Should the “figurati” become “public intellectuals”?

In the general discussion at the end of the Amsterdam conference (22-23 June), there seemed to be general agreement that Eliasians, figurationists or (to use Jason Hughes’s term) “figurati” ought to become a little readier to speak out on current affairs.

We have often seemed inhibited by our own reputation for pursuing relatively “detached” sociology and long-term perspectives, rather than the short-term policy-orientated research that is bread and butter for much of mainstream sociology. Yet there is little doubt that we often have relevant things to say. A longer-term perspective can often help to avoid mistakes arising from short-term perspectives. And politicians very often speak in ways that seem to us overly psychologistic, too reminiscent of homo clausus, and too little aware of wider interdependences.

There are certainly precedents for figurationists speaking out on public affairs. Abram de Swaan has long been a columnist for the leading Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad (in one of his fairly recent columns he coined the term “marketism” in response to the “Washington consensus” that led to the Western world’s economic collapse). Pieter Spierenburg has long been involved in discussions about historical trends in violence that are relevant to political debate in many countries. In Britain, Matt Clement and John Lever write on policy-related issues, as does Steve Quilley on broadly environmental questions. I myself have dipped my toe in the water in two recent (as yet unpublished) papers responding to the crises in recent years in international relations and in finance, as well as in the somewhat critical tone of the later parts of The American Civilizing Process. There are many other examples.

But few of us have set out to systematically to have any impact on public opinion. Should we now do so?

It was proposed in Amsterdam that we should at least explore the possibility of setting up some sort of online forum to promote engagement in current affairs. But how might that be done?

One model, way beyond our scope and scale at the moment I am sure, is the American History News Network ( based at George Mason University, in which historians keep up a steady flow of short articles related to current news topics, and which appears to be widely consulted by the American media.  At the Amsterdam conference, Flip Schrameijer also suggested we look at a geosciences network,

Maybe all that is necessary is that we get this existing blog going for the first time as an effective discussion forum – but it wouldn’t reach politicians and the media.

Does anyone have any practical suggestions? If so, please reply with comments submitted direct to the blog – not, preferably, emails to me personally. Stephen Mennell

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Extended deadline for XIV SIPC, Brazil, November

The Coordination Committee of the XIV SIPC (International Symposium on Civilising Processes), Dourados, Brazil, 19–24 November 2012, has announced that the deadline for submission of abstracts has been extended until 23 July 2012. More information on the website:



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Revised title for Graz Conference

A small change has been made to the title of the conference planned for Graz in April 2013. In order to make clear that contributions will be welcome on a wide range of topics, not just on war, the title of the conference has been changed to “Habitus, War and Civilisation”. The following paragraph has been added  at the beginning of the call for papers:

“This conference is to honour Helmut Kuzmics on the occasion of his retirement from his chair at Graz. Over the last decade, Helmut’s work has centred especially on matters relating to war, but over the course of his career he has written on a wide range of topics, including national habitus, the arts, mass media and culture, and sociological theory. We shall welcome papers, or proposals for conference sessions, on the whole range of his work.”

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Habitus, War and Civilisation

Department of Sociology, University of Graz.

Graz, Austria,  25–27 April 2013

Call for papers

This conference is to honour Helmut Kuzmics on the occasion of his retirement from his chair at Graz in May 2103. Over the last decade, Helmut’s work has centred especially on matters relating to war, but over the course of his career he has written on a wide range of topics, including national habitus, the arts, mass media and culture, and sociological theory. We shall welcome papers, or proposals for conference sessions, on the whole range of his work. In the area specifically of war and the bellicose side of social life, we already envisage several sessions.

Proposed sessions centred on war 

Today, interstate wars merely disappeared or transformed into terrorism or into violent inner-states antagonisms of far remotes ‘failed states’. However, this does not mean that war (and the potential of it) has lost its significance for modern societies. Twenty years after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, more states than ever are acquiring nuclear weapons, a new kind of arms race with conventional weapons can be observed in parts of the world, and popular culture is still obsessed with war (as in movies and computer games).

Merely 30 years after Elias’s Humana Conditio it seems that sociology itself has not changed fundamentally. Following Saint Simon, sociology is still concerned with the paradigm of modern society as a peaceful place. Thus, the aim of the conference is to confront sociological thinking with war and its social consequences. The conference is open for proposals for plenary sessions. The following sessions are proposed by the organisers.

1          War and its effect on societies in a very long-term perspective

What are the effects of war on historical civilisations as well as on the modern world? In order to explain societies better, are there war-orientated points of view in sociology that are able successfully to rival functionalism or economic-centred paradigms?

