Elias in the Financial Times!

Eric Jones drew my attention to a favourable mention of Elias in an unexpected place. I wrote the following comment to appear in the Figurations newsletter 43, but there wasn’t space for it, so here it is. – SJM

Simon Kuper, ‘Why safety now trumps freedom’, Financial Times, Weekend Magazine, 27–28 June 2015

It’s good to see Elias being cited enthusiastically in the Financial Times. But, when Eric Jones tipped me off about Kuper’s article, from its title I drew the false conclusion that it related to world affairs. Kuper writes about the apparent decline in violent behaviour in many countries, referring not just to Elias but also to ‘one disciple of Elias, the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’ and to Manuel Eisner’s data on trends in homicide. But he uses all this to infer that there has been a generational shift in Western countries from the rather wild generation of the 1960s, preoccupied with ‘freedom’, to ‘a new type of being: the well-behaved teen’. Kuper should have read Cas Wouters!

Of course, Kuper may prove to be right. But in the technical sense in which we use the term, ‘civilising processes’ are slow, fluctuating and reversible – so, to echo Chou En-Lai, it is too early to say.

Kuper does argue, in a neat but over-simple dictum summarising Elias’s argument, that ‘States forced [people] to behave, and growing trade encouraged them to’. (Trade and markets also force people to do certain things – it isn’t just a matter of incentives.) The point I want to make, though, is that the general safety and predictability of everyday life – a diminishing danger of suffering harm or death, whether by violence, famine, disease or whatever – plays an essential part in the development of the greater capacity for habitual self-control that we called ‘civilised behaviour’. It also facilitates the growth of trade, which therefore is not an ‘independent variable’ but one thread in a number of intertwining long-term processes.

So how does this relate to foreign policy? Well, I would argue that the West has consistently underestimated the value of the simple calculability and safety of everyday life, mainly because its leaders take too much for granted something that – by and large – they enjoy for themselves. The other side of this coin is that they ignore (in both the English and French senses of the verb) the whole literature on the social foundations of democracy. In consequence, they choose – for other people – what they think of as ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ over everyday security.

To be more concrete, take the example of Syria. Yes, Assad was (before the outbreak of the civil war) a tyrant, but for most people most of the time only a moderately oppressive tyrant. One had to keep one’s nose clean, but the risk of being killed or bombed out of one’s home was relatively small. This is not to set him on any kind of pedestal (though reflect on the fact that it is not all that many years since he was a guest at Buckingham Palace during a state visit). It is merely to say most Syrians today, I suspect, would gladly go back to the status quo ante, to the lives they lived before the civil war.

It is also to point to another corollary of Elias’s theory, that the unleashing – whether intended or unintended – of the kind of violence, danger and instability that we now see in the Middle East has precisely the consequence of generating lower levels of ‘civilised behaviour’.

This is not to undervalue ‘democracy’. As Elias notes in Studies on the Germans, a democratic political regime is more conducive to producing a ‘civilised habitus’ than a tyrannical and arbitrary one. But that is over and above the need for everyday physical safety.

Stephen Mennell

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CfP: Mass Violence and Emotions in the 20th/21st Centuries

3rd ISA Forum of Sociology: “The Futures We Want: Global Sociology and the Struggles for a Better World” – 10–14 July 2016 – Vienna, Austria

RC48 Social Movements, Collective Actions and Social Change (host committee)

Session Organisers: Ilan LEW, PhD candidate in sociology, Centre d’Analyse et d’Intervention Sociologiques, EHESS, Paris and Helmut KUZMICS, Emeritus  Professor of Sociology, University of Graz, Austria

Language: English

Session Abstract:

In this session, we would like to hear and discuss innovative works which focus on mass violence (Sémelin, 2008) and its aftermaths. We are also interested in the role of the state as a promoter or facilitator or origin of such violence.

Single or comparative analyses of the killings in modern war, of the violent persecution of “enemies” within a state or of terrorist actions on the territory of other states, belong to the category of state-promoted killings.

At least half of the presentations should address subjectivity – that is, the intentions and emotions of the perpetrators. This session is meant for those who primarily take up the challenge of considering how notions, perspectives or analytical tools which originate in various sociological traditions can help us gain further insight into mass violence. Mass violence of the 20th and the 21st centuries and its sociological understanding is the ultimate aim. Presenters can draw on cultural studies, cultural history or political science, provided they can show why sociological approaches do not suffice to explain the phenomena in question.

