Anthropological Theory Elias and the anthropological tradition
J. R. Goody Anthropological Theory 2002; 2; 401 DOI: 10.1177/14634990260620512 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Anthropological Theory Copyright © 2002 SAGE Publications ( by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. 2008 . CA and New Delhi) Vol 2(4): 401–412 [1463-4996(200212)2:4. a subject that was not always appreciated by Elias. methods which had been rejected by many anthropologists in the 20th century. without direct observation. Key Words comparative study • Elias • eurocentric • Ghana • manners • mentality • naturvolk • psychological history • self-restraint I intended to write an article on Elias thinking that I could stress the contribution made to cultural history and comparative studies. two ventures in which I had been engaged and which recent anthropology had neglected. in which he tries to use Freud for historical purposes. But turning back to Elias’ major text. Thousand Oaks.sagepub. But it does promote a comparative method along the lines of Marx and Weber. It is argued that he arbitrarily selects certain aspects of manners. let alone developments in other post-Bronze Age societies. Manners he treats largely in psychological terms of the advance of the highly generalized notion of self-restraint. and this served to encourage such studies in the social sciences.029504] Elias and the anthropological tradition Jack Goody University of Cambridge. The civilizing process is described as having its genesis in the European Renaissance with the increased part played by the state and the disappearance of feudal structures. 401 Downloaded from http://ant. UK Abstract The impressive work of Norbert Elias displays little knowledge of ‘other cultures’ nor of anthropology in general. Elias was interested not only in comparison but in long-term historical change and in what he called ‘sociogenesis’. it does help to throw some light on the question of the universality of his theories and certain evolutionist or developmental assumptions behind his approach. I felt I needed to comment on its message and method from the standpoint of anthropology.401–412. But without precise measurements these questions of ‘mentality’ are too problematic to be examined by texts alone. neglects the growth (or continuation) of violence and fails to take account of the ‘conscience collective’ operating in simpler societies. While that is of little importance from the standpoint of his significant work on European historical sociology.

In any case.1 We can see the same trend in his work at Leicester. perhaps through a community study such as he had carried out in England. he had a Weberian view of traditional societies which had to be radically distinguished from ‘modern’ ones. His consideration of the ‘other’ is relevant to his attitude towards ourselves and to our culture as well as to the major change he saw as taking place in the civilizing process. The term is significant since it refers to those who have yet to undergo ‘the civilizing process’. 2008 . But he did not publish the results of any such survey and the work of others. rather than through intensive fieldwork. except to Levi-Strauss in relation to the Whorf hypothesis and to Evans-Pritchard’s Nuer. The important achievement of Elias as far as anthropology is concerned lay elsewhere. in social organization and in psychological outlook. it was perhaps partly because he neglected them and showed little interest in the range of society with which they were mainly dealing and which his universalizing hypotheses might have expected him to include. I have written of my meeting with Elias in Africa when he was Professor of Sociology of the University of Ghana (Legon). he tried to get rid of anthropology. A new and large Department of Sociology. forthcoming). purchased from itinerant Hausa traders who frequented the residential area of the University around sunset. 1994b. wanting to learn more about their own society and not only about western ones (which is of course where his own expertise lay). but in a rather old-fashioned way. He seemed to think it possible to gain an understanding of such matters by chatting to students and employees. Goody. including Busia’s survey of Takoradi. He was somewhat isolated from what went on around him. it had effectively no element of anthropology in its curriculum. the tradition that was exemplified in the works of Marx and above all of Max Weber. He felt the latter could do much better. in which the degree was based on that for the London School of Economics. and I emphasize this was a personal impression. When Elias came to the sociology department. From my point of view. he was the very opposite of an ethnographer. the students strongly resisted this change. I believe my impressions are fully supported by looking at his autobiographical account of his experiences in that country and of his encounter with what he referred to as ‘naturvolk’ (Elias. In Ghana he was more concerned with the by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. His book on ‘What is Society?’ has virtually no reference to anthropologists. as far as the curriculum was concerned. Otherwise he made a rare visit to a village by car. Like most European sociologists. I got the impression that he knew very little about the continent and its people. now rejected by many ‘postmodernists’.sagepub. for he worked with Alfred Weber and had joined 402 Downloaded from http://ant. at least of Africa and of ‘other cultures’. If anthropologists in Britain neglected Elias. His grounds were that Africa should not be left to the anthropologists who had failed to understand its particular strangeness. He desired to replace anthropology by sociology. 1950). He represented a continuation of the tradition of historical and comparative sociology.ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 2(4) A recent invitation to a conference on Elias mentions his encounter with the ‘other’ and the blurb for the 1994 edition of his book The Civilizing Process refers to his research in Ghana. and through his collection of African sculptures. They are nearer to nature and to the expression of man’s biological nature. suggests that such an approach has its limitations (Busia. and had read almost nothing on the subject. Such ignorance of and distance from the local scene as this conception implied was not characteristic of Elias alone but was noticeable in other expatriate teachers in the social sciences in Africa who came from the dominant European sociological tradition.

