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CALL FOR ABSTRACTS for the conference “Elite Theory: Philosophical Challenges” – Topoi Conference


Next year (2020), Topoi’s conference will happen at the Nova Institute of Philosophy (IFILNOVA in Lisbon, June 12-13, and will focus on Elite Theory: Philosophical Challenges. Participants will include 4 keynote speakers and other speakers selected through a call for papers. Topoi is an international journal of philosophy published by Springer.


Great attention has been paid, in the last years, to the contraposition between “people” and “elite”, perceived as a fundamental character of the populist discourse. In this context, both “people” and “elite” can be considered as fictions, based on the myth of the univocal will and of the homogeneous interest of two collective bodies. Less attention, however, has been paid to that philosophical tradition which, starting from the last decade of the XIX century, has sought to identify the internal dynamics of “elites” or “ruling classes”. Confronted with profound changes in the political landscape due to the enlargement of the franchise, authors like Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels insisted on the inevitable oligarchic nature of any kind of collective organization, including modern mass parties. Insisting that politics is always a power struggle within the ruling elite, these authors focused their analysis on the unintended political consequences of irrational or non-completely rational behavior, especially by establishing a division between the “rhetoric of legitimation” and “true” motives, which in turn mirrored a more significant and fundamental social division between the ruling class and the ruled (Mosca) or between the élite and the non-élite (Pareto). Political science needs to be based on “the study of the élite, its composition, its structure and the mode of its relation to the non-élite”. The elitist tradition strongly affected the analysis of political phenomena during the XX century, through the development of a “democratic elitism” which interpreted liberal-democratic regimes according to a model of institutionalized competition between ruling elites (Salvemini, Schumpeter). Democratic elitism has been hegemonic in explaining the “third wave” of democratization, after the Second World War, based on the central role of well organized, centralized mass parties. However, this hegemony (and its practical effects) has been recently challenged by theories of deliberative and participatory democracy, which emphasize the direct involvement of citizens in informed processes of collective decision-making. Besides that, the recent wave of “populist studies” has focused its attention particularly on the construction of the myth of “the people”, through polarizations based on social, political or nationalistic elements. 

The aim of this conference is to bring together political philosophers and political scientists to discuss the interpretations of the role of “ruling classes” and “political elites” in the light of contemporary challenges to liberal democracy. We will be looking for papers on themes that include:

  • The debate about popular will and the opposition between people and the elite;
  • Elite theory in the history of political philosophy;
  • The role of political parties in post-liberal democracies;
  • Leaderism, bonapartism and plebiscitary democracy;
  • Circulation of elite and contemporary politics;
  • Direct democracy: the debate on political professionalism and representative democracy;
  • Contemporary challenges to representative democracy;
  • Epistocracy and epistemic democracy.


Deadline: 15 November 2019, at midnight  

Abstracts should be in English and prepared for blind review. They should be emailed to the following address:  Please include your name, affiliation and contact information in the body of the email. Abstracts should not be longer than 500 words and should fall within the broad topics described below.  After the conference, the best papers will be selected for publication on a Topoi special issue.  Verdicts will be communicated by mid-January 2020. 

Keynote Speakers

  • Nadia Urbinati (Columbia University)
  • Albert Wealer (University College London)
  • Andrea Ruggeri (University of Oxford)
  • João Cardoso Rosas (Universidade do Minho)

    For additional information, email

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