Reference:

Semelin, J. (2008). « Our scientifical approach » in Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, Paris : CERI-Science Po.
URL: http://www.massviolence.org/Our-scientific-approach

 

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CfP: Civilization, Decivilization, and International Relations – Current Trends

3rd ISA Forum of Sociology: “The Futures We Want: Global Sociology and the Struggles for a Better World” – 10–14 July 2016 – Vienna, Austria
RC 20 Comparative Sociology
Call for papers: Civilization, Decivilization, and International Relations – Current Trends
Session Organizer: Stephen VERTIGANS, Robert Gordon University, United Kingdom, s.vertigans@rgu.ac.uk

Global power figurations have been altered significantly since the end of the “Cold War”, the subsequent decline of America’s cultural, economic and political dominance, and the rise of nations like Brazil, China, India and resurgent Russia.  In this session papers are invited to explore the consequences upon local peoples and international relations. Topics that are anticipated to be discussed include the impact upon social consciousness within communities that are experiencing enhanced national profiles, the fragmentation of the Middle East and the rise of Islamic State, the repercussions of America’s decline within the United States, and what these changes mean for international relationships and in particular different forms of social identification, global security and human rights.

Please submit your abstract (300 words, in English or French) before
30 September 2015, online at: http://www.isa-sociology.org/forum-2016/

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CfP: Can Comparative–Historical Sociology Help to Improve the Workings of the Modern World?

3rd ISA Forum of Sociology: “The Futures We Want: Global Sociology and the Struggles for a Better World” – 10–14 July 2016 – Vienna, Austria

Working Group 02 Historical and Comparative Sociology (host committee)

Call for Papers: In What Ways Can Comparative–Historical Sociology Help to Improve the Workings of the Modern World?

Session Organiser: Stephen Mennell, University College Dublin (Stephen.Mennell@ucd.ie)

Language: English

In its origins, sociology was comparative–historical sociology. It no longer is. In the modern neo-liberal university, money flows to present-centred (or ‘hodiecentric’) research, which politicians, policy-makers and administrators believe to be useful – a belief in which a large proportion of mainstream so-ciologists find it advantageous to share. Both sides may also share the com-mon belief that, because the modern/postmodern/digital/globalised world is changing and so new in character, studying the past is irrelevant: as Henry Ford put it so pithily at a pivotal stage in industrialisation, ‘History is bunk’.

Contemporary data-accumulating research is not without value, but it is not sufficient: contributions are invited reflecting on how sound comparative–historical knowledge of human society has the capacity to improve the hu-man means of orientation and possibly to improve political decision-making.

A few well-known quotations may help to bring this question into focus:

  • ‘To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child’. (Cicero)
  • ‘People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.’ (Edmund Burke)
  • ‘Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ (George Santayana)
  • And finally, Tony Blair, the British politician responsible for some of the most catastrophic decisions of the early twenty-first century, once said – with the advantage of hindsight on his career – that he wished he had read history rather than law at Oxford.

Please submit your abstract (300 words, in English) before 30 September 2015 online at:

http://www.isa-sociology.org/forum-2016/

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CfP: How does historical sociology see Europe?

3rd ISA Forum of Sociology: “The Futures We Want: Global Sociology and the Struggles for a Better World” – 10–14 July 2016 – Vienna, Austria

Host committee: Working Group 02 Historical and Comparative Sociology. For the full list of sessions planned by WG02 at the Vienna Forum, see:

https://isaconf.confex.com/isaconf/forum2016/webprogrampreliminary/Symposium270.html

Call for Papers

How does historical sociology see Europe?/Is historical sociology Eurocentric? : Critical and normative visions of nation building, Euroscepticism and transnationalism

Session organizers (all at Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles (USL-B):

Florence Delmotte (florence.delmotte@usaintlouis.be)

Florence Di Bonaventura (florence.dibonaventura@usaintlouis.be)

Christophe Majastre (christophe.majastre@usaintlouis.be

Language: English and French

From precursors Marx and Tocqueville up to contemporaries like Bartolini (Restructuring Europe, 2005) via classics (Weber, Geertz, Elias, Tilly, Wallerstein or Anderson), long-term historical sociology of the modern political has always had much to do with Europe. Wasn’t the nation state born in Europe after all?

