PERC is pleased to announce the publication this month of a special issue in the journal Theory, Culture and Society, entitled Elites and Power After Financialization. The issue came out of a conference jointly organised by PERC, Goldsmiths Media Department and CRESC. The issue was edited by Aeron Davis (PERC) and Karel Williams (CRESC). Abstracts and links to all the papers are here:
Aeron Davis and Karel Williams
This article introduces the special issue on ‘Elites and Power after Financialization’. It is presented in three parts. The first sets out the original Weberian problematic that directed the work of Michels and Mills, in the 1910s and 1950s respectively. It then discusses how this framework was appropriated and then cast aside as our understanding of capitalism changed. The second section makes the case for a reset of elite studies around the current capitalist conjuncture of financialization. It is explained how this unifying theme allows for a diverse set of approaches for answering old and new questions about elites and power. The third part identifies four key themes or sites of investigation that emerge within the nine papers offered here. These are: new state-capital relations, innovative forms of value extraction, new elite insecurities and resources in liquid times and the role of elite intermediaries and experts.
Aeron Davis and Catherine Walsh
Neoliberalism and financialization are not synonymous developments. Financialized nations are directed by particularly financialized epistemologies, cultures, and practices, not only neoliberal ones. In examining the financialization of the UK economy since the mid-1970s, this study discovers a socio-economic shift beyond the broad transition from Keynesianism towards free-market fundamentalism. Economic developments were guided by the very particular economic paradigms, discursive practices, and financial devices of the City of London, as financial elites became influential in the Thatcher governments. Five epistemological elements specific to finance are discussed: the creation of money in financial markets, the transactional focus of finance, the centrality of financial markets to economic management, the orthodoxy of shareholder value, and the intensely micro-economic approach to financial calculation. Identifying these distinctions creates new possibilities for understanding financialization, elites, and the neoliberal condition that brought about both the financial crash of 2007–8 and the political and economic crises that have followed.
This paper presents the case of the post-crisis discursive defence of shadow banking in the Netherlands to argue, first, that there is a need to dust off older elite theories and adapt them to post-democratic conditions where there are no widely shared ‘political formulas’ to secure mass support for elite projects. Second, that temporality should be taken more seriously; it is when stories fail that elite storytelling can be observed in practice. As new ‘political formulas’ are minted and become established, elites can again hope to withdraw from the political scene and leave policy-making to the self-evidence of output legitimacy and/or the perpetuum mobile of There-Is-No-Alternative (TINA). This suggests that elite theory should replace an epochal reading of post-democracy with a more conjunctural one.
Julie Froud, Sukhdev Johal, Michael Moran and Karel Williams
This article uses the example of public sector outsourcing to explore how elite power can be fallible. A contract between the state and private companies represents a complex interweaving of different kinds of power with uncertain outcomes: the experience of outsourcing in the UK and elsewhere is that it frequently goes wrong, with fiascos creating political embarrassment for states and financial problems for companies. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari, the article explores how the contract is a political device that can be both tool and weapon but which has uncertain outcomes. In doing so, it makes a distinctive contribution by arguing that elite work is often about repair and managing the political or financial consequences of failure.
Andrew Bowman, Julie Froud, Sukhdev Johal and Karel Williams
This article introduces and develops the concept of trade narrative to understand how business sectors defend against public disapproval and the threat of increased regulation or removed subsidy. Trade narrative works by accumulating lists of benefits and occluding costs, and is created by consultants for economic interests organized via trade associations. This represents an under-analysed ‘policy-based evidence machine’, the aim of which is to format the discourses of the media and political classes about the contribution of the sector in ways that frame political choice about what is thinkable and doable. In doing so it supports elite power by providing a relay for intra-elite communication. Using illustrations from privatized railways, banking and pharmaceuticals in the UK and US, the argument explores how the causal arrow runs in the opposite direction from that supposed in most discussion of discourse-economy relations in the field of cultural economy.
