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Session Overview
RS17_02a_H: 100 Years Charles Wright Mills: Sociological Imagination Today - Elite / Middle Class / Vulnerable Groups
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Roland Pfefferkorn, Strasbourg University
Location: HA.4.11
HAROKOPIO University 70 El. Venizelou Street 17671 Athens, Greece Building: A, Level: 4.

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C. Wright Mills and the question of the global power elite

Markus Ojala

University of Helsinki, Finland

Owners and managers of giant transnational corporations and banks, government leaders of major economic and military powers, and directors of key international organizations have unprecedented institutional capacity to affect the lives of millions of people around the world. At the same time, everyday political discourse tends to present a pluralistic account of world society, characterized by elite division into competing camps, mostly along national and sectoral lines. In order to critically appreciate the potential for transnational elite integration, and to the counter any simplistic notions of a multipolar and pluralistic world society, this paper explores two interrelated questions: What grounds do we have to speak about a global power elite today, and what does it mean to argue about the existence of a global power elite in contemporary world society? Following C. Wright Mills’ insights into the formation of the power elite in the mid-twentieth-century United States, the paper stresses the importance of a context-specific analysis of world society in terms of its (a) long-term structural developments, (b) hierarchy of power, (c) elite socialisation and interlocks, and (d) ideological work towards the establishment of unifying interests. Discussing each of the dimensions in relation to post-war developments in the global political economy, the paper argues that Mills’ critical notion of the power elite provides valuable insights into the concentration of power in contemporary world society.

Leader communities: The making of elites

Mikael Holmqvist

Stockholm University, Sweden

Based on ethnographic methods I study a Swedish elite community named Djursholm as a “leader community” i.e., a place where leaders choose to live and exert their dominion, socialize with other leaders, and, most importantly, form families and raise their children into future leaders (see Holmqvist, 2017). In C. W. Mills’s (1956) sense, leaders are often considered a power elite not on the basis of superior intellectual abilities or superlative formal merits; but rather on an idea to be morally elevated (see also Jackall, 1988). An important concept in my interpretation and understanding of the sociology of Djursholm is consecration, i.e., the “initiation of someone”, or, “making someone sacred.” In all essential respects it is about elevating a human being, imbuing him or her with certain higher moral or spiritual qualities. This takes place by means of the culture, history, traditions, ceremonies, rituals, and institutions of the place, which are possessed of a certain aura continually recreated through the actions of the population. Indeed, this society accumulates such a concentration of what Bourdieu (1984) would call “symbolic capital” that it becomes sacred, and the people that live and act there are transformed from merely living an “ordinary”, profane life, into the realm of the sacred. The prerequisite of consecration is social separation and differentiation on a physical, mental, and cultural level. I often a number of critical remarks on these kinds of environments, focusing on their downplaying of traditional meritocratic ideals and virtues for social advancement and influence.

The Middle Class, Old and New

Jacek Tittenbrun

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland

A key contribution of Mills to the theory of social differentiation consists in his distinction between two groupings he called "old middle class" and "new middle class." There are some serious problems with Mills' definitions.

First and foremost, the underlying term 'middle class' is a misnomer, or more exactly, an oxymoron. This is the case because the adjective 'middle' is inherently hierarchical in nature, which means that it fits in the framework of social stratification rather than classs-it is the former that is necessarily hiararchical in character, whereas inter-class relations are, as a rule, more complex, and only in rare cases could be boil down to a ladder-like scheme. Thus, Mills' 'new middle class' is in fact a collection of a variety of employee and managerial classes, including even social estates,e.g. civil servants.

However, Mills' 'old middle class' refers indeed to a social class-which by Marxists is usually termed the petty bourgeoisie, and which the present author proposes to frame as the autocephalous class, borrowing Weber's tterm. This term highlights what for Mills is a key feature of the class in question, i.e. independence-they are independent owners of the means of economic activity (production, exchange, etc.) In addition, they rely only on their own work, not employing other people's labour power.

It is striking that this 'conceptual death' is parallelled by the real-world decline of what passes as 'the middleclass', though the process is being obfuscated by its false conceptualisation.

Who rules Greece? Greek prime ministers (1974 – 2016): Paths to leadership and/or leading to crisis

Despoina Valassi1, Gerasimos Karoulas2

1University of Crete, Greece; 2National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece

Following the sociological tradition of C. W. Mills and especially his writings on power elite we conducted a research study of the Greek prime ministers as the highest political leaders in the country. The intention of the authors, entering C. W. Mills theory into the Greek political field, is to highlight that Greek prime ministers, after 1974 and the restoration of Greek democracy, regardless their political traditions and ideological origins and differences, entered the Greek political field having, at least the majority of them, similarities in their social background, educational trajectories and recruitment patterns. Trying to describe their “paths to leadership”, we studied a number of factor/variables related to the political tradition of the Greek prime ministers, their inclusion in different elite groups, e.g. economic, bureaucratic, their families socio-economic status, their occupational trajectories and cosmopolitan cultural capital. C.W.Mills was one of the first sociologists highlighted the importance of “elite schools” and their clubs like the “old boys network”. In Greece the graduation from elite schools seems to be one of the most privileged and secured paths to high status strata and to the power elite. Also, we strongly believe that studying the Greek political elite and its linkages with other forms of power elite (economic, bureaucratic) it is possible to highlight reasons that “led to the socio-economic crisis”. The data collected through a mixed - qualitatively and quantitatively - methodological approach through the method of “prosopography” as the most adequate for an in-depth analysis, promoting us with the proper biographical details. The analysis encompass the prime ministers of Greece from 1974 until the last parliamentary term started in September of 2015.

Societal and Political Transition in Balkan Countries: Solidarity, In-group Bonds and Attitudes towards Vulnerable Groups

Antoanela Petkovska, Mihajlo Popovski, Marija Dimitrovska

Ss. Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje, Faculty of Philosophy - Skopje, Macedonia, Former Yugoslav Republic of

The societal and political transformation of the Republic of Macedonia after gaining its independence from the former Yugoslavia generated different kind of challenges for the Macedonian citizens as well as for the citizens of the former socialist states. The changes were manifested through economic and political crises, crisis of value systems and caused disruption of social security, trust in other people and institutions and the quality of life. These had an impact on the citizens’ attitudes towards certain vulnerable groups: the elderly, the unemployed, ill people and people with disabilities, children of poor families and immigrants. The main assumption is that these processes had influence on the empathy and solidarity of the citizens towards vulnerable groups, as well as their in-groups: the family, their neighborhood, the region they belong to, and through their civic engagement. This paper is based on the analysis of data obtained from the last wave of European Value Study. The data will be subjected to comparative analysis of EVS data obtained from other Balkan countries.

Keywords: societal transition, vulnerable groups, solidarity, Balkans.

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