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NorbertEliasandEmotionsinHistory

RobertvanKrieken,UniversityofSydney

Ashorterversiontobepublishedin:Passion,PowerandElias:EmotionalStylesand
HistoricalChange,editedbyDavidLemmings&AnnBrooks(London:Routledge,
2014)

TheworkofNorbertElias1hasplayedanimportantroleinthescholarshiponthehistoryof
emotions,sensibilitiesandmentalities,eitherasaninspirationorasapointofdeparture,
inspiringsomeandirritatingothers.AlongwithJohanHuizinga(1924/1996)andLucien
Febvre(1938/73),hearguedvigorouslyfortheimportanceinsocialscienceoftaking
sufficientaccountofhumanpsychologyandsubjectiveexperience,andonewayoranother
itisdifficulttoengageinthehistoryofemotionswithoutatleastreferringtohisideasand
arguments.Formanyculturalhistorianshisworkoncourtsocietyandthecivilizingprocess
isausefulstimulustotheirownparticularconcerns(e.g.,Burke,HarrisonandSlack2000;
Spierenberg1991)

Lately,however,thereferencestoNorbertEliassworkinthewritingonthehistoryof
emotionsfrequentlyassume,moreorless,thefollowingform:Hithertothehistoryof
emotionshasbeenheldundertheconceptualswayofEliasstheoryofthecivilizing
process.Eliassawemotionsasprimitiveandirrational,andregardedtheprocessof
civilization(read:modernisation)inteleologicaltermsasaonedirectionalmechanism
revolvingaroundthetriumphofincreasedrationalcontroloversupposedlyprimitive
humanemotions.ForEliastheMiddleAgeswerepopulatedbyemotiondrivensavages,to
begraduallyreplaced,asprogressunfolds,bythemodern,civilized,rationalsubject.What
afool!Weallknowthatmedievalpeoplecontrolledtheiremotionsandhadtheirown
particularformsofrationality,andhowhighlyemotionallydrivenusmodernscanandhave
been.WhatabouttheHolocaust!LetusdispensewithEliassoldfashionedwayofthinking
aboutthehistoryofemotions,anddiscussthemuchmoresophisticatedunderstandingthat
Iwouldliketoputbeforeyou,totakethehistoryofemotionstoanewlevelofconceptual
sophistication.

Theworkwithwhichhistoriansofemotionsaremostfamiliar,asTheCivilizingProcess,hashadaconvoluted
history.ItwasfirstpublishedinGermanin1939,in2volumes,asberdenProzessderZivilisation:
soziogenetischeundpsychogenetischeUntersuchungen(HauszumFalken).Itwasreprintedin1969(Francke
Verlag),in1976(Suhrkamp)andarevisedGermaneditionwaspublishedin1997(Suhrkamp,asvolume3/I+
IIoftheNorbertEliasGesammelteSchriften).InEnglishtranslation,itfirstappearedinseparatevolumes,
volume1TheCivilizingProcess:TheHistoryofManners(Urizen,BasilBlackwell)in1978.VolumeIIwas
publishedin1982asTheCivilizingProcess:StateFormationandCivilization(BasilBlackwell)andasThe
CivilizingProcess:PowerandCivility(Pantheon).TheonevolumeeditionwaspublishedI1994(Blackwell)and
arevisededitionin2000(Blackwell).Thefinalrevisededitionconstitutingvolume3ofTheCollectedWorksof
NorbertElias(CW)waspublishedin2012byUniversityCollegeDublinPress,titledOntheProcessof
Civilisation:SociogeneticandPsychogeneticInvestigations,whichisamoreprecisetranslationoftheoriginal
German,andtheeditionthatisreferredtohere.EquallyimportantareTheCourtSociety,writtenin1933but
firstpublishedinGermanin1969andinEnglishin1983,CWeditionin2006,StudiesontheGermans,
publishedinGermanin1989andEnglishin1996,CWeditionin2013,andTheSocietyofIndividuals,published
inGermanin1987andEnglishin1991,CWeditionin2010.

2ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

Eliasoftenfunctions,then,asaconvenientstrawman,theessentiallymisguided
establishmentfigurefromwhichweall,naturally,wanttodistinguishourselves.
NoteveryonereferstoEliasinthisway,butitisastrongenoughtendencytoconstitutean
obstacletounderstandingthepossiblecontributionthatEliascanmaketoresearchonthe
historyofemotions.2Theaimofthischapteristomovebeyondtheconcernwithpatricide
tosketchamoreprecisepicturenotjustofwhatEliaswroteandthought,butalsoofthe
differencebetweenamoreorlessproductivecriticalorientationtowardshiswork.

ThisisnotanargumenttosidestepthecritiquesofEliassideas.Therearegoodreasonsto
retainacriticalsensibilityinrelationtoEliassargumentsandhowtheyareformulated.His
corebooks,TheCourtSocietyandTheCivilizingProcesswerewritteninthe1930sanda
greatdealofscholarshiphastakenplacesince.Sometimeshedrewalongbowinhis
readingofthesources,hecouldhavepaidmoreattentiontohowhistoricalsourcesshould
beread,andmanycommentatorshavedevelopedalternativeexplanationsthatareatleast
aspersuasive,andoftenmoreso.However,ifEliasistobechastisedattimesfornotbeing
thoroughenoughinhisreadingoftheavailablesources,thesamepointappliestoour
readingofEliashewrotequitealot,andwhatisalegitimateobjectofcriticisminonepart
ofhiswritingwillbeoftenbeapproachedquitedifferently,sometimesinacontradictory
way,inanother.Thesamerigouroneappliestothereadingofhistoricalsourcesneedstobe
appliedtothereadingofEliasswritings,andbasingonesunderstandingofEliassworkona
twoline,perhapstwoparagraph,summaryofhis1939,twovolumebookberdenProzess
derZivilisationissimplynotgoodenough.Thepointsofcriticismwilloftenalignperfectly
withtheoreticalargumentsthatEliasmadehimselfinotherplaces,sothatoneisfrequently,
infact,arguingwithEliasagainstElias3.Thereisalsonowaveryconsiderablesecondary
literaturewhichengageswithmanyoftheproblemsandlacunaeinhisworkinwaysthat
constituteasignificantdevelopmentofthemannerinwhichhisideasandargumentscanbe
readandunderstood,findingwaystoaddresstheproblemsinhisargumentsbyreworking
ratherthansimplyrejectingthem,andfindingnewsalienceinhisideaswhenappliedto
differentsetsofproblems.Thiseverexpandingbodyofwritingalsoneedstobetakeninto
considerationinthinkingabouttherolethatEliascanplayinthehistoryofemotions.

Alotalsodependsonhowoneunderstandsthefieldofthehistoryofemotions.Elias
himselfwouldneverhaveseenhimselfasahistorianofemotions,hewasasociologistwho
thoughtthatsociologycouldonlybeundertakenproperlybylookingatlongtermprocesses
(hencetheoccasionaluseofthetermprocesssociologytorefertohisstyleofsociological
thought(vanKrieken2001),andthatacentralaspectofthathistoricalsociologyhadtobea
graspofhowhumanpsychologyheusedthetermhabitushadchangedinrelationto
changesinsocialstructures.Isuspecthewouldhaveregardedthestrongversionofhistory
ofemotions,suchastheStearnsemotionology(StearnsandStearns1985),whereone
looksatthehistoryofparticularemotionsanger,fear,andsoon.asaratherodd
exercise,oratleastaveryconstrainedone.Eliaswasmoreconcernedtoframehisresearch
2
3

J.CarterWood(2007)outlinesnicelytheproblemswiththissortofapproachtoElias.
JohanArnasonfirstdrewattentiontothescopeforarguingwithEliasagainstElias(1989,50).

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory3

questionsinbroaderterms.Butifbyhistoryofemotionsonemeanshistorythattakes
emotionsseriously,hisworkishighlyrelevantandveryproductiveinworkingthroughthe
waysinwhichparticularemotionalcommunitiesaretheproductofchangingsocial
structures,asIwilltrytoexplain.