2.         Nuclear deterrence: Making unsafe places safer or even more insecure?

Political science has much to say about the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, what is the sociological perspective? How are aggressive impulses and hate towards others regulated differently in the nuclear age? Is such a kind of weaponry constitutive for modern societies?

3.         War, emotions and ‘habitus’

In order to understand war crimes and atrocities, a micro-level perspective on the battlefield uncovers the fundamental importance of emotions like fear, comradeship etc.  Emotions are also central to understand public opinion and its judgement about a ‘just’ war. In this session, the interconnection of war, emotions and ‘habitus’ will be discussed.

4.         War, the economic system and financial markets

What are the relations between capitalism, tighter nets of economic interdependencies and war? Does the current world economic crisis lead towards situations that will make war between great powers more likely? Or is it true that the conditions are very different from the word of the 1930s?

5.         Rituals of civilizing interstate violence

The mass media focus on sport, the Eurovision Song Contest, beauty contests, the Nobel prizes, film prizes and many other cultural contests as rivalries between nations. Does modern civilisation develop certain sets of rituals helping to constrain violent impulses on the international arena? Does IR (International Relations) neglect these contests as important institutions?

The conference will consist of plenary sessions with speakers and panels of discussants.

The deadline for establishing further plenary sessions is 31 October 2012.

The deadline for registering for the conference, and for submitting abstracts of papers, is 31 January 2013.

To register, please send an abstract to following email address:



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Small correction – postal charges for Collected Works

Apologies: a small correction to my previous email. Volumes of the Elias Collected Works ordered online via the UCD Press website ( are not post free.  The charge (outside Ireland) is 6 euro for the first volume in an order and 4 euro for second and subsequent volumes in the same order. Still a great bargain!

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At last! – Elias’s masterpiece out in the Collected Works – buy online!

Norbert Elias, On the Process of Civilisation: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, translated by Edmund Jephcott, edited by Stephen Mennell, Eric Dunning, Johan Goudsblom and Richard Kilminster (Dublin: UCD Press, 2012 [Collected Works, vol. 3]). xxii + 654 pp. isbn: 978 1 906359 04 1. €60.00

In this sumptuous new volume, which has been several years in preparation, earlier editions have been completely revised, with many corrections and clarifications. We predict that even readers who know The Civilising Process well will find the new edition a revelation.

But first, why the change of title? Why not the familiar The Civilising Process? As the editors explain:

‘One should think twice before publishing a new edition of an already famous book under an unfamiliar title. Dreadful examples are Johan Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages, which became The Autumn of the Middle Ages, and Proust’s The Remembrance of Things Past, which became In Search of Lost Time – in both cases the new title was more literal but also infinitely more pedestrian in English than the old. The board of the Norbert Elias Foundation nevertheless decided that this volume of the Collected Works should be issued not as the familiar The Civilising Process but under the new title On the Process of Civilisation. This is a more literal translation of Über den Prozess der Zivilisation but not, we hope, more pedestrian. … There are two good reasons for amending [the title], both of them related to widespread misunderstandings to which the original English title has apparently given rise … First, the emphasis in the original German title is – and should also be in English – on the word ‘process’, not on the word ‘civilisation’ or ‘civilising’. Second, by extension, some readers have inferred from the definite article in The Civilising Process that Elias believed that a singular civilising process had occurred uniquely in the course of the last half-millennium or so of European history. … But Elias made many asides both here and in his later writings to stress that civilising processes were found in other parts of the world and in other periods of human social development. He repeatedly asserted that other instances of civilising processes could be observed in other continents and other periods throughout the development of human society.’

Of course, we are not trying to banish the familiar term ‘civilising process’, but we do try to speak of ‘a civilising process’ or ‘civilising procezses’, rather than ‘the civilising process’ in the singular.

One of the most immediately striking features of the new edition is that, probably for the first time in any language, it includes full-colour plates of all of the 14 pictures from the Mittelalterliches Hausbuch to which Elias refers in his celebrated discussion of ‘Scenes from the life of a knight’. The rather astonishing fact that Elias did refer to as many as 14 of the pictures we owe to Patrick Murphy, who meticulously worked through the text alongside reproductions of the Hausbuch. Patrick has also contributed an appendix, written with Stephen Mennell, about the drawings. In retrospect, it seems obvious that no one could fully understand Elias’s discussion without being familiar with the drawings themselves.

Besides carefully checking and correcting the text, the editors have inserted numerous explanatory notes and cross-references to other parts of Elias’s writings. The explanatory notes are especially important in the long discussion of state-formation processes, where Elias seems to have written on the assumption that every reader would come equipped with a comprehensive detailed knowledge of European medieval and early modern history, especially of France and Germany. That assumption was probably never realistic, and has long since to be safe for later generations of English speaking readers. The notes will help to navigate the reader through the maze of the distant past and among unfamiliar monarchs (many with very similar names!).

