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This article focuses on the processes that facilitate access to elite positions by students from upper-class backgrounds and limit the upward mobility of other social groups. The main arguments are based on Ralph Turner’s theoretical framework, which distinguishes two ideal typical modes of upward mobility through schooling: contest mobility and sponsored mobility. The article comprises two sections. The first one presents Turner’s typology and the adaptations deemed necessary to take into account changes in educational systems and sociological interpretations and to make it relevant for the study of the French case. The second one uses the concepts of competition and sponsorship to analyse guidance for access to higher education in elite secondary schools and procedures to sort applicants to public and private preparatory classes leading to the Grandes écoles. The analyses are based on findings from an ethnographic study on the selection and socialisation of educational elites.


  • Elites
  • Competition
  • Sponsorship
  • Guidance
  • Selection
  • Secondary Education
  • Higher Education
Agnès van Zanten
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