Milieus of the left and right, with top, middle and bottom, with glass ceilings, shatterable or otherwise, with promotion or descent, with emancipation, conservative intransigence or multiculturalism – for decades, the study of social milieus has been an important issue for sociologists and politicians, in business and in the media.
But what do the milieus really look like? How do people live in their 'societies'? In Germany and France, milieus are now rapidly changing, becoming more contradictory, more volatile and elusive. At the margins, and increasingly the center, people are growing angry and radicalized. New milieus are emerging, on both left and right, at the top and bottom, even digitally.
The new elite of educated earners nigh perfectly represents the model of the globally networked performance and non-risk-averse society. They're the winners, whilst fears of relegation are growing among the 'old' bourgeoisie, the former bastion of the middle-dweller, who are now the losers.
The gap is widening; people in all milieus have become more moralistic in their opinions – of both themselves and of others – and thus less tolerant than a democratic society running primarily on public spirit requires.
The image of a rapidly dividing society was made indelible during the Covid pandemic. Now it seems to be returning in the political measures to contain the global climate catastrophe.
But the questions as to what will unite the community or cleave it in the future, who are friend and who foe, what good and what evil, have long since ceased to be decided politically and are increasingly in the realms of cultural self-determination or people’s insecurities: instead of averages and reason, mores and attitude are the new yardsticks of community.
This documentary shows not only the present. In rare black-and-white footage, it takes a look back at the world of the 19th century when modernity began with industrialization and where the dream of the self-determined individual bore the promise of becoming reality. The original milieus of modernity in Germany and France, the bourgeoisie, the middle class, the years of rapid industrial growth and the working class, bohemians, landowners and farmhands, the milieus of luxury and misery in the days of Emil Zola, Charles Dickens and Karl Marx are featured.
Extremes and anomalies in class society and the value-codes of given milieus grow apparent – features which, globalization and AI notwithstanding, still accompany and determine us even now in late modernity.