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State‑Led Modernization and Middle Class Subjectivities In Post‑Soviet Azerbaijan (2018-2019)

Field of study: Social Anthropology

This paper brings into to discussion the preliminary findings of an ongoing research project on the characteristics and dynamics of Baku’s middle class. More exactly, it aims to examine the relationship between state‑led modernization and class transformation in the capital city of Azerbaijan in the context of the modernization and de‑Sovietization processes. Azerbaijan inherited a particular
pre‑revolutionary stratification, influenced by oil discoveries and the first stage of oil exploitation, combined with almost a century of Soviet dominance. During the last two decades, Azerbaijani authorities redirected the revenues from the extraction industries to transform the capital city, Baku, into an architectural mix of the European and Dubai models. However, transforming the face of the
country brought with it the transformation of its inhabitants. Eventually, to fulfill the new standards, the government aimed to create a new class which was schooled in “a different, occidental way”. Based on ethnographic data collected throughout 2016 and 2018 in Baku, this contribution examines how the perceived need of modernization of the country, and its citizens, basically comes through the importation and implantation of Western goods, manners and education on local values and norms. However, the modernization project seems to focus mostly on the capital city and only recently have some modest modernization projects started in the other cities of the country. The concentration of the development projects, beautification of the city, expansion of the luxurious shops and shopping centers, and the policy for the importation of skilled foreign specialists, were developed to cater for the local emerging middle classes’ new aspirations. The imported occidental lifestyle combined with the luxurious Dubai style, led to the new emerging middle classes’ need to distinguish themselves through consumption.

Keywords: Middle class, modernization, social change, Azerbaijan, urban transformation, Europeanization

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