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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523. Norbert Elias 1897-1990. Modernity and Social Theory SO3523. Elias’s Biography: Jewish middle class background – conscripted during WWI

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modernity and social theory so35232
Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Elias’s Biography:
  • Jewish middle class background – conscripted during WWI
  • Heidelberg 1925-29: Key centre for European sociology at the time. Elias worked in an unofficial capacity under Mannheim.
  • Frankfurt 1930-33: Worked as Mannheim’s Assistant
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523

Paris 1933-34: Worked selling wooden toys

London 1935-53: Wrote The Civilising Process Vols. 1 & 2 – Death of Elias’s parents and sister in Nazi Germany.

Leicester 1954 - 62 Lectureship

Ghana 1962 – 75 Professorship

1975 – 90 Amsterdam & Bielfield

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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • The Influence of Freud

‘…probably Freud’s ideas had a greater influence on my thinking than those pf any theoretical sociologist’

  • ‘Civilization & It’s Discontents’
modernity and social theory so35235
Modernity and Social Theory SO3523

1) Opposition between human ‘instinct’ and social requirements.

2) Psychic life changes historically. In western society this is characterised by increasing restraint over time. Childhood socialization reproduces this process in ‘reduced’ form.

3) Human desire to fulfil its strongest wishes leads to the embracing of religion, myths and ideologies

modernity and social theory so35236
Modernity and Social Theory SO3523

Other Key Influences:

Horkheimer: social science should be interdisciplinary - societies are ‘psychologically co-determined’.

SI (Mead, Cooley, Blumer etc.): Social life as a process.

MacIver: Social life must be understood ‘genetically’ by studying its historical development rather then merely its current state.

Huizinga: Work on the middle ages and its people heavily influenced Elias’s key works on ‘Civilization’.

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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Theory Building:
  • Elias paid little attention to the work of other sociologists in formulating his own ideas.
  • He believed that sociology needed a new conceptual framework that transcended the structure/ agency problem
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Individual & Society: A False Opposition?
  • ‘Homo Clausus’ and Interdependency
  • Social Habitus – personality formed in interaction with others. (see Bourdieu)
  • Psychogenesis & Sociogenesis
  • Society: Neither merely a collectivity of individuals nor a system existing beyond individuals, but a ‘network of interdependencies formed by individuals’ (Elias, 1994 [1939]).
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Elias on Social Order:
  • ‘The social life of people in societies always has, even in chaos or degeneration, in the greatest social disorder, a very particular form’ (Elias, in Schäfers (ed), 1986)
  • Emergence: Social interaction produces an order ‘sui generis’, independent of the will of the individuals who comprise a particular society.
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Key elements of Elias’s Approach
  • 1) Social life is the unintended outcome of intentional human action and interaction.
  • 2) Humans form interdependent figurations linking the psychological to the social.
  • 3) Sociology should focus on relations.
  • 4) Sociology should focus on change and development rather than static structures.
  • 5) Sociology’s role is to understand the ‘real’ world and how it might be improved

(van Krieken, 1998)

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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523

Process Sociology:

Interaction, Interdependency, power and domination – central to all human relationships

Evolution and Social Process

Structure, System and Reification

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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • The Civilizing Process Vol. 1: ‘The History of Manners’
  • A Historical Account of Western Psychological Development: The Moulding of ‘Instinct’
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Courtly Manners, Distinction & Social Advantage: ‘A man who knows the court is a master of his gestures, of his eyes and of his face; he is profound, impenetrable; he dissimulates bad offices, smiles at his enemies, controls his irritation, disguises his passions, belies his heart, speaks and acts against his feelings’ (La Bruyère).
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Emotion & Rationality
  • The favouring of long term goals over immediate emotional satisfaction
  • Courtly Rationality (Symbolic) & Bourgeois Rationality (Economic) (see Weber, Bourdieu)
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523

Lecture 2

  • The Civilizing Process Vol 1:
  • Habit & Disgust: External Constraint Becomes Internalized to produce Automatic Self Restraint
  • Bodily Matters
  • Rationalizing of Interpersonal Violence
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • The Contemporary Court?
  • Business Etiquette & Organizational Cultures
  • Office Politics & Courtly Machinations
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Civilising Process Vol 2: State Formation
  • Civilization at the Macro Level
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • The ‘Monopoly Mechanism’:

Some small interdependent social units within a larger collective, through ongoing competition, will gain greater opportunities that allow them to eliminate others on an escalating basis.

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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • The ‘Royal Mechanism’:

Central authorities who can locate themselves between mutually fearful competing interests, where the latter can neither cooperate or win out against each other, tend to retain the balance of power.

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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • The Rise of States and The Monopoly of Violence
  • European Nationhood
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Civilizing Process & State Formation:
  • Economy
  • Extended Markets
  • Division of Labour
  • Monetization
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Civilizing Process & State Formation:
  • Functional Democratization
  • The Spread of the Franchise
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Civilization v ‘Barbarism’:
  • Ethnocentric?
  • The Consciousness Of Western Superiority
  • Colonialism: European Empire to the PNAC (Project for the New American Century)
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Civilization & De-civilization?
  • The Mechanization of War
  • ‘The Germans’ & National Socialism
  • Stanley Milgram
  • ‘The Bomb’
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • The ’60’s Onwards & The Sexual Revolution: Controlled De-control?
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • The Present: ‘Late Barbarians’?
  • The Mass Media & ‘Decivilization’?
  • The Blurring of the Public & Private
  • Vicarious Experience
  • De-civilization or ‘Mimesis’?
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Mimesis, De-civilization, Sport & Hooliganism (Dunning et al)
  • Violent Crime
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • Civilized Elites?
  • Global Conflict, Warfare & Terrorism:
  • The War on Terror & ‘The Clash of Civilizations’
  • Conflict, International Law & ‘Civilized’ Codes of Conduct
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Modernity and Social Theory SO3523
  • A Global Civil Society? (Keane)