com by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. This was regional comparison. indeed actively promoted by some. Under the influence of Malinowski and to a lesser extent of Radcliffe-Brown. which made the comparison 403 Downloaded from http://ant. In the 19th century the British tradition of comparative studies in the social sciences had taken a somewhat different turn. 1978: 190). the thrust of anthropological enquiry turned to direct observations and enquiries in the field in the manner classically described by Evans-Pritchard (1951).GOODY Elias and the anthropological tradition the circle of Marianne Weber at Heidelberg. rightly in my opinion. And he applied that approach to the fascinating topic of ‘manners’. There has been much discussion of the nature of Elias’ concepts of ‘progress’ and of ‘process’ and their relation to earlier notions of evolution and development. ‘of the sociogenesis and development of social formations of all kinds’ (Elias. But that did not eliminate the practice of comparison altogether. becoming an assistant to the sociologist Karl Mannheim. especially in non-European societies. He had no further controls. That is to say. He is particularly concerned with the way in which the predominant type of sociology current in his day – he refers mainly to Talcott Parsons – had become a sociology of ‘states’ and had set aside a consideration of problems of long-term social change. There was yet another type of comparison that was tacitly accepted. Elias. both of society and of the personality. of centralization and the internalization of constraints in the development of manners. In the introduction that he added to the 1978 edition of The Civilizing Process. argues that we should set aside the ideology and attempt to improve the factual basis. Marx and Hobhouse are dismissed by Elias himself partly on evidential grounds and partly because of an ideology that assumed development was always for the better. nor is it clear in his first monograph to what extent a notion of ‘progress’ is intrinsic to his concept of civilization. That was the case. Fieldworking anthropologists recommended that their students do in-depth research in two communities. an enquiry that was justified on the grounds that neighbouring societies had much in common.sagepub. These efforts produced a number of interesting results in terms of the history of human culture but they were largely set aside and discounted by the British anthropologists who followed in the 1920s and above all the 1930s. but it included in this purview the whole range of human experience and culture. 2008 . But one problem with his study is that the factual base is restricted. One-to-one comparison was an intrinsic feature of this programme. But so was another kind. influenced as it was by anthropology more than by sociology (though Herbert Spencer and the legal historians drew on both fields). but Parsons saw an advantage in the synchronic analysis of social action. with whom he later met up again in London. but in his major book he is certainly dealing with vectorial transformation over time. it was a one-toone comparison with his own society in order to query relevant aspects of the West. though the broad diachronic element disappeared. Indeed regarding diachronic analysis. it concentrated not simply on European and to a lesser extent Eurasiatic societies. as the sociologists had done since their problematic always centred upon Europe and on questions of modernity and tradition. Their original focus was on the early and the other rather than on the modern and ourselves. Spencer. Elias brings out his theoretical and methodological interests. but he was consistently drawn to compare Trobriand practices with those of Europe. the work of authors like Comte. Malinowski effectively worked only in the Trobriand Islands. So large-scale ethnographic comparison took a back seat. a movement in the direction of progress.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 2(4) more valid and more acceptable. the discussion of the Asiatic mode of production and the re-analysis of his concepts by Althusser. by Peter Worsley in The Trumpet Shall Sound writing on Melanesian cargo cults and by Kathleen Gough (1981) in her studies on south-west India. 