Sub-theme 19: Power, Democracy and Organization: From Elite Hegemony to Political Dissent [merged with sub-theme 67]

Michal Frenkel
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Shamus Khan
Columbia University, USA
Carl Rhodes
Macquarie University, Australia

Call for Papers

Elite studies in modern societies are generally concerned with the ways in which small groups of actors, often hiding in the shadows, exercise power and influence over larger populations in order to sustain, extend and enlarge their domination. In this subtheme, we wish to bring elite power out of the shadows and into the light drawing on the Italian tradition of elite studies (going back to Macchiavelli, Pareto, Mosca and Michels) as well as on the influential frames of Mills and Bourdieu. The Italian tradition gives explicit emphasis to elites as long-established anti-democratic forces, willing to use violence and coercion to achieve their goals. In this view, elites dominate in any society and democracy is a mask but the ways in which elites dominate varies; elites fight amongst themselves for power, drawing the 'masses' in as part of this struggle for hegemony in Gramsci’s terms; the focus is on elite competition, elite circulation and changes in elites in a context of ideological manipulation, and the selective use of force against dissent in order to maintain a necessary level of support amongst the masses, support which Gramsci believed could under certain circumstances be wrenched away by resistance.

However, like Bourdieu and Mills, this analysis of elites was at the level of the state and how political, economic and cultural elites exercised and reinforced their power within this territorial frame. By contrast, we are also concerned to consider how national elites adapt to globalization, imperialism and transnational social spaces more generally and the degree to which new transnational elites are forming. As more rules and activities become based in public and private transnational organizations, what sorts of elites from which sorts of countries and backgrounds form around these spaces and who or what is excluded, e.g. in the World Bank, the IMF, etc.? How do elites from powerful countries shape elite formation in less powerful contexts, e.g. as the US elite sought to influence the re-formation of elites in the defeated powers post 1945 or as the German elite is aiming to do in Greece and other Southern European countries in order to stabilize the Eurozone? How do elites in peripheral countries respond to these challenges and what sorts of competition for power between different elites are set up in such contexts? What role do key international organizations such as professional services companies, multinational firms, the WTO, the EU, global business media, top universities, have in forming shared discourses and spaces where new transnational elites may form?

We welcome a range of theoretical and empirical contributions on elites addressing amongst other issues the following:

  • How are elites formed; how do they legitimate their hegemonic claims particularly under conditions of crisis and in a transnational context?
  • Under what conditions is elite circulation manifested; how do elites compete, defending or expanding their spheres of power?
  • Under what conditions do elites turn to violence and coercion to control dissent and how do they legitimate this? How can resistance emerge in this context?
  • How do national elites from emerging economies enter into key global elites? What social and cultural capital is necessary and how is this generated, e.g. the role of business schools and key international companies such as banks, law firms, media, and management consultancies?
  • How are professional ideas and theories turned into ideologies that justify and reproduce elite domination at national and international levels?
  • How do elites reflect and reproduce geopolitical and social hierarchies of core-periphery, south-north as well as gender and racial hierarchies at the local and transnational levels?


Michal Frenkel is a Senior Lecturer of Sociology and Organization Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Her research revolves around the relations between organizational discourse and practices and power relations, social hierarchies and identities in the context of an uneven globalization. Her studies look at the role of elites in shaping uneven globalization. Her recent co-edited book is "Core-Periphery Relations and Organization Studies" (2014).
Shamus Khan is Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, USA. He is the author of "Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School" (Princeton, 2011) and is completing "Exceptional: The Astors, Elite New York, and the Story of American Inequality" (Princeton, forthcoming). He is co-director of a Russell Sage Foundation working group on "The Political Influence of Economic Elites".
Carl Rhodes is Research Professor of Management and Organization Studies at Macquarie University, Australia. His research concerns the meanings of ethics, justice and responsibility in organizations.