Andrew Abbott: Processual Sociology

The prominent and outstanding American sociologist Andrew Abbott – who is, among other things Editor of the American Journal of Sociology – recently published a book entitled Processual Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). Like his earlier book Time Matters: On Theory and Method (2001), Processual Sociology is a collection of essays, but a more systematic exposition of his views, The Social Process, is foreseen. These writings are plainly important and deserve the close attention of those of us who follow in Norbert Elias’s footsteps on the path of ‘figurational’ or ‘process sociology’. And indeed Abbott would appear to be at least a fellow-traveller of ours.

Yet, astonishingly, Abbott makes not a single reference to Elias. It would seem that Elias’s work remains more or less invisible to American sociologists. Almost all references to his work by Americans are solely to On the Process of Civilisation, and even then almost entirely to the (original) first volume, from which they mistakenly extract the static, unprocessual, concept of ‘civility’.

It is very regrettable that Americans largely remain profoundly unaware of Elias’s wider writings, and especially his process-sociological theory of knowledge (notably Essays I: On the Sociology of Knowledge and the Sciences, vol. 14 of the Collected Works, 2009).

I reflect that Elias was right, in the last decade of his life, to advocate that we use the term ‘process sociology’ rather than ‘figurational sociology’. Unfortunately, ‘figurational sociology’ had by then become too firmly rooted, and ‘process sociology’ has not caught on so widely. ‘Figuration’ has never become a self-explanatory term, and I rarely use it myself; Elias introduced it as shorthand, especially to avoid the static idea of ‘system’, and never intended it to be a load-bearing structure. It can become a barrier, making us sound like an eccentric sect rather than people with important things to say to social scientists at large.

Be that as it may, we should not reciprocate trans-Atlantic ignorance. Abbott’s work is clearly of great interest.

I should like to invite blog subscribers to read Processual Sociology and to send me their thoughts about it, whether in the form of shorter comments or longer essays. We could perhaps form them into a symposium and offer it for publication in Human Figurations.

Stephen Mennell


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RC 56 : Historical Sociology

DEADLINE : Abstracts must be submitted by 20 September 20th 2017, through the ISA conference website

Combat at a distance is not new and precedes what Elias called “the civilizing process”, but the development and generalization of firearms in warfare taking place between 1300 and 1600 seems, remarkably, to coincide with it.

The relations between the “process of civilization” and new types of weapons are striking and ambiguous. On the one hand, these transformations enabled killing on a new dimension and scale. And since the World Wars not only soldiers but also great parts of the civilian population fall victim to mass killings because of new types of weapons. On the other hand, fencing, suffocating, stabbing, seem to lose their importance in the killing from a distance. The atomic bomb kills millions but it needs only a person pushing a button. Drone warfare is also an example of what may call ironically ”civilised warfare”. There is no need for the spontaneity, affectivity and other forms of fierce emotions that one could find on the battlefields of the past.

This session invites sociologists, socio-historians and historians to question the transformation of the manners of making war and violence in its complexity. The intervention could consider the proxemic dimension (Hall, 1966) of a battle, but also the representation of violence at any given time, or the fact that some modalities of violence are considered less “respectable” than others, paradoxically independently of the number of victims they claim.

Organizers :

– Dieter REICHER, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Graz, Austria.

– Ilan LEW, Research Associate in Sociology, University of Geneva – PhD Candidate CADIS-Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.


Bombes atomiques, armes à feu, mitrailleuse, tranchées, sont le lot de la modernisation de la violence de masse au fil du temps, qu’elle soit dirigée contre d’autres soldats ou face à certaines catégories de population dans les innombrables situations de guerres civiles.

Les relations entre le « processus de civilisation » (Elias, 1939) et l’avènement de l’arme à feu dans l’activité guerrière en Occident, comme dans le développement de l’armement moderne, sont aussi frappantes qu’ambivalentes.

D’une part, et ce de manière très emblématique durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, les populations civiles constituent un lot immense des victimes de la violence de guerre, du fait même de la portée meurtrière des nouveaux types d’armements.

D’autre part, l’usage du poignard et de l’épée, le fait d’étouffer l’ennemi semblent perdre de leur importance avec le meurtre à distance. La bombe atomique tue des millions de personnes alors qu’il n’est nécessaire que d’une seule personne pour appuyer sur un bouton. La guerre des drônes peut également constituer un bon exemple de ce qui pourrait être ironiquement appelé « la guerre civilisée ». C’est tout un champ lié à l’affectivité et à la férocité liés au champ de bataille du passé, dont les composants de la guerre ne semblent plus avoir recours aujourd’hui.
Cette session invite des sociologues, socio-historiens et historiens à questionner ces transformations dans les manières de faire la guerre et de faire violence au fil du temps. Les interventions pourront notamment se pencher sur la dimension proxémique (Hall, 1966) de la bataille, mais aussi à des enjeux d’images et de représentation de cette violence. Selon le contexte historique, certaines modalités de violences sont considérées comme moins “respectables” que d’autres, et ce indépendamment du nombre de victimes infligées.