One other new feature, among many, needs to be mentioned. Elias often hid away important discussions in extended notes which, tucked away at the end of the book in tiny print, were probably rarely studied by the exhausted reader. In line with modern practice, these have now been transformed into appendices (and sometimes themselves annotated). There are as many as 27 of these new appendices, for which the editors have created titles. They include, for example: ‘On feudalism in Europe and Asia’; ‘On law and political development’; ‘On the Chinese form of centralisation’; ‘On British national character’; ‘On the strength of tensions, population pressure and international economics in hegemonic states’; ‘Some American authors on habits and fears’; ‘On ideology, Realpolitik, and American sociology’. Even included is a long note that Elias dictated for the Dutch translation of the book.

The next volume to be published, in July 2012, will be:

Norbert Elias, What is Sociology?, translated by Grace Morrissey, Stephen Mennell and Edmund Jephcott, edited by Artur Bogner, Katie Liston and Stephen Mennell (Dublin: UCD Press, 2012 [Collected Works, vol. 5]). xviii + 236 pp. ISBN: 978-1-906359-05-8. €60.00

The new edition will include a ‘missing chapter’ on Marx and another shorter text on ‘The sociogenesis of the concept of “society” as the subject matter of sociology’ never previously published in English, both translated for this edition by Edmund Jephcott. The translation of the original book made by Grace Morrissey and Stephen Mennell in the early 1970s (the first translation into English of Elias’s major works) has been substantially revised in the light of later translations – especially by Edmund Jephcott – of other works.

Buy online: Copies of any of the volumes of the Collected Works may be purchased online at a 20 per cent discount, directly from the publishers, at Postal charge (outside Ireland) is 6 euro for the first volume in an order and 4 euro for second and subsequent volumes in the same order.

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World Conference on Psychology and Sociology

28 November– 1 December 2012

Queen Elizabeth Elite Suite Hotel & Spa, Antalya, Turkey

This conference may be of interest to readers of the blog. Further details can be found at:

The deadline for submission of proposed papers is 30 June 2012.

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Amsterdam Conference 22 – 23 June 2012

Reinventing Norbert Elias: For an open sociology

Programme and conference information:


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Preliminary Programme, Anmsterdam Conference 22-23 June 2012

Preliminary program Reinventing Norbert Elias: For an open sociology

Amsterdam, 22 and 23 June 2012 


Day 1: Friday 22 June 2012

9:00-9:30                 Coffee, tea

Plenary session 1: Reinventing Elias in the Netherlands 

9:30-9:35                 Welcome:  Rineke van Daalen & Giselinde Kuipers

9:35-9:45                 Jan Willem Duyvendak (University of Amsterdam): the legacy of Elias in Amsterdam

9:45-10:15               Justus Uitermark (Erasmus University Rotterdam): Elias 2.0 – The figurational dynamic of contemporary political struggle

10:15-10:45                 Nico Wilterdink (University of Amsterdam): Controversial science: Good and bad sociology

10:45-11:15                 Questions and & Discussion

11:15-11:30                 Coffee, tea

11:30-13:00 Session 1

Bodies 1:  The civilized body

Dieter Vandebroeck  (Free University Brussels) – Norbert Elias and the “obesity epidemic”

Michael Rees (University of Kent) – [title]

Discussant: Bowen Paulle

Historical Sociology and Elias 1

Allison Moore (Edgehill University) –  Making Sense of Sexuality in the 21st Century through an Eliasian Lens or why we must revisit the past to understand the present.

Rineke van Daalen (University of Amsterdam) – The past in people’s minds.

Freek de Haan (Erasmus University Rotterdam) – Chronos, Kairos, Aion: A Deleuzian reinvention of Elias as a complexity theorist.

Discussants: Van Daalen, Postberg, Jderu. With sidekicks.

13:00-14:00 Lunch

14:00- 15:15 Session 2

Bodies 2: The performing body

Sylvia Holla (University of Amsterdam) – The Valuation and Devaluation of History in the Modelling Industry.

Anna Mann (University of Amsterdam) – Two version of one biological mechanism. “Tasting” performed in natural science experiments

Discussant: Michael Rees

Historical Sociology and Elias 2

Christian Postberg (University of Graz) – The power of money. The impact of the first silver discovery in the High Middle Ages on feudal power balances.

Gabriel Jderu (University of Bucharest) – Motorcycle as Figuration: Three Stages of Motorcycling Culture in Romania.