WhatdoesEliasmeanbytheprocessofcivilization?
Eliassstartingpointistoassertthathumanpsychologyandemotionaldispositionhasa
history,changingassocialconditionschangeratherthanremainingthesameovertime,and
itisprobablyinthissensethathecanberegardedasoneofthefoundersofthehistoryof
emotions.Whenhestartedlookingatetiquettebooksinthe1930s,hefeltthatthey
revealedsomethingabouthumanpsychologyitschangeabilitythatwasalientomost
contemporarypsychology.Hesaidthathepursuedhisresearchwithaclearawarenessthat
itwouldbeanimplicitattackonthewaveofstudiesofattitudesandbehaviourby
contemporarypsychologists.(Elias1994,54).WiththeexceptionofFreudandhis
followers,academicpsychologistsatthetimebelievedthatonehadtohavesomeonein
frontofonehereandnow(Elias1994,54),inordertomeasuretheirbehaviourand
psychologicalprocesses,withoutanyconceptionofhowhumanbehaviourmighthave
changedovertime.Thewholeprocessofthetransformationofpeopleishiddenfromview
(1994,54),andthatwaswhathesetouttocorrect.Inthisrespecthisconcernsparalleled
preciselythoseofLucienFebvre,whoalsofeltthatthedisciplineofpsychologyasitstoodin
the1930swasoflittleuseinunderstandingtheemotionaldispositionandcognitive
categoriesofpeopleinthepast(1938/73,5).

WhenEliasbeganwriting,hethoughtthatEuropeanssawthemselvesasbeingatthe
pinnacleoftheworld,asexemplarsofcivilization.AsEliasputitcivilizationhadbecomea
crucialpartofEuropeanssenseofsuperiorityoverallotherpeoplesintheworld:

theconsciousnessoftheirownsuperiority,theconsciousnessofthiscivilisation,
fromnowonservedatleastthosenationswhichbecamecolonialconquerors,and
thereforeakindofupperclasstolargesectionsofthenonEuropeanworld,asa
justificationoftheirrule,tothesamedegreethatearliertheancestorsofthe
conceptofcivilisation,politesseandcivilit,hadservedthecourtlyaristocraticupper
classasajustificationoftheirs(2012,57)

Hetitledhisbooktheprocessofcivilizationpreciselyinordertosaythatwhatevercould
besaidtobethecharacterorhabitusofpeopletodayhadtobeseenastheoutcomeofa
longtermhistoricalprocess,ratherthanthenaturalconstitutionofanationorcultural
group.AlargepartofhismotivationinwritingOntheProcessofCivilizationwaspreciselyto
cometoabetterunderstandingofthebrutalityoftheNaziregime,sinceonecannot
understandthebreakdownofcivilisedbehaviourandfeelingaslongasonecannot
understandandexplainhowcivilisedbehaviourandfeelingcametobeconstructedand
developedinEuropeansocietiesinthefirstplace(2013,4456).

4ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

TousetheFoucauldianterm,hewasinterestedinthegenealogyofwhatwenow
understand,experienceandfeel,eitherconsciouslyorunconsciously,asbeingcivilized,as
notbeingbarbarians,properhumanbeingsdeservingofrecognitionandrespect,notjust
foritsownsake,butalsoinordertounderstandhowandunderwhatconditionshuman
beingssatisfytheirindividualorgroupneedswithoutreciprocallydestroying,frustrating,
demeaningorinotherwaysharmingeachothertimeandtimeagainintheirsearchforthis
satisfaction(2012,31).Hewantedtotreatthemodesandnormsofconductandemotional
dispositionthatwearefamiliarwithtodayassocialratherthannaturalorbiological,to
revealtheirhistoryandtheirintimateconnectionswithbroadersocial,politicaland
economiclinesofdevelopment,anditwasthisassemblageofdevelopmentslinkingthe
macrolevelofsocial,politicalandeconomicstructureswiththemicrolevelofpsychological
andemotionalorientationthathecalledtheprocessofcivilization.

ForEliasthisselfperceptionofbeingcivilizedcouldonlybeexplainedintermsofthe
linkeddevelopmentofsocialstructuresandourpsychologicalandemotionalmakeup,or
habitus.Herejectedtheideathatonecoulddistinguishbetweensocietyandthe
individualandthentalkabouttherelationshipbetweenthem;thiswastheunderstanding
inTalcottParsons(1937)TheStructureofSocialActionanditsdistinctionbetween
personalityandthesocialsystem.ForElias,societycouldonlybeasocietyofindividuals
(Elias2010),andindividualsonlyexistedintheirrelationshipswitheachotherinmoreor
lesscomplexsocialfigurationscharacterizedbyshorterorlonger,moreorlessdensechains
ofinterdependency.

Itisworthpausingbrieflybesidetheconceptofhabitus,thesedaysoftenincorrectly
attributedtoPierreBourdieu(1990).ItwasacentralconceptinEliasswritings,butalso
moregenerallyinearlysociologicalthinkerslikeDurkheimandWeber,whohadan
appreciationoftheimportanceofthepsychologicalformationofindividualsinexplaining
sociallife.4Durkheim,forexample,arguedthat,itisnotenoughtodirectourattentionto
thesuperficialportionofourconsciousness;forthesentiments,theideaswhichcometo
thesurfacearenot,byfar,thosewhichhavethemostinfluenceonourconduct.Whatmust
bereachedarethehabitsthesearetherealforceswhichgovernus.(Durkheim1956,152
citedinCamic1986,1052).Onecanjustasusefullyusethetermhabit,ofwhichhabitusis
simpletheLatinform,andCharlesCamic(1986)pointsoutthatamajordefectinpost
classicalsociologicalthoughtistoreduceallindividualconducttoreflectiveaction,
discountingthepossibilityofunreflective,thatis,habitualaction,whichtheearly
sociologistssawacentralaspectofhowhumanbeingsactuallyconductthemselvesinsocial
life.Thesimplestversionofhabitwouldbethemovementsofatraineddanceroran
experiencedfootballerthesuccessoftheirengagementwiththeirphysicaltasksdepends
preciselyontheautomationofmostoftheirelements,theembeddingofmovementsand
responsesintheirphysicalandpsychicmemorybanks.Adancerwhoreflectsonthe
mechanicsofhowtodoapirouettewilldoaverypooronethatswhatbeginnersdo.
Moregenerally,asCamicremarks,habitreferstothedurableandgeneralizeddisposition
4

SeealsoMarcelMauss(1973)ontechniquesofthebody.

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory5

thatsuffusesaperson'sactionthroughoutanentiredomainoflifeor,intheextreme
instance,throughoutalloflifeinwhichcasethetermcomestomeanthewholemanner,
turn,cast,ormoldofthepersonality(1986,1046).ThisiswhatEliasmeantbytheterm
habitus,whichhealsoreferredtowiththetermsecondnature(i.e.sociallydeveloped
orientations,inclinationsanddispositionswhicharesodeeplyembeddedthatthey
experiencedasiftheywererootedinnature),whichwasanautomatic,blindlyfunctioning
apparatusofselfcontrol(2012,406)

Courtsociety
AcentralelementofEliassunderstandingofthecivilizingprocessishisaccountofcourt
societyandtheparticularmodelofemotionalregulationwhichitelicitedfromits
participants,andwhichheargueseventuallyspreadthroughouttherestofsociety,albeit
alongsideothermodels.ForthepurposesofidentifyinghowEliassideascanbedrawnupon
inthehistoryofemotions,TheCourtSociety(Elias1969/2006)hisHabilitationsschrift,
writtenin1933mightinfactbeabetterplacetostartthanOntheCivilizingProcess.The
WesternEuropeanaristocraticelitewerebeingbuffetedbyavarietyofpolitical,socialand
economicforcesfromthe16thcenturyonward,theopportunitiestoexerciseviolenceasa
competitivestrategyweredisappearing,requiringnewtechniquestoestablishdistinction
andonesplaceinthesocialhierarchy.Clothing,gesture,manners,taste,verbalexpression,
wit,dancingskillwereallutilisedtoexpressdistinctionandstatus.AsStefanBreuerputit,
Observationofselfandothersattainedapreviouslyunknownintensity,psychological
warfarebecameindispensableweaponsinthecompetitionforprestige.Itwasnotamatter
ofemotiongivingwaytorationality,butofregulatingthem,carefullyconsideringwhen,
whereandhowthepassionswouldbesatisfied(Vowinckel1983,95).ThiswasforEliasa
correctivetoMaxWebersaccountoftheProtestantethic,whichwasessentiallyconcerned
withthemoralorientationandaffectivedispositionofthebourgeoisie,whichEliasfeltcould
notbeproperlyunderstoodwithouttakingintoconsiderationtheemotionalsensibilitythat
wasbeingopposed,thatofthearistocracy.Inaddition,Eliasfeltitwasamistaketoseethe
psychologicalorientationdevelopedincourtsocietyashavingbeenleftbehindinthe
processofmodernisation,andthatitcontinuedtoplacearoleincontemporarysociety.As
heputit,aristocraticcourtsocietydevelopedacivilisingandculturalphysiognomywhich
wastakenoverbyprofessionalbourgeoissocietypartlyasaheritageandpartlyasan
antithesisand,preservedinthisway,wasfurtherdeveloped(2006,44).

