NORBERT ELIAS (1897-1990) was one of the greatest sociologists of the twentieth century. He studied in Breslau and Heidelberg and served as Karl Mannheim's assistant in Frankfurt. In exile after 1933, first in France and then in Britain, he wrote his magnum opus The Civilizing Process. At its ill-timed publication in 1939, it received little note. Only after his formal retirement in 1962 was the book reissued in German and translated into many other languages. That, and a flood of other books and essays, made him an international intellectual celebrity towards the end of his long life. His whole oeuvre is now appearing in new scholarly editions in the Collected Works in English. ROBERT VAN KRIEKEN is Professor of Sociology at University College Dublin.
Philosophers and social scientists have for decades - centuries even - tied themselves in knots over the supposed problem of 'individual' versus 'society', and its offshoots such as 'agency' and 'structure'. Elias shows the falsity of problem, which ought to be easily resolved by thinking in terms of processes extending over the generations - though in practice the baleful influence of philosophy leads to its constant resurrection. "The Society of Individuals" consists of three essays, the first written in 1939, the second dating from the 1940s and 1950s, and the third a final reflection composed in 1987 only three years before Elias' death. In each, Elias takes the discussion to a new level, demonstrating that individualisation is an inherent component of the personal socialisation process and of inter-generational civilising processes, exploding the myth of the 'We-less ego', and introducing important conceptual innovations, including 'I-identity' versus 'We-identity' and the 'We-I balance'.
Norbert Elias (1897-1990)
Note on the text
- The Society of Individuals (1939)
- Problems of self-consciousness and the image of man (1940s-1950s)
- Wishful and fearful self-images of humans as individuals and of society
The thinking statues individualisation in the social process
- Changes in the we-I balance (1987)
- Rainer Maria Rilke, 'The Book of Pilgrimage'
- Two poems by Goethe
- Power struggles and the concepts of 'state' and 'society'
- Migration and the conflict of generations
‘The enterprise of publishing the collected works of Norbert Elias under the editorship of Richard Kilminster and Stephen Mennell by University College Dublin Press is an extremely important contribution to the contemporary intellectual and academic scene. Norbert Elias was one of the most original minds in the human and social sciences in the 20th century – his work covers not only a very broad range of sociological topics starting with his classical The Civilising Process and later The Court Society, but also many topics ranging from sociology of knowledge to sociology of sport and analysis of historical processes; the broad philosophical problems, such as the idea of the place of the progress of symbolic dimensions in social life. This is really a monumental enterprise, very worthwhile and very constructive, presenting a great challenge to the contemporary intellectual and academic scene – and UCD Press should be congratulated in undertaking this enterprise.’
S. N. Eisenstadt
Jerusalem, 24 July 2008
‘Too easily the editors and readers of Books Ireland take it as given that Irish publishers’ books are mostly about Ireland or by Irish writers. We wish it were not so because we think our publishers are of world class, and a shining exception and exemplar is this series of eighteen volumes of the life’s work in English – some of his work was written in German – of Elias (1897–1990) whose major theme was the theory of civilising processes … Norbert is very interesting on the subject as well as on the dynamics of sports, social (and especially male) bonding, violence and football hooliganism. These books are in the very best tradition of design, with acid-free paper, sewn bindings, cloth boards, coloured endpapers, spine labels and acetate jackets.’
‘monumental series of the writings of Norbert Elias, regarded as one of the outstanding European thinkers and sociologists of the twentieth century … The books are handsomely produced in decent uniform bindings, each with an introductory essay and notes on the text.’
'The Collected Works of Norbert Elias that is being published by University College Dublin Press. Eighteen volumes are planned. The production is exemplary, from binding and paper quality through the editorial care. Earlier translations have been corrected and changes noted; editors’ notes explain circumstances within which Elias wrote and clarify references he makes to lesser known authors and contemporary events.'
Canadian Journal of Sociology 35(4) 2010
Read Stephen Mennell being interviewed about Norbert Elias
in Sociologica, 2014
Read the January 2015 newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation
Norbert Elias died on 1 August 1990.
To mark the twentieth anniversary, the German radio station WDR3
(Westdeutscher Rundfunk 3. Programm) broadcast a fifteen
-minute programme in its daily ZeitZeichen series
You can find out more information about Elias by visiting the Norbert Elias Foundation website