The Civilizing Process, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)

Description

The Civilizing Process stands out as Norbert Elias' greatest work, tracing the "civilizing" of manners and personality in Western Europe since the late Middle Ages by demonstrating how the formation of states and the monopolization of power within them changed Western society forever.

Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 592 pages, 0
  • Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: History of ideas
  • ISBN: 9780631221616

£26.99

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4

*The Civilizing Process* is dense, discursive, Germanic, and in some ways pre-professional in its sociology (Elias has to argue at length, for example, for a discipline of historical psychology that is now well-established), but also fascinating and, in places, hilarious.The first third of the book details the historical development of manners in the West (primarily France, Germany and England) through a survey of etiquette instructions from the early middle ages to the nineteenth century....more *The Civilizing Process* is dense, discursive, Germanic, and in some ways pre-professional in its sociology (Elias has to argue at length, for example, for a discipline of historical psychology that is now well-established), but also fascinating and, in places, hilarious.The first third of the book details the historical development of manners in the West (primarily France, Germany and England) through a survey of etiquette instructions from the early middle ages to the nineteenth century. This is the hilarious part, as behaviors a modern adult would not even consider (such as pissing on the tapestries in a home, or picking up a turd and offering it to another person to smell) turn out to be learned aversions from which our ancestors had to be deterred. I loved the specificity of this portion of the book; the section on attitudes toward meat-eating was especially fascinating, and I adore the coinage "threshold of repugnance," which Elias uses throughout. Reading it transformed my view of my own reactions and behavior in many everyday situations, and made me think about how things I usually consider "natural," such as feeling disgusted upon walking by a pool of vomit next to a dumpster, actually result from a complex web of socio- and psycho-historical factors.The last two-thirds of the book were more of a slog for me, but I'm glad I read them. They address the larger historical causes and effects that lead to the outward signs of "civilization" outlined in the first section. His view of history is sometimes uncomfortably teleological (all cultures are on some point of the same continuum, and the Western countries are the farthest advanced along it), but his observations are still quite interesting, and considering the publication date (1939) he takes a very balanced view toward Freud's psychoanalytical revolution - for Elias, it's important but in need of much further refinement. He makes many points which I found myself chewing over long after having read them, and applying to other histories and works of art.Overall, I highly recommend it, although I might skip over the majority of Part IV, which is largely a reiteration of the points that have gone before, and go straight to the last, concluding section