From Integrated to Fragmented Elites. The Core of Swiss Elite Networks 1910-2015
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This contribution investigates how elites change over time. In light of the work of economists, such as Piketty, that aimed to reinvigorate debates on the links between capital accumulation and politics by focusing on inequality at the longue durée, we describe elite historical dynamics, and in particular their coordination through vast organisational networks and across different sectors over time. We study, over a period of more than a century, how relations between elite groups evolve and how the composition of cross-sectorial elites defined dynamically through elite networks change We use historical data on the case of Switzerland, where elites were historically particularly cohesive, despite the important decentralisation of the country’s political and business organisations and the early internationalisation of its economy.
We focus on the various transformations that Swiss elites witnessed between 1910 and 2015, by investigating the evolution of network cohesion and sectoral bridging of the Swiss elite core. To do so, we build upon a collective prosopographical database on Swiss elites identified through their institutional affiliation to the main sectors of power (companies, business interest associations, politics, state administration, expert committees, unions, academia, other interest associations, and the military generals) on seven historical cohorts of elite networks based on a total of 2,587 institutions and 22,262 elite individuals. We follow a two-step analytical strategy. First, through a slightly modified version of a methodology already used to study Danish elites, we apply to each of the seven networks a k-shells decomposition procedure and identify the core of the network for each year (n: 1910=76, 1937=103, 1957=211, 1980=197, 2000=96, 2010=47 and 2015=49). Second, we investigate the core’s characteristics and are able to establish a typology of elites based on the core’s cohesion and its ability to bridge over sectors
We show how the Swiss elite networks’ core moved from being dominated by a unitary corporate elite following family-based elite reproduction, before World War 2, to an integrated corporatist elite bridging several sectors and involved in educational and professional-based reproduction until the 1980s, before the network core fragmented into a loose group in the 1990s onwards. The core was always dominated by business, but the level of integration and strength of business vis-à-vis other groups differed as challenges to elites changed. At times of crisis to the hegemony of corporate elites, after World War II and right after the 2008 financial crisis, elite circles expanded and became more diverse, including elites with delegated forms of power, such as politicians and unionists, detaining university diplomas and being less prone to elite family ties and transnational connections, with an increasing background in economics (challenging the dominance of lawyers) and later formed of more women.