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 Planned but never completed by Elias, this book has been reconstructed from his mainly unpublished typescripts.
Norbert Elias, 1897-1990
Norbert Elias (1897-1990)
- Elias's Studies of the Naval Profession by Rene Moelker and Stephen Mennell
Gentlemen and Tarpaulins
Tensions and Conflicts
The Development of the Midshipman
Achieving Maritime Supremacy
- The Growing Costs of the Naval Establishment
- Elizabeth and Cromwell Compared
The Last Act
- Elias's Scenario For a Play about Drake and Doughty
“It is a finely designed and produced volume, with a jacket which reproduces a touching Copley portrait of an archetypal late-eighteenth-century midshipman…”
“Elias’s analysis of the genesis of the naval profession is a clear illustration of the main principles and concepts developed by this atypical sociologist … this book helps to improve our knowledge about Elias’s approach … Many … will take pleasure in stories such as the dramatic struggles between Drake and Doughty.”
Canadian Journal of Sociology
“The Genesis of the Naval Profession is a fascinating account of the development of the English naval profession that illustrates the importance of status based conflict and negotiation … Elias’s emphasis on the importance of status conflict in understanding the development of societal institutions is an important contribution that should not be ignored. [This book] should be of great interest to scholars in military sociology, occupations and professions, and stratification. I found the book to be short, but fascinating.”
click here for full review
Contemporary Sociology 37, 3
“In this small volume, Moelker and Mennell have compiled a strong reflection of the brilliant work of sociologist Elias that illuminates class distinctions within England beginning in the 16th century and how two dramatically different segments of the population eventually merged towards the development of naval officers and the naval profession in England. Beyond the restraints of bureaucracy, political structure, and reliance on nautical skills, Elias notes that, as an island country, England had to develop an effective navy to maintain an empire status … Elias’s sociology is a rich addition to the literature of stratification, military scholarship, conflict sociology, and understanding the concept of institutional development.”
J. Stanley, Towson University
May 2008 Vol. 45 No. 09
“This is a lovely book. The quality and texture of the pages, the beautiful typesetting, the relatively obscure and antiquated subject matter, and the enigmatic yet renowned author make it the kind of object that can be deeply appreciated by the bibliophile and the sociologist … very little work has been done on life aboard ships, although it is a remarkable little microcosm with strong structural constraints that has played an exceptionally important role in world history. This volume makes a large contribution to that literature. It will also be of interest to sociologists of professions, military sociologists, and social theorists who wish to make a comprehensive study of Elias.”
American Journal of Sociology Vol 113 No 6
“The book works at two levels, as a study of social progress through group/class conflict, and as a historically-based enquiry into a unique profession. It offers a potent stimulus for historians working on societies, social groups and development … This may be only a fragment of a book but it remains a profound, perceptive contribution to our understanding of the interaction between navies, nations and the modern world.”
The English Historical Review CXXIII: 756–757
“it is indeed a gem – a very interesting and intriguing document.”
S. N. Eisenstadt
Jerusalem, July 2008
"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."
Sociologica: click here for link to review
University of Bologna
Sociologica – Italian Journal of Sociology online
'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