Norbert Elias: Beyond Freud

Norbert Elias, Au-delà de Freud: sociologie, psychologie, psychanalyse (Paris: La Découverte, 2010). Edited by Marc Joly; translated from English and German by Nicolas Guilhot, Marc Joly and Valentine Meunier; with an afterword by Bernard Lahire. 215 pp. ISBN: 978-2-7071-5760-7.

This is arguably the most important ‘new’ book by Elias to appear in the last decade. Marc Joly has put together a collection of Elias’s writings that bear upon psychology and psychoanalysis, none of which has previously appeared in French. These include the essays on ‘Sociology and psychiatry’ (1969), ‘The civilising of parents’ (1980) and ‘civilisation and psychosomatics’ (1988), which have already been published in English and (in the first two cases) German. The volume also includes a translation of the transcript of Elias’s 1950 lecture, ‘The field of social psychology’, delivered at king’s College, London – which has been included in neither the Gesammelte Schriften nor the Collected Works.

But what makes this volume of the greatest significance is that Marc Joly has succeeded in making a coherent, readable and cogent text from the sprawling multivariate drafts of the major essay on ‘The Freudian conception of society and beyond it’ that Elias was writing in the months immediately leading up to his death in 1990.

Elias never made any secret of the profound influence that Freud had on his work from the 1930s onwards. The influence was in any case very obvious. Yet careful reading always revealed that, as Elias said himself, he was never an uncritical and orthodox adherent of psychoanalysis. Freud’s impact upon the human self-image remains profound, but today Freud’s ideas are markedly less fashionable among à la mode intellectuals – who seem generally to throw the baby out with much of the bathwater that arguably is indeed disposable. That is relevant to the reception of Elias’s work because, especially in the USA, the perception that Elias is ‘a Freudian’ tout court becomes an excuse not to read his works with the care and attention that is required. One problem is that Elias never set out at length where he stood in relation to Freud – what he agreed with, what he disagreed with, and why – until he attempted to do just that in the last months of his life.

In his last few years Elias was effectively blind. His last writings, including The Symbol Theory and the ‘Maycomb model’ essay, as well as his work on Freud, were dictated to assistants. Since he could not read the result, he had also had to rely on the assistants to read back what they had typed up from the previous day. This appears to have exacerbated Elias’s existing tendency to produce many different drafts of the same ideas. Nevertheless, in the case of The Symbol Theory (which he did more or less complete), Elias would not give permission to Richard Kilminster to take radical editorial initiative to eliminate false starts and repetitions and to sort out the material into some more coherent and systematic exposition. Precisely such radical editorial initiative is what Marc Joly, using his experience as a journalist, has achieved with the Freud papers – which, hitherto, had languished at the DLA in Marbach in a state that was thought to preclude publication.

The resulting 54-page essay (pp. 131–85) is highly convincing. It is in certain respects – to those familiar with Elias’s thinking – fairly predictable, but it is no less persuasive for all that. The first major section describes Freud’s as ‘a social theory founded on the opposition of individual and society’; like so many others up to the present day, Freud had no effective notion of social dynamics,. He was after all a psychologist, so it is hardly surprising if his thought was psychologistic – his explanations were sought in the properties of the individual human mind. In other words: homo clausus rides again. The next section of the text assembled by Joly follows logically under the heading ‘a myth of origins’. Next comes an extended discussion of ‘social repression and psychological represssion’. And then, in characteristic fashion, Elias moves on to advocate ‘a processual reorientation of Freudian concepts’. And finally: ‘beyond nature and culture’: or, Elias might have written, ‘In my beginning is my end’, for the problem of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ had been one of his preoccupations from the beginning of his intellectual life.

Now that Marc Joly has shown what can be done with the Freud papers, we have plans to publish his edition of them in the original English. Watch this space to find out how we manage to squeeze them into the last volumes of the Collected Works that are now under preparation. In the meantime, if you read French, read this book.

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Norbert Elias Prize, 2011

The seventh Norbert Elias Prize will be awarded in 2011. The Prize consists in a sum of €1,000 and it will be awarded to a significant first major book published between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2010. First-time authors from any part of the world are eligible for the award.

The Prize is awarded ‘in commemoration of the sociologist Norbert Elias (1897–1990), whose writings, at once theoretical and empirical, boldly crossed disciplinary boundaries in the social sciences to develop a long-term perspective on the patterns of interdependence which human beings weave together’. This does not mean, however, that the prize-winning book will necessarily be directly inspired by Elias’s own work.

Previous winners of the Elias Prize have been:

1999 David Lepoutre, Coeur de banlieue: Codes, rites et langages (Paris: Odile Jacob, 1997)

2001 Wilbert van Vree, Meetings, Manners and Civilisation (London: University of Leicester Press, 1999)

2003 Nikola Tietze, Islamische Identitäten: Formen muslimischer Religiosität junger Männer in Deutschland und Frankreich (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2001)

2005 Jason Hughes, Learning to Smoke: Tobacco Use in the West (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003)

2007 Georgi Derlugian, Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus: A World-System Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

2009 Elizabeth Bernstein, Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity, and the Commerce of Sex (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

For the 2011 prize, the jury will consist of three previous winners of the prize, under the chairmanship of Wilbert van Vree.

