Saturday, April 21, 2012

Norbert Elias – The Civilizing Process – Summary and Review - part 1

In his famous "The Civilizing Process" sociologist Norbert Elias presents his perception of western societies have socially constructed the individual's habitus. Though Elias in not a Marxist thinker, his position according to which reality shapes consciousness places him close to Marx. In "The Civilizing Process" Elias describes a prolonged process of structural changes in western society since the Middle Ages and up to modern times which center on changes in the division of labor and the consolidation of political authority and the monopolization of physical power. These processes, according to Elias, have led to increasing mutual dependence in Western societies and have brought about psychological implications such as self-restraint and control that did not exist before. In Freudian terms, Elias speaks of a new "Super-Ego" which evolved in modern times.

According to Elias, monopolization, and especially the monopolization of physical force and violence warranted more self-restraint from both the government and the individual. In "The civilizing Process" Elias talks about "a chain of mutual dependence" which makes people dependent upon each other in order to perform various tasks and achieve their goals. This, according to Elias, explains why societies required more stability, regularity and supervision. Transportation and the development of markets increased human interactions between people who found themselves dependent on each other even without direct contact. This according to Elias has led for the need to coordinate actions and establish the "rules of the game". Playing be the rules meant a growing demand for self restraint.

 Elias describes the advancement of new functions and behavior patterns in the civilizing process of different groups. One of the consequences of these changes is the blurring of class differences. For example labor was usually considered the duty of the lower classes while the higher ones were free from it. In modern western civilization almost everybody works. This process began in Europe and was spread across sees, eventually with the aid of colonialism.

In "The Civilizing Process" Norbert Elias argues that the process of civilization in not linear and consistent. The multiplicity of social groups, as well as the varying and uneven sources of change, have created a variety of social behaviors and formations. However Elias does not see this as a source of legitimate social heterogeneity but rather a different phases in the course of the hegemonic formation of the western habitus. 
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