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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

The Genesis of the Naval Profession

Norbert Elias (author)
Rene Moelker (author)
Stephen Mennell (author)
Publication date:
19th February 2007

Author Biography

NORBERT ELIAS (1897-1990) was one of the greatest sociologists of the twentieth century. He studied with Alfred Weber in Mannheim and served as Karl Mannheim's assistant in Frankfurt. On Hitler's coming to power, he went into exile. His magnum opus The Civilising Process received little attention when it was published in Switzerland in 1939 and it was only after Elias's formal retirement in 1962 that most of his other books and essays were published. RENE MOELKER is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at The Royal Netherlands Military Academy, Breda; Stephen Mennell is Professor of Sociology at University College Dublin.


The emergence of the professional naval officer was related both to the necessities of naval warfare and to the structure of society on land. Originally warships were manned by two separate sets of commanders - gentleman soldiers skilled in fighting, and 'tarpaulins' of humbler social origin skilled in navigation and the manual skills of sailing. Elias traces the onboard conflicts between them, from Drake's famous insistence that the gentlemen 'haul and draw' with the sailors, to the gradual merging of the two hierarchies by the end of the eighteenth century. The innovation of the midshipmen - boys of gentle birth who both learned the manual skills of the sailor and received the education of a gentleman - gave crucial advantage to the British Royal Navy over the French and Spanish, in which the greater rigidity of social barriers ashore prevented a similar solution afloat. Planned but never completed by Elias, this book has been reconstructed from his mainly unpublished typescripts.