ForElias,asforWeber,rationalityreferstothecalculationofthebalancebetweenshort
termdesiresandemotionalinclinationsandthelongertermconsequencesofhuman
action.Themorethebalanceisweightedtowardsthelatter,themorerationalthe
behaviour,butthereremainawidevarietyofwaysinwhichthatrelationshipcanbe
calculated(Weber1930,778),andforEliastherewasasignificantdifferencebetweenthe
rationalityofcourtsocietyandthattheworldoccupiedbythebourgeoisie.Thefirst
differencerevolvedaroundthequestionofauthenticitytheextenttowhichtheoutward
displayofonesfeelingsandthoughtswasmeanttocorrespondtoonesinneremotional
andcognitivestate.Incourtsociety,itwasacceptable,indeedarequirementthattheydid
notcorrespondtoeachother,emotionalexpressionwastobeharnessedtothepursuitof

6ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

strategicaims,therulesofpolitenessandcivility.Inbourgeoissociety,incontrast,sucha
dispositionwasdenouncedashypocrisy,andahighmoralvaluewasplacedonthe
genuinenessofonesemotionalcommunications.

Theseconddifferenceconcernedwhatwasregardedasthekindoflongterminterestto
whichoneoughttobeorientated.Forthebourgeoisie,itwastheacquisitionofeconomic
capital,sothatemotionalexpressionwasregulatedintermsoflongertermfinancialgains
andlosses.Timeismoney,andthussoistimeexpended(wasted)onemotionalexpression
whichgetsinthewayofaccumulatingeconomiccapital.Incourtsociety,however,the
concerniswiththeacquisition,accumulationandretentionofsymboliccapital,making
identityandexistencedeeplyrepresentational,dependingonconstantdisplay,exhibition
andongoingperformanceofonesstatus.

InEliasswords:

Bourgeoisindustrial rationality is generated by the constraint of the


economic mesh; by it poweropportunities founded on private or public
capital aremade calculable. Courtrationality is generated by theconstraint
of the elite social mesh; by it people and prestige are made calculable as
instrumentsofpower.(2006a,121)

Incourtsocietysocialrelationshipsandemotionaldispositionswerethusorganisedaround
competitivestrugglesfordistinctionandthesymbolicrepresentationofonesstatusand
prestige.Eliasobservedthatthedeliberatemanagementofonesemotionswascrucialto
successinsuchstruggles.Theabilitytoconcealonesrealfeelingswasakeyelementof
powerrelationsincourtsociety,because:

....affective outbursts are difficult to control and calculate. They reveal the
true feelings of the person concerned to a degree that, because not
calculated,canbedamaging;theyhandovertrumpcardstorivalsforfavour
andprestige.Aboveall,theyareasignofweakness;andthatistheposition
the court person fears most of all. In this way the competition of court life
enforces a curbing of the affects in favour of calculating and finely shaded
behaviourindealingwithpeople.(2006,121)

Onecouldsaythatcourtsocietywasmarkedbyanabsenceofadistinctionbetweenthe
publicandtheprivate,makingallonesprivatefeelingsgristforthemillofonespubliclife,
whereasthemiddleclassprofessionalwasabletokeepthetwospheresseparated,

Eliassanalysisofcourtsocietyalsohasacontributiontomaketoahistoryofthepresent,
inthesenseofanunderstandingofthehistoricalrootsoftheemotionaldimensionof
contemporarysociallife.Althoughtheselfimageofmodernindividualsmaybethatthey
arerationalandgoodatcontrollingtheiremotions,perhapstoexcess,theorganisationof

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory7

powerrelationsaroundtherepresentationofsocialprestigestillplaysanimportantrolein
contemporarysocieties.AsEliasputit:

Despitetheirformalorganisationalframeworkbasedonwrittencontracts
anddocuments,whichwasdevelopedonlyinrudimentaryforminthestate
ofLouisXIV,inmanyorganizationsofourtime,evenindustrialand
commercialones,therearerivalriesforstatus,fluctuationsinthebalance
betweengroups,exploitationofinternalrivalriesbysuperiors,andother
phenomenathathaveemergedinthestudyofcourtsociety.Butasthemain
regulationofhumanrelationshipsinlargeorganisationsisformalisedina
highlyimpersonalmanner,suchphenomenausuallyhaveamoreorless
unofficialandinformalcharactertoday.Incourtsocietywethereforefind
quiteopenlyandonalargescalemanyphenomenathatexistbelowthe
surfaceofhighlybureaucratizedorganisations.(2006,152)

Eliassanalysisofcourtsocietycanthusbeapproachedasrevealingthehistorical
foundationsoftheemotionalunderbellyofovertlyinstrumentallyrationalorganisational
life.

HesawthestructureofsociallifeamongtheEuropeanelite,incourtsociety,asthe
institutionalcoreoftheprocessofcivilisation,withthedynamicsofcourtsocietyproducing
aparticularkindofpsychologicalandemotionaldispositionandcodeofconduct.Thebasic
psychologicalprincipleofcourtsocietywasthatonesconductandemotionalexpression
needtoberegulatedintheserviceofmaximisingonescompetitivepositioninan
increasinglycomplexandvolatilenetworkofsocialrelations.ForEliascourtsociety
displayedtheemergenceofaformofmutualandselfobservationwhichhereferredtoasa
specificallypsychologicalformofperception,andwhichwewouldtodayrefertoas
reflexiveselfawareness.Asheputit:

Thenewstageofcourtesyanditsrepresentation,summedupintheconceptof
civilite,wasverycloselyboundupwiththismannerofseeing,andgraduallybecame
moreso.Inordertobereallycourteousbythestandardsofcivilite,onewasto
someextentobligedtoobserve,tolookaboutoneselfandpayattentiontopeople
andtheirmotives.....Theincreasedtendencyofpeopletoobservethemselvesand
othersisonesignofhowthewholequestionofbehaviourwasnowtakingona
differentcharacter:peoplemouldedthemselvesandothersmoredeliberatelythan
intheMiddleAges.(2012,8586)

Otherobserversofearlymodernityhavecometolikemindedinterpretations.Stephen
Greenblatt(1980),forexample,drawingondifferentsources,makesasimilarcomment
abouttheRenaissanceusingtheconceptofselffashioning,referringtoanincreasedself
consciousnessaboutthefashioningofhumanidentityasamanipulable,artfulprocess
(1980,2)inthe16thcentury.Heemphasisesthatthiskindofattitudetowardtheselfhad
beenpresentamongtheeliteintheAncientworld,butthatChristianityleanedmore

8ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

towardsimitationofChristandregardedanengagementwiththeshapingofidentitywith
suspicion.ThebehaviouralchangeaccompanyingtheRenaissancehadselffashioningatits
heart,anditdescribesthepracticeofparentsandteachers;itislinkedtomannersor
demeanour,particularlythatoftheelite;itmaysuggesthypocrisyordeception,an
adherencetomereoutwardceremony;itsuggestsrepresentationofone'snatureor
intentioninspeechoractions.(1980,3)

TheProcessofCivilization
EliassunderlyingargumentinOntheProcessofCivilizationisthatthewebofrelationships
andinterdependencieswithinwhichpeoplearelocatedhas,tobeginwithinWestern
EuropeansocietieslikeGermany,FranceandEngland,graduallybecomeincreasingcomplex
anddense,andthatonecanobservetheeffectthishashadonpeoplesrelationshiptotheir
emotions,onwhatitmeanstobeaperson.Thebroadformulathathearticulatesisthat
thebalancebetweenexternalandinternalconstraintcanbeseentomove,graduallybut
notnecessarilyevenly,towardsthelatter,thattheunconsciousinternalmechanismsofself
regulationcometotakeongreaterandgreatersalienceincomparisontotheexternal
mechanismsofsocialcontrol.Eliasreferredtothisincreasingselfregulationasaprocessof
psychologizationandrationalization,becauseitrevolvedaroundthegrowingreflexive
understandingofourownactions,thoseofothers,theirinterrelationshipsandtheir
consequences.Thewebofactionsgrowssocomplexandextensive,wroteElias,andthe
effortrequiredtobehavecorrectlywithinitbecomessogreat,thatbesidetheindividuals
consciousselfcontrolanautomatic,blindlyfunctioningapparatusofselfcontrolisfirmly
established(2012,406)Althoughonecansaythatindividualsinallsocietiesandcultures
internaliseacertainsetofhabitualbehaviourpatterns,oranethicaldispositiontowards
drivesandemotionsthatremainsinplaceintheabsenceofexternalcontrols,Eliass
argumentisthatassocialstructuresbecomemorecomplexanddifferentiated,thiswillbe
reflectedinthecomplexityofindividualsapparatusofselfmanagement.

