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 9: A Civilized Debate
A Civilized Debate
Convergence and Conflict
In this book Norbert Elias's writings have been compared with the work of two sociologists with philosophical interests (Talcott Parsons and Zygmunt Bauman) and two philosophers with sociological concerns (Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault). These scholars were chosen mainly on the basis of an intuition that dialogue between them and Elias would be fruitful.
This intuition had to fight its way through some pretty strong negative evidence. For example, Arendt was a student of existentialism and a pupil of Martin Heidegger, whom Elias classified with ‘fools and metaphysicians’ (Elias 1994b, 92). Furthermore, Foucault opened his History of Sexuality (Foucault 1978) by carrying out a hatchet job on Freudianism, one of the bastions of Elias's approach. Add to this the ...