What Does it Mean to be Part of the Elite?

Comparing Norwegian, French and British Top Bureaucrats’ Understandings of the Elite Concept when Applied to Themselves

In: Comparative Sociology
Marte Mangset Centre for the Study of Professions, Oslo and Akershus University College Norway

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Whether top bureaucrats are part of the elite or not, and to what degree their possible elite status is legitimate, will depend on how the elite concept is defined. Analyzing 81 British, French and Norwegian top bureaucrats’ arguments for belonging to the elite or not, this paper unpacks the elite concept and explores its meaning along a range of dimensions (organizational, prestige, education, social status, power, wage). These dimensions can be analyzed as indicating either an elite status delimited to the profession or exceeding it, as a societal elite. Rather than what might be expected, a clear contrast between anti-elitist Norwegian and elitist British and French bureaucrats, the comparative analysis of the interviews shows a variation between two different understandings of the elite concept: Norwegians interpret their elite status as delimited to the profession, and British and French bureaucrats define themselves as societal elites.

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