WhenEliaslookedatsuccessiveFrenchetiquettemanuals,heobservedagradualshiftin
theircontentovertime.Theconcernscharacterizingearlyetiquettemanualseither
disappearedfromview,suggestedtheyhadbecomeculturallyandpsychologicallyself
evident,andnewconcernsappearedinlatereditions.Graduallymoreandmoreaspectsof
humanbehaviourbecomeregardedasdistastefulandremovedbehindthescenesof
sociallife,andthestandardappliedtoemotionalexpression,bodilyfunctions,table
manners,formsofspeechand,aboveall,violenceandaggression,becameslowlymore
sophisticated,andEliasspeaksofincreasingthresholdsofshame,embarrassmentand
repugnance.ErasmussDecivilitatemorumpuerilium(OnCivilityinBoys,1530),was
especiallyimportantforEliassaccount,abookwhichenjoyedverywidereadership,with
morethan130editions,30inthefirst6yearsafterpublication(Elias1939/2012,62).For
Eliasthetellingcharacteristicoftheportrayalofeverydaylifeandbehaviourwashowalien
itwastoamodernreader.Itportrayedconcernshowtomanagesnot,howtoeatfroma
commonbowl,whethertoputoneswholehandsintothedishofwaterpresentedtowash
oneshandsbeforeameal,whetheronelicksonesfingers,whethertoofferahalfeaten

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory9

pieceofmeattosomeoneelsewhichtodayareeitherselfevidentlysomethingallchildren
learnhowtoaddress,orsimplydisgusting.Theemotionalreactionofamodernpersonto
ErasmussbookwasexactlywhatEliaswantedtoexplainwhattransformationsinour
emotionaleconomy(Affektenhaushault)hadtakenplaceintheinterveningperiod,how
shouldtheybeexplained,andwhatrelationshipdidtheyhavewithbroadersocial,political
andeconomicchanges?

TwoforcesareofspecificconcernforElias:stateformation,inparticulartheriseof
monarchicabsolutitism(Elias2012),andgraduallyincreasingdifferentiation,complexityand
sizecharacterizedbylengtheningchainsofinterdependence.Themonopolisationofthe
meansofviolencecharacterizingEuropeanstateformationgeneratedarequirementto
exercisepowerinavarietyofnonviolentways.Socialsuccess,hebecameincreasingly
dependentoncontinuousreflection,foresight,andcalculation,selfcontrol,preciseand
articulateregulationofonesownaffects,knowledgeofthewholeterrain,humanandnon
human,inwhichoneacted(Elias,2012,439).Animportantaspectofthestateformation
process,theorganisationofdisparatevillage,towns,principalitiesandsoonintothelarger
unitsthatbecamenationstates,andthelengtheningofthechainsofinterdependencehas
beenwhattheDutchsociologistAbramdeSwaan(1995),inhisdevelopmentofEliass
account,hascalledwideningcirclesofidentification.Thecapacityformutualidentification
isacrucialaspectoftheemotionalmakeupofanygroupofhumanbeingsandtheir
emotionalrelationshipswitheachother,becausetheboundarybetweenusandthem
tendstoconstitutetheboundaryfortheexerciseofviolenceandaggression,withhumans
feelingfreertoexerciseviolenceonthosetheyregardasother.Identificationalso
determineswhetheroneisconcernedaboutandthusemotionallyaffectedbywhat
happenstootherpeople,orwhetheroneremainsindifferent.AsdeSwaanputit,citing
NicoFrijda(1986),Noconcern,noemotion(deSwaan1995,25).

Second,asEuropeansocietiesincreasedinsocialdensity,producedbyacombinationof
populationgrowthandurbanization,thenetworksofpeoplethatindividualswouldbe
interdependentwith,nomatterhowfleetingly,becomecorrespondinglywideranddenser.
Hespokeoftheconveyorbeltsrunningthroughindividualslivesgrowinglongerandmore
complex,requiringpeopletoattunetheirconducttotheactionsofothers,andbecoming
thedominantinfluenceontheirexistence,sothattheyarelessprisonersoftheirpassions
(2012,413)andinsteadmorecaptivetotherequirementsofanincreasinglycomplexweb
ofactions,particularlyademandforconstanthindsightandforesightininterpretingthe
actionsandintentionsofothers.Thisishowheformulatedit:

Thedenserbecomesthewebofinterdependenceinwhichtheindividualis
enmeshedwiththeadvancingdivisionoffunctions,thelargesthesocialspacesover
whichthisnetworkextends,andthemoretheybecomeintegratedintofunctionalor
institutionalunitssocorrespondinglythemorethreatenedisthesocialexistenceof
theindividualwhogiveswaytospontaneousimpulsesandemotions,thegreateris
thesocialadvantageofthosewhoabletomoderatetheiraffects,andthemore
stronglyiseachindividualconstrainedfromanearlyagetotakeaccountofthe

10ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

effectsofhisorherownorotherpeoplesactionsonawholeseriesoflinksinthe
socialchain.(2012,408).

Thecivilizing(Eliassinvertedcommas)ofbehaviourmeansthemoderationof
spontaneousemotions,theextensionofonestemporalconsciousnessbeyondthe
immediatepresent,payinggreaterattentiontothechainofeffectssetinmotionbyones
actionsrequiringgreaterselfreflection,andispartandparceloftheconcentrationof
powerandthemeansofviolenceinthestateontheonehand,andthelengtheningchains
ofsocialactionandinterdependence(2012,409)ontheother.Thesetwodevelopmental
processesproduceparticularkindsofpressuresonindividuals,whichtendtoproducea
transformationofthewholedriveandaffecteconomyinthedirectionofamore
continuous,stableandevenregulationofdrivesandaffectsinallareasofconduct,inall
sectorsoflife(2012,412).

Eliassownargumentsconcerningthereductionofviolencehavebeentheobjectof
considerablecriticism,aboutwhichmorebelow,butitisworthpausingbesidethe
observationthatmostempiricalstudiesofthehistoryofviolencedoagreethatonecan
observeagradualtrendtowardstheoverallreductioninphysicalviolencebetweenhuman
individualsandgroups.T.R.Gurrs1981articlewasonetheearliestexaminationsofthe
historicaldataonhomicideandinterpersonalviolence,andalthoughhehasanumberof
concernsaboutthefragmentarycharacteroftheavailableevidence,hisoverallconclusion
remainsthat,despiteperiodicupswingsinviolenceforadecadeortwo,therehasindeed
beenalongtermdeclineininterpersonalviolenceconsistentwithEliassargumentsabout
thegradualtransformationofemotionaleconomiesinthecourseofEuropeanhistory
(1981,342).PieterSpierenberg(1984)demonstratedhowpublicexecutionsandcruelpenal
becamedecreasinglyacceptable,inthecontextofagradualdecreaseintoleranceofcruelty
andtheinflictionofpain.LaterManuelEisner(2001)filledoutthepicturewithadditional
evidence,andsimilarlyarguesthatitisclearthattheincreaseinviolenceintheperiodafter
the1960swasalotlikethepostwarbabyboom,atemporaryreversalofalongterm
downwardstrend.

RobertMuchembled(2011)capturestheprevailingviewamonghistoriansofviolence,
arguingthatalthoughEliassexplanationswereoftentoogeneralizedandsimplified,
requiringreworkingandsupplementation,butnonethelessagreeingthatindividual
behaviourshiftedfromaround1650fromanhabitualorientationtowardsviolencetowards
asystemofnormsandrulesofpolitenesswhichdevaluedarmedconfrontation,codesof
personalvengeance,excessivelyharshhierarchicalrelationshipsandrelationsbetweenthe
sexesandagegroups,resultinginaveritabletransformationofthecollectivesensibility
withregardtohomicide(Muchembled2011,23).

ProcessesofDecivilization
OntheProcessofCivilizationwaspublishedin1939,andithasoftenbeenremarkedthat
thiswasnotaparticularlygoodtimetobetalkingaboutcivilization,whenWesternEurope
wasonthebrinkofdescendingintooneofitsmorebarbaricperiods.AlvinGouldner(1981)

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory11

onceremarked,forexample,drawingontheworkofRandallCollins(1974),thatwhileit
maybetruethatEuropeansocietiesbecamemoreinternallypacifiedwiththeemergenceof
centralisednationstates,withareductioninwhathecallsprivatelyundertakenferocity(p.
418),thattypeofviolencecomestobesucceededbyotherformsofviolence,newformsof
bureaucraticdominationandofasceticism.Passionless,impersonalcallousness,inwhich
morepersonsthaneverbeforeinhistoryarenowkilledormutilatedwiththeflickofa
switch.ForGouldner,thisiswhatthecivilizingprocessamountsto,wherethereisguilt
aboutpersonalferocityyetanintensificationofcallousness;wherekillingoccurswithout
personalrancourandthemassacreofnationsmaybeorderedwithoutafrown(1974,418;
seealsoBauman1989,28).IanBurkitthassimilarlyarguedthatcivilizationshouldbeseen
asaninherentlyambivalentprocess,containingwithinitselfthepotentialtounleashthe
forcesitwouldlabelbarbariconanunprecedentedscale(1996,142).

