Glenn Morgan, Cardiff Business School, UK,
Sigrid Quack, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Germany,
Paul Hirsch, Northwestern University, USA,
C.Wright Mills’ concept of the power elite (Mills 1959) was strongly linked to the analysis of organizational forms in that it was premised on the idea of particular national societies characterised by large bureaucracies. These bureaucracies were seen as the major shapers of economic and political decisions; those who gravitated to the top of such bureaucracies were therefore the ‘power elite’. Following Mills, elite studies in the field of organizations tended to concentrate on examining linkages at the top of these hierarchies, and by whom and how these links were made (e.g. Scott 1990; Scott 1997).
This conceptualization of elites in terms of positional power within large national bureaucracies needs rethinking. The last two decades in organization studies have been dominated by debates concerning the ‘death of bureaucracy’, ‘the rise of post-bureaucracy’, and the decline of large firms and big government. If the idea of the power elite was tied to the dominance of hierarchical forms, what meaning does it have if and when such forms are being replaced by network and market relations (Savage and Williams 2008) in a global world?
Various responses to these problems have been articulated. One response has been to continue to search for connections between individuals and powerful organizations and institutions and follow how key decisions are shaped by these processes, whilst recognizing the importance of the transnational level, (Sklair 2000). Another response to this challenge has been to draw on the work of Bourdieu whose notions of ‘fields’, ‘habitus’, ‘cultural capital’, ‘distinction’ and ‘domination’ contribute new resources to the analysis of elites (Bourdieu 1984). From this perspective, elite studies can become the identification of what Zald and Lounsbury refer to as the command posts of organizations and institutions, who occupies these posts and with what consequences (Zald and Lounsbury 2010).
A third response is to take seriously the relational perspective in Bourdieu’s sociology of domination and ask who are the “others” (the masses, the subalterns, the potential counteracting social groups or counterelites) over which elites attempt to exert power? Studying elites only makes sense if we include also the social dynamics of possible counteractions to elites, such as various forms of collective action, ranging from manifestations of protest to formation of pressure groups and the development of solidarity based social movements and the formation of counter-elites representing them.
In this EGOS sub-group, therefore, we welcome any contributions in this area and more specifically the following:
- How has organization studies conceived of elites? What theoretical resources have been drawn on or could be drawn on to enhance our understanding of elites?
- What organizational resources have elites used to reproduce and maintain themselves in the face of challenges and resistance from other groups in society? Which organizational resources can their opponents mobilize to challenge elites?
- How do elite formation processes differ across societies?
- How have elites designed specific national and international institutions? What common processes, if any, can be identified? To which extent have they been or are they challenged by countermobilization in the process of doing so?
- What sort of elites can be formed through the possession of expert knowledge? How does this differ from elites formed from financial capital or dependent on cultural capital?
- How do elites and struggles with counter-elites shape processes of global and transnational governance?
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction : a social critique of the judgement of taste. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.
Mills, C. W. (1959). The power elite. Oxford University Press, London.
Savage, M. and K. Williams, Eds. (2008). Remembering Elites. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing/The Sociological Review.
Scott, J. (1990). The Sociology of elites. Aldershot, Hants, England ;, Brookfield, Vt. E. Elgar Pub.
Scott, J. (1997). Corporate business and capitalist classes. Oxford England ; New York, Oxford University Press.
Sklair, L. (2000). The transnational capitalist class. Oxford, Blackwell.
Zald, M. N. and M. Lounsbury (2010). “The Wizards of OZ: Towards an Institutional Approach to Elites, Expertise and Command Posts.” Organization Studies 31(7): 963-996.
Glenn Morgan is Professor of International Management at Cardiff Business School in the UK. He previously worked at Warwick Business School. He was editor of the journal Organization from 2003-2008. Recent edited books include The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Institutional Analysis (2010) and Images of Multinationals (2009). His research interests are in comparative institutional theory, globalization multinationals and the constitution of financial markets.
Paul M. Hirsch is the James L. Allen Professor of Strategy & Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Professor Hirsch’s articles have appeared in a wide variety of scholarly journals – most recently Strategic Organization, American Sociological Review, and SASE’s Socio-Economic Review. Hirsch’s recent work has also focused on policy and ethical issues raised by the mortgage meltdown. He has published articles and organized conferences about it, and is co-editor of Markets on Trial, a volume of original essays exploring the meltdown’s origins and consequences.
Sigrid Quack is Professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne and Head of the Research Group on ‘Institution Building across Borders’. She has published widely on comparative institutional analysis, globalization and institutional change and transnational governance, including (with Marie-Laure Djelic)Transnational Communities (Cambridge University Press 2010) and