Organisateurs de la Session :

– Dieter REICHER, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Graz, Austria.
– Ilan LEW, Research Associate in Sociology, University of Geneva, Switzerland

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ISA XIX World Congress of Sociology, Toronto: CfP RC56 Sessions

Abstract submission is now open for the ISA World Congress next year. Abstracts must be submitted by 30 September through the ISA conference website. ​The sessions include the following topics:

Comparative and Historical Sociology of Women’s Careers

Confucius’ Trap

Figurational Dynamics, Changing Power Balances, and Organisational Formation

Historical Trends, Future Anticipations 

Historical and Comparative Sociology of Examinations

History Makers: Leaders, Rulers, Roles, Systems

Radicalisation and the Rise of the Outsiders

Warfare, Distance and Civilizing Processes

We look forward to seeing you in Toronto!

Paddy Dolan

Secretary/Treasurer, ISA RC 56 Historical Sociology

School of Languages, Law & Social Sciences

Dublin Institute of Technology | Room RD 105

DIT Grangegorman | Dublin 7 | Ireland

Tel: +353 1 402 4212

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Established and Outsiders at the Same Time – free online

Established and Outsiders at the Same Time: Self-Images and We-Images of Palestinians in the West Bank and in Israel“, ed. Gabriele Rosenthal, Göttingen: Göttingen University Press, 2016.

The online version of this book is available free – at

Palestinians frequently present a harmonizing and homogenizing we-image of their own national we-group, as a way of counteracting Israeli attempts to sow divisions among them, whether through Israeli politics or through the dominant public discourse in Israel. However, a closer look reveals the fragility of this homogenizing we-image which masks a variety of internal tensions and conflicts. By applying methods and concepts from biographical research and figurational sociology, the articles in this volume offer an analysis of the Middle East conflict that goes beyond the polar opposition between “Israelis” and “Palestinians”. On the basis of case studies from five urban regions in Palestine and Israel (Bethlehem, Ramallah, East Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa), the authors explore the importance of belonging, collective self-images and different forms of social differentiation within Palestinian communities. For each region this is bound up with an analysis of the relevant social and socio-political contexts, and family and life histories. The analysis of (locally) different figurations means focusing on the perspective of Palestinians as members of different religious, socio-economic, political or generational groupings and local group constellations – for instance between Christians and Muslims or between long-time residents and refugees. The following scholars have contributed to this volume: Ahmed Albaba, Johannes Becker, Hendrik Hinrichsen, Gabriele Rosenthal, Nicole Witte, Arne Worm and Rixta Wundrak.

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Liz Stanley: The Racializing Process – free download


Dear Colleagues,

For the five days between 1 and 5 July, Liz Stanley’s new book is available free for downloading for reading on all tablets and related devices, in a special Amazon promotion. The paperback is also available at £5.99 for those who prefer a non-digital reading experience.

The Racialising Process explores how white people from the 1770s to the 1970s in South Africa depicted whiteness and its racialised Others of black, coloured, Indian Chinese and other groups, focusing on their letters. It discusses many detailed examples drawn from a wide array of letters and explores the complexities in what people wrote and how to interpret this. It shows that there has been a long term racialising process with distinctive features organised around regulation and categorisation, making the South African experience significantly different from the ‘de/civilising process’ that the sociologist Norbert Elias identified in Europe.

For more information and for the free download, please go to your ‘local’ Amazon and search on the book title or author name, while the Introduction is available for reading now at

Happy Reading!

Dr Emilia P Sereva
Research Assistant, Whites Writing Whiteness, School of Social & Political Science, Chrystal Macmillan Building, University of Edinburgh, UK. and

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Human Figurations 6: 1 – Contents of latest issue

Title Author(s)
Editor’s Introduction Liston, Katie
Apologia pro vita sociologica sua: social character and historical process, and why I became an Eliasian sociologist Mennell, Stephen
The sociogenesis of terrorism as part of English–Irish relations during the nineteenth century Dunning, Michael
On the Habitual Dimension of Problems of Democratisation; Using the Example of Egypt after the Arab Spring Alikhani, Behrouz
The Cooley-Elias-Goffman Theory Scheff, Thomas
Informalisation and Evolution: Four Phases in the Development of Steering Codes Wouters, Cas

Dr Barbara Górnicka


Human Figurations Journal  

E-issn: 2166-6644

Published by MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Memorial Service for Bruce Mazlish

A memorial service for Bruce Mazlish will be held on Thursday 20 April at 13.00 EST in the Samberg Conference Centre, 6th Floor, 50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge MA. Any readers of this blog in the greater Boston area may like to attend.