Discussants: Moore, De Haan. With sidekicks(!)

15:15-15:30 Coffee, tea

15:30- 17:30 Session 3

Emotions 1: Looking for new ways of control: on changing power balances and the management of behaviour and emotions

Amanda Rohloff (Brunel University) – “Hello Sunday Morning”! On the regulation of emotions and the management of identity in people who temporarily stop drinking alcohol.

Gary Sinclair –Heavy metal figurations: music and emotion in the digital age,

Don Weenink (Wageningen University) – Shame and uncontrollable violence.,

Manuela Beyer (Free University Berlin) –  “Listen to Your Heart” – Historical Developments in Advice on Emotions in a German Youth Magazine

Discussant tba

National habitus and sociological comparison 1: habitus, nations and globalization 

Andreas Pickel (Trent University). The end may not be near: Conceptual foundations and empirical mechanisms of national culture and habitus.

Giselinde Kuipers (University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University Rotterdam) – The rise and decline of national habitus: Dutch cycling culture and the making of national similarity.

Dieter Reicher (University of Graz) – ‘Survival Unit’ and ‘National Habitus’. Problems of using these concepts by analyzing ethnic groups and nations without state.

John Lever (JBL Research) The postliberal politics of halal: new trajectories in the civilizing process?

Discussant tba

19:00 Dinner and the finish of the Short Intensive Course, given during the week before the conference by Robert van Krieken and Bart van Heerikhuizen. (Invited guests: Joop Goudsblom, Abram de Swaan, Bart van Heerikhuizen, Robert van Krieken, Stephen Mennell, Nico Wilterdink) 

Day 2: June 23

9:00 -9:30 Coffee, tea

Plenary session 2: Reinventing Elias: views from France and the UK

9:30 -10:15  Natalie Heinich (CNRS Paris) – Title tba

10:15-11:00  Jason Hughes (Brunel University) – Title tba.

11:00-11:15 Coffee, tea

11:15-12:45  Session 4

Emotions 2: Emotions, identities and groups

Angela Perulli (University of Florence) – Emotions and inequalities: the role of group charisma and group disgrace.

Thomas Gilbert (Elias and the Sociology of Ideas: Kierkegaard’s Either/Or as the Psychogenesis of Existentialism.

Jette Westerbeek (Utrecht University) – The social construction of depression.

Discussant tba

National habitus and sociological comparison 2: established and outsiders 

Artur Bogner (University of Bayreuth) – Outsiders without Groups? The Spectre of Groups without We-Images.

Marta Bucholc (University of Warsaw) – Outside the Moral Circle. Polish Political Refugees in Norway in the Nineteen Eighties: Between the Established and the Outsider Habitus.

Cas Wouters (Utrecht University) – Title tba

Discussant tba

12:45-13:45 Lunch

13:45-15:15 Session 5

Bodies 3: The trained body

Ramona Marinache (University of Bucharest) – Civilizing body, medicalizing sleep in Romania.  ramona.

Bowen Paulle & Bart van Heerikhuizen (University of Amsterdam) – The Bodily Dimension of Learning in Elias and Bourdieu. &

Discussant: Dieter van de Broeck

National habitus and national comparison 3: National styles and national comparisons 

Peter Ludes (Jacobs University Bremen) – Shifting Power Presentation Ratios in Chinese, German, and US Tele-Vision.

Johan Heilbron (Centre européen de sociologie et de science politique de la Sorbonne & Erasmus University Rotterdam – Reconceptualizing national traditions in the social sciences.  &

Gad Yair (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) – The Israeli Post-Traumatic Habitus: Between Exile and Independence.

15:15-15:30 Coffee and tea

15:30-17:00  Concluding panel

17:00 Drinks 


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Figurations Newsletter – new email address

Figurations, the Newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation, has a new email address and a new Managing Editor.

The new email address is: Please use this address when submitting news, including news of recent publications, to the newsletter.

The new Managing Editor is Barbara Górnicka, who is writing her PhD in the UCD School of Sociology. She has already been collaborating with me in writing the last three issues of Figurations, but will now take on additional responsibilities, including keeping track of future contents.

Future issues will be published in January and July (instead of December and June). It continues to be printed and posted to subscribers, and is free of charge. If you wish to be added to the mailing list, send your postal address to the email address given above.

Past issues, from 1994 onwards, can be found on the Foundation’s website at:

Besides the Figurations newsletter, the Foundation also sponsors the new online journal Human Figurations, edited by Katie Liston. The similarity of the names will no doubt cause confusion, but the journal is a quite separate entity – see

Stephen Mennell

Editor, Figurations

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