Elites and Civil Society Elites. The changing landscapes of power and populism

Open Panel

This panel explores civil society as a key sector for the manifestations of power in contemporary societies. Civil society organizations are central political actors in most societies and many governments raise expectations on them to act as partners in solving societal challenges. They have strengthened their status positions and control of valuable resources, such as information, expertise and knowledge or ability to mobilize extensive numbers of people to push for policy change.
While we find extensive debates on NGOization, professionalization and marketization of civil society, this has not resulted in investigations into those at the top of large and resource rich organizations and movements. This is even more surprising given the changing power relations and increased prevalence of populism in many European countries, and beyond. Strong criticism of political and civil society leaders for being corrupt and alienated have been voiced by political challengers and civil society actors, mobilizing the masses in many countries.
Despite these developments elite and civil society research come short of thorough investigations into civil society leaders as a potential elite group alongside other elite groups in society. While elite studies have not recognized civil society leaders as possessing the kind of formal positions and excessive resources associated with elite status, civil society scholars have seen social movements, advocacy groups or NGOs as anti-elitist per se. This dual academic neglect has implied that we lack empirical investigations into what forms status and prestige in civil society, which civil society actors control disproportionate amounts of resources, and why, and what positions in civil society that allows for extensive power and influence.
This panel invites theoretical and empirical papers that address civil society leaders as forming a potential elite group. We particularly invite papers that discuss whether classic elite concepts and understandings of power have resonance for current conceptualizations of civil society. We furthermore encourage papers that take stock on classic themes in elite research, e.g. linked to the ‘composition’, ‘reproduction’ and ‘integration’ of civil society elites as well as how and on what grounds civil society leaders are being challenged.