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When in Bed

David Blackbourn, 19 October 1995

Reflections on a Life 
by Norbert Elias.
Polity, 166 pp., £35, October 1994, 0 7456 1383 7
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The Civilising Process 
by Norbert Elias.
Blackwell, 558 pp., £50, March 1994, 0 631 19222 0
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... Norbert Elias died in Amsterdam in 1990, shortly after his 93rd birthday. His achievements were recognised only late in life. He was 57 when he first gained a permanent university post, and his work was not widely known until the late Sixties. When the recognition came it was abundant, however: honorary doctorates, prizes and decorations from European governments ...


Edmund Leach, 23 October 1986

The Anthropology of Violence 
edited by David Riches.
Blackwell, 232 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 631 14788 8
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Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilising Process 
by Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning.
Blackwell, 313 pp., £19.50, August 1986, 0 631 14654 7
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Sport, Power and Culture: A Social and Historical Analysis of Popular Sports in Britain 
by John Hargreaves.
Polity, 258 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 7456 0153 7
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At the Dawn of Tyranny: The Origins of Individualism, Political Oppression and the State 
by Eli Sagan.
Faber, 420 pp., £17.50, April 1986, 0 571 13822 5
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... else, is altogether too wide. A narrower view of what violence is about is to be preferred. The Elias/Dunning and Hargreaves volumes go to the opposite extreme. Both are concerned almost exclusively with sport in Great Britain and a very large part of both texts is devoted to football violence, especially among spectators at soccer matches. Some of the ...

Uncaging the beast

Sheldon Rothblatt, 16 February 1989

Victorian Anthropology 
by George Stocking.
Collier Macmillan, 429 pp., £22, October 1987, 0 02 931550 6
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... of centuries of cruel behaviour. Slowly and painfully there occurred a change in manners which Norbert Elias, writing in the age of the Nazi death camps, has termed the ‘civilising process’. As a popular message, it reached a high point of formulation in the Enlightenment. In its earliest manifestations, before the entry of aboriginals onto the ...

Hail to the Chief

Frank Kermode, 10 January 1991

Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Routledge, 188 pp., £25, January 1991, 0 415 90173 1
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... and a general disregard for the Other. Soon we find resonating to this anecdote the works of Norbert Elias, and our own perceptions of ethnographic barriers between cultures. The little etiquette book people give you when you go to Japan contains, among many other daunting prohibitions, a ban on blowing the nose in public. If this seems hard to ...

Making a Mouth in a Contemptuous Manner

John Gallagher: Civility Held Sway, 4 July 2019

In Pursuit of Civility: Manners and Civilisation in Early Modern England 
by Keith Thomas.
Yale, 457 pp., £25, June 2018, 978 0 300 23577 7
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... a very contemptuous manner’. In The Civilising Process, first published in 1939, the sociologist Norbert Elias argued that between the 13th and the 18th centuries an increasing repugnance was felt about certain bodily functions. Elias reckoned that attitudes to things like spitting, shitting or wiping one’s nose ...

Disjunction and Analysis

Ralf Dahrendorf, 19 February 1981

Sociological Journeys: Essays 1960-1980 
by Daniel Bell.
Heinemann, 370 pp., £12.50, December 1980, 0 435 82069 9
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... more than invent yet another name for the world in which we are living. Serious scholars, like Norbert Elias or Reinhard Bendix, have turned to the past as the key to the present. Some try to develop what they like to call Marxism, though Jürgen Habermas is one of the very few who do so with any degree of originality. Raymond Aron’s name must be ...

On the Disassembly Line

Katrina Forrester: Dirty Work, 7 July 2022

Work without the Worker: Labour in the Age of Platform Capitalism 
by Phil Jones.
Verso, 134 pp., £10.99, October 2021, 978 1 83976 043 3
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Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America 
by Eyal Press.
Head of Zeus, 303 pp., £16.99, January, 978 1 80110 722 8
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... hands dirty so the rest of us don’t have to.In The Civilising Process (1939), the sociologist Norbert Elias described the acts of ‘concealment’, ‘segregation’ and ‘removing out of sight’ as crucial to modern social organisation. They protect the consumer or citizen from understanding the true cost of their choices and enable the ...

Hungry Ghosts

Paul Connerton, 19 April 1990

Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Parts I-III 
edited by Michel Feher, Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi.
Zone, 480 pp., £35.95, May 1989, 0 942299 25 6
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... arguing that the body is socially constructed he has been followed more recently by, among others, Norbert Elias, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu and Mary Douglas. To these we must now add Fragments for a History of the Human Body, a collection edited by Michel Feher, with Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi. The book is in three volumes, containing in all 48 ...

