Civil Society Elites: Managers of Civic Capital

Anders Sevelsted*, Håkan Johansson

*Corresponding author for this work

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The article takes the first steps towards a general theory of civil society elites, a concept not fully developed in either elite or civil society research. This conceptual gap hampers academic and public understanding of the dynamics at the top of civil society. To address this, the authors rely on the theoretical framework of Pierre Bourdieu to build a theory of civil society elites as managers of civic capital. This role is illustrated through examples from the differently institutionalised UK and Nordic civil societies. The first part of the article introduces the notion of civic capital and its emergence during the 19th century. The second part focuses on elite positions in civil society fields, demonstrating how civil society elites, as managers of civic capital, navigate between their constituents and other elite groups. These elites wield the power to consecrate social relations while misrecognising their own symbolic and economic gains. Recent scandals in the climate movement and UK and Nordic civil societies shed light on the symbolic aspects of the positions of civil society elites. This comprehensive analysis contributes to elite and civil society research and enriches public discussions about the role of civil society leaders in society.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTheory and Society
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

Epub ahead of print. Published online: 3 June 2024.


  • Field theory
  • Bourdieu
  • Civil society
  • Elite
  • Civic capital
  • Misrecognition
  • Symbolic capital

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