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Nigel Harris

White Collars

(Spring 1965)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.20, Spring 1965, p.31.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Japan’s New Middle Class
Ezra F. Vogel
University of California/Cambridge, 52s.

One begins this volume with considerable interest in the hope that it might complement the work of Lockwood in Britain or Wright Mills in the United States on the historical middle class and its evolution into the quite different white-collar worker, the characteristic expression of modern industry and of vital political significance (as both Harold Wilson and Adolf Hitler in different ways recognised). However, this book is rather more diffuse and limited than this. The result of intensive interviews by Vogel and his wife (both Americans) in a white collar suburb of Tokyo, it contains confirmation of many earlier impressions of the white collar family, with particular stress on the inner relationships between parents and children and family relationships to certain outside institutions. The description of the world of white-collar men is less than adequate, and the study is clearly more at home on the purely family hearth than out in the busy world of men.

This is sad since the subject is of great importance, and the white-collar worker exercises a profound influence throughout modern Japan, particularly in politics – his potential political position is vital for the Japanese perspective. On the other hand the family as understood here is not very sharply delineated nor is very much new information presented – it is, in the main, a static study, and only rarely is the white-collar family seen as also a victim of its social situation, part of broad Japanese history. Again, since the study is by Americans, it is unclear how reliable it is, how far Japanese housewives can confide in a foreign questioner. Many of the things related as if peculiar to Japan are in fact as common to white-collar workers (and, indeed, many others) in Europe, even if not in America, and represent no more than pragmatic acultural adjustments to particular problems. The reader’s disappointment would perhaps have been less if the title had been less ambitious. The book does not describe a class; it describes certain aspects of the family, and particularly certain aspects of the rearing of white-collar children. In the last respect, the results are more interesting – particularly the grotesque compulsions on both parents and children to conform to a given educational structure of advancement, the dramatic contrast between being outside and inside a large company and the neurosis of ‘those attempting to pass from outside to inside. However, the delineation of Japan’s new middle class in its most vital respects (and particularly its operation as a class) still remains to be done.

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