Pathways into the Middle: Rites of Passage and Emerging Middle Classes in Namibia

  • Julia Pauli
Part of the Frontiers of Globalization book series (FOG)


This anthropological chapter analyses how members of the Namibian middle class have thoroughly changed the form and meaning of important rites of passage from open ceremonies to exclusive pathways into and for the middle class. The term ‘middle class’ is used as an analytical category to describe social differentiation and inequality. The author also looks at practices of ‘being and becoming middle class’, blending approaches that perceive ‘middle class’ as an aspirational category with those that focus on boundary making aspects of ‘middle class(es)’. In addition, the term elite is used to mark social differentiations that depend on context and scale. During apartheid, only a small indigenous elite existed within the artificial ‘homelands’, while a ‘white’ minority occupied national elite and middle-class positions. With independence in 1990, a new, ‘black’ middle class emerged in urban areas, which is still strongly connected to its rural ‘homeland’. The author suggests labelling this group as ‘class commuters’. When visiting their rural ‘homelands’, they blend into the local rural elite. But during most of their time, they are part of the urban Namibian middle classes.


  1. Abrahams, K. 1982. The “Waserauta” Phenomenon. Additional Notes on the Namibian Elite. Namibian Review 25: 21–35.Google Scholar
  2. Adrian, B. 2003. Framing the Bride. Globalizing Beauty and Romance in Taiwan’s Bridal Industry. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Appadurai, A. 1996. Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  4. Behrends, A., and J. Pauli. 2012. Zwischen Charisma und Korruption. Kontinuitäten und Brüche in der Auseinandersetzung mit Eliten in Afrika. In Kontinuitäten und Brüche. Fünfzig Jahre Unabhängigkeit in Afrika, ed. T. Bierschenk and E. Spiess, 301–320. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.Google Scholar
  5. Bell, C. 1997. Ritual. Perspectives and Dimensions. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bourdieu, P. 2008. The BachelorsʼBall. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  7. Brosius, C. 2009. The Multiple Bodies of the Bride. Ritualising ‘World Class’ at Elite Weddings in Urban India. Paragrana 18 (1): 267–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. ———. 2010. India’s Middle Class. New Forms of Urban Leisure, Consumption and Prosperity. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Campbell, C. 1995. Conspicuous Confusion? A Critique of Veblen’s Theory of Conspicuous Consumption. Sociological Theory 13 (1): 31–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clarke, A.J. 2007. Making Sameness: Mothering, Commerce and the Culture of Children’s Birthday Parties. In Gender and Consumption: Domestic Cultures and the Commercialisation of Everyday Life, ed. E. Casey and L. Martens, 79–95. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, A. 1981. The Politics of Elite Culture. Explorations in the Dramaturgy of Power in a Modern African Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cohen, R. 1983. Elite Theory and the Formation of Elites among the Bura Intellectuals of Nigeria. In Elites. Ethnographic Issues, ed. G. Marcus, 63–91. Albuquerque, NM: School of American Research.Google Scholar
  13. Cole, J. 2004. Fresh Contact in Tamatave, Madagascar: Sex, Money, and Intergenerational Transformation. American Ethnologist 31 (4): 573–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cornwall, A. 2002. Spending Power: Love, Money, and the Reconfiguration of Gender Relations in Ado-Odo, Southwestern Nigeria. American Ethnologist 29 (4): 963–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dawids, F. 2007. Fransfontein Marriages. In Living Together. Culture and Shared Traditions in Fransfontein, Namibia, ed. F. Dawids, F. Ilonga, T. Kaumunika, J. Pauli, M. Schnegg, J. Seibeb, and C.O. Uirab, 59–77. Cologne: University of Cologne.Google Scholar
  16. Dobler, G. 2012. Private Vices, Public Benefits? Small Town Bureaucratization in Namibia. In Conflict and Interest in Global, Public and Corporat Governance, ed. A. Peters, L. Handschin, and D. Högger, 217–233. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. ———. 2014. Traders and Trade in Colonial Ovamboland, 1925–1990. Elite Formation and the Politics of Consumption Under Indirect Rule and Apartheid. Basel: Basler Afrika—Bibliographien.Google Scholar
