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.
Chapter 2: Culture and Civilization
Culture and Civilization
A Science for Survival
Norbert Elias wanted sociology to deliver to his fellow human beings the knowledge they need to survive modernity and, if possible, enjoy the experience. As a German Jew Elias also knew about the difficulties of trying to survive. He suffered greatly in the 1930s and 1940s. After World War II he confronted three challenges: to recover from this experience; to clarify what he had learned from it; and to pass on these lessons to others through his work.
In Elias's view, the sociologists’ task is ‘to find connections between particular social events’ and discover ‘how their sequence can actually be explained’. Once this knowledge is obtained it can be put to use in ‘explaining and determining the trend ...