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 4: Parsons and Elias
Parsons and Elias
Parsons, born in 1902, was five years younger than Elias. Both men had early aspirations to a career in medicine, both were influenced by Freud and both trained as psychoanalysts (of different kinds) in their forties, in Parsons's case at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute.1
Another parallel with Elias is that Parsons, too, was keenly interested in the fate of democracy and the liberal freedoms within Germany. This theme will be picked up again at the end of the chapter.2 Parsons's interest in Germany was reinforced by visits he made there between the wars. During the 1920s both he and Elias spent time at Heidelberg trying to build academic careers. Parsons and Elias probably never knowingly met during those years. At ...