François-Joseph Ruggiu

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
  • African History
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“Elites” is a sociological concept born at the beginning of the 20th century and defined especially by Vilfredo Pareto. The concept has been employed and specified by the most prestigious sociologists, such as Raymond Aron, Robert Dahl, Talcott Parsons, and Charles Wright Mills. It designates either the groups situated at the top of the social ladder of a society, and who generally rule it, or the persons who dominate a social group whatever its place in the social ladder of this society. In this last meaning (often called “pluralist”), it is possible to identify the elite of a subaltern social group like the workers or the peasantry or, in the colonial context, natives; the stress is not on power but on the capacity of each individual to shape his or her place in the society. “Elites” is particularly in favor with social historians of the early modern period because it allowed escaping the unproductive debate “order” versus “class” and not being misled by the specificities of different kinds of upper groups (administrative, commercial, religious). It is particularly convenient to describe the colonial societies, where the Old World hierarchies were often blurred and where upward and downward social mobilities were high. As in Europe, these elites exercised their authority on dependents and subalterns through political power, cultural superiority, and wealth. But the specificities of the colonial situation in the Americas and the Caribbean explained the fact that they developed harsher forms of subordination especially aimed against white indentured servants or Amerindian and African slaves.

Article.  9996 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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