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From Elitism to Equality

Essays Due

Today 

An introduction to elitism

Elitism in Britain and beyond

The idea of equality

From equality of opportunity to equality of outcome

Making Progress 

Today we move from a consideration of a developing underclass to a ‘superclass’

We consider the presence of an exceptional grouping that appears to be divided from the rest of society on both a local and global level

Having considered these two extremes of British society, we then shift to debate the desirability of equality

Key Questions 

Are the elite naturally ‘better’ than us, or created through a structural privilege?

If there are structures that reproduce the ‘rule’ of the elite, what are they and how are they constructed?

To what degree should we desire social equality – is it necessary to have an elite?

Being Elite 

The ‘elite’ are beyond the simply upperclass, but have a particular influence upon the majority

One can be upper-class (either culturally or economically) without being particularly influential

Moreover, the elite entails those who are at the very top of their respective fields

What kind of people do you think of when you think of ‘elite?’

Elite Divisions 

The elite are an inherently small and exclusive grouping

That some people in a given society have exceptional characteristics is a social difference

If the elite exist because of structural factors, rather than individual capacities, this is a social division

Elitism 

Elitism occurs when this minority group has a disproportionally large (and illegitimate?) influence over the majority

Elitism may be influenced by structural economic or political factors

Conversely, elitism can be maintained by social ‘in-group’ biases: the elite tend to ‘look after’ each other

According to C.Wright Mills (1957, pp.4-5), “They accept one another, understand one another, marry one another, tend to work and to think, if not together at least alike”

Meritocracy ‘cracy’: rule or governing by 

Meritocracy is the idea that those with the most ability should have the most influence

Efforts to promote equality above merit are often sharply rejected

But, is there a level-playing field so that everyone has a chance to display their abilities?

Is a pure meritocracy desirable?

Should the smart rule the stupid? In what circumstances should meritocracy be enforced?

Elite Theory 

The notion of elitism pre-dates sociological analysis, just as the elite pre-date modernity

Early elite theorists (Pareto, Mosca, Michels) had sympathy with the ‘superiority’ of the governing elite

Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) argued that democracy was most effective when elites competed for power through the endorsement of the masses

The Power Elite 

In The Power Elite (1957) C.Wright Mills argued that a new ‘power elite’ had developed out of three centres in the United States: I.

Political power




Military (industrial complex)

Democracy 

Demos: The people

Democracy is the rule of the people

The Western (liberal) idea of democracy is supposedly distinct from elitism

Under a plural democracy a range of interests compete for power

I: Political Power 

Because politicians are voted for by the people, they should be an example of political meritocracy

They are also a strong example of elitism, given that they are an elected minority with special privileges to rule over the majority

Moreover, in the UK the political elite tend to come from very ‘exclusive’ backgrounds and are often particularly wealthy 

68% of those in ‘public service (which includes royalty, lordlieutenants, and others in national, public or local government organisations) come from independent schools

The political industry also employs an array of privileged ‘insiders’, from appointed ambassadors to advisers and unpaid interns

Marie Curie Cancer Care You will be involved in researching and securing luxury prizes for events, especially the 2014 Housebuilder Brain Game; building a portfolio of existing UK-wide corporate events and identifying how the charity might benefit; assisting with the production of event promotional material and programmes; compiling mailing lists and sending out tickets; general admin support and more. You must be a graduate or undergraduate with a background and interest in learning more about event management and fundraising mechanisms. You should possess:     

Very good communication and organisational skills Excellent analytical skills and good attention to detail Ability to work effectively independently Ability to work effectively as part of a team Confidence, and knowledge of different social networking sites

Internships 

Many graduate level jobs are either internships or require the kind of experience gained during internships

Access to these internships is often on an in-group basis

Working for free/expenses is only possible with a financial safety net

Are internships an acceptable form of elitism, or are the exploitative?

II: Economic Power 

The economically powerful are not just the wealthy, but those with influence over the economy and individual organisations

As the economic elite are appointed, rather than elected, there is significant potential for elitism

This elitism can be seen in organisation of corporations as well as the influence over the overall economy

Elitism in the Boardroom 

Corporate power is concentrated in the hands of a few traditionally privileged groups  

A 2009 Government Equalities Office (GEO) report on increasing diversity in public and private boards found:   

19% of Corporate Directors in FTSE-100 companies are women Research by Sealy, Vinnicombe and Singh (2008) found that less than 5% of directors on the boards of FTSE100 companies were from ethnic minorities

There was no evidence of a lack of skills and qualifications in under-represented groups These groups often lacked the perceived ‘social capital’ and found boardroom cultures ‘inhospitable’ The appointment process remains very subjective

In responses, there has been a demand in various sectors for more equality in corporate boardrooms, often through quota systems

Sealy, R., Vinnicombe, S. & Singh, V. (2008) "The pipeline to the board finally opens: Women's progress in FTSE 100 boards in the UK", in Vinnicombe, S., Singh, V., Burke, R.J., Bilimoria, D. & Huse, M. (eds) Women on corporate boards of directors: International research and practice, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 37-46.