2008 . In Britain the comparative and historical tradition was maintained. In both the restricted and the regional comparison there might be some treatment of change. both encouraging their own students to work in those particular areas in order to further the possibility of profitable comparison as well as to satisfy curiosity about their neighbours. Terray and others. albeit on a regional basis. In the same vein Evans-Pritchard promoted Nilotic studies and Fortes Voltaic ones. Levi-Strauss and Dumont had few such inhibitions about wide-ranging comparison. who continued with comparative and historical questions. For them the central question was usually why did ‘modernization’ ( by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. But he remains aware of the dangers – the problem of evidence and the ideological bias associated with the idea of progress. Not all anthropologists everywhere were equally opposed to comparison. Weber had less influence. especially in the work of Godelier. except for his widely-read essay on The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism translated by the American sociologist Talcott Parsons. Elias adopts a very different stance from Parsons. Marx and Weber. Let me discuss the first of these. as were ones involving a historical perspective. in a sense carrying on the tradition of Année sociologique (which the British adopted in other sociological respects). through whom his works were made known to an English-speaking audience. So larger comparisons were abandoned by these scholars. both were based on their own fieldwork. It was the case that scholars had used ‘history’ to try and explain origins or sociogenesis in highly speculative ways that distracted from the search for explanations in terms of the interlocking of contemporary features (‘functional’ or ‘structural’). While they did not openly declare that ‘history is bunk’. But longer-term changes were of little explicit interest. In France. That interlocking of persons and institutions at one point in time was rightly seen as a perfectly valid form of analysis. linking this to changes in social processes. whose approach he only sees as static (yet Parsons was also very much concerned with the links between the social and psychological systems). especially if it was short-term and ‘observable’. static was not considered to be failure of analysis but as useful (as Comte had maintained) for certain definite purposes. 404 Downloaded from http://ant.sagepub. Like Weber he is interested in long-term changes and explores the reasons for sociology’s abandonment of such investigation. following publication of a translation of his study of pre-capitalist social formations. Meillassoux. both influenced by Marxist ideas. as in biology. industrialization) take place in Europe and not elsewhere? The work of Marx had most influence on anthropologists in France. Indeed the choice between synchronic and diachronic analysis clearly depends upon the problem at which one is looking and cannot be determined in advance. There were other scholars influenced by the great sociologists of the past. and perhaps to lend support to or confirm their own studies. many were worried by the use of ‘conjectural history’ (or pseudo-history) by 19th-century anthropologists to account for the variations and distribution of human behaviour which they had perceived by their use of ‘the comparative method’. The most systematic of these studies were Schapera’s work on the political systems of the Southern Bantu (1956) and Richards’ analysis of matrilineal societies in Central Africa (1950).

White. as with Elias. Durkheim on the other hand made an extensive study of native Australians for The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) as well as reviewing many anthropological works for Année sociologique. Douté and others made thoughtful contributions to ethnographic research even if they did not themselves engage in fieldwork to any notable extent. Diamond and Landes. Brenner. though talk of the ‘naturvolk’. and little enough of ‘peasant’ ones. as in Ghana. while he was extremely knowledgeable about the major Eurasian civilizations. His work concentrates on ‘the long-term transformation of personality structure’ which he sees as related to long-term transformations of social ‘structures’ (to state formation). unlike Durkheim he knew virtually nothing of non-literate societies. This he sees as manifested in increasing self-restraint.2 This work would have qualified Elias for a ninth place (though there are many other candidates) because of his statements about Europe’s advantages in the civilizing process (and particularly in the internalization of restraint) without any review of non-European material. In the second. Mann. in his discussion of forms of authority – traditional. for example. charismatic. Jones. Hall. Traditional was simply a residual category for Weber and so too for Elias. and of the assumption of some ideal type of traditional society brought one perilously close to the speculative history of 19th-century anthropologists against whose procedures and results the fieldworking anthropologists of the interwar period with their ‘static’ observations had struggled so strongly and to much purpose. However. With Weber. Fauconnet.GOODY Elias and the anthropological tradition Weber had some effect in encouraging a comparative approach. Hertz. this discussion was of limited value to by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. rituals. Elias draws attention to the paucity of work on ‘the structure and controls of human affects’ except for ‘the more developed societies of today’.sagepub. Bouglé. From the broadest