Elites in a shrinking space and an expanding state of insecurity

Who then, are the elites? They are those who are generated by dominant rela- tions as the authorities governing various circuits of power. They control the nodal points through which legitimacy flows. Some node occupants are born; others are made; and some succeed on merit. Origins are of diminishing importance in a society of flows that are ever more fluid.

In the circumstances we have sketched, we don’t expect to see the elites disap- pearing too quickly. Their circulation might speed up as they fail to deal with the new threats that the risk society and the heightened state of insecurity offer, but circulatory elites have always been essential to power.26 Existing power holders have a bright future in a world where an ideology of threat and uncertainty per- vades the whole social and organizational sphere as a space of heightened risk, together with powers of simulation with which to anticipate, pre-identify and impression manage these risks. The need to organize risk provides unexpected resources with which to perpetuate social relations of increasingly legitimate dom- ination. Among these resources, the paradoxical power of political powerlessness plays a crucial role. It shapes a curious social world where leading elites are both more and more remote from the grassroots and delivering a compelling discourse about common overwhelming constraints weighing unobtrusively from the top to the basement of the social strata. Consequently, there is a widen- ing gap of social hierarchies, an increasingly oligarchic character to political soci- eties, all oriented to managing overarching threats and constraints upon the whole social body. And in the midst of that landscape there is, in parallel, the growing political apathy of the masses, which tends to privilege individual fates over any sort of collective good, and the growing alienation and estrangement of those elements of them that find fundamental meaning in literal interpretations of ancient texts, whether Koran, Torah, or Bible. The Durkheimian ‘nightmare’ of a vanishing solidarity seems to have taken material form to roam around our lives and worlds.

Contra Beck (2002), risk and individualization do not exhibit their unity as dimensions of the ‘reflexive modernization of industrial society’, when pre-modern identities are corporeally incorporated yet not culturally intermediated. Under such circumstances, individuals are not freed from their unselfconscious immer- sion in traditional group determinations and are not challenged to come to terms with and reflect on their unmediated relation to society. The dimensions of inse- curity and its associated risks cannot be apprehended as problems that are formally constituted in scientific terms. They are not amenable to rational analysis and solution yet they are a new source of conflict and social formation (2002: 99). Obviously, the emergence of a discourse concerning corporate social responsibility and the impor- tance that many organizations now give to sustainability, and the potential that these have to empower new stakeholders, are one way of registering the changing power effects of the risk society (see Benn and Dunphy (2004) for a discussion of democratic scenarios).

The futures of power are indisputably related to the respective influence of the public and private spheres of action over the large array of political circuits we have delineated in this book, including discourses, organizational forms, political regimes, forms of elite fragmentation and cohesion, and the nature of the political performance that future leaders will strive for. All are now oriented to a legitimate need to increase control, tighten power, and restrict access because of the general, non-specific but existentially real risks posed to organizations by the free-floating signifier of terror.

Contemporary conditions largely shape the futures of power. Power as a concept is ‘exploding’ in numerous social meanings; power as a resource is disseminated and concentrated; political agendas are dividing into innocuous local decisions and cardinal centers of power. Agency and sovereignty are progressively modeled in a rejuvenated combination. Political life is founded both on claims to establish sov- ereign centers of power and decision and on scattered and agonistic agencies, whose mediation demands organization.

That soft power now coexists with enhanced harder power arose in response to heightened security threats as the influence of remote and unknown people and collectives increasingly threatened. The most decisive ingredients of political deci- sions now come from nowhere, or from globally disseminated bodies, from hardly delineated competitors, hardly defined networks, hardly graspable claims arousing in distant places – even from places few have ever heard of previously, such as Kandahar. To get the gist of power futures, we must accept the growing dispersion, first, of systems of meanings and, second, of systems of production of meanings among germane actors. Consequently, one of the most fascinating facets of con- temporary and future systems of power is how these dispersions are organized. In addition to the need to incorporate both risk society and the state of uncertainty, the power of contestation, conflict and behind-the-scenes concepts of conscious- ness and resistance, as well as the media of power, require rethinking.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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