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Elite Symbolic Superiority: Multidisciplinary Perspectives Convenors: Jean-Pascal DALOZ (CNRS/MFO, Oxford & University of Oslo) and Muriel LE ROUX (CNRS/MFO, Linacre College Oxford) Chairs: Eric Godelier (Ecole Polytechnique, CRG, Paris) and Christophe Charle (University of Paris 1/IHMC-CNRS-ENS) Thursday 16th October 2008 COMPTE RENDU : This was the first in a series of seminars at the Maison Française to deal with the interdisciplinary study of elites; their formation, perpetuation and representation. Jean-Pascal Daloz opened up the morning session with some introductory remarks on the study of elites across various disciplines (history, anthropology, sociology and political science), and on the different questions posed by researchs on this question (the accumulation of resources, recruitment, social reproduction and the place of elite in democracy). He traced the evolution of the concept from its origins in the 17th century to the “classical elitism” of Pareto, Mosca and Michels, as well discussing different contemporary schools of thought on the nature of elites, from the homogenous « power elite » (C. Wright Mills) to the pluralist model defended by Robert Dahl. He outlined the advantages and disadvantages of the concept, suggesting that on one hand it often carries the negative connotations of elitism and is moreover imprecise, but that on the other it is a useful concept in situations where the concept of class would be inappropriate. Linda Mitchell followed with a presentation dealing with the rhetorical power of castle building in the British Isles in the Norman period. Focusing on the strategies of two competing baronets of that period, William Le Marshall and Llewellyn, presented their castles as texts that were to be read as symbols of their power, directed both at common people and other members of the elite. They could be read as a source of protection, justice, and prosperity or as a symbol of oppression and exclusion. Le Marshall’s castles for instance were a tool of oppression over the local people, who did not live in the villages in which the castles were situated – thus creating a barrier between the seat of authority and the people. Llewellyn’s castle’s on the other hand, although sometimes based on reappropriated anglo- norman constructions, took on more traditional forms. Although they were consequently considered as archaic by historians, these structures were less exclusive and more protective of the local inhabitants, thus encouraging a closer relationship with the rural area. Mitchell thus looked at the way in which different castle designs had different discursive purposes and aimed to convey different messages about the power and status of their owners. The question of elite formation was then addressed by Christophe Charle, looking at 19th century France, Britain and Germany. He argued that despite Arno Mayer’s claim that European society was a persistent “Old Regime” at the end of the 19th century this was much more the case for Britain and Germany than for France. In France, he argued, although the military and the diplomatic sphere were the essential components of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie occupied most of the administrative positions and thus held much of the social economic and political power in this period. He suggested that for the same period, the parliamentary body in France was more democratic that in Germany, with a lower proportion of the traditionally elitist groups such as army officers and civil servants. In France access to these bodies was increasingly a result of education, although he reminded us that this was still far from being democratic, despite the reforms of 1880. He described France as combining meritocracy with aristocracy, something that was reversed only in the 5th republic under De Gaulle. Anne Krogstad and Aagoth Storvik then presented work looking at the gendered representations of the political elite in France and Norway. They aimed to address the question of what power looks like in different cultural contexts through an analysis of media representations of male and female politicians in these two countries. They suggested that where Norwegian politicians were traditionally seen as demure, modest and connected to the people, French politicians were seen as elegant, distinguished and seductive. However, this has changed somewhat over the course of the last 20 years, following the opening up of the political sphere to women, particularly in Norway. They reminded us that cultural repertories are gendered as well as cultural. They suggest that more recently Norwegian female politicians are breaking with the traditional image to portray themselves in a more seductive fashion. This change that has occurred in the links between femininity and power in the two countries is apparently for them linked to the rise of women in politics and representative of an evolution in the political aesthetic of these countries. Jean-Pascal Daloz then took the stage again to finish the morning with a paper on the symbolic perspectives on the legitimation of political elites. He focused on the concepts of proximity and eminence in the notion of representation, looking at different forms of these two concepts and the way they work to the advantage of political elites. He discussed the concrete aspects of the construction of eminence and the status elements that are important in this construction in different contexts – for the masses, for other members of the elite, or for other elites. He suggested that in reality the tension between proximity and eminence is overcome by politicians who do both, but that the balance of the two relies on a reciprocal understanding of the roles of both the representatives and the represented which is why studies need to be both bottom up and top down. He then commented on his findings in the cases of France, Nigeria and Scandinavia, concluding that cultural differences mean that elites in different countries mobilise these two concepts to different extents