perspective Elias’ original thesis adopts a similar approach to those discussed by Blaut in his Eight Eurocentric Historians (2000) among whom he includes Weber. He is concerned with the background of what in common speech relates to the change from ‘barbarity’ to ‘civilization’. with their sacrifices. the focus came firmly back to historical comparison. True. but in fact his major work concentrates entirely upon Europe and the development of the civilizing process in the period following the Renaissance. In his introduction to the 1968 German edition. not in the sense the terms have 405 Downloaded from http://ant. scanty clothing but greater directness. as the notion of a single category of traditional authority was far too restrictive and did not correspond to what one found in practice. Such a wide interest was very limited in the German sociological tradition from which Elias emerged. He is asking not why capitalism arose exclusively in the West but why the civilizing process did. 2008 . which he contrasts explicitly with what took place in the Middle Ages (such as uncontrolled bouts of drinking) and in simpler societies among the ‘naturvolk’. More stimulating was Weber’s major problematic and the way he tried to test his suggested answer cross-culturally. classifying kind which led to some comparison. his collaborators and students such as Mauss. bureaucratic – rather as Durkheim did with his treatment of organic and mechanical social systems. in the internalization of controls over affect. he never puts it quite as directly as Weber (who at times also pursued a more nuanced argument). In the first place his general sociology was of an abstract. His problematic is not identical to Weber’s but it is related.3 Elias belonged to this Weberian tradition and his central question in The Civilizing Process (1978 [1939]) was precisely how this process had emerged in modern times and had been internalized by the actors as a set of constraints.

Elias does not see every development as proceeding in a straight line. Elias asserts that ‘the direction of the main movement . It is not easy to discuss the applicability of this theory to other contexts because of its generality. the ‘naturvolk’ or primitive needed to have his emotions and behaviour controlled. which it is now generally regarded as misleading. At the same time he confines the notion of state formation and civilization to the modern period in Europe. Nevertheless. But 406 Downloaded from http://ant. is the same for all kinds of behavior’ (1994: 154). the rise of Nazism (or more broadly Fascism). of ‘regression’. Although he wishes to replace metaphysically dominated sociological theories of development with a more empirically based model. Elias appreciates the need for evidence and considers he has tackled this question. . Such activity and the Fascist ideologies in Germany and Italy. namely the process of state formation over several centuries together with the complementary process of advancing differentiation. Instincts are slowly and progressively suppressed. empirically based sociological theory of social process in general and of social development in particular’ (1994: 184).sagepub. especially as the process of state formation was discussed by other German writers (such as the anthropologist Robert Lowie) in a much wider context. Elias turned to consider the most dramatic phase. a social equivalent of Freudian psychological processes. bathing costumes (and women’s sport) presuppose ‘a very high standard of drive control’. Social change (seen as ‘structural’) must be regarded as moving towards ‘greater or less complexity’ over many generations (1994: 184). Why does that observation apply to us and not to the scantier clothing of simpler societies? Indeed when one examines the problem of increasing constraints from a different angle. but that seems to avoid the main issue. of the development that has led to our present situation. it is not easy to find any empirical support. The notion of such an ‘advance’ is critical.ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 2(4) been used by prehistorians but referring to changes in the control of internal (and external) behaviour. the latter being manifest in experience (‘in the form of an advance in the threshold of shame and revulsion’). the phylogenetic with the ontogenetic (although children did not go through all the phases of the civilizing process). While this point of view is a commonplace in the West. which some consider should have had its place in any account of the overall changes in human society. He now sees the Nazi period as a process of ‘decivilization’. Later on towards the end of his life. the notion of a general progression disappears. both with regard to social differentiation at the socio-political level (‘state controls’) and to the relationship with long-term changes in affect control. 