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Norbert Elias
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Norbert Elias

Norbert Elias (born June 22, 1897 in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland); died August 1, 1990 in Amsterdam) was a German sociologist whose work focused on the relationship between power, behavior, emotion, and knowledge over time. He influenced the Figurational Sociology or Process Sociology research traditions within sociology.

His great book, which marked his emergence as a major figure in sociology, was the republication in paperback of The Civilizing Process (Über den Prozess der Zivilisation, published in 1939 but virtually ignored, republished in the 1960s when it was also translated into English). The first volume traced the historical developments of the European habitus, or "second nature," the particular individual psychic structures molded by social attitudes. Elias traced how post-medieval European standards applied to violence, sexual behaviour, bodily functions, table manners and forms of speech were transformed by increasing threshholds of shame and repugnance, working outward from a nucleus in court etiquette. The internalized "self-restraint" imposed by increasingly complex networks of social connections developed the "psychological" self-perceptions that Freud recognized as the "super-ego." The second volume of The Civilizing Process looked into the causes of these processes and found them in the increasingly centralized Early Modern state and the increasingly differentiated and interconnected web of society.

Ironically, Elias' work was published in 1939, the year that the entire structure he described collapsed in a paroxysm of barbarism. When Elias' work found a larger audience in the 1960s, at first his analysis of the process was misunderstood as an extension of discredited "social Darwinism," the idea of upward "progress" and was dismissed by reading it as consecutive history rather than a metaphysic for a social process.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Published books in English (+ original title + year(s) published)
3 Sources


Elias was born on June 22, 1897 in Breslau in Silesia to Hermann and Sophie Elias. His father was a businessman in the textile industry and his mother a homemaker. He fought in the Prussian army during World War I and then completed his Ph.D. under Richard Hönigswald at the Johannesgymnasium in Breslau in 1924., then taught at Heidelberg. A Jew, Elias' career was delayed when he fled Nazi Germany in 1933. After two years in Paris, he fled to England where he remained as a refugee for most of his life. Not until 1954 did he again attain a university position, at Leicester. He began an active retirement in 1962.

Published books in English (+ original title + year(s) published)

This list is only rudimentary. A complete list of ALL works by Norbert Elias, in ALL languages, published and unpublished, as well as many full text items and abstracts can be found at the website HyperElias@WorldCatalogue


The Norbert Elias Foundation website

The HyperElias website