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Sociology Essay

8596 words - 35 pages

REVISTA DE SOCIOLOGÍA, Nº 28 (2013) pp. 31-49

Elites, political elites and social change
in modern societies1
Luis Garrido Vergara*
Los estudios académicos acerca de las élites políticas poseen una vibrante historia reciente. El objetivo
aquí es proveer un resumen selectivo de esa historia, enfocándose en la importancia de la distinción
social y en las teorías de la estructura de poder como el marco teórico para comprender la influencia
de las élites políticas en el cambio social. Dado que nuevas perspectivas y preocupaciones han surgido
en este campo, la organización de este artículo no es completamente cronológica. Aunque puedan
haberse ignorado muchas contribuciones relevantes, ...view middle of the document...

In this paper I also study the extent to which the
introduction of a new research method by Domhoffian class domination theory opened a new insight
in élite studies. Finally, an élite research strategy and two main conclusions are presented subsequently.
Keywords: Political elites - social change - power structure - representation.



Quisiera agradecer a David Lehmann (University of Cambridge), Patricio Navia (New York University) y a Juan
Carlos Lerda (Universidad de Chile) por todos sus útiles comentarios y consejos, así como también a los dos
evaluadores anónimos por sus sugerencias. No obstante ello, toda la responsabilidad por el artículo es mía.
PhD © en Sociología, University of Cambridge. Sociólogo y Magíster en Gestión y Políticas Públicas, Universidad
de Chile. Correo electrónico:




1.1. Elites and social distinction
An élite is a selected and small group of citizens and/or organizations that controls a
large amount of power. Based on the social distinction with regard to other groups of lower
strata (Daloz, 2010), most of these selected groups are constantly searching differentiation as
well as separation from the rest of society. Normally the concept of élite is used to analyze
the groups that either control or are situated at the top of societies. The creation of an élite
is also the result of their evolution throughout the history of humanity. Several groups are
constantly seeking different social resources in order to define their specificity.
Elites and social distinction have a long vibrant history. Since the beginning of the Greek
society and the Roman Empire social status has been relevant. Whereas Greek society was
mainly broken up between free people and slaves, the social structure of ancient Rome was
based on property, wealth, citizenship and freedom, with a significant importance of heredity.
Even though in both societies social stratification existed, in the case of the latter social status
was established through objective norms (Grantt, 1978). Later on, in both Middle Ages and
in Modern Times this form of distinction through the social status prevailed, and probably
it could be considered as the main principle of social organization currently. Research in
social sciences has emphasized the tendency of elites to persist and reproduce their power
over time at “political and economic levels, potentially undermining the effectiveness of
institutional reforms. For instance, one specific form of élite persistence is illustrated by the
existence of dynasties, a particular form of élite persistence in which a single or few family
groups monopolize either political and/or economic power” (Querubin, 2011: 2).
Numerous scholars have studied the élite distinction. Through the use of a wide range
of both, qualitative and quantitative variables such as social status, social stratification, and
local culture, amongst others, they have developed theories about its...

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