2008 . although there may have been changes towards stricter and laxer controls over time and place in specific spheres. After the First World War. he rejects the notion of evolution ‘in the nineteenth century sense’ or of unspecific ‘social change’ in the 20th century one (1994: 184). and not some kind of ‘regression’. He rather looks at social development in one of its manifestations. like the World Wars. there was a ‘relaxation in morals’ (1994: 153) but this was ‘a very short recession’ which he claims did not affect the general trend. He claims he is ‘laying the foundation of an undogmatic. There is little doubt that Elias equated the childhood of the race with the childhood of the human being. are surely an intrinsic part of contemporary society. That conception seems to relate to another. For by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. . From a theoretical point of view such a purely European focus is unsustainable. as was also the case with children who required disciplining in the same way (with fear being involved in both cases). by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30.) His approach contrasts with that of Weber. could not. he might only have ended up like Weber in seeing Europe as ‘unique’.sagepub. which is of course where he sees the civilizing process as taking place. who was concerned with the sociogenesis of capitalism (and the internalized religiously based constraints of Protestants) and discussed at great length the reasons why Asian societies did not. creating the courtly society. and interdependence and competition an extent. ‘Corresponding to it. the sociogenesis of the state. In acephalous societies without elaborate systems of authority there are possibly more ‘internalized’ constraints. though the logical basis of this transformation seems open to question. associated with the reckoning of time. 2008 . which may of course take the form of ‘negative reciprocity’ in the violence of vengeance and the feud. which of course it is bound to be. given his initial question. the questions are linked together. That he should later have learnt had he read the work on the Tallensi of Ghana undertaken by Fortes with his psychological and indeed psychoanalytic background. he asserts. but the implication is that it is unique in respect of the factors leading to the civilizing process (or capitalism). ‘is that here the division of functions has attained a level. Those developments include the ‘necessity to subordinate momentary effects to more distant goals’ (458). ‘What lends the civilizing process in the west its special and unique character’. and to see them as lacking in self-control is highly questionable. The change in the structure of affects is related by Elias to the change in the structure of society. The process of what he calls state formation. encompassing not only the oceans but arable regions of the earth (the expansion of Europe). too. to the development of chronometric techniques and to the consciousness of time as well as to the development of money and ‘other instruments of social integration’. Western society. in such societies. in particular the shift from the ‘free competition’ of feudal society to the monopolization of power by the monarchy. entailing a shift from external constraints to internal ones. ‘naturvolk’ have already been through a long process of socialization. give rise to capitalism. certainly reciprocal ones. with ‘their higher division of labour’ (459).GOODY Elias and the anthropological tradition as has often been pointed out. developed from a ‘network of interdependence’. Could that really be said of the 16th century? In any case he does not examine the history of any other part of the world and if he did so. (No African society was seen by him as having a state. he sees this in turn as related to punctuality. There is certainly more planning. rather than more complex. Elias writes. though he lived within the shadow of the Kingdom of Asante. 1996). of denaturing. Pomeranz has effectively queried these assumptions in a recent book (2000) and I would certainly do so as well (Goody. Higher note. unequalled in world history’ (1994: 457). the monopolies of force and taxation a solidity. and hence delayed gratification. All this concerns ‘western development’ and ‘western societies’. starting with the upper and middle classes. which life at the centres of this network imposes’ (457). or more 407 Downloaded from http://ant. creating a necessity for an ‘attunement of human conduct over wider areas’. But that often involves external controls as much. Having elaborated this relationship between terrestrial expansion and psychological interdependence. is the strength of self-control and the permanence of compulsion. producing permanent self-control (more complex super-egos). In a differentiated society that increased central control is seen as offering greater ‘freedoms’ to its members. both in terms of physical space and of numbers of people. affect-inhibition and drive-control. is analysed exclusively from the standpoint of western Europe.