HoweverEliaswasnotunawareofthisproblem:hisownmotherperishedin,hethought,in
Auschwitz,andintheprefacetoOntheProcessofCivilizationhenotesthattheissueshe
wasdealingwererootednotinscholarlyconcerns,butintheexperiencesinwhoseshadow
wealllive,experiencesofthecrisisandtransformationofWesterncivilizationasithad
existedhitherto,andthesimpleneedtounderstandwhatthiscivilisationreallyamounts
to.(2012,8).Henotedthattherehadbeenashiftintheemotionalresponsetomass
killingsoverthecourseofhumanhistory,fromregardingitasnormalandmoreorless
acceptabletoexperiencingitasabhorrent.Asheputit:

TheproblemIsetmyselftoexaminewas,then,toexplainandtomake
comprehensiblethedevelopmentofpersonalitystructuresandespeciallyof
structuresofconscienceorselfcontrolwhichrepresentastandardofhumaneness
goingfarbeyondthatofantiquity,andwhichaccordinglymakepeoplereactto
behaviourlikethatoftheNationalSocialistswithspontaneousrepugnance.(2013,
446)

ThisiswhereitisimportanttoreadbeyondOntheProcessofCivilizationandincludehis
laterthinking,especiallyinhisbookStudiesontheGermans,wherehedealsdirectlywith
theNaziregime.Eliashadalwaysallowedforthepossibilitythatcivilizationmightbreak
downortemporarilyreverseitslongtermdirection,andinStudiesontheGermanshegoes
ontodiscussthepossibilitythatspecificprocessesofstateformationproduceeithera
deficientprocessofcivilization,orresultinaclearprocessofdecivilizationencouragingthe
morewidespreadmanifestationofbrutalandviolentconduct(Mennell1990;Fletcher1997;
DunningandMennell1998).

Healsoraisedthepossibilitythatcivilizationanddecivilizationcanoccursimultaneously,
makingpreciselyGouldnerspointthatthemonopolizationofphysicalforcebythestate,
throughthemilitaryandthepolice,cutsintwodirectionsandhasaJanusfacedcharacter
(2013,188).Hearguedforthereversibilityofsocialprocesses,andsuggestedthatshiftsin
onedirectioncangivewaytoshiftsintheoppositedirection,sothatadominantprocess
directedtowardsgreaterintegrationmaygohandinhandwithpartialdisintegration(2009,

12ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

4).TheHitlerregimeshowedprocessesofgrowthanddecaygohandinhandandthatthe
lattermayoutweightheformer(2013,230).

JonathanFletcher(1995)hasusefullyhighlightedthethreemostimportantcriteria
characterizingEliassconceptionoftheprocessofcivilizationandthedirectionitmightbe
takingor,ifyoulike,asetofsubprocesses:(a)ashiftinthebalancebetweenconstraints
byothersandselfrestraintinfavourofthelatter,(b)thedevelopmentofasocialstandard
ofbehaviourandfeelingwhichgeneratestheemergenceofamoreeven,allround,stable
anddifferentiatedpatternofselfrestraintand(c)anexpansioninthescopeofmutual
identificationwithinandbetweengroups(1995,286).Anyoftheseprocessescangointhe
oppositedirection,dependingonparticularcircumstances,andforFletchersuchareversal
islikelytotriggersimilarreversalsintheothersanddeterminetheoveralldirectionofthe
civilizingprocess.Myownviewisthatitisentirelypossibleforanyofthethreetotakea
differentdirectionfromtheothers,andthisoftenexplainsthecoexistenceofcivilizingand
decivilizingprocesses,orthebarbarismofcivilization(vanKrieken1999),andthe
complexityoftheemotionalframingofparticulargroupswithinsocietyincluding,for
example,women,theelderly,children,Indigenouspeople,migrants,refugees,particular
religiousgroups,andparticularethnicgroups.5

Eliashimselfpointedtotheproblemofhowsocialstructuralconditionsgeneratingthe
emotionsanxietyandinsecuritywouldunderpindecivilizingprocesses:

Thearmourofcivilizedconductwouldcrumbleveryrapidlyif,throughachangein
society,thedegreeofinsecuritythatexistedearlierweretobreakinuponusagain,
andifdangerbecameasincalculableasitoncewas.Correspondingfearswouldsoon
burstthelimitssettothemtoday(2012,576).

Thisquestionisanimportantaspectofthewayinwhichthestructuringofemotional
dispositionsoperatesinparticularcontexts,inrelationshipsbetweenspecificgroupsinany
givensociety.Forexample,inmyowndiscussionofthetreatmentofAustralianAboriginal
familiesandchildrenbyEuropeanAustralians,Idrewattentiontothewayinwhichthe
anxietysurroundculturalandracialhybridityconstituted,andstillconstitutes,abarrierto
mutualidentification,makingpossiblethecoexistenceofcivilizedandbarbaricbehaviour.
Thisisthedynamicunderpinningmanyofthecurrentreassessmentsofpastpracticessuch
astheremovalforadoptionofthechildrenofunmarriedmothers,thetreatmentofchildren
ininstitutionalcare,thedisplacementofBritishchildrentooutpostsofEmpirelikeAustralia
andCanada.Allofthesepracticesandpoliciesreliedonalackofmutualidentificationwith
thecategoriesofpersonsbeingregulatedandmanaged,andtheyappearquestionableand
uncivilizedtodaypreciselybecausethecapacityforidentificationhaschangedinthe
broaderpopulation,andwenowfeelthepainexperiencedbythoseindividuals,whetherit
bethroughreadingabouttheirexperience,seeingavisualportrayalofitonfilmorin
television,orhearingthetestimonyofthoseindividualsthemselves.
5

SeedeSwaan(1997)onprocessesofdisidentification.

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory13

Problemsandissues
ThefirstconcernwithEliassanalysisofthehistoryofemotionsrelatestohisaccountof
howexpressionsofaggressionandviolencechangedovertime.Ihavewrittenaboutthis
before(vanKrieken1989),sohereIwilljustoutlineaselectionofthearguments.Thereis
littledisagreementthattheMiddleAgeswasaviolentperiod,andthatinterpersonal
violencedecreasedsubsequently,butthereareanumberofproblemswithhowElias
portrayedthischange.Thebasicproblemseemstobethatheleanedtowardsaportrayalof
medievalviolenceassomehownatural,despitehisowntheoreticalprinciplethathuman
behaviour,includingemotionsandpsychologicaldrives,shouldbeunderstoodprimarilyas
sociallyproduced.Hespokeoftheaggressiveimpulsebeingconfinedandtamedby
innumerablerulesandprohibitionsthathavebecomeselfconstraints(2012,187),the
crueltyandjoyinthedestructionandtormentofothersonlybreakingoutduringtimes
ofsocialupheavalorwheresocialcontrolislooser(2012,187).

Theobjectionthatalmostallcommentatorshavetothispresentationofthequestionisthat
itoverlooksthewaysinwhichviolenceandaggressionaresociallyproducedbyhistorically
specificsocial,politicalandeconomicconditions.JohanArnasonsuggeststhattheviolence
whichdominatedlifeintheearlyMiddleAgesshouldbeseenastheoutcomeofaspecific
interactionbetweenthedecliningRomanEmpireandthesurroundingregions,notsimply
thenormalconditionofasocietywhichlacksbothacomplexdivisionoflabouranda
centralizedmonopolyofviolence(Arnason1989,545).Thesocialframeworkformedieval
ferocitywastoalargeextentthatofaparticularstructuringofvengeance,feud,andthe
settlementofdisputes.Theviolencewhichwasprogressivelymonopolisedbythestatewas
notsimply,perhapsnotevenlargely,thatofknights,butmoreoftheordinarypopulace
(Spierenburg1984,110).Indeeditmighthavebeenknightswhowerethemostself
disciplinedintheexpressionoftheiraggression,incomparisonwiththerestofthe
population.

