Structuring Elite Power: The Role of Formal and Informal Education
D. Michael Lindsay

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Rice University

Primary Discipline

This study examines the importance of formal schooling and informal education in the lives of American elites—the few thousand Americans who make decisions that shape the lives of 300 million people. The project combines the collection of a quantitative dataset on the educational profiles of senior governmental, business, and nonprofit leaders with in-depth interviews where the roles of mentors, formal schooling, and continuing professional education will be examined more fully. Additional analyses will consider how formal and informal education have contributed to elite mobility and influence in various sectors of society. The proposed project will advance our understanding in three interrelated ways. First, it will collect and analyze the most current and extensive dataset yet of American elites (N≈3000), which will allow us to move beyond the current standoff between the monolithic theory of social power, with its image of elites united by education for a cohesive agenda, and the pluralist theory, which regards elites as divided demographically and more open to aspirants because of an educational meritocracy. Second, it will improve the empirical measurement of elite mobility, activity, and influence by coupling information from this dataset with data from in-depth interviews conducted with a sample of the studied individuals (N=75). This will allow us to settle this debate using data—for the first time in a generation— that combines quantitative rigor with qualitative texture. Third, it will lay the groundwork for a larger inquiry on elite networks, upbringing, and motivations, which seeks to revitalize the scientific study of America’s most powerful few.
About D. Michael Lindsay

Pin It on Pinterest