Culture and Privilege in Capitalist Asia (The New Rich in by M. Pinches

By M. Pinches

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The following discussion, along with the other chapters that make up this volume, attest to the crucial role played by consumption in the cultural constructions of Asia’s new rich. As will be shown, the collective identities and symbolic distinctions that arise through the practices of consumption are crucial to the making of class, ethnic and international status relations. CULTURAL RELATIONS AND THE NEW RICH WEALTH CONSUMPTION AND STATUS CONTESTATION An upturn has definitely hit South and Southeast Asia, and the newest recruits to the middle class are shopping for culture.

Malaysia and Indonesia testify to different and apparently contradictory ways in which new-rich identities are being constructed. First, there is the impetus to draw those with Chinese ancestry into a pan-Asian community of new rich, centred on Confucianism and Chinese ethnicity. Second, state development strategies and ethno-nationalist ideologies have generated substantial layers of new rich–largely new middle class–whose identities are stridently indigenous and increasingly Islamic. The relationship between these two new-rich identities has varied from accommodating to volatile.

Despite the powerful image, it is doubtful whether such a historical personage ever characterised the capitalist classes of Europe, or of contemporary Asia. In Europe, not only were many of those who invested in capitalist industry from prosperous landed aristocratic families, but others who entered from the middle layers of society commonly tried to use industrial success to follow in the footsteps of the nobility. Not only did many seek the security of rents over profits, but they also sought out aristocratic titles, or at least an aristocratic lifestyle of conspicuous wealth (Neale 1985:73; Pilbeam 1990:8—11, 14).

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