Inrelationtoknightlyviolence,theDutchhistorianBenjoMaso(1982)hasarguedthat
aggressivenessamongknightsincreasedpreciselywithstateformationandtheinitialstages
ofthemonopolisationofviolence(Maso,1982,306).Beforethe12thcenturytheprimary
sourcesappeartoindicatemorerespectforthosewhotempertheircouragewithforesight
andplanning(Maso1982,307),butwiththespreadofamoneyeconomy,mercenaries
wereincreasinglybeingusedintheconductofwar,andthisseriouslythreatenedthe
positionofknights.IntheensuingconflictstheknightswereaidedbytheChurch,which
threatenedmercenariesandthosewhoemployedthemwithexcommunication,andthisin
turngaveknightsevenmoreexcusetokillanytheycameintoconflictwith.AsMasoputsit:

Theimpulsivenesswhichmedievalknightsappeartodisplaytooureyesdidnot
deriveingeneralfromalackofselfdiscipline,butwasacarefullycultivated
characteristicwithwhicharistocraticwarriorstriedtodistinguishthemselvesfrom
thelowerclassestheysawasthreateningthem.WhatEliascallsadesirefor

14ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

aggressioncouldwithequaljustificationbecalledapressuretowardsaggression
(Maso1982,322).

Knightlyviolencewasthusitselfaproductofaspecificsetofsocialconditions.Weshould
notethatEliasdoessayasmuchhimselfwhenheremarksthat'violencewasinscribedin
thestructureofsocietyitself'(Fontaine1978,248),andthat'toacertainextent,thesocial
structureevenpusheditsmembersinthisdirection,makingitseemnecessaryand
practicallyadvantageoustobehaveinthisway'(Elias,2012,189).Howeverrunscontraryto
thetermsheotherwiseusedtoportraymedievalviolenceasbeingcharacterisedbya
positivedesireforviolentcrueltyawaitingdomesticationthroughstateformationandthe
monopolisationofphysicalforce.Humanviolenceisaproductofspecificsocialconditions,
andstateformationitselfcananddoesencouragethecontrolledexpressionofsadism,
crueltyandaggression.6

MostoftheproblemswithEliassportrayaloftheMiddleAges,andthesourceofmostof
theirritationamongmedievalhistorians,canbetracedbacktothestephetookoftreating
theMiddleAgesashisempiricalandconceptualstartingpoint,saying,forexample,thatit
isnecessaryfirsttoobtainaclearerpictureofhowthebehaviourandemotionallifeof
WesternpeoplesslowlychangedaftertheMiddleAges(2012,4).Thisalmostinevitably
lockedhimintoframingmedievalemotionalexpressionassomehownaturalandpre
social,makingithardertoconceiveofhumanbehaviouratthattimeasitselftheproductof
particularsocialconditions.

Howdifferentarewe?
AsecondquestionconcerninghowEliascanbereadconcernsafundamentalopposition
runningthroughmuchofWesternsocial,culturalandpoliticalthought,betweenthosewho
leantowardsseeingallhumanbeingsasmoreorlesssimilartoeachother,andthosewho
emphasisthedifferencesbetweendistinctgroups.Thelatterorientationcanrelateeitherto
differencesataparticularpointintime,saybetweenculturalgroups,ordifferencesacross
history.

Inhisfivevolumecritiqueofthemythofthecivilizingprocess,oneofEliassstrongest
critics,theGermananthropologistHansPeterDuerr(1988;1990;1993;1997;2002),
suggeststhatalthoughEliassetouttocriticallyanalysetheEuropeanselfperceptionof
whatitmeansandfeelsliketobecivilized,infactheendsupsharingthesamepresumption
ofsuperiorityandprogress,andthattheconceptoftheprocessofcivilizationisamyth,in
thestrongestsenseofthatterm.Duerrarguesthatifweagreethathumansexualrelations
arealwayssociallyregulatedandsubjectedtosomepatternedsetofrulesandnorms,then
thiswilluniversallyproducesomesortofdivisionbetweenpublicandprivatebodily
domains,withtheprivatedomainconstitutingthefocusofsocialregulation.ForDuerrthe
kindoflackofrestraintofsexualimpulseswhichEliasseemstoobserveintheMiddleAges
6

Eisner(2011,632)alsoarguesthatviolenceistheproductpreciselyofstrongcommunalbonds,declining
withtheriseofindividualism.

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory15

issimplyimpossible,becausethepatternedfamilyrelationswhichexistedatthetime
requiredatleastsomesetofrulesgoverningwhatonecouldorcouldnotdointhesexual
realm.

DuerrsargumentsdrawourattentiontothefactthatEliaswasactuallypursuingtwo
distinctkindsofargumentthatgetconflated.Ontheonehand,Eliaspointedtothechange
intheformoftherestraintexercisedoverourpsychologicalandemotionaldispositions,in
shiftingfromexternaltointernalconstraint.Buthealsosuggestedthattherestraintbecame
moreeffective,inthatindividualimpulsesanddesiresbecamemoreeffectively
subordinatedtotherequirementsofevermorecomplexanddifferentiatedsocialrelations
characterizedbylengthenedchainsofsocialinterdependency.Duerrhasnoproblemwith
thefirst,buthedisputesvehementlythesecond.Onthecontrary,hearguesthatsincethe
peopleinsmall,easytosurveytraditionalsocietieswerefarmorecloselyinterwovenwith
themembersoftheirowngroupthanisthecasewithustoday,thismeansthatthedirect
socialcontroltowhichpeopleweresubjectedwasmoreunavoidableandairtight(1988,
10;also1993,267).

DuerrscritiquechimeswiththeReinhardBendixs(1952)ofthefallacyofattributingto
characterstructurewhatmaybepartofthesocialenvironment,aswellasthetemptation
ofattributingtothepeopleofanothercultureapsychologicaluniformitywhichweare
unabletodiscoverinourown(1952,301).ForBendixtherewasnonecessaryoressential
congruitybetweenprevailingsocialinstitutionsandculturalformsontheonehand,and
thepsychologicalhabitusofapeopleontheother,andthatpeoplemaybehavein
particularwaysinspiteofaswellasbecauseof,theirpsychologicaldisposition,forarange
ofreasonsincludingfearandapathy(1952,297).InBendixsview(1952,302),discussing
Eliasinparticular,specifichistoricalconditionsmayfavouronetypeofemotionaldisposition
overanother,butwithoutreachingverydeeplyintothoseemotionaldispositions,sothatall
thatreallymattersisthehistoryofthesocialconditionselicitingparticularkindsof
emotionaldispositions,ratherthanthehistoryofthosedispositionsthemselves.Similarly
writerslikeNikolasRosearguethattheimportanttopicisnotthehistoryofhuman
psychologyitself,butoftheintellectualandpracticalinstrumentsanddevicesenjoined
uponhumanbeingstoshapeandguidetheirwaysofbeinghuman(1996,300).

TheissuehasbeensummarisedusefullyinCraigPritchards(1999)sketchofthedifferences
betweentheoristsofgovernmentalityinfluencedbyFoucault,likeRose,andpostmarxists
moreinfluencedbypsychoanalysis.HepointsoutthatwriterslikeStuartHall(1996)are
criticalofFoucaultsflatorthinontologyinwhichpeopleareinsertedrelativelysmoothly
intowhateverregimeofgovernancehappenstohaveemerged,whereasHallwouldrather
treathumanpsychologyasrelativelythick,constitutinglessmalleablematerialthatis
morestableovertimeandresistancetochangesinsocialcontext.IngeneraltermsEliassaw
humanemotionalorientationsinrelativelythicktermshowtheyhavechangedovertime
ispreciselywhathewantedtoexamine.However,wearealsoleftdanglingbyhis
observationsaboutdecivilizingprocessesandtheeasewithwhichthearmourofcivilized

16ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

conductwouldcrumbleunderparticularsocialconditions,leavingtheactualstabilityand
depthofpsychologicalandemotionalorientationsastillunresolvedopenquestion

Decivilisation:doestheanalysiswork?
AthirdcentralcriticismofEliashasalwaysbeenhisneglectofthepossibilityof
simultaneousbutcontradictorysocialprocesses.Untilhestartedanalysingprocessesof
decivilization,itwasfairtosaythatheneglectedthedarksideofcivilisation,andhis
inclinationtowardselegantsimplicitymadeitdifficulttoseethedialecticalnatureof
civilisationandthepossibilityofdifferent,perhapsopposing,processesdevelopingat
differentlevelsofanygivensocialfiguration.StefanBreuer(1991),forexample,draws
attentiontothenegativesideoffunctionaldifferentiation,theeffectsoftheorganisation
ofcapitalistsocietiesaroundthelogicofthemarket.Althoughlongerchainsof
interdependencemaydemandgreaterforesightandcalculationasEliassuggests,markets
alsodisplayadimensionofcoincidenceandanarchy,whichunderminesthecalculabilityof
individualaction(Breuer1991,405).Marketcompetitiondoesnotsimplyproduceever
largerandbetterintegratedsurvivalunits,arguesBreuer,italsogeneratesthe
atomizationofthesocial,theincreasingdensityandnegationofalltiesasocialsociability
(Breuer1991,407).alrelationships.7IanBurkittremarksalongsimilarlinesthatlengthening
networksofinterdependencecaninfactreducemutualidentificationandthatsectionsof
thepopulationcanthenbepersecuted,discriminatedagainst,orevenkilled,whilethe
centralfeaturesofcivilizationremainintact(1996,147).

