Pathways to power: class, hyper-agency and the French corporate elite

Mairi Maclean, Charles Harvey, Gerhard Kling

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This paper explores pathways to power from the perspective of the French corporate elite. It compares those who enter the 'field of power' with those who fail to reach this final tier. Adopting an innovative econometric approach, we develop and test three hypotheses. These underline the pivotal role of external networks and the strategic advantage of hyper-agency in maintaining power; and indicate that social origin remains a powerful driver in determining success. Birthright and meritocracy emerge as two competing institutional logics which influence life chances. Higher-status agents benefit from mutual recognition which enhances their likelihood of co-option to the extra-corporate networks that facilitate hyper-agency. The objectification of class-based differences conceals their arbitrary nature while institutionalizing the principles informing stratification. We re-connect class analysis with organizational theory, arguing that social origin exerts an enduring influence on selection dynamics which inform processes of hierarchical reproduction in the corporate elite and society at large.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)825-855
Number of pages31
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number6
Early online date22 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • Bourdieu
  • elite careers
  • field of power
  • French corporate elite
  • hyper-agency
  • institutional logics
  • social class
  • social mobility


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