Norbert Elias

German sociologist

Norbert Elias (June 22, 1897August 1, 1990) was a German sociologist of Jewish descent, who later became a British citizen.

Elias appointed Commander in the Order of Orange-Nassau (1987)
The plaque for Norbert Elias in Wrocław


  • I wish you all the pleasurable excitement one can have without hurting others and one's own dignity.
    • Closing statement on a Dutch TV interview.
    • Lessen van Elias, Norbert Elias, portret van een socioloog, VPRO, april 23 1975/ 2005
In German: Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation (1939)
  • The psychogenesis of the adult make-up in civilized society cannot, therefore be understood if considered independently of the sociogenesis of our "civilization." ... Individuals, in their short history, pass once more through some of the processes that their society has traversed in its long history.
    • p. xi
  • If the present study has any significance at all, this results not least from its opposition to this mingling of what is and what ought to be, of scientific analysis with ideals.
    • p. 468
  • One of the peculiarities of the traditional human self-image is that people often speak and think of individuals and societies as if these were two phenomena existing separately—of which, moreover, one is often considered "real" and the other "unreal"—instead of two different aspects of the same human being.
    • p. 469
  • A heightened control of the affects, developed in society and learned by the individual, and above all a heightened degree of autonomous affect control, was needed in order for the world-picture centred on the earth and the people living on it to be overcome by one which, like the heliocentric world-picture, agreed better with the observable facts but was at first far less satisfying emotionally; for it removed human beings from their position at the centre of the universe and placed them on one of many planets circling about the centre.
    • p. 477
  • But at that particular stage in the development of these more object-related than self-related conceptual instruments for exploring extra-human nature, it was apparently not possible to include in the investigation, and to reflect upon, this civilizational shift itself, the move towards stronger and more "internalised" self-control that was taking place within people themselves. What was happening to human beings as they increased their understanding of nature remained at first inaccessible to scientific insight. It is not a little characteristic of this stage of self-consciousness that the classical theories of knowledge representing it are concerned far more with the problems of the object of knowledge than with the subject of knowledge, with object-perception than with self-perception.
    • p. 477
  • The development of the idea that the earth circles round the sun in a purely mechanical way in accordance with natural laws—that is, in a way not in the least determined by any purpose relating to mankind, and therefore no longer possessing any great emotional significance for people—presupposed and demanded at the same time a development in human beings themselves towards increased emotional control, a greater restraint of their spontaneous feeling that everything they experience and everything that concerns them takes its stamp from them, is the expression of an intention, a destiny, a purpose relating to themselves. Now, in the age that we call "modern", people have reached a stage of self-detachment that enables them to conceive of natural processes as an autonomous sphere operating in a purely mechanical or causal way without intention or purpose or destiny, and having a meaning or purpose for themselves only if they are in a position, through objective knowledge, to control it and thereby to give it a meaning and a purpose.
    • p. 477
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