  18. Ferguson, J. 1999. Expectations of Modernity. Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  19. Fumanti, M. 2006. Nation Building and the Battle for Consciousness. Discourses on Education in Post-Apartheid Namibia. Social Analysis 50 (3): 84–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gockel-Frank, M. (1998) Ethnographien der Damara Zentralnamibias zwischen 1850 und 1950. Quellenkritische Rekonstruktion von Wirtschaft und sozialer Organisation einer khoisan-sprachigen Gesellschaft. Unpublished MA thesis, Cologne.Google Scholar
  21. Heiman, R., C. Freeman, and M. Liechty. 2012a. The Global Middle Classes. Theorizing Through Ethnography. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press.Google Scholar
  22. ———. 2012b. Introduction: Charting and Anthropology of the Middle Classes. In The Global Middle Class, ed. R. Heiman, C. Freeman, and M. Liechty, 3–30. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press.Google Scholar
  23. Honwana, A. 2012. The Time of Youth. Work, Social Change, and Politics in Africa. Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press.Google Scholar
  24. Hunter, M. 2010. Love in the Times of AIDS. Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Johnson-Hanks, J. 2002. On the Limits of the Life Cycle in Ethnography: Toward a Theory of Vital Conjunctures. American Anthropologists 104: 865–880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. ———. 2007. Women on the Market: Marriage, Consumption, and the Internet in Urban Cameroon. American Ethnologist 34 (4): 642–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kaumunika, T., and F. Ilonga. 2007. The First Hair Cut. In Living Together. Culture and Shared Traditions in Fransfontein, Namibia, ed. F. Dawids, F. Ilonga, T. Kaumunika, J. Pauli, M. Schnegg, J. Seibeb, and C.O. Uirab. Cologne: University of Cologne.Google Scholar
  28. Kendall, L. 1996. Getting Married in Korea. Of Gender, Morality, and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kreager, P. 1986. Demographic Regimes as Cultural Systems. In The State of Population Theory: Forward from Malthus, ed. D. Coleman and R. Schofield, 131–156. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  30. Lamont, M., and V. Molnár. 2002. The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciences. Annual Review of Sociology 28: 167–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lentz, C. 2015. Elites or Middle Classes? Lessons from Transnational Research for the Study of Social Stratification in Africa. Working Papers of the Department of Anthropology and African Studies of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz 161. Accessed 22 February 2017.
  32. Liechty, M. 2003. Suitably Modern. Making Middle-Class Culture in a New Consumer Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Masquelier, A. 2005. The Scorpion’s Sting: Youth, Marriage and the Struggle for Social Maturity in Niger. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11: 59–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Melber, H. 2011. Namibia: A Trust Betrayed—Again? Review of African Political Economy 38 (127): 103–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. ———. 2014. Understanding Namibia. The Trials of Independence. London: Hurst&Company.Google Scholar
  36. Mupotsa, D. 2015. The Promise of Happiness: Desire, Attachment and Freedom in Post/Apartheid South Africa. Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies 29 (2): 183–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pauli, J. 2007. “We All have Our Own Father!” Reproduction, Marriage and Gender in Rural Northwest Namibia. In Unravelling Taboos. Reproduction and Sexuality in Namibia, ed. S. LaFont and D. Hubbard, 197–214. Windhoek: Legal Assistance Center.Google Scholar
  38. ———. 2009. Celebrating Distinctions. Marriage, Elites and Reproduction in Rural Namibia. Habilitation Manuscript. Cologne: University of Cologne.Google Scholar
  39. ———. 2010a. Demographic and Anthropological Perspectives on Marriage and Reproduction in Namibia. In Towards Interdisciplinarity. Experiences of the Long-term ACACIA Project, ed. W. Möhlig, O. Bubenzer, and G. Menz, 205–234. Cologne: Heinrich-Barth-Institute.Google Scholar
  40. ———. 2010b. The Female Side of Male Patronage: Gendered Perspectives on Elite Formation Processes in Northwest Namibia. Journal of Namibian Studies 8: 28–47.Google Scholar
  41. ———. 2011. Celebrating Distinctions: Common and Conspicuous Weddings in Rural Namibia. Ethnology 50 (2): 153–167.Google Scholar
  42. ———. 2012a. Creating Illegitimacy: Negotiating Relations and Reproduction Within Christian Contexts in Northwest Namibia. Journal of Religion in Africa 4: 408–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. ———. 2012b. The Key to Fertility. Generation, Reproduction and Elite Formation in a Namibian Community. Unpublished Manuscript, University of Oxford, 29 January 2012.Google Scholar
