“Elites” (and “elite overproduction”) are key concepts in the structural-demographic theory (SDT). In this blog post I’d like to explain the meaning of this term. This is especially important because the popular usage (see Liberal Elite) has very little in common with the sociological definition (which is how it’s used in SDT). Thus, we have “Trump vs. the Elites” which is, sociologically speaking, nonsense.
As a term in sociology, elites are simply a small segment of the society who concentrate social power in their hands. They are the power-holders (and I increasingly use this term in my lectures, to avoid confusing them with those “latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading” folks that the right-wingers love to hate).
Next question, what is social power? Answer: ability to influence other people’s behavior. Sociologists such as Michael Mann distinguish four sources of social power: military (coercion), economic, administrative or political, and ideological.Elite = social power. See, for instance, C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite.
Put simply, there are many ways to influence people behavior. I can make you to do something by force, or a threat of force; I can pay you to do it; I can order you; or I can persuade you. The last is one of the most important, if often underappreciated, forms of social power....
Cliodynamica — A Blog about the Evolution of Civilizations
Who Are the Elites?
Peter Turchin | Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, Research Associate in the School of Anthropology, University of Oxford, and Vice-President of the Evolution Institute