Norbert Elias

Norbert Elias (born June 22, 1897 in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland); died August 1, 1990 in Amsterdam) was a German sociologist whose work focused on the relationship between power, behavior, emotion, and knowledge over time. He influenced the Figurational Sociology or Process Sociology research traditions within sociology.

His great book, which marked his emergence as a major figure in sociology, was the republication in paperback of The Civilizing Process (Über den Prozess der Zivilisation, published in 1939 but virtually ignored, republished in the 1960s when it was also translated into English). The first volume traced the historical developments of the European habitus, or "second nature," the particular individual psychic structures molded by social attitudes. Elias traced how post-medieval European standards applied to violence, sexual behaviour, bodily functions, table manners and forms of speech were transformed by increasing threshholds of shame and repugnance, working outward from a nucleus in court etiquette. The internalized "self-restraint" imposed by increasingly complex networks of social connections developed the "psychological" self-perceptions that Freud recognized as the "super-ego." The second volume of The Civilizing Process looked into the causes of these processes and found them in the increasingly centralized Early Modern state and the increasingly differentiated and interconnected web of society.

Ironically, Elias' work was published in 1939, the year that the entire structure he described collapsed in a paroxysm of barbarism. When Elias' work found a larger audience in the 1960s, at first his analysis of the process was misunderstood as an extension of discredited "social Darwinism," the idea of upward "progress" and was dismissed by reading it as consecutive history rather than a metaphysic for a social process.

The Quest for excitement, written by Norbert Elias with Eric Dunning, and published in 1996 has proved a seminal work for the sociology of sport, and of football in particular. The Centre for the sociology of sport ( at the University of Leicester, England is host to a number of important sociologists who work on the Elias and Dunning tradition.


Elias was born on June 22, 1897 in Breslau in Silesia to Hermann and Sophie Elias (both of them later on to be murdered at a Nazi concentration camp). His father was a businessman in the textile industry and his mother a homemaker. He fought in the Prussian army during World War I and then completed his Ph.D.. under Richard Hönigswald at the University of Breslau in 1924, then taught at Heidelberg. A Jew, Elias' career was delayed when he fled Nazi Germany in 1933. After two years in Paris, he fled to England where he remained as a refugee for most of his life. Not until 1954 did he again attain a university position, at the Leicester, later atLegon University (Ghana). He began an active retirement in 1962.

Published books in English (+ original title + year(s) published)

  • The Civilising Process (2 vols) (Über den Prozess der Zivilisation) (vol. 1 1978, vol. 2 1982; together: 1994/ German original: 1939)
  • The Established and the Outsiders (1965), see Winston Parva
  • The Court Society (Die höfische Gesellschaft) (1983/ German: 1969)
  • What is Sociology? (Was ist Soziologie?) (1978/ German: 1970)
  • Scientific Establishments and Hierarchies (ed. with others) (1982)
  • The Loneliness of the Dying (Über die Einsamkeit der Sterbenden in unseren Tagen) (1985/ German: 1982)
  • Involvement and Detachment (Engagement und Distanzierung) (1987/ German: 1983)
  • Time: An Essay (Über die Zeit) (1992/ German: 1984)
  • Quest for Excitement (with E. Dunning) (1986)
  • Humana Conditio: Observations on the Development of Mankind Forty Years after the End of Second World War (Humana Conditio: Beobachtungen zur Entwicklung der Menschheit am 40. Jahrestag eines Kriegsendes) (not available in English/ German: 1985)
  • The Society of Individuals (Die Gesellschaft der Individuen) (1991/1987)
  • Fate of People (Los der Menschen) (poetry; not available in English/ German: 1987)
  • The Germans (Studien über die Deutschen) (1996/ German: 1989)
  • The Symbol Theory (1991)
  • Reflections on a Life (Über sich selbst) (1994/ German: 1990)
  • Mozart: Portrait of a Genius (Mozart: zur Soziologie eines Genies) (1993/ German: 1991)
  • The Norbert Elias Reader. A Biographical Selection (ed. J.Goudsblom/S.Mennell) (1998)
  • On Civilization, Power, and Knowledge. Selected Writings (ed. and with an introduction by S.Mennell/J. Goudsblom) (1998)
  • Watteaus Pilgrimage to the Island of Love (Watteaus Pilgerfahrt zur Insel der Liebe) (not available in English/ German: 1998)

This list is only rudimentary. A complete list of ALL works by Norbert Elias, in ALL languages, published and unpublished, as well as many full text items and abstracts can be found at the website HyperElias@WorldCatalogue (


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