This research program brings together elite studies and civil society studies in order to develop the first systematic and cross-country comparative analysis of civil society elites. This is important because of the significant power inequalities that have been observed within and between civil society organizations and because certain civil society actors have gained significant access to exclusive arenas where societal decision-makers meet for formal and informal deliberations and policy-making. While these trends are frequently discussed they have not been systematically researched. Our focus on elites challenges conventional research on civil society as an arena for citizens’ mobilization and participation. The program moves beyond current elite studies by addressing an elite group previously not studied. Analyzing elites ‘within’ as well as ‘beyond’ civil society, we will study the composition of civil society elites, how they are reproduced, how they become integrated with other elite groups, and by whom, on what grounds and with what effects they are contested. Using an innovative combination of quantitative and qualitative methods we will examine what mechanisms and processes lead to elite consolidation or elite contestations across four European countries (Sweden, Italy, Poland and the UK) as well as on the EU level and the consequences of elites for the roles that civil society is expected to play.