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: dieter.reicher@uni-graz.at



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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 (www.ucdpress.ie) 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 www.ucdpress.ie. 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: http://www.aissr.uva.nl/eliasconference


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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” dieter.vandebroeck@vub.ac.be

Michael Rees (University of Kent) – [title] mdr26@kent.ac.uk

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. moorea@edgehill.ac.uk

Rineke van Daalen (University of Amsterdam) – The past in people’s minds. r.m.vandaalen@uva.nl

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

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. s.m.holla@uva.nl

Anna Mann (University of Amsterdam) – Two version of one biological mechanism. “Tasting” performed in natural science experiments a.m.mann@uva.nl

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. postberg@freenet.de

Gabriel Jderu (University of Bucharest) – Motorcycle as Figuration: Three Stages of Motorcycling Culture in Romania. gabriel.jderu@sas.unibuc.ro

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. amanda.rohloff@brunel.ac.uk

Gary Sinclair –Heavy metal figurations: music and emotion in the digital age, gary.sinclair@dit.ie

Don Weenink (Wageningen University) – Shame and uncontrollable violence., don.weenink@wur.nl

Manuela Beyer (Free University Berlin) –  “Listen to Your Heart” – Historical Developments in Advice on Emotions in a German Youth Magazine manuela.beyer@fu-berlin.de

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. apickel@trentu.ca

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. g.m.m.kuipers@uva.nl

Dieter Reicher (University of Graz) – ‘Survival Unit’ and ‘National Habitus’. Problems of using these concepts by analyzing ethnic groups and nations without state. dieter.reicher@uni-graz.at

John Lever (JBL Research) The postliberal politics of halal: new trajectories in the civilizing process? john@jblresearch.org

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 heinich@ehess.fr

10:15-11:00  Jason Hughes (Brunel University) – Title tba. jason.hughes@brunel.ac.uk

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. angela.perulli@unifi.it

Thomas Gilbert (Elias and the Sociology of Ideas: Kierkegaard’s Either/Or as the Psychogenesis of Existentialism.  gilbert45701@gmail.com

Jette Westerbeek (Utrecht University) – The social construction of depression. j.a.westerbeek@uu.nl

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. Artur.Bogner@web.de

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. bucholcm@is.uw.edu.pl

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. marinache@sas.unibuc.ro

Bowen Paulle & Bart van Heerikhuizen (University of Amsterdam) – The Bodily Dimension of Learning in Elias and Bourdieu. b.paulle@uva.nl & b.vanheerikhuizen@uva.nl

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. p.ludes@jacobs-university.de

Johan Heilbron (Centre européen de sociologie et de science politique de la Sorbonne & Erasmus University Rotterdam – Reconceptualizing national traditions in the social sciences. heilbron@msh-paris.fr  & heilbron@fsw.eur.nl

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

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: figurations@norberteliasfoundation.nl. 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: www.norberteliasfoundation.nl/figurations.php

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 http://quod.lib.umich.edu/h/humfig/.

Stephen Mennell

Editor, Figurations

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Brett Bowden wins 2011 Norbert Elias Prize

The seventh Norbert Elias Prize, for the best book in sociology or a closely cognate field by a first-time author published in the years 2009–10 have been awarded to Brett Bowden for his book The Empire of Civilization: The Evolution of an Imperial Idea (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

The jury consisted of three previous winners of the Norbert Elias Prize: Jason Hughes, Elizabeth Bernstein and Wilbert van Vree (chair).

Brett Bowden is Associate Professor of Politics and International Studies at the School of Humanities & Languages, and School-based Member of the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy at the University of Western Sydney.

He has previously held appointments at the University of Queensland, Australian National University, and the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He has held visiting positions in the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster in London, and in the Zentrum für Interdiszipläre Forschung at Bielefeld University in Germany.

The jury’s verdict 

Thematically pertinent and theoretically ambitious, Brett Bowden’s The Empire of Civilization is a sweeping history of the present that interrogates the role of civilisational discourses in the making of modern imperial sensibilities. Broad in scope and reach, Bowden engages with the fields of International Relations, intellectual history, and social and political theory, to produce an account that is highly relevant both to the historical and to the contemporary political field. His discussions of ‘revived imperialisms’, including the post-9/11 wars on terror and new forms of humanitarian and economic imperialism are particularly careful and nuanced. Overall, we found this book to be fascinating, insightful, and creative.

