprehensive introduction to sociological debate on the middle class. Stoilova focusses on the theoretical and conceptual problems of middle class studies, on the nature of the middle class, its reproduction, development, stabilization, and social-group mobility, as well as on methodological problems related to measuring the middle class, the basic indicators defining it, and the dividing lines between separate social groups. The article by the German sociologist Michael Gebel, ‘Education, Employment Dynamics and the Middle Class in Germany’, and that of the Finnish researcher Jouko Nikula, ‘The Middle Class and Middle-class Jobs: Victims of Technological Progress?’ have been placed in the second section of this issue. Both illustrate the variety of models of middle class development in the European countries and the comparative impact of these models on social cohesion and integration. All three articles mentioned above add value to the scientific debate on the middle class in Europe in a comparative perspective. They raise new research questions as to how we can speak about, and study, the European middle classes, their social-group characteristics in contemporary post-communist and developed societies, and the adequacy of comparisons between the separate middle classes in regional, national, and civilizational contexts. The papers of Stoilova and Nikula underline an extremely significant question – how to deal with the impact of technological change, given that this impact includes loss of stable industrial-age jobs for the lower middle class and hence to shrinking of the middle class as a whole. In the third section of the collection, the article by Pepka Boyadjieva and Kristina Petkova, entitled ‘The Social Construction of the Individual’s Culture of Giving for Education’, discusses the interactions between education and the cultural attitude of giving for education on the one hand and the middle class on the other. Following that, Emilia Chengelova (‘Education and the Labour Market in Bulgaria in 2015: Imbalances and Main Challenges’) presents research results and empirical data in order to discuss the impact the labour market and employment may have on the development of the middle class in Bulgaria. In the same section, Rumiana Stoilova and Lachezar Nyagolov outline the school-to-work transition of different groups of young people (‘Socio-professional Differences of School-to-Work Transitions’). The difficult entry of young people in the real economy and the problems of starting a first job is a common focus in the papers of Chengelova and Stoilova/Nyagolov. In the fourth section, Stephan E. Nikolov and Albena Nakova discuss the role played by research and innovation foundations for enhancing the social mobility of researchers in Bulgaria; importantly, the authors place their research results and findings in a comparative perspective (‘The Role of Foundations for Social Mobility of Scientists’). Anna Varbanova and Martin J. Ivanov take a concrete example of ecopreneurship to emphasize the impact of entrepreneurial training and education on the formation of the middle class (‘Action Research in Higher Education through Backward Designing of Ecopreneurship Trainings’). Finally, Petar Cholakov discusses the emergence of an ethnic underclass in Bulgaria resulting from integration policies and laws relevant to the Bulgarian Roma (‘The Ethnic Underclass: the Paper Tower of Roma Integration in Bulgaria’). Although most of the papers in this publication present concrete study findings and research data, the fifth, and last, section mainly focuses on the Bulgarian middle class in connection with the traditions of Bulgarian sociological research on its social-economic, cultural, political status, its identity, mobility, the problems of its social group stability, etc. In her article, Valentina Milenkova (‘The Bulgarian Sociological Tradition of Research on the Middle Class’) traces some important Bulgarian publications devoted to middle class studies. A special tribute is paid to Nikolai Tilkidjiev who, in the context of Bulgarian social science, did pioneering work on the study of the concept and the phenomenon of the middle class. The articles by Svetlana Stamenova (‘Changes in Subjective Middle Class Identification in Some Post-communist European Countries (1990–2009/10)’) and Tzsocho Zlatkov (‘Problems and Myths about the Modern Middle Class’) present data from past studies, while also opening new research questions and offering innovative hypotheses. In general, this whole section takes a look at the past of middle class research in Bulgaria, but also defines an open research framework to be filled in with new empirical evidence and modern scientific orientations regarding the phenomenon in question. Future scientific events, research works and publications on the middle class would certainly answer most of the questions raised by our conference and, respectively, by the articles in this publication, and would fill important gaps in our knowledge of the political role of the middle class and its impact on the stability and sustainability of any society. The editor takes responsibility for the shape and structure of this issue. Each of the authors bears responsibility for the theses, argumentation and data presented in his or her contribution. Acknowledgement I would like to thank the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and its Sofia Bureau for many years of fruitful collaboration, and specifically for its support to the present issue of Sociological Problems. My heartfelt thanks go to Mr. Marco Arndt, head of the Sofia Bureau in 2015, as well as to Mr. Thorsten Geissler who, in 2016, assumed the management of the Foundation in Sofia. I am deeply grateful for their trust in the research capacity of our ISSK and for the support they have given us to bring the results of our work to the public by organizing scientific events and preparing publications such as this one. I owe thanks to all participants in the 2015 conference, and especially to the authors of this collection for their precise compliance with editorial requirements and high professionalism as authors. My warmest gratitude goes to the reviewers of this issue of Sociological Problems, who contributed their exceptional expertise to its preparation. Many thanks also to Vladimir Vladov for proofreading and editing the texts in English, to Plamen Ivanov, for his excellent technical preparation of the issue, as well as to Lyubka Ilieva and Nadezhda Krandeva for their invaluable contribution to the fine details of organizational matters. I specially wish to thank the director of our Institute, Rumiana Stoilova, for her wholehearted support and personal contributions to this issue, as well as for maintaining the fruitful cooperation between ISSK and Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Sofia. I have no doubt that the Foundation’s support for the research efforts of our Institute is support par excellence for the development of the middle class in Bulgaria!

Rumiana Zheleva

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