as well as more unconstrained behaviour in the area of sex. even if anthropologists more frequently take a relativistic or universalistic line about such topics (‘the unity of mankind’). on Freudian and similar visions of instinctive drives and impulses gradually being brought under control by society. the question of shame and guilt. And we must not lose sight of the fact that apart from ‘attunement’. especially as this might have led him to query the notion of a special ‘social personality structure’ in the West. gradually increase’ (153).sagepub. the evidence for which depends entirely on the written record. 408 Downloaded from http://ant. Yet he claims that social facts fit in with the general notion of increasing self-control. at least at the level of society. But we need to ask two questions. In his discussion of the history of manners.R. including internalized sanctions. The problem of long-term changes in affect and control structures of people constitutes an interesting question and is not one that anthropologists have much discussed. Lloyd in his extensive criticisms of such an approach. Elias concentrates upon a set of aspects of behaviour. that situation throws some doubts on a dependence on the text alone for examining ‘mentalities’. and so forth. Firstly his sequence of development privileges western Europe and its development from feudal to courtly (of the 16th and 17th centuries) to bourgeois society. discomforted by Levy-Bruhl’s ‘primitive mentality’.ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 2(4) than. at the level of affect. demanding a scepticism about such questions as ‘the invention of love’ in 12th-century France or 18th-century England. indeed.E. 2008 . certainly in terms of affect and emotion though there has been considerable interest in social by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. state formation led to violence within and without the boundaries. of violations of property rights and other forms of criminal action? Concerning violence he claims that ‘we see clearly how the compulsions arising directly from the threat of weapons and physical force gradually diminish. would tend to follow G. and how those forms of dependency which lead to the regulation of the affects in the form of selfcontrol. for which he is best known. Increasing consumption over this period. Is it satisfactory simply to select these aspects and to disregard others which seem to go in a contrary sense where one needs to take account of the increase in warfare and violence. The question he raises is whether the long-term changes in social systems. internal ones. The proposition is highly questionable. ‘toward a higher level of social differentiation and integration’ (183). That is not to deny the possibility of long-term changes. The comparison and history of ‘affect’ presents greater problems of evidence and documentation. and the relation of segmentary political systems to moral and jural solidarities which was raised by Durkheim (and only much later in the German tradition with its overwhelming concern with the state). as well as elaboration in matters of dress and table manners. of handkerchiefs. on the notion of a shift from (external) shame to (internal) guilt. including those aspects that led to Elias himself having to flee his native Germany. are accompanied by parallel changes in personality structures. taking into account the use and threat of weapons in the 20th century. possibly directional ones. Secondly his vision totally underestimates the social constraints in the simpler societies. the increasing use of tableware (especially the fork). No need to consider ‘naturvolk’ in this process but it is unacceptable that there is no reference to other urban societies. and most anthropologists. That thesis is vaguely based on ideas of ‘naturvolk’ with their supposedly freer feelings. Here Elias’ failure to seriously examine other cultures leads him into two kinds of problems. did see a series of changes in western cultures. at least in the absence of written sources.

This seems a very dubious assertion that perhaps held for the Victorian period in England but by no means everywhere even in Europe. as an indicator of a new state of affairs. . That is to overinterpret. Women have certainly experienced some liberation in this as in other spheres. unless we mean by that new forms of expressing those feelings. Sexuality. Lewis. In accordance with his general view of the ‘history of manners’. Elias perceives a similar progression in respect of monogamous marriage which the Church had proclaimed early on in its history. when drives and impulses come under firmer and stricter control. Love is seen in similarly questionable developmental terms. 2008 . ‘What we call “love” . that shade of feeling. nor the relationship of the individual to the social (as distinct from society) discussed by Durkheim and further analysed by Parsons in The Structure of Social Action (1937) which in my view Elias does not completely understand. figuration). It may have been possible to make this assertion in the 1930s (though I myself have doubts). 1998). The note refers to comments by Ginsberg. Montaigne and Freud about social influences on behaviour but which give no support whatsoever to the idea of a progression in notions of shame. culture. Indeed Victorian England has to be looked upon as a special case of inhibition in this respect. a question that lies at the heart 409 Downloaded from http://ant. For only then are extramarital relationships for men really ostracised socially. indeed the by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. ‘that transformation of pleasure. What is problematic is not the interlocking of human beings in a wider perspective (society. Elias begins by claiming that ‘the feeling of shame surrounding human sexual relations . or if understands does not take fully into account. not to an overall change in man’s consciousness. . as I think he sometimes does. . There has been a misapplication of the notion of sociogenesis (see Goody. he has ‘a different standard of shame’ from the later period and that difference is part of the civilizing process since at that time ‘even among adults. but there is (as I have tried to show elsewhere) no evidence of new feelings. The fact that ‘primitives’ may go about scantily clad does not mean they do not have strongly felt internalized feelings of shame and embarrassment. .). violence and other forms of interpersonal behaviour. The problem that is most worrying to anthropologists lies in the nature of the nexus between social structure and personality structure. ‘But marriage takes on this strict form as a social institution binding on both sexes only at a later stage. He sees a text. Yet it is a problem he pursues in trying to establish his thesis: ‘in the course of the civilising process the sexual drive. but after the 1960s it is hardly correct to claim a progression to ‘ever stricter controls’. That we find here a poetic genre new for Christian Europe there can be little doubt. That he sees in the views taken of Erasmus’ Colloquies in the 19th century. everything pertaining to sexual life is concealed to a high degree and dismissed behind the scenes’ (146). as expressing ‘genuine feelings’ (though it could be used otherwise) and. or at least subject to absolute secrecy’ (150). men too are not more ‘straight-laced’ than in Victorian times. in the words of C.S. is subjected to ever stricter control and transformation’ (149). dealt with under a section headed ‘changes in attitude towards relations between the sexes’ (138 ff.sagepub. that sublimation and refinement of the affects’ (328) comes into being in the feudal society of the troubadours and is expressed in ‘lyric poetry’.GOODY Elias and the anthropological tradition certainly with regard to sex. It is how mental stages correspond to social ones. like many others. changed considerably in the process of civilization’. is given a similar treatment. and even here the newness of expression applies only to Christian Europe. the material culture as an index of a psychological state.