Bowden departs from Norbert Elias’s analysis in important respects through a focus on the conscious ‘proselytising crusades’ undertaken in the name of civilisation; we might think of these as akin to Elias’s notion of ‘civilising offensives’. In this respect, Bowden gives much greater prominence to the idea of civilisation as an amulet, a standard, and one that has been mobilised, often in the course of brutal conquest, to legitimise conscious campaigns to ‘civilise’ what were considered to be ‘primitive’ ‘others’. ‘Civilisation’, then, is intimately interrelated to the social conditions within which the idea takes form in a dual manner. Firstly, because (as Elias pointed out) it expresses the self-consciousness of particular Western peoples in particular periods, and secondly, because, according to Bowden, it is in itself ‘performative’ in the sense of being historically ‘implicated’ in Western triumphalism, imperialism and colonialism. For Bowden, a civilising process points less to long-term set of largely blind processes involving, simultaneously, interrelated process of state formation and shifting standards of behaviour, and more to the ‘evolution of an idea’ that has in itself engendered social change. To this end, the book might be considered overly-rationalistic in terms of its overall arguments, but it is nonetheless often rich in terms of its analysis – particularly in its illustration of how standards become enshrined in specific watchwords. This is impressive in scope, wide-ranging.

This socio-historical research into the meaning and use of the concept ‘civilisation’ (and related words such as ‘modernisation’, ‘development’, ‘progress’, ‘democracy’) demonstrates that this word family has represented superiority feelings of Western societies with regard to non-western societies since early-modern times until today.

It is an ambitious, well-written and insightful book. However, Bowden could have made better use the sociological concept of the civilising process developed by Norbert Elias. For instance, his analysis would perhaps have gained in value if he had, in explaining the historical changes in the concept of civilisation, referred to the more all-embracing and ‘blind’ long-term processes of social differentiation and integration and trans-generational behavioural change.

The Prize, consisting of €1,000, will be presented to Brett Bowden on behalf of of the Norbert Elias Foundation by Robert van Krieken, at an events to be organised in Sydney later this year.

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Human Figurations journal now live online.

Human Figurations: Long-term Perspectives on the Human Condition is a new journal supported and sponsored by the Norbert Elias Foundation. The unifying theme of the journal Human Figurations is a broad concern with long-term processes of the development of human society and the human condition.

The first issue, with constributions by Peter Burke, Olle Edström, Barbara Evers, Johan Goudsbloom, Andrew Linklater, Joseph Maquire, , Peter Westbroek and Gary Wickham is now live online.

While Elias is best known for his theory of civilizing processes, he wrote on an astonishing range of topics, including violence, war, sport, ageing and dying, time, work, art, music, poetry, utopias and the relations between the sexes. Fundamentally, he advanced what have been called both a ‘post-philosophical’ theory of knowledge and the sciences, and an ‘historical social psychology’. His conception of the discipline of sociology was far broader than that which has now become institutionalized in the rather narrow departments of sociology in contemporary universities. In consequence, he inspires researchers from many disciplines, especially people working in the interstices between conventional disciplines: history (especially world historians and social historians), criminology, international relations, anthropology and political science. Human Figurations will attract contributions from across these fields, the unifying theme being a broad concern with long-term processes of the development of human society and the human condition.

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Funeral of Professor Willfried Spohn

It is with deep sorrow that we let you know that our friend and colleague Willfried Spohn was killed on Monday 16 January in a car accident while driving from Berlin to Wrocław. His funeral will take place on Thursday, 26 January, at 12 noon at the Friedhof Lichterfelde, Moltke Strasse 41a, 12203 Berlin.

Willfried was Professor of Economic and Social Sciences at the Willy Brandt Centre for German and European Studies, University of Wrocław. He was a co-founder of the International Sociological Association’s Thematic Group 02 Historical and Comparative Sociology, and its President from 2007 until 2010. Since the upgrade to Working Group status in 2010, which involved the incorporation of members of the Figurational Sociology Ad Hoc Group – a merger to which his contribution was central, Willfried Spohn had been WG02 Vice-President and an active and enthusiastic member, organiser, and dedicated participant in WG02 activities.

We were looking forward to several sessions Willfried had organised at the IIS congress in Delhi in February and at the ISA Forum in Buenos Aires in August. For those of you participating in those sessions, we will let you know in due time about the new arrangements.

We mourn the loss of a dear friend and a most accomplished and admirable scholar and colleague. Our thoughts are with his wife Ewa and his sons Max and Philipp.

Stephen Mennell

Manuela Boatca

ISA WG02 Historical and Comparative Sociology


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