Political and Administrative Elites in Europe – Theory and Practice in Historical Perspective

Conference at Charles University Prague on November 9–11, 2020

Given the epidemiological situation in recent months and taking into consideration the possible evolutions during the second half of the year on the one hand, and considering also the topics covered by the received proposals on the other hand, the organizers of the conference “Parliament as a Ring of Elites” decided to adapt the concept of the event in order to lower the former’s disrupting impact and accommodate a wider perspective on elites. This widening of the scope comes with a change in the event’s name, which does not affect, however, the original topics of focus.

Currently, we still hope that we will be able to meet in person in November 2020. Nevertheless, we decided to shorten the conference and restructure it in such a way as to be able to react flexibly to how the situation will evolve this autumn. If it will become impossible for the conference to be held in a traditional manner, we aim at switching to the on-line environment and host several on-line panels focussing on the discussion of the topics specified below. The final decision regarding the format of the conference will be taken one month before the event, in order for the registered participants to be able to make the necessary preparations.

The organizers are fully aware that even if the conference does take place in the originally envisioned form, it might be impossible, due to the circumstances, for some of the registered participants to attend the event in person, in Prague. In such cases, the participants are welcome to join the discussions and present their papers online, and also to send in their contributions for the conference volume. Those interested in taking part in the conference, in any form, should send (or reconfirm) their application to the contact addresses below by 15 August 2020.

The conference focus will lie mainly on the transformations underwent by elites during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the twentieth century, and the deriving social mobility. While political and administrative upper layers form the main cohort of interest, papers on other social and professional elite categories (economic elite, church representatives, intellectuals, etc.) are equally welcome. Within the framework of the conference, we aim at addressing three essential aspects: defining (and self-defining of) elites, the changes, shifts and transitions which delineate the process of social mobility, and the methods and tools by means of which the latter can be traced and researched for the 19th and 20th centuries upper social layers. Hence, we focuse on the following topics:

1) Defining (and self-defining of) elites

  • Changes in the meaning and understanding of the term “elite”;
  • Changes in the self-perception of the elite in terms of status, role and responsibilities, both individually, and as a group;
  • Elites and power-elite: hierarchies of and differentiating criteria between distinct categories of elites (e.g. prestige discrepancies between deputies and senior state officials);
  • Elites and counter-elites: the dynamics of contestation and change;
  • Entanglements and interdependencies between different elite layers (e.g. to what extent was the actual composition of the parliament influenced by the fact that, prior to the introduction of universal suffrage, deputies were actually chosen by the local elites, and how did the gradual democratization of the franchise swayed this relation?)

2) Social mobility of the elites (mainly political and administrative, but not exclusively)

  • Theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of social mobility of the elites in the 19th and early 20th centuries;
  • The determinants of social mobility among representatives of the elites (parental human and financial capital, education, cultural and social integration, networks, career choices, health and personality traits);
  • Differences in the social structure and mobility between elites and counter-elites;
  • Differences in social structure and mobility between distinct categories of elites (i.e. political vs. administrative elite, or political vs. economic elite);
  • Intergenerational evolutions: the rise and decline of elite families approached in terms of upward and downward social mobility.

3) Digital tools used for the research of political and social elites of the 19th and 20th centuries
Within the framework of this session we would like to discuss new approaches to the study of the above mentioned topics, and in particular to the family history and demographic behaviour of modern political and administrative elites, through the use of large prosopographical datasets, electronic genealogical collections and relational databases containing information about members of historical populations. In this context we would like to concentrate on the following issues:

  • Possibilities and limitations of using genealogical collections and historical databases for the study of 19th and early 20th century elites;
  • Possibilities of reconstructing basic demographic data for the respective period;
  • Ways of analysing collected data (statistical methods, text analysis, GIS-based methods, graphic visualisations);
  • State of the sources and work with incomplete data;
  • Possibilities of reconstructing relationship networks of individuals.

A conference volume will be published in English, with an international academic publishing house. The main topic of the volume will be “Social mobility of the elites” (understood in an extended sense, and covering both theoretical and methodological aspects, as well as case studies focusing on the influence of social, cultural and political factors on elite formation and transformations).

Martin Klečacký
Masarykův ústav a Archiv AV ČR
Gabčíkova 10
182 00 Prague, Czech Republic