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Transcript of ELIAS, Norbert. the Society of Individuals

  • 7/28/2019 ELIAS, Norbert. the Society of Individuals


  • 7/28/2019 ELIAS, Norbert. the Society of Individuals




  • 7/28/2019 ELIAS, Norbert. the Society of Individuals


    For my fr iendsHermann an d Elke Korte

  • 7/28/2019 ELIAS, Norbert. the Society of Individuals


    Norbert EllasTheSocietyof

    IndividualsEdited by Michael Schroter

    Translated by Edmund Jephcott

    Seedcorn scattered to the windsKnowledge for whoever finds


    N ew York London

  • 7/28/2019 ELIAS, Norbert. the Society of Individuals


    2001T he Cont inuum Interna t ional Publ ishing Group In c370 Lex ington Avenue , New York, NY 10017The Con tinuum International Publishing Group LtdThe Tower Build ing, 1 1 York Road, London SE1 7NXCopyright 1991 by B asil B lackwellFirst published in German as Die Gesellschaft der Individuen by SuhrkampVerlag, copyright The Norbert Ehas Stichtmg 1987All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrievalsystem, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without th e written permission of thepublishersPrinted in th e United States of AmericaLibrary of Congress Cataloging-m-Pubhcation DataEhas, Norbert

    [Gesellschaft der Individuen English]The society of ind ividu als / N orbert Eh as , e dited by M ichael Schroter ,t ranslated by E dm und Jephcott

    p cmOriginally published Oxford, U K , Camb ridge, Mass Basil B lackwell ,

    1991Includes bibliographical references and indexISBN 0-8264-1372-2 (pbk alk paper)1 Individualism 2 Hum an beings 3 Self-consciousness I Schroter,

    Michael II TitleH M 1276 E 4 5 2 0 0 1302 5'4dc21 2001037295

  • 7/28/2019 ELIAS, Norbert. the Society of Individuals



    Preface viiPart I The Society of Individuals (7939) 1Part II Problems of Self-consciousness and theImage of Man (1940s-1950s) 67Part III Ch anges in the W e-I Balance (1987) 153

    Editorial A fterwo rd 239Index 241

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  • 7/28/2019 ELIAS, Norbert. the Society of Individuals



    The relation of the plurality of people to the single person we callth e "individual", and of the single person to the plurality, is by nomeans clear at present. But we often fail to realize that it is notclear, and still less why. W e have the fam iliar concep ts "indi-vidual" and "society", the first of which refers to the singlehuman being as if he or she were an entity existing in completeisolation, while the second usually oscillates between two oppo-sed but equally misleading ideas. Society is understood either as amere accumulation, an additive and unstructured collection ofmany individual people, or as an object existing beyond indi-viduals and incapable of fur ther explanation. In this latter casethe words available to us, the concepts wh ich decisively influenc ethe thought and action of people growing up within their sphere,make it appear as if the single human being, labelled the indi-vidual , and the plurality of people conceived as society, were twoontologically different entities.This book is concerned with that to which the concepts "indi-vidual" and "society" in their present form refer, that is, withcertain aspects of hum an beings. It offers tools for thinking aboutand observing people. Some of them are quite ne w . It is unusu alto talk of the society of individuals. But it ma y be quite useful tobe able to emancipate oneself from the older, more familiarThe initiative of Michael Schroter, and collaboration with him, have made possible theappearance of this book in its present, experimental form I should like to express mythanks to him I am also inde bted to my assistants Rudolf Knijff and Jan-Willem Gerntsenfo r their indispensable help


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    viii PREFACEusage, which often makes the two terms look like simple oppo-sites. That is not enough. To liberate thought from the compul-sion to unders tand the two t erms in this way is one of theobjectives of this book. It can only be achieved if one goesbeyond a mere negative criticism of the use of the two terms asopposites, and sets up a new model of the w ay in which, fo r goodor i l l , individual human beings are bound to each other in aplurality, that is, a society.