How might a lack of social capital affect the appointment process?

Marx and the Elite 

Marx and subsequent Marxist’s like Ralph Milliband have suggested that the role of state is to serve the interests of capital (or the economic elite)

Political leaders often court the influence of business leaders, both for donations and political backing

Nations and cities openly compete for business ‘talent’ and financial investment

Political policy that threaten business interests are often punished by the ‘market’

The Global Elite 

One of the defining features of our global era in the development of a ‘superclass’

These bankers, investors and other elites have begun to live in a world quite divorced from the other 99%

Everything can be sourced privately in a ‘bubble’ cut off from regular social reality

This global elite is a noticeable feature of London life

The Super Class According to Oxfam:

In the US the share of national income going to the top 1% has doubled since 1980 from 10 to 20%.

For the top 0.01% it has quadrupled

Globally the share of income for the top 1% (60 million people) and the top 0.01% (600,000 individuals) has grown significantly

As a consequence, their influence, as signified by events like Bilderberg Meetings, or the World Economic Forum allow the super-rich to discuss issues with the political elite

III: Military Power 

Mills argued that those with military power in the USA had significant autonomous influence upon the masses

This influence came through foreign policy aims and military spending

President Dwight D. Eisenhower called this the ‘Military Industrial Complex’

What other forms of elitism might be more appropriate for the UK?

The case of Oxbridge 

Oxbridge is the term often used to refer to Oxford and Cambridge Universities

The elitism of these schools has long been an issue: An 1852 ‘Royal Commissions’ report identified poorer students access to these schools as a significant issue

Social class is a significant issue in higher education because of its implications for social mobility

A 2013 Parliamentary Report on Oxbridge Elitism made a number of significant findings, much of it based on the ‘Sutton Reports’

Oxbridge Elitism 

The top 30 performing state grammar schools had similar A-level scores to the top 30 independent schools


The admissions rate for these independent schools was 13.2% in 2006, compared to 7.5% for the top 30 grammars.


The 100 schools with the highest Oxbridge admission rates contributed more than 30% of students

“To help comparison between institutions benchmark figures have been calculated. These estimate the score that the whole UK sector would have achieved if it had the same subject and entry qualification profile as the institution.� (p.7)

Accessing Oxbridge 

There has been some efforts to improve access for state school pupils, with targets set around 60% of entrants/applicants


These targets have been largely achieved and rates have been steadily increasing

Why should we care? 

Oxbridge is not alone in these figures, but is exceptional, particularly because of its influence

Research from the Sutton Trust indicated that:  Over

30% of leading professionals in the U.K., including almost 80% of the judiciary, 47% in financial services and 41% of top journalists attended Oxbridge

 Every

university-educated Prime Minister since 1937 attended Oxbridge except Gordon Brown

Why might this happen?

Important Questions 

Does the over-representation of independent school pupils at Oxbridge universities occur because of merit based decisions?

Is it an effect of in-group social biases or social capital?

Are economic factors important?

Check Your Privilege 

‘Check your privilege’ emerged in anti-racist/sexist circles to suggest that privileged people might not be aware of their biases

This idea suggests that it is difficult to understand under-privileged circumstances fully if you are not from those circumstances

Moreover, elitism is not exceptional, but an everyday experience for both the privileged and not

Should I be teaching this module?


The idea of Equality 

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level has reopened global debate around the benefits of equality in developed countries

Their primary argument is that less economically equal societies tend to be more ‘successful’ across a host of social factors

Why would inequality have such an effect on life expectancy?

Do you trust other people? Why might this be related to inequality?

Why might there be more crime and imprisonment in more unequal countries?

Why might inequality be damaging for the rich?

Egalitarianism 

Egalitarianism prompts equality over other forms of social organisation

Given inherent differences between humans, equality is difficult to define, most specifically, equality could mean  Equality

of outcome

 Equality

of opportunity

Equality of Outcome 

Equality of outcome focuses on flattening social divisions within society

Particular focus is given to economic equality and equal representation in places of power and influence

However, it is often argued that in promoting equality for all, the freedom and opportunity of some is restricted

Quotas 

In some areas in which there is longstanding ‘institutionalised’ inequality, quotas have been introduced to produces a minimum of representation

Quotas not only produce diversity, but breakdown ingroup barriers and prompt role-models for others

Conversely, it is argued that they discriminate against better qualified candidates and place doubt on those promoted via quotas

Equality of Opportunity 

Equality of opportunity focuses on treating everyone equally

It is argued that even treatment will lead to social mobility and a meritocratic society

Sometimes, however, ensuring equality of opportunity means making the same structural adjustments as for equality of outcome to create even conditions

For example, to ensure all pupils have an equal opportunity to succeed, funding is redistributed to poorer schools

What form of equality do you support?

One-Minute Essay

Through what mechanisms does elitism work in the UK?


Abbott, P. (2006) Gender. In G. Payne (Ed.) Social Divisions (second edition), Basingstoke: Macmillan. Scott, S. and Jackson, S. (2006) Sexuality. In G. Payne (Ed.) Social Divisions (second edition), Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Elitism and equality