Pathways to Power: Class, Hyper-Agency and the French Corporate Elite

Mairi Maclean*, Charles Harvey, Gerhard Kling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


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

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements The authors gratefully acknowledge the insightful comments of John Sillince and members of the SOS Research Group based at the Newcastle University Business School, which helped to improve this paper. We also wish to express our gratitude to the Editor-in-Chief, David Courpasson, and three anonymous Organization Studies reviewers for their thoughtful and perceptive comments which helped us to strengthen our ideas further.

Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.


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


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