Bruce Mazlish died in November 206 at the age of 93. He taught history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over six decades. He sought to bridge the sciences and humanities, and his publications ranged widely, from psychohistory and the history of the social sciences to what he called “the new global history”. He was a long-term admirer of the work of Norbert Elias, and gave me great encouragement when I was writing my book The American Civilizing Process.

The New York Times obituary focused especially on Bruce’s celebrated biography of Richard Nixon: see


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Cambio CfP: Is (historical) sociology Eurocentric?

CAMBIO. Rivista sulle trasformazioni sociali – Number 13, June 2017

For the Review’s monographic section we will consider theoretical and empirical research contributions on the topic:

Is (historical) sociology Eurocentric?

Nation building, European integration and cosmopolitanism: critical and normative visions

Edited by Florence Delmotte (Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles)

From precursors Marx and Tocqueville up to contemporaries like Stefano Bartolini (Restructuring Europe, 2005) via classics (Weber, Geertz and Elias, Tilly, Wallerstein or Anderson), historical sociology of the modern political has always had much to do with Europe. Almost by definition: is not the nation state born in Europe? Sociologists, be they comparativist or not, have been searching for avoiding evolutionism legated by the 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 often suspected of (at least unintentional) Eurocentrism.

This issue proposes to take seriously this criticism and to test it by questioning the visions of Europe and Cosmopolitanism that stems from classic or from current socio-historical analyses in sociology, political science and EU studies. It centrally aims at tackling these issues: Does the historical sociology entail specific normative visions of Europe and of “post-national constellations” (Habermas, 2000)? To what extent does it propose “critical” views (Delanty, 2006) on trans-nationalisation processes at work from 1945 and on the scepticism that followed?

The issue is open to empirical and theoretical issues as such:

  • Does the legacy of classics in contemporary figures of historical sociology entail specific normative and critical visions about the future of European societies, in the frame of EU and beyond? What about the role of human rights, for instance?
  • How (historical) sociology has recently been impacting EU studies and national case studies, notably in matter of Euroscepticism?

Finally, how could we gain analytical leverage from the links between sociology, law, history and political philosophy in order to tackle cosmopolitan issues?

The editors are also interested in evaluating contributions to the Journal’s non-thematic area, which includes the Sections Eliasian Themes, Essays and Researches, and Contributions. They also invite profiles, reviews and recommendations of books, essays and scientific events. The invitation to participate in the selection is intended for researchers from all fields of the social sciences, with no preference for particular theoretical or methodological approaches. The texts – unpublished and not submitted simultaneously for evaluation by other journals – must be sent by march 31st, 2017, to the editors, in docx, doc, or rtf format, according to the Indications for authors published on our website, at:

The editors determine the publishability of contributions on the basis of the opinions of anonymous referees, in accordance with the double-blind peer review formula. Exception is made only for articles in the Comments section.

The editors will inform authors of the outcome of the referee decisions, and hence acceptance or not of the article within a month after its submission. The texts sent must be between 30,000 and 50,000 characters (spaces and bibliographical references included). There must also be attached: a) a brief biographical note (approximately 600 characters, spaces included) must contain information about the university/institution of membership, research topics pursued, projects in progress, and major publications; b) a short abstract in English, in which the gist of the article is indicated in a clear and concise manner; c) some keywords (3 to 6, at the close of the English abstract) in order to recap with extreme brevity the subjects treated.

Contact for further information






























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ESA Athens 29 August–1 September 2017

Steve Loyal will be attending the European Sociological Association’s 13th Annual Conference in Athens in August. He would like to know whether any other readers of this blog will be there. If you are attending, please contact Steve directly at

The theme of the conference is “(Un)Making Europe: Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities”. Further details at:

13th Conference 2017


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Death of Andy Furlong

It is my great sadness to inform the readers of this blog that Professor Andy Furlong of the University of Glasgow died aged 60 on Monday 30th January. Andy was a student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Leicester. He was much influenced by the ideas of Elias, and used these throughout his distinguished career, including in the highly influential book he published with Fred Cartmel, Young People and Social Change (1997). In more recent work together with John Goodwin and Henrietta O’Connor, Andy returned again to Elias in the book Young People in the Labour Market: Past, Present and Future (Routledge 2017). A fuller account of his work and impact on the field can be found here:

Andy was well known in figurational circles, particularly by Eliasians connected with the Leicester department. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to his family.

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