Article

Elites

Shamus Khan

in Sociology

ISBN: 9780199756384
Published online July 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0017
Elites

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Elites are those who have vastly disproportionate access to or control over a social resource. Such resources have transferable value—access or control in one arena of social life can result in advantages in other. This control over or access to transferable social resources provides elites with disproportionate social power and advantages; their decisions and actions influence and affect vast numbers of people. We can categorize elites by the kinds of resources they have access to or control. We might speak of “economic” elites, who have money or control over the economy; “political” elites, who influence or make decisions within the state; “social” elites, whose personal ties provide them with information and access to other resources; “cultural” elites, who influence social tastes, dispositions, and cultural development; and “knowledge” elites, who control or influence social knowledge. These arenas of social power are not exclusive—more-powerful elites have access to more resources. Scholars often focus on the social institutions that serve gatekeeping functions to these resources. These include the family, clubs, and, most importantly, schools. Most studies of elites understand this group relationally. The asymmetric advantages enjoyed by elites are understood relative to the disadvantages of the less powerful. As such, elites are understood less in relation to their particular properties and more in terms of the social structural conditions that allow for the emergence or seizure of particular advantages. Elite sociology is not a particular coherent realm of inquiry. It transcends a range of subject areas and overlaps with other social science disciplines, notably history, economics, and political science. After the rights movements of the late 1960s, interest in elites waned, with the notable exception of social science work in France. More recently, work on elites has become popular again.

Article.  8265 words. 

Subjects: Sociology ; Comparative and Historical Sociology ; Economic Sociology ; Gender and Sexuality ; Health, Illness, and Medicine ; Population and Demography ; Race and Ethnicity ; Social Movements and Social Change ; Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility ; Social Theory

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