Nominations for the prize should be sent to Marcello Aspria, Secretary to the Norbert Elias Foundation, by 30 April 2011, either by post to J.J. Viottastraat 13, 1071 JM Amsterdam, The Netherlands, or by email to

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The Society of Individuals published

The latest volume to appear of the Collected Works of Norbert Elias in English is:

Norbert Elias, The Society of Individuals (Dublin: UCD Press, 10 December 2010 [Collected Works. vol. 10]). xvi + 224 pp. ISBN: 978-1-906359-07-2.

Translated by Edmund Jephcott. German text edited by Michael Schröter. This volume edited by Robert van Krieken.

Philosophers and social scientists have for decades – centuries even – tied themselves in knots over the supposed problem of ‘individual’ versus ‘society’, and its offshoots such as ‘agency’ and ‘structure’.

Elias shows the falsity of problem, which ought to be easily resolved by thinking in terms of processes extending over the generations – though in practice the baleful influence of philosophy leads to its constant resurrection.

The Society of Individuals consists of three essays, the first written in 1939, the second dating from the 1940s and 1950s, and the third a final reflection composed in 1987 only three years before Elias’s death. In each, Elias takes the discussion to a new level, demonstrating that individualisation is an inherent component of the personal socialisation process and of inter-generational civilising processes, exploding the myth of the ‘We-less ego’, and introducing important conceptual innovations, including ‘I-identity’ versus ‘We-identity’ and the ‘We–I balance’.

Like previous volumes in the series, this too has been carefully edited and corrected, and explanatory notes have been added where necessary.


Norbert Elias (1897–1990)

Note on the text


Part I:  The Society of individuals (1939)

Part II:  Problems of self-consciousness and the human self-image (1940s–1950s)

1          Wishful and fearful self-images of human beings as individuals and of society

2          The thinking statues

3            Individualisation in the social process

Part III:  Changes in the We–I balance (1987)

Appendix I: Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘The Book of Pilgrimage’

Appendix II: Two poems by Goethe

Appendix III: Power Struggles and the concepts of ‘state’ and ‘society’

Appendix IV: Migration and the conflict of generations



This volume is published at the list price of €60.00, but it can be purchased direct from the publishers at the discount price of €48.00 – go to

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Figurations 34 will be late!

Figurations, the Newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation, is normally posted to subscribers early in December, but we regret that – because of pressure of other work – we shall not finish Figurations 34 by then. The delay is due to us simply having so many other calls on out time. Please accept our apologies. The issue will be posted out in January.

Stephen Mennell, Editor

Katie Liston, Associate Editor

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Emotions in the Medieval and Early Modern World

In addition to the conference in Adelaide mentioned in the previous post below, a related conference on ‘Emotions in the medieval and early modern world” will be held just prior to that, at the University of Western Australia, Perth, on 9-1 June. For further details, see

Bursaries to enable early career researchers to attend are available – applications by 14 January 201 1.

Contact: Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, M208 University of Western Australian 35 Stirling Highway CRAWLEY WA 6009, Australia

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CfP: Norbert Elias, emotional styles and historical change, 14-15 June, University of Adelaide

An Interdisciplinary Collaboratory – ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, Change Program, University of Adelaide

1. Conceptualization

This is an international Collaboratory on the historical development of emotional styles in Europe and North America from medieval times to the present. The meeting will focus on the seminal ideas of the sociologist Norbert Elias about changes in emotions and society in his The Civilising Process (1939) and his work more generally. Contributions are sought from historians, sociologists, cultural theorists and others working in the field of the history of emotions and may take the form of substantial historical essays or theoretical papers discussing alternative models and interpretations to those of Elias.

Besides making substantive contributions to historical knowledge, the Collaboratory will address two important theoretical issues:

* what are the drivers of change in Western societies’ emotional regimes?
* what is the role of collective emotions in socio-historical change?

These questions have been chosen because of their intrinsic importance and their salience for sociologists and anthropologists, as well as historians and students of law, media, politics and religion.

2. Date and Venue

The Collaboratory will be held at the University of Adelaide 14-15 June, 2011. It is sponsored by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, Change Program. The meeting is organized by Professor David Lemmings and Professor Ann Brooks.

3. Call for Papers

Please submit an abstract of 200 words by 1 February 2011. Completed papers should be submitted by 15 April 2011. Papers are invited on the following themes:

The history of emotions, especially relating to:

  • collective emotions and historical change
  • collective identity
  • mass emotions and media
  • violence
  • the body
  • crime, the administration of justice and punishment
  • gender and social theory
  • the state and emotional politics.

Papers should not exceed 8,000 words in length. They will be pre-circulated to delegates and uploaded onto the Collaboratory web site. At the meeting abbreviated presentations will be made by all but the keynote speakers so as to maximise time for discussion. Discussants will be called for at a later point and further details will be circulated in January 2011.

