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Between privilege and prejudice: social and political identity negotiation across the British South Asian middle classes

Saini, R. (2019). Between privilege and prejudice: social and political identity negotiation across the British South Asian middle classes. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Ethnic minorities in the UK who occupy middle-class social locations exist at the juncture of privilege and prejudice. They are, on the one hand, seen as harnessing high levels of economic, cultural and social capital. On the other hand, they suffer, as ethnoracial minorities, from ‘everyday’ and structural racisms and exclusions. This thesis analyses how these positionalities shape class and racial / ethnic identities for the UK South Asian middle classes. It ultimately seeks to understand how these identities are negotiated, and their potential effect on the political orientations and activities of this population. It attempts to address the dearth of academic research into the everyday experiences and identities of middle-class ethnic minorities in the UK. There is also an acknowledgement of the diversity of the South Asian middle classes with, in places where feasible, a discussion of the differences between the largest South Asian ethnic minority groups in the UK – Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis – who are characterised by differing migration and settlement histories, patterns of social mobility, and experiences of racialisation.

Secondary quantitative data from the British Election Study Ethnic Minority Survey (EMBES) 2010 and the Citizenship Survey (CS) 2010/11, combined with primary, semi-structured qualitative interview data carried out from 2015 to 2016, forms the evidence base for this study. Analysis of quantitative identity indicators and in-depth conversations about class, ethnic, religious, national and political identity allowed for in-depth examination of the framework of identifications across a still under researched minority ethnic sub-population. The first analysis chapter addresses subjectivities of class, the second racial / ethnic identity salience, and the third how class and race / ethnicity interact to form a sense of political consciousness.

The findings establish that middle classness is problematised by those in the South Asian middle classes and generally lacks the salience that ethnic and religious identity does. Class and minority racial / ethnic identity are co-constitutive for the British South Asian middle classes and often shaped by historical and ongoing experiences of discrimination and exclusion from racialised constructions of middle classness. The South Asian middle classes tend to be attached to the Labour party but this differs between the Indian and Pakistani sub-groups with the former tending to exhibit more political conservatism. Political consciousness embedded in a sense of racial / ethnic solidarity and a worker / working-class consciousness sense affects political identities and engagement differently for the middle classes and the non-middle classes, particularly in the case of the British Pakistanis.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
School of Policy & Global Affairs > School of Policy & Global Affairs Doctoral Theses
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