because of their differencing cultural significance and the way representation and democracy are perceived in different countries. Following a morning consecrated to the study of political elites, the focus of the afternoon’s contributions shifted to the formation and representation of elites in the business world and in different professional circles. Eric Godelier discussed the constituent elements of the new myth of the global management elite, the emergence of which is apparently linked to the globalisation of the economy. He presented the state of the debate on this new globalised category. This new global elite is perceived as threatening the status of national elites, particularly because it throws into question the selection processes for the elite schools and the criteria used in the international rankings of these schools (such as that of Shanghai). However, despite the support of international networks of alumni, the existence of this global elite can be questioned, for Eric Godelier underlines the ambiguous nature of human resources management in large groups, and the difficulty in identifying common values within the management elite. Eric Godelier presented an inventory of the “mythologies” surrounding the management elite, dealing with the selection process (self-made men considered as outsiders by the school system), the social organisation of management (favouring merit and audacity), the concept of innovation (the isolated genius), and the role of the elite schools (at INSEAD for example a simple ‘maturation’ process is considered necessary between selection and employment). The speaker concluded by identifying the myths that are maintained by the elites themselves, particularly managerial rationalism, the resolution of complex problems through hierarchy, the illusion of the selection of particularly capable individuals, and a Darwinist perspective that contributes to domination by the elites. Claire Zalc began by presenting the methodological problems linked to the relative meaning of the concept of the elite, as applied to immigrant entrepreneurs in France, depending on whether we consider these specific entrepreneurs in the world of economics or from within the immigrant community. From an economic perspective, the status of the immigrant elite has evolved, from the simple possibility of free enterprise at the beginning of the 20th century, to activity controlled by the administration via various means, a situation which lasted from the 1930s until the 1980s. Moreover, their status regarding naturalisation suffered over time; despite initially benefiting from privileged access to citizenship, from the 1930s entrepreneurs found themselves in a less favourable position than workers in this respect. The immigrant entrepreneurs well and truly became outsiders in the sense of Howard Becker, within the business world. However, they did have a higher status in the immigrant community, to the extent that they had the privilege of being able to employ people close to them. Despite this, few of them ever attained financial success, most remaining at a level inferior to that of the symbolic superiority of their status as an employer. In spite of these gains, their careers tended to be characterised by a high level of instability, owing more to necessity than choice, especially in cases where the individuals concerned had not found work in the regular labour market. Muriel Le Roux then analysed the processes of the formation of elites in the sphere of natural chemistry in France, a sphere that is recognised for its technological innovation in the development of medicine, including today’s most widely sold anti-cancer treatment. The Institut de Chimie de Substances Naturelles, created in 1955 to compensate for the weakness of French research in this area, has the twin particularities of combining two disciplines, chemistry and biology, as well as associating French scientists from the CNRS with large chemical and pharmaceutical companies in France and Switzerland. These partnerships give a better visibility to the Institute within the scientific community, via the production of scientific capital, in the bourdieusian sense, which facilitates the recognition of this elite in the field of chemistry. However, the patenting process leads to a differentiated recognition, involving two kinds of actors. Although it is the industrial actors who benefit in terms of career advancement, it is the scientists who control the scientific and economic capital (they retain scientific authority and royalties on patents) and who therefore maintain symbolic superiority over their industrial collaborators. Justine Rogers then concluded the afternoon in presenting the methodological problems inherent in any form of participant observation, which were posed by her own integration into her area of research – the lawyers of the Inns of Court. Observing the pupilage system at work, she analysed a professional environment that is both physically and socially closed and which has nonetheless been the object of several attempts, since the Thatcher government, to increase efficiency and recruitment amongst less socially privileged classes. However, within these circles, behaviour remains dictated by norms that ensure the reproduction of elites, both via a selection of pupils according to their social background, their university of origin and by a form of socialisation that makes them attentive to the image they give to their potential employers, the members of the Courts of Justice. The reactions of lawyers and pupils, suggest they are fearful of a research method that is perceived as a form of audit, which is translated into a feeling of distrust. These socialisation practices allow future lawyers to construct their professional image and to mask their insecurities related to the expectations of civil society with regards to high status legal professions. After a brief discussion session with members of the audience, Muriel Le Roux concluded the conference. Katharine Throssell Isabelle Flour
"ENG.Elite Symbolic Superiority"