Theme-Park Prussia

David Blackbourn, 24 November 1994

Prussia: The Perversion of an Idea 
by Giles MacDonogh.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 456 pp., £20, July 1994, 1 85619 267 9
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... friends. Social exclusiveness as such is not an issue here: John Röhl and Isabel Hull, following Norbert Elias, have shown what we can learn by looking at court society and the aristocratic milieu. The problem arises when the part is confused with the whole, MacDonogh’s symbol of the 19th-century flight from East to West is Junker families selling off ...

Fallen Idols

David A. Bell, 23 July 1992

The Fabrication of Louis XIV 
by Peter Burke.
Yale, 242 pp., £19.95, May 1992, 0 300 05153 0
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... the acts of dressing and going to bed had strictly-choreographed ceremonies to accompany them. As Norbert Elias observed in his classic study The Court Society, aristocrats pursued the status that came from proper performance in the rituals of court life with the cool rationality of stockbrokers pursuing profit. Louis XIV himself revelled in the ...


P.N. Furbank, 18 November 1982

The English World: History, Character and People 
edited by Robert Blake.
Thames and Hudson, 268 pp., £14.95, September 1982, 0 500 25083 9
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The English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal 
by Philip Mason.
Deutsch, 240 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 9780233974897
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... grasping by a corner is a topic of great significance. It is the one expounded so memorably by Norbert Elias in The Civilising Process. According to Elias, in the 17th century, as a result of the strains attending the setting up of absolutist states, there rose up (or at any rate rose much higher) an ‘invisible ...

Body History

Roy Porter, 31 August 1989

The Body and the French Revolution: Sex, Class and Political Culture 
by Dorinda Outram.
Yale, 197 pp., £22, May 1989, 0 300 04436 4
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Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories 
by Barbara Gates.
Princeton, 190 pp., £19.95, September 1988, 0 691 09437 3
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Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine between the 18th and 20th Centuries 
by Ludmilla Jordanova.
Harvester, 224 pp., £19.95, April 1989, 9780745003320
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Family, Love and Work in the Lives of Victorian Gentlewomen 
by Jeanne Peterson.
Indiana, 241 pp., $39.95, May 1989, 0 253 20509 3
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... body; and the capitalist state has in consequence been allowed to people itself with what Norbert Elias called homo clausus: the privatised bourgeois individual, self-excluded from a public life. Such principled passivity, Outram contends, has permitted that state encroachment upon the body which Foucault (himself the obsequist of the ‘death of ...

Axeman as Ballroom Dancer

David Blackbourn, 17 July 1997

Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany 1600-1987 
by Richard J. Evans.
Oxford, 1014 pp., £55, March 1996, 0 19 821968 7
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... fruitfully with the theoretical big guns: Philippe Ariès on changing attitudes towards death, Norbert Elias on the ‘civilising process’, and Foucault on the emergence of the ‘carceral society’. In the last two thirds of the book, the balance tilts towards a more purely political account, in which parliamentary debates and administrative ...

What kept Hector and Andromache warm in windy Troy?

David Simpson: ‘Vehement Passions’, 19 June 2003

The Vehement Passions 
by Philip Fisher.
Princeton, 268 pp., £18.95, May 2002, 0 691 06996 4
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... high level of peace and security, along the lines laid out so forcefully and influentially in Norbert Elias’s The Civilising Process? To his credit, Fisher does not end his book with a bang, and the frequent elegance and non-judgmental quality of his observations should lead the open-minded (and, dare I say, disinterested) reader to all sorts of ...

Lamb’s Tails

Christopher Driver, 19 June 1986

All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present 
by Stephen Mennell.
Blackwell, 380 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 631 13244 9
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Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the 14th Century including ‘The Forme of Cury’ 
edited by Constance Hieatt and Sharon Butler.
Oxford, for the Early English Text Society, 224 pp., £6.50, April 1985, 0 19 722409 1
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The English Cookbook 
by Victor Gordon.
Cape, 304 pp., £12.50, November 1985, 0 224 02300 4
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... order these things somewhat better in the Council of Europe, where Stephen Mennell, a disciple of Norbert Elias, began work on All Manners of Food. The slow-baked book that has finally emerged reads like a series of essays on pertinent food topics in cultural history rather than a comprehensive account of what has been eaten, and why, in Britain and ...

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