CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE
From Elitism to Equality
An introduction to elitism
Elitism in Britain and beyond
The idea of equality
From equality of opportunity to equality of outcome
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
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?
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?’
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 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?
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.
Military (industrial complex)
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
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 ď‚¨
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
â€œTo 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.â€? (p.7)
Accessing Oxbridge ď‚¨
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
university-educated Prime Minister since 1937 attended Oxbridge except Gordon Brown
Why might this happen?
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 prompts equality over other forms of social organisation
Given inherent differences between humans, equality is difficult to define, most specifically, equality could mean Equality
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
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?
Through what mechanisms does elitism work in the UK?
Next Week DOING WHAT COMES NATURAL? SEXISM AND GENDER DISCRIMINATION READING
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.