9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS15 Rethinking intergenerational transmission of inequalities

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Changing Patterns of Inequalities Building II, C6.09

The transmission of inequality through a professional group: reflections on the reproduction of the dominant classes in Portugal and in Europe

Over the last decades, European countries went through a process of enlargement of the social basis of recruitment of professional groups which, in a not distant past, worked as closed channels for the reproduction of elites. In Portugal, as in other countries, lawyers are a classic example. Having experienced an extraordinary quantitative growth, in particular in the 1980s and 1990s, this group began to integrate students who, in the past - due to their lower social background -, tended to be excluded from this professional world. Against the verdict suggested by many observers, however, this does not reduce the professional group's power to work as a filter, selecting individuals of privileged origin to reproduce their positions in the social structure. As we turn the analysis not to the inequality of access to the professional group but to its internal hierarchy, we see how it continues to be used by dominant classes as a platform to guarantee the inter-generational preservation of social positions and privileges.
Using the data from a study of the process of transition to work of young law graduates in Portugal, we will show how this selection is explained by the action of mechanisms which are relatively new within the profession, and how, mostly through non-intentional actions, the top positions of the professional hierarchy are appropriated by individuals whose social origin, and the correspondent level of cultural, economic and social capital, locates them in the highest positions in the social structure. On the other hand, we will show how these mechanisms do not only reproduce structural inequalities, but also contribute to cover up this process, as they get to be seen by most people as working according to meritocratic criteria.
Finally, we will argue that these mechanisms work beyond the boundaries of a particular professional group. Reflecting upon the processes of reproduction of dominant classes in contemporary Europe, we will mobilize research data and advance particular hypotheses about the way these mechanisms work and about the scale of their impact, and also the extent to which their role in social reproduction is recognized by European citizens.