Theconceptofdecivilizationdoesrespondinsomewaystothiscriticism,butBreuerfinds
thatitdoesnotgofarenough,becausehebelievesthatEliasstillseesprocessesof
decivilizationasdistinctfromcivilizingprocesses.FollowingAdornoandHorkheimers
(1979)conceptofthedialecticofenlightenmentBreuersuggestsamoredialectical
conceptionofcivilizationasitselfproducingitsowndarkside,ofcivilizationand
decivilizationasdifferentsidesofthesamecoin,alwaysdevelopinghandinhand(1991,
414).Therestillseemstobeaneedforamoredialecticalunderstandingofsocialrelations
andhistoricaldevelopment,onewhichgraspstheoftencontradictorycharacterofsocial
andpsychiclife.Thisappliesbothinrelationtosocialrelationsandtheconflicting
consequencesofstatesocietiesorganizedaroundthelogicofthemarket,aswellasin
relationtopsychicprocessesandthecontradictorydynamicsbetweenouraffects,desires
andimpulsesandtherequirementsofsociallife.

Stateformationandbeyond
Fourth,Eliassconcentrationontheconnectionsbetweenstateformationandcivilizing
processessuggeststwoalternativemodesofanalysis,thefirstofwhichreflectsondifferent
aspectsofsocialorganizationotherthanstateformationwhichmightalsosupport
processesofcivilization.Thesecanincludetheformtakenbyfamilylifeandreligiousbelief
systems,andbroadenourviewofthechangesinsocialstructuretoincludefeaturesof
7

Anexcellentexampleofthiskindofmoredialecticalreworkingoftheconceptoftheprocessofcivilizationis
ChristopherPowells(2011)analysisofgenocideandcivilization.

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory17

sociallifebeyondtheformationofparticulartypesofpoliticalregimes.Studiesofstateless
societiessuchtheDutchanthropologistH.U.E.vanVelzens(1982)oftheDjukainSurinam,
forexample,tendtofindsimilarlyselfconstrainedformsofemotionalmanagement.The
Aucanersthemselvesareconvincedofthesophisticationoftheirowncivilization,regarding
Bakaa(Whites,butreallyalloutsiders)asgenerallybarbaric:'rude,childish,subjecttobouts
ofpassion'.Theyreferto'theBakaa'sindiscretion,butalsotheirinabilitytosuppress
emotionsandtheineptwayinwhichtheyconducthumanrelationships'(1982,247).In
Djukasocietyoneregulatesandmanagesfeelingsandemotionsinaquitestableandprecise
manner,andforvanVelzentheabsenceofacentralstatemeansthatElias'sexplanatory
relationshipbetweenstateformationandcivilitycannotbesustained.Myownargument
(vanKrieken1989)isthatthiscanbeapproachedasarejectionofthestrongversionof
Eliassargumentstableselfcontroliscloselytiedtostateformationwhilestill
supportingaweakerversionofitstableselfcontroliscloselytiedtoparticularsocial
conditionswhenoneexpandsthefieldofvisiontoincludethestructureanddynamicsof
familylifeandtheinstitutionsputinplacefortheeducationofchildren.Selfrestraint
developsinthecourseofeveryindividual'slifetime,particularlytheirearlychildhood,
makingfamilylifeandchildrearingpreciselythearenainwhichthelinkagebetweensocial
conditionsandpersonalitystructuretakesplace.8

DilwynKnox(1991)hasalsopointedouttheproblemsattachedtooverlookingthesources
ofchangedformsofemotionmanagementinreligiousinstitutionsandpractices,arguing
thatoneofthekeytextsuponwhichEliasreliesforhisunderstandingofhowbehavioural
normsshifted,ErasmussDecivilitate,wasanchorednotincourtsociety,butinthecodesof
comportmentwrittenbyclericsandreligioussincethe13thcentury,whichErasmuswas
essentiallyadaptingforasecularreadingbythelaity.Theimportantdevelopmentin
Erasmussthinkingwasthathebasedhisargumentsonreasonandtheimportanceof
rationalityindistinguishinghumans,andtheirpiety,fromanimals,andurbancitizensfrom
peasants,ratherthanontheauthorityofscripture.Inrelationtomanners,writesKnox,

theimportantdistinctionforProtestants,asforErasmus,wasnotbetweencourt
andinferiorsanxioustoscaleasocialladder.Itwasinsteadthedistinctionbetween
humansandthoselowerdownthechainofbeing,theirrationalanimalsverymuch
morefamiliarcompanionsofallEuropeansinthesixteenthcenturythantodayor
those,likepeasants,whosecomportmentdifferedlittlefromthatofthebeastswith
whomtheylived(1991,124).

Fromthisperspectivethefoundationsoftheincreasinginternalisationofselfconstraint
weremuchbroaderthanEliassemphasisontheinterpersonaldynamicsofcourtsociety
wouldsuggest.ThisisnotnecessarilyfataltoEliassaccount,courtsocietydidhaveitsrole
toplay,butKnoxsanalysishighlightshowitwasonlyonesourceofchangeamongmany,
andsheisrighttosaythatwhereasEliasportrayedreligiousandclericsaspassive

SeePieterSpierenburgsdiscussionoftheshiftsintheemotionaldynamicsoffamilylife(1991,1747).

18ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

disseminatorsofcourtlynorms,itismoreaccuratetosaythatclericsandreligious
promotedrulesrootedintheirowntraditions(1991,129).

Civilizingoffensivesversuscivilizingprocesses
Finally,Eliasplacesastrongemphasisontheunplannednatureofsocialchange,the
independenceofprocessesofsocialdevelopmentfromorganizedanddeliberatehuman
action.Eventhoughhesaidwhatisinterestingistheinterweavingofanunplannedprocess
andhumanplanning(?),theweightofhisanalysisliesontheformer.WhenRogerChartier
speaksofselfdisciplineandemotionalmanagementashavingbeeninstitutedbythestate
(1989,16),heisactuallyusingalogicwhichisverydifferentfromEliass,wherethe
emphasisisplacedontherequirementsofparticulartypesofsocialfiguration.Thishasthe
effectofplacinginthebackgroundtheorganizedinterventionsofpowerfulsocialgroups
intotheformanddirectionofcivilizingprocesses.Mostsocialhistorians,forexample,paint
apictureofEuropeanhistoryinwhichdiversegroupsoflawyers,inquisitors,clergy,judges,
entrepreneurs,militaryleaders,andsoone,playedanactiveandconstitutiveroleon
shapinghistory,inadditiontobeingdriveninparticulardirectionsbyabstractsocialforces
(Mitzman1987;Delumeau1977;Muchembled1985;Oestreich1982).Acentralconcernfor
thosedrawingonEliasssocialtheoryisthusanunderstandingofhowtoengagewiththe
distinctionbetweencivilizingprocessesandcivilizingoffensives(vanKrieken1990a).When
ArthurMitzmansays,then,thattheconceptofthecivilizingoffensiveisofcourse,derived
fromNorbertElias(1987,682),thisisamisapprehensioninEliassconceptionofthe
processofcivilization,itisamuchheavieremphasisisplacedonrequirementsemanating
fromincreasedcompetitionandsocialinterdependency.KittyVerrips(1987)hasalso
pointedoutthatEliassargumentismoreinclinedtowardsseeingelitegroupspreciselyas
notwantinglowersocialgroupstoimitatetheirbehaviour,sinceitwouldunderminetheir
statusanddistinction,andthattheforceleadingtowardsthespreadofemotionaland
behaviouralcodesweremorebottomupwithaspiringsocialgroupswantingtoimprove
theirsocialstatus.Afterall.WroteVerrips,whyshouldpeopleinpowergotoanytrouble
tobridgethegapwithpeoplewithlesspowerbyimposingtheirownbehaviouralstandards
onthem?(Verrips1987,4)