Abstracts should be submitted to and

4. Keynote Speakers

Keynotes will include Professor Barbara Rosewein (Loyola University of Chicago), Professor Bryan Turner (City University of New York and the University of Western Sydney), Professor Nicole Eustace (New York University) and Professor Stephen Mennell, (University College Dublin and the Norbert Elias Foundation).

5. Registration and Accommodation

There will be no formal Registration fee but a charge of AUS$80 will be made to cover the costs of the Collaboratory dinner. Accommodation details will be provided in January 2011.

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Professor of Sociology, University College Dublin

University College Dublin is seeking applications for the position of Professor of Sociology in the UCD School of Sociology, UCD College of Human Sciences.

The UCD School of Sociology holds the premier place in the field of sociology in Ireland and has a longstanding commitment to research of the highest quality, as well as the provision of innovative and dynamic teaching programmes. With 16.5 full-time members of staff, distinguished Visiting and Emeritus Professors and a large number of research students, the School has recently made a number of significant moves towards the realisation of its core goals: to develop its position as the country’s leading centre for sociological research, to enhance its international profile as a key centre for comparative social research and social theory and to consolidate and extend its teaching programmes, particularly at graduate level.

The School has a range of research and teaching strengths including sociological theory, the comparative study of social stratification and the welfare state, Irish and comparative social and cultural studies, globalization, health and civil society and the public sphere.  Staff members of the School have a strong track record of high-quality publications in these areas, and of attracting significant amounts of external funding for research projects. The School is a member of the European Consortium for Sociological Research and the Irish Social Science Platform, and it is currently actively involved in major projects funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the EU 7th Framework Programme. Senior members of the School currently hold executive positions in the International Sociological Association and the European Consortium for Sociological Research. More information about the School can be found at

Candidates must have a doctoral degree in Sociology or Social Science awarded by a recognized University, a strong international reputation for scholarship and outstanding research, a substantial record of peer-reviewed publications of international standing, an established set of international networks, a successful record in securing external research funding, a commitment to graduate research and teaching as evidenced by successful supervision of doctoral students, and a demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching and learning. The successful applicant will have demonstrated achievement in leadership roles as well as excellent communication and interpersonal skills, and will play a vital leadership role in the success of the School of Sociology, displaying vision, energy and ambition in the consolidation and further development of its research and teaching programmes.

Salary:  €113,573 – €146,022 p.a.

Appointment on scale will be made commensurate with qualification and experience.

Applications are to be submitted online at:

Informal enquiries can be directed to the Head of School, Professor Chris Whelan, email:,  Tel: +353-1-716 8561

Applications must be submitted by the closing date and time specified. UCD are unable to accept late applications.  All current recruitment which is taking place within UCD is dependent on non-Exchequer, external and self-funding sources of finance.

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Creating Knowledge—A Theory-Building Workshop in Case-Reconstructive Research in the Social Sciences 19-20 November 2010, Goettingen

A warm welcome to all participants!

The issue of theory building is a constant accompaniment, requirement, and goal of many knowledge creators and scholars. The Workshop dealing with these topics is organized by doctoral students at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Goettingen. The English-speaking plenary session – key speakers include figurational sociologist Cas Wouters (Amsterdam/Utrecht) and, representing the sociology of knowledge, Roswitha Breckner Vienna) – will begin by addressing questions of theory production with a focus on the methodological implications.

In the second part of the workshop on Saturday, interdisciplinary junior researchers will address the challenges of theoretical generalization with a focus on case reconstructive research by presenting their individual research projects and discussing these issues with other doctoral candidates.

We hope you will enjoy the following two days in the modern and historical spaces of the Georg–August–University of Goettingen!

For any requests during the workshop please visit or call the registration desk

Funded by the The KMU-Netzwerk der Göttinger Graduiertenschule Gesellschaftswisschenschaften (SME-Network of the Göttingen Graduate School of Social Sciences), with the support of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) “Europa fördert Niedersachsen” and in cooperation with the section of Qualitative Methods (led by Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rosenthal) at the Center of Methods in Social Sciences (MZS) at the University of Goettingen.

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Podcasts of Dublin conference now online

Podcasts of the papers presented at the international conference on ‘Globalisation & Civilisation in International Relations: Towards New Models of Human Interdependence’, 9-10 April 2010 in Dublin, can now be found at:

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Call for Papers: Norbert Elias and British Sociology

A special session on “Norbert Elias and British Sociology” will be held at the 60th anniversary conference of the British Sociological Association, on 6-8 April 2011 at the London School of Economics.

The session will focus on the reception and continuing influence of Norbert Elias in British sociology, from his arrival in London in 1935 to the present day. Themes to be covered include: (1) the early years at the LSE to his eventual appointment at the University of Leicester; (2) Elias’s relationship to the British sociological establishment; (3) the development of the sociology of sport and the “Leicester School”; and (4) the current status of his legacy in British sociology in the broader context of globalization.

The session is being organised by Katie Liston and Jon Fletcher. If you would like to contribute a paper, please send an abstract to Katie and Jon by 1 October 2010, at the following addresses:

Katie Liston:

Jon Fletcher:

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