Janine R. Wedel is a university professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University and a Senior Research Fellow of the New America Foundation.
A new breed of influence elite has emerged over the past several decades. In contrast to the “power elites” described by sociologist C. Wright Mills a half century ago, the muscle of today’s influence elites resides at least as much in social networks as in command-and-control bureaucracy. These novel elites are less visible, less stable, and more mobile and global in reach than their forebears. They hold sway through informal, flexible, and unaccountable means and use consulting firms, think tanks, nonprofits, and “grassroots organizations,” among other entities, as vehicles of influence, not to mention the Internet and social media. Today’s influence elites largely defy democratic oversight. Conventional concepts inadequately capture their modus operandi and roles in contemporary democratic states. Yet these players and their practices are systemic and widespread across at least some global venues and Western democracies in arenas ranging from energy and health care to finance and foreign policy. Understanding how today’s influence elites operate is crucial, both because their practices are far-reaching and because they dominate decisions that affect the entire world.
Janine R. Wedel writes about governing, corruption, foreign aid, and influence elites through the lens of a social anthropologist.
See a TEDx-talk with Janine on shadow elites.
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