• Summary
  • Contents
  • Subject index

Offering a fascinating survey of Elias's life and writings, Dennis Smith traces the growth of his reputation. He is the first author to confront Elias's work with the contrasting theories of Talcott Parsons, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault and Zygmunt Bauman. He also illustrates how Elias's insights can be applied to understand Western modernity and social and political change. Smith shows why Elias is important for sociology, but he is also clear sighted about the limitations of Elias's approach.

The Sound of Canon-Fire
The sound of canon-fire
Modernity and Elias

Norbert Elias, the sociologist of the civilizing process, is worth reading because he is one of the important resources available to us in trying to make sense of our human condition in late modernity: not the only resource by any means but an important part of the repertoire of key ideas produced by scholars during the twentieth century.

Elias has a powerful vision of how human beings and societies interconnect and develop. At the centre of this vision are these ideas:

  • human beings live and exist together as part of complex networks (Elias called them ‘figurations’) linking people, groups and institutions;
  • these figurations are shaped by social processes: long-term, and largely unplanned, processes which have a pattern, structure and direction ...
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