Ausefulwaytoframethisissueistoreflectonthebodyofworkthatinthefirstplace
confirmsEliassportrayaloftheoveralltransformationofhabitusandemotional
orientation,thewritingsonthehistoryofdiscipline.FoucaultandWeber,forexample,
agreethatonecantraceadevelopmentaltrendtowardsincreasingselfdiscipline,a
regularisationandroutinisationofthepsyche,sothatone'sinner'economyofthesoul'
coordinateswiththeoutereconomyofanincreasinglybureaucratised,rationalisedand
individualisedsocialworld.Theirworkconvergesonthenotionthattherehasbeen
'societalizationoftheself',atransitioninEuropeanhistoryfromasocialorderbasedon
externalconstrainttooneincreasinglydependentontheinternalisationofconstraint(van
Krieken,1990a;1990b).E.P.Thompson,forexample,showshowselfrestraintcametobe
internalisedinthedevelopmentoftimedisciplineamongEnglishworkers,sothatthe
transitiontomatureindustrialsocietyentailedasevererestructuringofworkinghabits

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory19

newdisciplines,newincentives,andanewhumannatureuponwhichtheseincentives
couldbiteeffectively(1967,57)

FortheGermanhistorianGerhardOestreich,too,the'discipliningofsociety'stoodatthe
centreofthehistoricalstage,arguingthattheexpansionofstatepowerdependednotso
muchonrationalization,centralizationandinstitutionalization,asonthe'spiritual,moral
andpsychologicalchangeswhichsocialdisciplineproducedintheindividual,whetherhe
wasengagedinpolitics,armylife,ortrade',changeswhichwere'farmorefundamental,far
moreenduringthantheinstitutionalchangesinpoliticsandadministration(Oestreich1982,
156).Hetracestheoriginsofsocialdisciplinetothepoliceordinancesoftheearlymodern
WestEuropeantowncouncils,whichwerearesponsetotheproblemofsocialorder
generatedbythepopulationdriftfromthecountrysidetothecitygeneratedaproblemof
socialorder,andthefailureofexistingformsofsocialorganization,particularlytheChurch,
inmaintainingsocialorderinthefaceofthesechanges.Thenewcomershadtoadaptto
urbanlifestylesforwhichruralcustomsandtraditionswereaninadequatepreparation
(Oestreich1982:156),andOestreicharguedthattheincreasingdensityofurbanpopulation
itself'ledtostresseswhichhadnotbeenfelthithertoandwhichloweredthethresholdof
tolerancetowardstheunrestricteddevelopmentofpersonallifestylesandtowardsdiversity
anddeviationfromacertainnorm'(Oestreich1982,156).

Forallthesewritersthereisa'translation'ofEliassrequirementsoflengtheningchainsof
interdependencyintospecificinstitutionalformsandpractices:Protestantasceticism,
rationalbureaucracy,regulatorymechanisms,anddisciplinarytechniques.Itisthevery
particular,disciplinarynatureofthistranslationprocessfromthesixteenthcenturyonwards
thatWeberandFoucaultconsidersoimportant,andwhichEliasdeemphasisesinfavourof
thenotionofacivilizingprocess.BothshareElias'ssenseofselfdisciplineemergingasa
strategyofselfadvancementforrulingsocialgroups,thecourtaristocracy,the
administrativeandlegalelite,thebourgeoisie,buttheymoveinaquitedifferentdirection
whenitcomestothequestionofitsemergenceamongtheworkingclass.Atthatpointit
becomesmoreamatterofacoerciveimpositionofdisciplinethrougheitherhumanagency
orhistoricallyspecificsocialinstitutions:stateintervention,religiousideology,bureaucracy,
workorganisation,disciplinarytechniques,whichdefinedwhatconstitutestheproper
organisationofthesoul,andconstitutedthemediatinginstancebetweenthe
'requirements'ofthesocialfigurationandchangesinindividualbehaviourandsocial
interaction.Fromthisperspective,thecivilizingprocesscanthusberegardedmore
accuratelyasaproject,as'aconsciousproselytizingcrusadewagedbymenofknowledge
andaimedatextirpatingthevestigesofwildcultureslocal,traditionboundwaysoflife
andpatternsofcohabitation'(Bauman1987,93).
Againstthisonecanraisequestionsabouttheeffectivenessofsuchstrategiesand
institutions,whichwillleadonefullcircledbacktoElias,whowouldsaythatitisonlywhen
peopleshabitushaschangedsothatpeoplearesufficientlyresponsivetosuchstrategies
thattheyreallytakehold.OnecanturntoE.P.Thompsons(1967)analysisoftimediscipline
asanexamplealltheattemptstoeliminateSaintMondayandgetworkerstopay
attentiontotheclockonlyreallybegantotakehold,onecouldarguefromEliass

20ROBERTVANKRIEKEN

perspective,oncearangeofotherelementsofworkersliveshadfallenintoplaceand
exertedtheirowndistinctivepressuresonworkerseverydaylives.

ConclusionthinkingwithElias
Eliassworkiscomplexandmultilayered,sometimesexpressingdeeplysuggestiveideas
thatcanserveasfoundationsforavarietyofstudiesofnumerousrelatedtopics,andat
othertimesrelyingonsimplifiedformulationsthatdrivethespecialist,especiallyin
medievalhistory,todistraction,onlytobecomeevermoreirritatingatsomeotherpointby
declaringadherencetoatheoreticalprinciplethatoughttohavemadetheoriginal
formulationimpossible.Inthisrespectheismuchlikemostoftheclassicalsociologists
Durkheim,Weber,Marx,SimmelaswellasFreudandmorerecentlyFoucault.Despite
havingsignificantreservationsabouttheaccuracyofotheiraccounts,andbeingableto
identifyinnumerablecounterexamples,thebasicconceptualframeworkremainsextremely
useful.

Theideasthathumanemotionalexpressionisacentralaspectofsociallife,thatitchanges
overtime,thatthesechangescanusefullybeconnectedwithbroaderchangesatthelevel
ofsocial,politicalandeconomicstructures,thatitisimportanttothinkintermsofvery
longtermprocesses,intermsofcenturiesratherthandecades,thatcourtsociety
stimulatedtheemergenceofadistinctiveemotionalstyleandpsychologicalorientation
whichcontinuestothepresentday,thatemotionallifeissignificantlyshapedbythevarying
waysinwhichhumansarelinkedtogetherinwebsofinterdependencies,areallideasworth
pursuinganddevelopinginthehistoryofemotions.Forexample,hisaccountofhowthe
emotionaldynamicsofparentchildrelationshasbeentransformedovertime,tobring
aboutthecivilizingofparents,providesarangeofinsightsintothehistoryofffamilial
emotions(Elias.).Onecouldarguethattheappearanceoffieldslikethesociologyand
historyofemotionsisitselfaproductofthecivilizingprocess,amanifestationofthe
increasedimportanceofemotionmanagementasanoutcomeofincreasedcompetitionand
socialdifferentiation(Wouters1992).

ThisdoesnotmeanthatoneshouldregardEliasasanysortoffinalauthority,heoften
breakshisowntheoreticalrules,therearemanyalternativeexplanationspossible,thereis
lotsofscopeforreworkinghisanalysisinthelightofhowitworksinrelationtonewtopics.
Thisisexactlywhatisexcitingandstimulatingabouthispossiblecontribution.Ourefforts
arebetterexpendedpushingEliassanalysisinnewdirectionsratherthanfocusingon
provinghimtobewrong.Forexample,BarbaraRosenweinscriticisms(2002;2007;
Eustaceetal2012,14934)areeithereasilydeflected,oftensimplybyreferringtosome
otherpartofEliasswork,ormerefleshwounds,nothingfatal.Butwhatisinterestingisher
conceptofemotionalcommunities,becauseithighlightsadifferentprobleminElias,his
tendencytowardageneralisedandrelativelyhomogenousviewofhabitusinanygiven
historicalperiod,despitehisownsensitivitytotheimportanceofgrouptensionsand
differences(EliasandScotson2008)andtheactualrelianceofthelogicofthecivilizing
processonintergroupdynamics.Itwouldbeasignificantandusefulrevisionofhowthe

NorbertElias&EmotionsinHistory21

problemshewasconcernedwithcanbeaddressedtoplacemoreovertemphasisonthe
multiplicityofemotionaldispositionsinanyhistoricalperiod.

PeterBurkeoncesaidofEliassreceptioninculturalhistorythat[o]nemightsumupthe
reactionofculturalhistorianstotheideasofEliasbysayingthattheyareoftencriticalofhis
interpretationofhistory,buthavecometofindhissocialandculturaltheoryverygoodto
thinkwith(2008,55).ThisisequallytrueofEliasandthehistoryofemotionshis
formulationswillbemoreorlessappropriateandusefulforanyparticulartopicinthefield,
butacriticalengagementwiththemremainslikelytobegoodtothinkwith.

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