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Elite is another of those concepts (like culture or identity) which has a busy life in everyday conversation and a more specialised one in the technical vocabulary of sociology. Translated literally from the French, it simply means ‘chosen’ or ‘elected’ but even the latter term may be ambiguous, as when we refer to ‘the elect’ as meaning an exclusive group somehow set over or above others, as opposed to those elected to a social office by the familiar methods of democratic voting.

Certainly ‘elites’ are those groups commonly recognised as set apart and above other people by virtue of certain talents (for example, sporting elites), or by certain attributes (the beautiful people), or – more usually in social analysis – by the possession of the ...

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