Posted: September 3rd, 2013
Norbert Elias was born on June 22, 1897 in Breslau (Wrocław) in Silesia. He was a renowned sociologist who mainly focused on the existing relationship between power, behavioral patterns, emotions and knowledge when the factor of time comes into place. His fathers name was Hermann and the mother was Sophie Elias. The father worked in the textile industry while the mother was mainly a stay at home mother. This was common in many families at the time. He successfully passed the Abitur, which is a secondary final year examination, in the year 1915. He volunteered to the state in the First World War in the same year. The state deployed him as a telegrapher, first at the eastern then later at the western front. However, this was short lived after being declared unfit for service after suffering a nervous breakdown in the year 1917.
This led him to taking up courses in the fields of philosophy, psychology and medicine at the University of Breslau. He also spent a semester at the universities of Heidelberg where he was lectured by Karl Jaspers and at the universities of Freiburg in the years 1919 and 1920. Hyperinflation led him to taking up a job at the export department in a local hardware factory to finance his studies in the year 1922. He later graduated with a doctoral dissertation in the year 1924 in philosophy. The dissertation was called “Ideas and individual” and was supervised by Richard Hönigswald, who was an agent of Neo-Kantianism.
At the University of Breslau, he was actively involved with the German Zionist Movement. In the year1925, he was considered a candidate for Habilitation by Alfred Weber concerning the development of modern science. What is considered his greatest book is was the republication in paperback of The Civilizing Process that was published in 1939. This publication was originally ignored. This book was republished in the year 1962 when the book was also translated in English.
Ironically, his work was published in the year 1939. The entire structure that he had outlined tumbled down in a paroxysm of barbarism this same year. His work was to gain popularity later in the 1960’s with the audience failing to misinterpret it as an extension of discredited social Darwinism. This is regards to the notion of upward development and thereby being dismissed because it was misinterpreted as a consecutive history as opposed to a metaphysic for a social process. He died on 1 August 1990 at the age of 93 years.
Elias just like his predecessor Weber, was mainly interested in the field of sociology, he mainly focused in trying to bridge the apparent gap between macro and micro sociology. His specific area of interest was how structural and individual personalities relate with one another in social dynamism. Elias also concentrates on the civilization process in his attempt to subsume rationalization in a way that is all-inclusive and contains the ever-stricter management of impulses, drives and emotions. He researches on personal shame and mortification pertaining to the human’s inherent animal nature. These animalistic aspects of the human being are set behind the scenes of social life.
He is also interested in the existence of a historical sociology that takes into account the notion of long-term social processes. This is in contrast to many of the 19th century theorists, a sociology that is value-free, one that fails to perplex sociological description and forecasting with the principles, ideologies, belief or desires of the investigator. With this regard, the social sciences tend develop ideas that are more realistic concerning human civilizations and behavioral aspects. This slowly bring into disrepute fantasy and ideology thereby bringing about a realistic contribution to social practice.
In his early work, Norbert Elias did not out rightly describe himself as a philosophic neo-Kantian, although the sympathetic references are evidenced by anyone who insightfully analyzes his work. His theoretical strategy could be considered as primarily neo-Kantian attempting to argue that confusions of historical and sociological methods have come about mainly because there exists a limitation to establish a difference between three different levels of social processes.
He is primarily focused on Functionalism, or structural functionalism whereby social systems are primarily complex systems that comprise of interrelated and independent parts. The differential aspects of a society are dependent on each other and therefore tend to influence each other. These distinct parts play specific roles in the wholesome contribution of the entire body. Elias conception of sociology is that the subject should examine patterns of ‘figurations’ always. This is to be undertaken when these are taking place in time and in consideration of complex relationships ((Elias, 56).
He also takes up a conflict approach whereby he contrasts sociology with scientific methods that are at times misplaced in the examination of social sciences that tend to pursue causal factors, or chains articulated as laws that tend to assume constancy and time-reversibility. According to Elias, ‘figurations’ refer to outlines of personality associations, development or therapeutic association through which psychoanalytic illustrations are focused upon. According to him, psychoanalysis is ‘figurational’ in terms of character and antithetical. This is in accordance to a given abstract and static scientism in educational psychology.