  44. ———. 2016. African Marriages in Transformation: Anthropological Insights. In Introduction to Gender Studies in Eastern and Southern Africa, ed. J. Etim, 95–114. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pauli, J., and F. Dawids. 2017. The Struggle for Marriage. Elite and Non-Elite Weddings in Rural Namibia. Anthropology Southern Africa 40 (1): 15–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pauli, J., and M. Schnegg. 2007. ‘Blood Test with the Eyes’: Negotiating Conjugal Relationships during the HIV/AIDS Crisis in Rural Namibia. In Aridity, Change and Conflict in Africa, ed. M. Bollig, O. Bubenzer, R. Vogelsang, and H.P. Wotzka, 411–439. Köln: Heinrich-Barth-Institut.Google Scholar
  47. Pauli, J., and R. van Dijk. 2016. Marriage as an End or the End of Marriage? Change and Continuity in Southern African Marriages. Introduction to a Special Issue on Southern African Marriages. Anthropology Southern Africa 39 (4): 257–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Plotnicov, L. 1970. The Modern African Elite of Jos, Nigeria. In Social Stratification in Africa, ed. A. Tuden and L. Plotnicov, 269–302. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  49. Posel, D., S. Rudwick, and D. Casale. 2011. Is Marriage a Dying Institution in South Africa? Exploring Changes in Marriage in the Context of Ilobolo Payments. Agenda 25 (1): 102–111.Google Scholar
  50. Rao, U. 2006. Ritual in Society. In Theorizing Rituals: Issues, Topics, Approaches, Concepts, ed. J. Kreinath, J. Snoek, and M. Stausberg, 143–160. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  51. Reed-Danahay, D. 1996. Champagne and Chocolate. “Taste” and Inversion in a French Wedding Ritual. American Anthropologist 98 (4): 750–761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rohde, R. 1997. Nature, Cattle Thieves and Various Other Midnight Robbers: Images of People, Place and Landscape in Damaraland, Namibia. Unpublished PhD thesis, Edinburgh.Google Scholar
  53. Schnegg, M., J. Pauli, and C. Greiner. 2013. Pastoral Belonging: Causes and Consequences of Part-time Pastoralism in North Western Namibia in Bollig. In The Emergence, History and Contemporary Political Ecology of African Pastoralism, ed. M. Schnegg and H.-P. Wotzka, 341–362. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.Google Scholar
  54. Schneider, J.C., and P.T. Schneider. 1996. Festival of the Poor. Fertility Decline and the Ideology of Class in Sicily 1860–1980. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  55. Shore, C., and S. Nugent. 2002. Elite Cultures. Anthropological Perspectives. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  56. Stasch, R. 2011. Ritual and Oratory Revisited: The Semiotics of Effective Action. Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 159–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tersbøl, B. Pinkowsky. 2002. How to Make Sense of Lover Relationships—Kwanyama Culture and Reproductive Health. In Namibia, Society, Sociology, ed. V. Winterfeldt, T. Fox, and P. Mufune, 347–359. Windhoek: University of Namibia Press.Google Scholar
  58. Tötemeyer, G. 1978. Namibia Old and New. Traditional and Modern Leaders in Ovamboland. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  59. Upton, R.L. 2001. “Infertility Makes you Invisible”: Gender, Health and the Negotiation of Fertility in Northern Botswana. Journal of Southern African Studies 27 (2): 349–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Van Dijk, R. 2010. Marriage, Commodification and the Romantic Ethic in Botswana. In Markets of Well-being. Navigating Health and Healing in Africa, ed. M. Dekker and R.V. Dijk, 282–305. Leiden and Boston: Brill.Google Scholar
  61. ———. 2012. A Ritual Connection: Urban Youth Marrying in the Village in Botswana. In The Social Life of Connectivity in Africa, ed. M.D. Bruijn and R.V. Dijk, 141–159. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. ———. 2017. The Tent Versus Lobola: Marriage, Monetary Intimacies, and the New Face of Responsibility in Botswana. Anthropology Southern Africa 40 (1): 29–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Veblen, T. 1994 [1899]. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  64. Wallace, M. 2011. A History of Namibia. From the Beginning to 1990. London: Hurst&Company.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Pauli
    • 1
  1. 1.Universität HamburgHamburgGermany

Personalised recommendations