Over the past decade or so social scientists and policy makers have grown increasingly interested in the role of the petite bourgeoisie in capitalist societies. The paper begins by sketching the major sociological approaches to the study of this stratum and the diverse characteristics of and propositions put forth about the fortunes of the petite bourgeoisie.

The second section draws together evidence from several western societies in an attempt to appraise arguments about the alleged archaism, the long run decline, or the possible regeneration of the small business sector of western economies.

The economic significance of the petite bourgeoisie is assessed with respect to information about the capacity of the stratum to provide employment, to generate new jobs, and to stimulate innovation. The small business sector also has considerable political significance. Though its role in the political life of particular societies shows considerable variation it is everywhere an important repository of ideas and sentiments supportive of capitalism and the institutions of liberal democracy. This is a fact which contemporary right wing governments have been quick to recognize. The petite bourgeoisie is a socially distinctive and persistent element in capitalist societies. Factors that do much to account for its reproduction include the effects of recession, processes of technical change, and government policies that support and encourage smallseale entrepreneurial activity. The paper concludes by arguing that even in economies dominated by large corporations, petits bourgeois businesses continue to provide jobs for a substantial proportion of the population and the most personal and direct experience of capitalism for many citizens.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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