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Theoretical Interpretations of Elite Change in East Central Europe

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

Elite theory enjoyed a remarkable revival in Central and Eastern Europe, and also in international social science research, during the 1990s. Many researchers coming from different schools of thought turned to the analysis of rapid political and social changes and ended up doing centered research. Since democratic transition and elite transformation seemed to be parallel processes, it was understandable that sociologists and political scientists of the region started to use elite theory. The idea of "third wave" of democratization advanced a reduced, more synthetic, "exportable" understanding of democracy in the political science literature. The main focus of social sciences shifted from structures to actors, from path dependency to institutional choices. Transitions, roundtable negotiations, institution-building, constitution-making, compromise-seeking, pactmaking, pact-breaking, strategic choices — all of these underlined the importance of elites and research on them. Elite settlements were seen as alternatives of social revolution. According to a widely shared view democratic institutions came into existence through negotiations and compromises among political elites calculating their own interests and desires. The elite settlement approach was then followed by some important contributions in transitology which described the process of regime change largely as "elite games." By offering a systematic overview of the theoretical interpretations of elite change from New Class theory to recent theorizing of elite change (conversion of capital, reproduction, circulation, political capitalism, technocratic continuity, three elites and the like), the paper also gives an account of the state of the arts in elite studies in different new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe.


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