Saturday, April 21, 2012

Norbert Elias – The Civilizing Process – Summary and Review – part 2

In "The Civilizing Process" Norbert Elias marks the ruling courts as a site in which western habitus was forged and later broadly circulated. Separated and independent warrior societies began to consolidate into growing political and physical entities. This was due, according to Elias, to social and economical developments. No one predesigned these changes and they had no clear objective, they were just warranted on account of shifting modes of social existence. This process of the monopolization of political and physical power has eventually led to the formation of the modern state.

These large scale and broad processes, Elias explains, have permeated into the consciousness of the individual. Elias terms this process as "sociogenetic". The consolidation of societies meant that physical struggles were replaced with struggles over political power and prestige which replace the sword. Elias shows how this was accompanied by the psychologicaliztion of rules of proper behavior. People had to be more socially aware in order to achieve their goals.

The civilizing process described by Elias is a constant process of self restraint and impulse management that were developed and established since the 16th century and that were eventually spread world-wide. In Europe, Elias holds, what pushed the civilizing process forward was the rivalry between the nobility and bourgeoisie which was characterized by both competition and the need for cooperation.

Elias' historical perspective of the civilizing process relates to the dynamics between the nobility and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie adopted a certain habitus that was formed in nobility courts and adopted its manners and customs. The more the bourgeoisie resembles the aristocracy, the more the aristocracy has to refine its mode of conduct in order to distinguish itself and maintain prominent positions. This resulted in a growing sensitivity to nuances which has led to an ever increasing refinement of human behavior.
According to Elias, the dialectic movement between modes of social existence and human behavior is the driving force behind the civilizing process.     

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