Elias did not even try to pursue this comparison. There is also the question of ‘theory’. 1998). That particular development (of the civilizing process) led to ‘greater self-control by men’.sagepub. And that Elias was doing. even though his western orientation did. But it is possible to interpret those as too tightly structured. Elias does just this regarding ‘civilization’. . Historians and others may see a term such as feudal as being theoretically neutral but it does in fact refer to a specific view of development in Europe and by implication (or even by direct usage) in the rest of the world. and of the people forming these figurations’ (207)? That seems to be putting the problem at a too general. But what is this stage? It seems to assume the existence of a more primitive mentality and fails to look for particular social factors leading to this breakthrough. and to reflect on themselves as thinking beings’ (207). for example. including ‘philosophers’ and other intellectuals). non-sociological level.g. Amstutz. Many historians of science would put the relationship round the other way and offer explanations that did not require the notion of an autonomous civilizing process involved with great ‘affect control’. but not if you are making more general claims. I have spoken primarily of the relevance of Elias and Weber for anthropological enquiry. Again. I believe there is no excuse for this neglect of other ‘civilized’ cultures in such a venture. For example in a famous contribution Weber related the rise of capitalism to the Protestant ethic. 2008 . it is difficult to accept the construction of a prima mobile which is not simply descriptive but causal – a ‘civilisation shift . Such usages need to be examined critically and if necessary reconsidered. in the tea ceremony – all this presents parallels to Europe at the time of the Renaissance that should have attracted his attention and led to geographical (cross-cultural) analyses rather than to one confined to Europe – given the more general psychological thesis he was attempting to substantiate. he sees the shift from a geocentric view of the world as resulting from ‘an increased capacity in men for self-detachment in thought’ (208). showing a similar ‘spirit’ to have existed elsewhere (e. One is aware of the problem in the social sciences. . Elias writes of a conception of the relation between what is ‘inside man’ and ‘the external world’ that is found in the writings of all groups ‘whose powers of reflection and whose self-awareness have reached the stage at which people are in a position not only to think but to be conscious of themselves. the complicated rituals of greeting and of bodily cleanliness. why disregard what happened in other ‘civilizations’ such as China? There too the development of manners. Stick to Europe if you will. Weber realized he had to take them into account. in my view. But since then many articles have appeared. greater self-detachment.ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 2(4) of his by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. of court constraint as contrasted with peasant directness – as. such as the power of the written word to promote reflexivity of this kind (and the role of individuals and social groups that developed it. Indeed going to the roots of Elias’ hypothesis. get in the way of a correct evaluation of the material (see Goody. viewing in a Weberian fashion what was happening here in Europe as the unique path to modernity. No one would deny that there are such relationships. that was taking place within man himself ’ (209). 410 Downloaded from http://ant. 1996). the use of intermediaries between food and mouth. too closely drawn together. Even granted there were directional changes in behaviour linked to centralization. Can we properly speak of a ‘stage in the development of the figurations formed by people. the concepts one uses almost invariably have theoretical implications. flattering as that may be to our own egos.