In the twentieth century, historical sociologists, be they comparativists or not, have been seeking to move away from an evolutionism legated by nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’ social theorists Marx and Comte, as well as Spencer or Durkheim. However, historical sociology, even when closer to idiographic approaches rather than to nomothetic sociology, is still often suspected of (at least unintentional) Eurocentrism.

This session proposes to take this challenge seriously by questioning the visions of Europe that stems from classic and contemporary socio-historical analyses. It aims at tackling three issues:

  • Do comparisons between nation(s) state(s) building processes and building processes of a European political entity entail specific normative visions of Europe?
  • How can historical sociology help to understand resistances to European integration (e.g. Euroscepticism)?
  • Does historical and political sociology of the EU propose critical views on trans-nationalisation processes at work after 1945?

The session is also open to theoretical issues as such:

  • Can/should historical sociology of Europe avoid/integrate comparison?
  • Does the legacy of classics in contemporary figures of historical sociology entail particular visions about the future of European societies?
  • Finally, what can we learn from the entangled relations between historical sociology, history and political philosophy?

Please submit your abstract (300 words, in English or French) before 30 September 2015

on line http://www.isa-sociology.org/forum-2016/

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CfP: Norbert Elias and Violence

Call for papers

Norbert Elias and Violence

Edited by: Tatiana Savoia Landini (Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo, Brazil) and Francois Dépelteau (Laurentian University, Canada)

To be published by Palgrave Macmillan

In 2013 and 2014, we launched the books Norbert Elias and Social Theory and Norbert Elias and Empirical Research. In the first one, we published texts comparing Norbert Elias to many important authors (Epicurus, Freud, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simmel, Mannheim, Fromm, Arendt, Bauman and Bourdieu) and, on the second one, many important topics were analyzed by using Elias´s framework (such as literature, capital punishment, prisons, sexual violence, life and death, court, State Formation, relations between the sexes and sports).

In this new book we aim to focus on an important issue on Elias´s oeuvre: violence. The topic of violence permeates most of his books, with more or less emphases. Nevertheless, this topic is also very controversial in his writings. For his critics, Elias didn´t give enough attention to an issue that plays such an important role on modern societies and its formation. By focusing on pacification as an important direction of the civilizing process, Elias would have missed key aspects of this same civilizing process, such as violent processes of colonization, development of mass murder weapons to be used in wars between and within states, and so on. Readers sympathetic to his work, on the other hand, reinforce the key role played by violence during State formation processes, the possibility of decivilizing processes or spurts, change in the balance between external constrain towards self-constrain, etc.

Violence is not presented in any definitive way in Elias´s books, thus opening the door to many interpretations and debates. State Formation, directions of the civilizing processes, decivilizing processes, pacification, spurts of violence, war and aggression as a human condition, etc., are all topics related to violence that Elias discusses in his many books and that still need to be more debated and clarified.

We welcome texts that analyze any of the above topics, or others related to violence on Elias´s oeuvre. We also welcome texts that used Elias´s framework to discuss any kind of violence or national situation in our contemporary world. As Elias used to state, theory and empirical research cannot be separated. Our final goal is to present texts that bring interesting light on the topic of violence through Elias´s eyes.

We welcome contributions from all the disciplines. Texts should written in English and be limited to 20 pages (Times New Roman 12, double space), including bibliography.

Deadline for receiving the texts: 20 September 2015

Please submit your text by email (on Word) to:

Tatiana Savoia Landini (tatalan@uol.com.br)

François Dépelteau (fdepelteau@laurentian.ca)

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Farhad Dalal on CBT: The Cognitive Behavioural Tsunami

Blog subscribers who are interested in Group Analysis, of which Elias was one of the founders, may be interested in this talk to be given in Exeter by Farhad Dalal on 1 July:

“This is Madness” has invited Farhad Dalal to speak about “CBT: The Cognitive Behavioural Tsunami”

Abstract: The form of therapy currently provided by the ‘mental health’ system is mostly short term CBT, because, it is said, it is the only therapy that has evidence to prove its effectiveness . In this talk I will describe how and why this situation has come about, question the evidence for effectiveness of CBT, to argue that this way of ‘treating’ emotional distress not only misses the point, but often makes matters worse.