Elias’s theory is mainly propelled by change and the “monopoly mechanism”. This machine is founded on the enlargement and centralization of management models that parallels his bureaucratization process. He takes the strategy of being a strong advocate of value-free sociology. He criticizes of various 19th century theorists as he faults their failure to separate their sociology from their ideology, ambitions and class interest.
He continuously emphasized that that sociological analysis should primarily serve to improve the capacity for collective management over human social relations. By taking up a neo-Kantian theoretical strategy, he sought to determine the irreversible a priori groupings of thought obligatory to any social scientific knowledge. He did not primarily focus on ascertaining a unifying conceptual model for sociology but the fundamental unifying scheme.
Norbert Elias also adopts a Weberian theoretical strategy in the formulation of his theories. The underlying concept behind his “civilization process” is essentially Weberian in nature. In this theory, personality and social models dynamics similar to individual personality models that tend to result in further change in the social models. He argues that humans are adjusted by both nature and nurture to exist in harmony and interdependent relationship with their surroundings. This interdependence, referred to as “figurations”, enable individuals to define the self and the world. These individuals gratify their desires and design their thoughts and actions.
Norbert Elias is considered to have made invaluable contributions to the human society through his research findings. He made great contribution in distinguishing science from non-scientific thought through the development of a relationship with the physical world. He showed how science acts as a filter for the accumulated sea of knowledge that is usually analyzed and replicated by various individuals (Elias, 79).
In advancing his civilization, theory it can be stated that the apparent changes evidenced in the current civilization is mainly due to scientific development especially in the realm on information technology through the dissemination of information. Norbert Elias theorized that humans are oriented by nature and nurture to survive in harmony and interdependent association with the surrounding societies. With this idea it can be further stated that the dynamism exhibited by the current cultures is mainly because of the increasing interactions between the world societies assisted by the presence of advanced technology such as the internet, television and radio.
This increasing global interdependence and interrelationships through culture, people and economic aspects of the society are mainly referred to as globalization. As an example, we are now finding African cultures especially in the urban centers adopting similar cultures evidenced in the western countries. For instance, hip-hop culture is now adopted in many of the African states especially in the urban centers. This dynamism in terms of culture and behavioral aspects has been mainly triggered by technological advances in information technology. These people are in constant interaction with their western counterparts through television programs, radio, and more recently social networks such as twitter and facebook. These increased interactions have highly facilitated the increased changes in terms of culture and economic activities.
Technological advances have facilitated the rapid spread of information across the world whereby societies are now adopting a broader perspective as opposed to latter periods whereby insight was restricted to the local region. For instance, societies in the Middle East have in the past tolerated dictatorships as a form of rule simply because all the surrounding regions depicted similar aspects. However, the advances in technology lead them to perceive other nations in the world that have adopted different forms of ruler ship. Consequently this led them to contrast between the two and of course found out that democratic forms of government were much better than dictatorial. This has led them to reject dictatorial forms of government and by using the same technology; nations such as Tunisia and Egypt successfully ousted their oppressive regimes using twitter and facebook.
The sharing of information has also led to the changing of cultures and behavior in many societies. Homosexuality is one aspect of social behavior that has been out rightly abhorred by many of the world societies especially in Africa and the Arab states. However, interdependence and interaction between various societies of the world especially the western ones have led to the traditional societies to adopt various aspects of the west. This is evidenced in nations such as South Africa that have now legalized the institution of marriage between homosexuals. It could be argued that if social interaction and interdependence were absent, then societies would rarely change in terms of behavior, emotions and wishes. With this respect, dynamism within world civilization is increased considerable through technological advances in the realms of cable media, radio and internet social networking. By perceiving what other societies either abhor what they see or are amused. In case of the latter, the society will often emulate the society in question. This has been evidenced in nations such as Tunisia, Egypt and South Africa.
Elias Norbert. Postscript. In N. Elias, The Civilizing Process (pp. 449-483). Malden: Blackwell Publishing. 1968/2000. Print.
Elias, Norbert. What is Sociology? New York: Columbia University. 1970/1978. Print.
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