Sub-theme 33: Elites and the Design of Institutions, Industries and Organizations

Glenn Morgan
Cardiff Business School, UK
Sigrid Quack
Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne, Germany
Paul M. Hirsch
Kellog School of Management, Northwestern University, USA

Call for Papers


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; 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 & 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 & 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 counter-elites) 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-theme, therefore, we welcome any contributions in this area and more specifically the following:

  • How has organization studies conceived 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 what extent have they been or are they challenged by counter-mobilization 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, MA: Harvard University Press
Mills, C.W. (1959): The Power Elite. London: Oxford University Press
Savage, M. & K. Williams (eds.) (2008): Remembering Elites. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing/The Sociological Review
Scott, J. (1990): The Sociology of Elites. Aldershot: Edward Elgar Publishing
Scott, J. (1997): Corporate Business and Capitalist Classes. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press
Sklair, L. (2000): The Transnational Capitalist Class. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
Zald, M.N. & 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 Glenn Morgan is Professor of International Management at Cardiff Business School in the UK and a visiting professor at the International Centre for Business and Politics, Copenhagen Business School. He previously worked at Warwick Business School. He has published in various books and journals on comparative institutional analysis, multinationals, golbalization, regulation and financial markets. He was co-editor of the journal Organization from 2003-2008. He has recently been a member of the organizing comittee for a series of seminars on Elites funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. He also organized a theme group on Elites (with Sigrid Quack and others) at the 2009 Critical Management Studies conference in Warwick. He is a member of the Executive Council of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) and one of the conference organizers of the SASE conferences in 2006 and 2010.
Sigrid Quack Sigrid Quack is Professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne. She has published widely on comparative institutional analysis, globalization and institutional change and transnational governance. Sigrid Quack has served as a member and chairperson of the EGOS Board, and she has co-convened sub-themes at several EGOS Colloquia in the past.
Paul M. Hirsch Paul M. Hirsch is the James L. Allen Professor of Strategy & Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Professor Hirsch has written extensively about careers and organizational change; his articles have appeared in a wide variety of scholarly journals - most recently Strategic Organization, American Sociological Review, and SASE's Socio-Economic Review. He was among the first to anticipate and write on widespread changes in the employment relationship stemming from corporate mergers and continuing on through the present. 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. Professor Hirsch has received the "Distinguished Scholar" award of the Academy of Management’s Organization and Management Theory Division, and served as Chair of the American Sociological Association's Section on Occupations, Organizations and Work.