Call for papers : International conference on the sociology of elites in contemporary India

New Delhi, India, 4-5 January 2016.

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Elites can be broadly defined as “those who have vastly disproportionate control over or access to a resource”[1]. The study of this privileged fraction of society currently experiences a revival that can partly be explained by the rising level of inequalities. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement of 2011 shed light on this renewed interest of scholars and activists, who make an extensive use of the latest researches produced by social scientists. More recently, the successs of Thomas Piketty’s book helped to shed light on the role this fraction of society plays in the production of inequalities. A whole body of quantitative and qualitative research has been produced by researchers over the last few years, including prosopographic studies of business leaders, Multiple Correspondence Analyses of the field of economic power, historical studies of the business elites, network analyses of corporate interlocks, qualitative studies of the formal and informal modes of sociability among the elite, ethnography of elite clubs, studies of conspicuous consumption, etc. From the early works of Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, Thorstein Veblen and C. Wright Mills to today’s researches, the sociology of elites can draw on a very rich and diverse body of works. Nonetheless, the scholarship on the elite in India is very limited. The well established traditions of studying social networks of the elite, their educational background, their biographies, their family life, their exclusive social clubs, their culture or their neighborhoods have not still been appropriated by scholars working on the Indian society and very few researchers are currently trying to fill this gap. This is all the more surprising as India is currently the World’s third economic power in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (and the 10th in terms of GDP nominal value). To give just one figure, according to the Wall Street Journal, in 2013, India had a total of 182,000 millionaires (in dollars)[2].

While political elite and the administrative elite have been the object of some major researches by political scientists, a purely sociological perspective is so far missing. Economic elite in particular have been left apart. Some scattered researches on the elite exist though, providing a small base upon which a more unified analysis of the Indian elite can be built.

First and foremost, the scholarship on caste – one of India’s most important social institutions – helps lay the foundations of a deeper analysis of the elite. The debates on caste and power, through an emphasis on the question “what is a dominant caste?”, can help identify various layers of “elite” groups. From one geographic space to another, from one State to another, from rural territories to urban areas, the caste systems tend to vary and, with them, the definition of how the privileged access to resources is legitimized on the basis of caste. From agrarian dominant castes to erudite brahmanical elites, from traditional business communities to the recent commercial successes of the Khatri community, the scholarship on caste makes it possible to identify various fractions of the elite divided along caste lines. In particular, the focus on the predominant role of caste among business communities led to the development of a very rich scholarship, even though these studies are often historical or based on a single community.

Studies on the business communities also often focus on the specificity of their family structure. The scholarship on family businesses in India is relatively developed and several other researches have looked at the very peculiar institutions of the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) and of the karta (manager of a joint family).

The elite schools and institutions as well as the biographical trajectories of the elite have been relatively understudied. Paradoxically, the Indian elite settled abroad almost seems to be the object of more research than is the desi elite. The studies on the India diaspora have indeed been extremely prolific over the last decade. More recently, a growing scholarship has developed focusing on a fraction of the upper-class that does not directly detain the means of production but that is extremely well endowed in terms of cultural capital and that has the monopoly of “merit”: the top corporate employees. In contrast, the fractions of the elite that actually detain the means of production have been the object of much less attention by scholars.

In terms of lifestyles of the elite, the literature is again limited. Several authors have worked on the “cultures of servitude” and the particular relationship the elite maintain with their domestic employees. Several other researches have tried to analyze particular territories of the elite like the mall, the condominium or the gated community. Unfortunately, these latter studies generally focus on the spaces themselves and the imaginaries they convey and often fail to directly investigate the representations of the members of the upper fractions of the elite.

Finally, one also need to mention a tradition of research grounded in the sociology of organizations or in management and business studies. We can thus mention a growing number of researches on the Corporate Social responsibility in the Indian corporate world. One can also mention studies on firm structures, family business groups and corporate governance in India. These studies present the advantage of offering a good view of the context in which business is conducted in India; but they often lack an in-depth analysis of the sociological dispositions of the actors evolving in this world.

This conference intends to bring together scholars conducting researches that could help develop a better understanding of the various privileged sections of the Indian society. As their actions, their choices, their ways of thinking, etc. have a major impact on the rest of society, it is indeed decisive to get a better sociological understanding of the lifestyles and the trajectories of the individuals who compose this group.

Papers addressing the following areas are particularly welcome:

–          The reconfiguration of regional and local elites

–          The interlocking of the economic, administrative and political elites

–          The drawing of symbolic boundaries between the competing fractions of the elite (corporate people vs business people, old money vs nouveaux riches, conservatives vs liberals, etc.)

–          The lifestyles of the elite (social clubs, leisure, cultural practices, traveling, etc.)

–          The social capital and the networks of the elite

–          The territories of the elite

–          The pathways to the elite (trajectories, educational institutions, reproduction of privileges)

–          Methodological issues: “studying up” in the Indian context, defining the elite, etc.

–          The business elite and its intermediaries: chartered accountants, consultants, brokers, equity analysts, etc.

–          Caste and the elite

Papers are expected to be empirically grounded and proposals should include:

1° the title of the paper

2° the author(s), their institutional affiliation, phone number and e-mail address

3° a brief summary of the paper, including the research problem, the main substantive argument and details about the material and the methodology mobilized in the paper (not more than 700 words).

Abstract proposals are due April 1st, 2015 and should be submitted to We will notify the authors of accepted abstracts by June 1st, 2015. Full papers of accepted abstracts are due on December 1st, 2015. Participants will be responsible for covering their own travel expenses.

Keynote speakers:

Sébastien CHAUVIN (Amsterdam University, Amsterdam, Netherlands) and Bruno COUSIN (University of Lille 1, Lille, France)

Michèle LAMONT (Harvard University, Cambridge, Ma., USA)


Organizing Committee:

Surinder JODHKA (JNU, New Delhi, India)

Jules NAUDET (CSH, New Delhi, India)

Gilles VERNIERS (Ashoka University, New Delhi, India)

Scientific Committee:

Amita BAVISKAR (Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi, India)

Sébastien CHAUVIN (Amsterdam University, Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Bruno COUSIN (University of Lille 1, Lille, France)

Satish DESHPANDE (Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University, New Delhi)

Christophe JAFFRELOT (SciencesPo, France/King’s College, UK/Princeton, USA)

Surinder JODHKA (JNU, New Delhi, India)

Michèle LAMONT (Harvard University, Cambridge, Ma., USA)

Jules NAUDET (CSH, New Delhi, India)

Gilles VERNIERS (Ashoka University, New Delhi, India)


Date and venue:

New Delhi, 4-5 January 2016.

[1]  Shamus Khan, 2012, “The Sociology of Elites,” Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 38: 361-377

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