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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.
CONTENTS Norbert Elias, 1897-1990
Note on the text
Introduction (by Norbert Elias)
Problems of involvement and detachment
The fishermen in the maelstrom
Reflections on the great evolution
- two fragments
"Elias's thesis concerning the varying degrees of involvement and detachment in the arts and sciences constitutes his most systematic and comprehensive contribution to the sociology of knowledge."
"In many ways the notes by the editors which preface these volumes can ... be read as biographical illustrations of Elias's own ongoing intellectual meditations on the tensions between involvement and detachment, and with his continuing personal and professional confrontation with the problem of time."
"well worth the dedicated study and patient reflection [it] demand[s] of readers."
Canadian Journal of Sociology 33
"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."
'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