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Contribution to Collected Edition

Elites: History of the Concept


Korom,  Philipp
Soziologie des Marktes, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;

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Korom, P. (2015). Elites: History of the Concept. In J. D. Wright (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2. ed., pp. 390-395). Amsterdam: Elsevier. doi:10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.03079-8.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0027-A737-9
The term ‘elite’ was introduced to the vocabulary of the social sciences in the late nineteenth century by Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, and Robert Michels developed classic elite theories in opposition to the Marxist belief that a popular proletarian regime would yield democratization. A ruling minority, so the basic theorem goes, will always out-organize large majorities. Contrary to the classics, the social sciences since World War II have mostly treated elites and democracy as reconcilable. Technical terms such as ‘strategic elites’ (Keller) were widely used to refer to incumbents of top positions in the various social sectors. The ‘functionalist’ or ‘pluralist’ school of thought departs from the idea of heterogeneity. ‘Critical elite theory’ claims that, even in modern democracies, economically based social hierarchies are reproduced, thereby giving rise to a single dominant class.