Swethaa Ballakrishnen, For Things to Remain (Sort of) the Same, Everything Must Change India’s First Generation Professional Elites & the Surreptitious Reproduction of Hierarchy, in Mapping the Elite: Power, Privilege, and Inequality (Surinder S. Jodhka &Jules Naudet eds., 2019).
This Chapter aims to locate one newly minted strain of neoliberal elite in India – elite professionals. The literature on elites in India has, for good reason, predominantly focused on political and/or economic elites with a standing assumption of ascription. But with an increasing ideological commitment to the idea of meritocracy (Mehta 2011; Subramanian 2015) and new kinds of global work that valorize it afresh, individual social mobility in India has become an important site of understanding the rejuvenating composition of elites. As other accounts of contemporary elites attest, no such analysis is possible without an introspection of both the individuals that inhabit these elite spaces as well as the circulation networks and structures that reproduce them (Khan 2012; Pareto 1968). Tasked to this end, this research asks: Who are the inhabitants of these new spaces? And, to the extent they are new kinds of inhabitants, what kinds of resources and institutional structures buffer their entry and success? In this unfolding process through the experience of first generation elite professionals, this Chapter attempts to unpack a more latent structural tension between status mobility and stability in the Indian context.