    That this is one of the cardinal problems of sociology becameclear to me about f if ty years ago, w hen I was workin g on my studyTh e C ivi liz ing P rocess. In fact , the f irs t sketches of The S ociety ofIndividuals were conceived as a part of the com prehensive theorycon tained in volume 2 of tha t boo k. I st ill have some proo fs of thebook on civilization, the content of which forms part of Part I o fthe text published here.

    During m y work on the earlier book the problem of therelation of individual and society kept cropping up. For thecivilizing process extended over very many generations; it couldbe traced through the observable movement of the threshold ofshame and embarrassment in a specific direction. This meant thatpeople of a later generation entered the civilizing process in alater phase. In growing up as individuals the y had to adapt to alater standard of shame and embarrassment , of the w ho le socialprocess of conscience-formation, than people of the precedinggenerations. The entire stock of social patterns of self-regulationwhich the individual has to develop within himself or herself ingrowing up into a unique individual, is generation-specific andthu s, in the bro ader sense, society-specific. M y w o rk on thecivilizing process therefore showed me very clearly that some-thing which did not arouse shame in an earlier century could beshameful in a later one, and vice versa - I was well aware thatmovements in the opposite direction were also possible. But nomatter what the direction, the evidence of change made clear towhat exten t individual people are influenced in their developmen tby the position at which they en ter the flow of the social process.

    After I had worked for some time it became clear to me that

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    the problem of the relation of the individual to social processesw as threatening to dislocate the framework of the book oncivilization, despite the close links between the two subjects. Thecivilization book w as long enough in any case. I therefore brou ghtit to a conclusion and extracted from it the attempts to clarify th erelation of society and individual w hich I had already begun. Thesubject fascinated me. Its importance to the foundations ofsociology as a science became increasingly clear to me. I con-tinued to work on it, first producing the text which is printed asthe first part of this book . I t shows an early stage of my grapplingwith th e problem. But it also show s that an account of a relativelyearly stage of research on a fund am ental problem has a value ofits ow n, even though work on the problem has advanced furthe r.It is hard not to believe that if the development of morecomprehensive, later solutions to a problem is reconstructed bydocumenting the different stages of research, access to the laterstages of the solution will be easier. B y being able to thinkthrough the limited earlier solutions, the reader is spared thedifficulty of trying to understand th e later ideas as if they hademerged from n o w h ere, without prior reflection, in the head of aparticular person. Underlying th e structure of this book is a quitedifferent conception of how ideas are f o rm ed . I ts three compo-nent parts were written at different times. The first shows theearliest stage of my reflections on the problem of the singleperson within the plurality of people, th e theme announced bythe book's title. The second part is an example of later work onthe same question; the third is the latest and final stage of thiscontinuing w o r k .

    The change in my approach to the problem of the relation ofindividual and society, which has taken place over a good fiftyyears, doubtless reflects specific changes that have taken place inindividuals and societies in the same period. I t thus reflectschanges in the way society is understood, and even in the way theindividual people form ing these societies und erstand themselves,in short, the self-image and social make-up - w h at I call thehabitus - of individuals. But on the other hand, as we shall see,

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    the whole manner in which the problem is approached has alsochanged considerably. The problem has become more concrete.The concepts used fit more closely around the observable situa-tion of individual people within society. Paradoxically, this isaccompanied by a raising of the discussion towards a synthesis ata higher level. This finds expression in the fundamental conceptof the we-I balance, which indicates that the relation of the I-identity to the we-identity of an individual is not fixed once andfor all, but is subject to very specific transformations. In small,relatively simple tribes this relation is other than in the large,contemporary industrial states, in peace other than in contempor-ary wars. The concept opens up questions of the relation ofindividual and society to discussion and investigation that wouldremain inaccessible as long as one conceived a person, andtherefore oneself, as a we-less I.

    Norbert Elias

  • 7/28/2019 ELIAS, Norbert. the Society of Individuals