Downplaying class with style: Middle class anxiety and the aesthetic performance of role distance

Jarkko Pyysiäinen, Max Ryynänen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Discourses on middle class taste, lifestyle and ‘aesthetics’ have emphasized how middle class agents orient to mark their position by appropriating ‘legitimate’ cultural goods and practices and eschewing ‘illegitimate’ ones. This paper examines what could be learned, if the analytical perspective is broadened and shifted from the sociocultural distinction games between collective class agents to actual situated performances, and the stylistic and expressive means, with which middle class agents relate themselves also to their own class and to its – sometimes troublesome – cultural, aesthetic and moral conventions and expectations. We formulate one version of such a reflexively relational approach to the complexities of middle class agency and its performative enactment. By utilizing analytical tools originally developed by Erving Goffman, and applied here to analyze some excerpts from the film American Beauty, we demonstrate how aesthetic performativity oriented to the ‘downplaying’ of class distinctions can be used by middle class agents to pursue authenticity and to resist, and gain experiential distance from, the agonizing middle class roles, expectations and ‘principals’ readily surrounding them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-53
Number of pages11
Early online dateNov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • class
  • consumerism
  • aesthetics
  • cultural studies
  • Sociology
  • Popular culture aesthetics
  • Footing
  • Middle class anxiety
  • Performativity
  • Middle class taste
  • Role distance

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Downplaying class with style: Middle class anxiety and the aesthetic performance of role distance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this