Mairi Maclean, Charles Harvey and Gerhard Kling
We explore the meaning and implications of Bourdieu’s construct of the field of power and integrate it into a wider conception of the formation and functioning of elites at the highest level in society. Corporate leaders active within the field of power hold prominent roles in numerous organizations, constituting an ‘elite of elites’, whose networks integrate powerful participants from different fields. As ‘bridging actors’, they form coalitions to determine institutional settlements and societal resource flows. We ask how some corporate actors (minority) become hyper-agents, those actors who ‘make things happen’, while others (majority) remain ‘ordinary’ members of the elite. Three hypotheses are developed and tested using extensive data on the French business elite. Social class emerges as persistently important, challenging the myth of meritocratic inclusion. Our primary contribution to Bourdieusian scholarship lies in our analysis of hyper-agents, revealing the debts these dominants owe to elite schools and privileged classes.
Janine R Wedel
The dominant theory of elite power, grounded in Weberian bureaucracy, has analyzed elites in terms of stable positions at the top of enduring institutions. Today, many conditions that spawned these stable ‘command posts’ no longer prevail, and elite power thus warrants rethinking. This article advances an argument about contemporary ‘influence elites’. The way they are organized and the modus operandi they employ to wield influence enable them to evade public accountability, a hallmark of a democratic society. Three cases are presented, first to investigate changes in how elites operate and, second, to examine varying configurations in which the new elites are organized. The cases demonstrate that influence elites intermesh hierarchies and networks, serve as connectors, and coordinate influence from multiple, moving perches, inside and outside official structures. Their flexible and multi-positioned organizing modes call for reconsidering elite theory and grappling with the implications of these elites for democratic society.
Rowland Atkinson, Simon Parker and Roger Burrows
In this article we examine elite formation in relation to money power within the city of London. Our primary aim is to consider the impact of the massive concentration of such power upon the city’s political life, municipal and shared resources and social equity. We argue that objectives of city success have come to be identified and aligned with the presence of wealth elites while wider goals, of access to essential resources for citizens, have withered. A diverse national and global wealth-elite is drawn to a city with an almost unique cultural infrastructure, fiscal regime and ushering butler class of politicians. We consider how London is being made for money and the monied – in physical, political and cultural terms. We conclude that the conceptualization of elites as wealth and social power formations operating within urban spatial arenas is important for capturing the nature of new social divisions and changes.
Georgia Nichols and Mike Savage
This article provides a detailed case study of F1 motor racing teams to better grasp the nature of contemporary elite formation. Drawing on an analysis of senior figures in F1 teams, and on a wider study of the industry, we argue that this affluent elite needs to be understood as part of a temporal ecology which deploys a technical habitus which has formed over a longue durée. In drawing out the significance of this approach, we extend analytical repertoires to focus on processes of accumulation. Building on the thinking of Bourdieu, Piketty and Kluge and Negt, we explore how this approach might have wider resonance in the resurgence of current analysis of the formation of ‘elite constellations’.
The financial crisis, and associated scandals, created a sense of a juridical deficit with regard to the financial sector. Forms of independent judgement within the sector appeared compromised, while judgement over the sector seemed unattainable. Elites, in the classical Millsian sense of those taking tacitly coordinated ‘big decisions’ over the rest of the public, seemed absent. This article argues that the eradication of jurisdictional elites is an effect of neoliberalism, as articulated most coherently by Hayek. It characterizes the neoliberal project as an effort to elevate ‘unconscious’ processes over ‘conscious’ ones, which in practice means elevating cybernetic, non-human systems and processes over discursive spheres of politics and judgement. Yet such a system still produces its own types of elite power, which come to consist in acts of translation, rather than judgement. Firstly, there are ‘cyborg intermediaries’: elites which operate largely within the system of codes, data, screens and prices. Secondly, there are ‘diplomatic intermediaries’: elites who come to narrate and justify what markets (and associated technologies and bodies) are ‘saying’. The paper draws on Lazzarato’s work on signifying vs asignifying semiotics in order to articulate this, and concludes by considering the types of elite crisis which these forms of power tend to produce.