Globalizing Forms of Elite Sociability: How Social and Service Clubs Foster Varied International Experiences

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 7:30 PM
Room: Booth 51
Oral Presentation
Bruno COUSIN , University of Lille 1, France
Sébastien CHAUVIN , Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Drawing from 50 interviews conducted in Paris and Milan, our research examines the expatriation practices, as well as the cultivation of transnational connections, cosmopolitanism and global class consciousness among members of elite social and service clubs: the Jockey, the Nouveau Cercle, The Travellers, the Automobile and the Interalliée in France; the Clubino, the Unione and the Giardino in Italy; and the Rotary, as the main and most selective “service club”, in both countries.

Following two recent articles (2010, 2012) analyzing the multiple ways these institutions manage social capital as individual and collective resources for their members, this paper focus more specifically on international ties. We compare how – according to their respective characteristics – various elite social clubs promote different kinds of bourgeois cosmopolitanism and connections, while differing as a whole from the more recent internationalism of upper-middle class service clubs such as the Rotary. Indeed, such institutional differences have a strong impact on the individual experiences of their members traveling or living abroad.

Each club’s peculiar ethos, practice and representations are related to the features of competing clubs through relations of mutual symbolic distinction; for example, some clubs emphasize the ‘utility’ of links while others prefer to stress their ‘genuineness.’ The varied forms of cosmopolitanism promoted by clubs partly replicate these logics of distinction, eliciting struggles over the authenticity or inauthenticity of transnational connections. Yet clubs also oppose each other according to the unequal emphasis they lay on international ties per se, potentially introducing a competing axiology within the symbolic economy of social capital accumulation.

These oppositions show that while the globalization of the upper class implies an increasing transnational mobility and the international deployment of social networks, these are not strategized homogeneously among the European economic elite, and participate in the drawing of symbolic boundaries between its fractions.