There will be time for questions/discussion within the talk.

Farhad Dalal has been a practicing psychotherapist (individual and group) for about thirty years. He works in Totnes and Exeter. Author of: Taking the Group Seriously; Race, Colour and the Processes of Racialization; and Thought Paralysis: The Virtues of Discrimination.

Links: www.devonpsychotherapy.org.uk ; www.dalal.org.uk ; www.limbus.org.uk/cbt

Time and place

Wednesday 1st July 2015

Talk: 7pm prompt start until 8.45pm

Doors open 6.30pm for a cup of tea, chat and looking at information tables

Exeter Palace Gate Centre, 3 Palace Gate, Exeter, EX1 1JA

Donations: £5 (suggested) or what you can afford

All welcome

“This is Madness” is creating a public forum where we can explore alternatives, attitudes and power within mental health and our society.

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Seminar: ‘Norbert Elias, Childhood and Education’, Copenhagen 13-14 August 2015

The main part of the seminar will consist of paper presentations in order to give us all a solid knowledge of how each of us draws on Elias’s work in our studies of childhood, education and related issues. This will give a good starting point for discussing the analytical impact of an Eliasian approach to this subfield and for discussing our possibilities for further collaborations (joint applications, publications, seminars, etc.). To enable us to make the program we will ask participants to send us a title and a short description of your empirical material and analytical approach by 4 June.

If you plan to attend and have not already done so, please confirm your participation by the same date, 4 June, to Laura Gilliam at lagi@edu.au.dk.

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The Medieval Housebook and Elias’s ‘Scenes from the Life of a Knight’:

The first e-book offered by the Norbert Elias Foundation is now available to download for free online from the main website.

http://www.norberteliasfoundation.nl/network/essays.php

The Medieval Housebook and Elias’s ‘Scenes from the Life of a Knight’: A case study fit for purpose?

Patrick Murphy

Abstract

Norbert Elias, with the subsequent explicit or implicit support of a number of figurational sociologists, placed considerable emphasis on the contribution that his case study ‘Scenes from the Life of a Knight’ made towards underpinning his explanation of the transition from the figuration in which the traditional knightly class held sway to the one dominated by court societies. This movement is a central dimension of his broader civilizing thesis. His case study is almost entirely dependent on his interpretation of a selection of drawings taken from The Medieval Housebook. In this monograph I attempt to re-assess the extent to which the assumptions he made about the housebook stand up to scrutiny. In the process, among other things, I will become involved in an examination of the manuscript’s provenance and the debate over artistic attribution. The resultant findings lead me to conclude that Elias’s analysis was based on dubious premises. It was an exercise fuelled more by a desire to sustain his argument than an attempt to test the reality-congruence of his thesis. These findings certainly have negative implications for the degree of detachment he sometimes brought to his research and may have some implications for his broader civilizing thesis. An unintended consequence of embarking on this re-appraisal of Elias’s case study is that it led me to become embroiled in an assessment of the housebook drawings. This in turn led me to form interpretations of a number of the drawings which differ in many respects from the prevailing ones in the art world.

The motive behind criticism often determines its validity. Those who care criticize where necessary. Those who envy criticize the moment they think that they have found a weak spot.’
( Jamie Criss Killosophy 2015).

I fervently hope that this monograph and my work in general fall into the former category.

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Social character and historical processes: a conference in honour of Stephen Mennell

On 7-8 January 2016, the School of Sociology, UCD, will hold a conference to honour the major contribution that Stephen Mennell has made to the discipline of sociology. Stephen who is now Emeritus, was a Professor at UCD from 1993 to 2009 and during those 16 years made a remarkable contribution to the academic and social life of the School. More recently he has spent almost a decade overseeing the publication of Norbert Elias’s Collected Works.

This conference aims to recognize and reflect on his important work, which includes numerous books and articles. In line with his prodigious output, the conference, as well as including sessions on all aspects of the work of Elias, will have panels on America and on food and eating.

It is hoped that there will be no conference fee. And while we will provide assistance, participants will be expected to cover their own travel and accommodation costs.

If you are interested in attending the conference and/or wish to give a paper please contact either Steven Loyal (Steven.Loyal@ucd.ie) or Tom Inglis (Tom.Inglis@ucd.ie) as soon as possible.

 

 

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