Pathways to the Power Elite: The Organizational Landscape of Elite Careers

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To capture elites, we must map out the organizational landscape through which they pass during their careers. This organizational landscape moulds the character of elites, tells us about the prestige of organizations that are elite incubators and provides valuable indicators about how different sectoral experiences serve to accumulate capital for the elite. Unpacking the organizational experience challenges theoretical and methodological understandings of the elite character, calling for a renewed focus on the organizational embedding of elites after school. By analysing the occupational history of 416 highly central individuals in a Danish elite network, what we term ‘the power elite’, a very distinct set of career trajectories, running through a subset of large, well-established, interconnected organizations, is mapped and analysed. To understand the different ways in which the members of this power elite accumulate ‘organizational capital’ in different fields, sequence analysis on six distinct channels, sector, subsector, size, level, rhythm and geography, is applied. Through this multi-channel sequence analysis, 10 distinct clusters of career trajectories are identified, distinguishing primarily between four private sector clusters: corporate ambassadors, industrial inner circle, bankers and landed gentry; and six public sector clusters: state nobility, professional politicians, lobbyists, scientists, unionists, and education and local politics. Analysing the careers, private sector careers are shown to be more homogeneous than public sector careers, while careers based on positions with a democratic mandate, mainly politicians and union leaders, are more turbulent and unpredictable. We link pathways to social backgrounds, showing preference for pathways for the natives in the upper class.
TidsskriftSociological Review
Udgave nummer5
Sider (fra-til)1170-1192
Antal sider23
StatusUdgivet - sep. 2019

Bibliografisk note

Published online: May 29, 2019


  • Careers
  • Elites
  • Organizational capital
  • Organizations
  • Power
  • Sequence analysis