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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

Involvement and Detachment

Norbert Elias (author)
Stephen Quilley (author)
Publication date:
23rd February 2007

Author Biography

NORBERT ELIAS (1897-1990) was one of the greatest sociologists of the twentieth century. He studied with Alfred Weber in Heidelberg and served as Karl Mannheim's assistant in Frankfurt. On Hitler's coming to power, he went into exile, first in France and then in Britain. His magnum opus The Civilising Process received little attention when it was published in Switzerland in 1939 and only after Elias's formal retirement in 1962 were most of his other books and essays published. International intellectual celebrity came to him right at the end of his long life. STEPHEN QUILLEY is Senior Lecturer in the School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy at Keele University.


"Involvement and Detachment" is much more than a discussion of 'objectivity' in the social sciences. It is Elias' major exposition of his sociological theory of the growth of knowledge and the sciences as an aspect of overall human social development. The essay 'The fishermen in the maelstrom' takes its title from a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, and is used to illustrate how fears have to be overcome in order for 'reality-adequate' knowledge - necessary to tackle the dangers from which the fears arise - to accumulate. Discussions of rising dangers in international relations show how far the theory of civilising process is from being a model of unilinear 'progress'. Two fragments on 'The great evolution' discuss the long-term development of the various levels of scientific knowledge - physical, biological and social. Originally written in English, it includes various passages omitted from the previous edition.