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 5: Foucault and Elias
Foucault and Elias
The Great Escape
On 2nd December 1970 French riot police were out in force on the Parisian Left Bank. Michel Foucault was at the Sorbonne to give his inaugural lecture as Professor of the History of Systems of Thought. Everyone going to hear him passed uniformed officers and police cars in siege formation.
Suddenly, Foucault appeared at the rostrum. He was an intense-looking man in his mid-forties, head completely shaven. Le Monde's reporter described him as ‘a hairless personage, of ivory tint, Buddhist in demeanour …, Mephistophelean in … gaze’. His lecture was a dazzling ‘high wire act’ (Miller 1993, 183).
It so happened there was ‘student trouble’ that day in Paris. The police presence was not for Foucault. But everyone must have ...