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Cultural and Social Anthropology

Chair for Social Anthropology – Professor Dr. Erdmute Alber

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Kroeker - Milimani MC

(In)Security of the Kenyan Middle Classes: Social Mobility and the Fear of Falling

Funding: DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Duration: 2021-2024

Project lead: Dr. Lena Kroeker


My anthropological project connects two debates namely the current debate about middle classes in Africa and the debate about social protection in the global South. So far, the debate about the African middle classes is concerned with their social rise, but lacks ethnographic detail on how the middle classes protect themselves against social descent. My project aims to close this gap and analyses how the middle classes try to sustain their advanced standard of living (Sen 1987) in the face of volatile economic and political circumstances of African life worlds. In many African countries, including my research region in Kenya, governmental systems of social protection are underfunded and often dysfunctional in practice. Although the Kenyan middle classes acquire entitlements (Sen 1981) to statutory support, such entitlements can hardly cushion against social and economic incisions and prevent social descent. I therefore hypothesize that the middle classes have to invest in and secure a combination of entitlements to statutory programs, communal support and private arrangements. I aim to explore those combinations in which Kenyan middle classes invest. Using biographic-narrative interviews, I elucide social mobility over the life course (1) and ask for combined social security arrangements (2). Furthermore, my project analyses (3) the various entitlements (Sen 1981) in which the middle classes invest to prevent social descent in the face of multiple risks.

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