and perhaps unknowability of historical moments – makes it impossible even to approach many of the most important questions in history (and in contemporary life). a commentary on previous texts or abstract model building. The use of some of these concepts has occasionally served to redirect research activities but at a more profound level they have been singularly unprofitable. particularity. 2000). 2008 . There must always be some problems in these two areas for a subject based on fieldwork. What the work of Weber and Elias has helped to keep alive is the interest in history and comparison. indeed some of its practitioners have given up the attempt. there is really no alternative to systematic comparisons. tend to turn to gross comparison with their own cultures as a substitute for serious sociological enquiry. perhaps ‘philosophic anthropology’ as practised by Habermas is a possibility here. But if one wants to say something about the differences between certain types of society (however defined). Here I refer to the kind of discussion embodied in Talcott Parsons’ The Structure of Social Action and subsequent works.sagepub. 2 Some years ago I attended a seminar in Cambridge arranged by a number of these 411 Downloaded from http://ant. Clearly there is a place for those who wish to concentrate upon the Nuer or upon the wider frame of Nilotic studies. We are accustomed to the reports of fieldworkers whose efforts. I do not wish to suggest that comparison is the only strategy anthropology can adopt. I would argue that one cannot neglect them for that reason but should use the results of fieldwork to improve comparison and historical reconstruction. when not confined to the recording and analysis of observations. I believe it to be the same with most discussions of culture and society. That goal should remain an important aim for all the social sciences. It seems much preferable instead to confront biased comparison by trying to produce better ones’ – by seeing both sides of the comparison as deviations rather than as seeing one as the norm (Pomeranz.GOODY Elias and the anthropological tradition But there is another level of theory where such a re-examination has turned out to be less valuable. perhaps better. Bourdieu’s of ‘habitus’. 2000: 8). Notes 1 See Korte’s forthcoming work on Elias’ letters to Rene König. and it is one with which the work of Weber and Elias urges us to engage. to which I am indebted. though I myself would prefer to see this listed under a separate designation. a dilation on what nobody needed to know. We can usually do just as well. Radcliffe-Brown’s structure and function. though similar considerations apply to Anthony Giddens’ discussion of ‘structuration’. It is of little surprise that recent anthropology has failed to make a substantial contribution to understanding in the social sciences. In a recent book Pomeranz acknowledges that much of classical social theory has been Eurocentric but argues that ‘the alternative favoured by some current “postmodernist” scholars abandoning cross-cultural comparison altogether and focussing almost exclusively on exposing the contingency. This general attitude is strongly reinforced by conversations with those who worked with Elias. and it applies to Elias’ notion of ‘figuration’. or even to imply the existence of such general differences. on the supposedly systematic relations between sub-systems. There may also be a place for a mode of enquiry that embraces neither intensive fieldwork nor systematic comparison. with the language of ordinary men. a repetition of the obvious. rejecting the methodology of fieldwork and relying on literary or philosophical intuition (see by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30.

Times Higher Educational Supplement 2/6/2000: 31. He has written more generally on kinship and family. Evans-Pritchard. (1981–2) [1978. G. Cambridge: Polity Press.R. Evans-Pritchard. London: Faber & Faber. Elias. Parsons. Revised edition (Edmund Jephcott trs. (1937) The Structure of Social Action. and also carried out enquiries in Gujerat and South China. I.). Latour. (forthcoming) The ‘Civilising Process’ in Ghana. (1950) ‘Some Types of Family Structure among the Central Bantu’. London: C. (1957) The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of Cargo Cults in Melanesia. 3 As with many writers. (1956) Government and Politics in Tribal Societies. A. Cambridge CB2 I am talking about the original work. J. New York: Free Press. Comparative Studies in Society and History 40: 724–47. Lloyd. N. Cambridge: Cambridge University] 412 Downloaded from http://ant. (1998) Food and Love. on literacy. N. References Amstutz. Review of E.I. (1951) Social Anthropology. J. (1966) The Position of Women in Primitive Societies and Other Essays in Social Anthropology. (1994a) The Civilizing Process. Oxford: Blackwell. N. He carried out fieldwork in Ghana among the Lo Dagaa and Gonja. Goody. Darian-Smith’ (Bridging Divides: The Channel Tunnel and English Legal Identity in the New Europe.).ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 2(4) scholars (including other distinguished contributors) on Europe’s uniqueness in respect to capitalism. Busia. K. NJ: Princeton University Press. Schapera. Radcliffe-Brown and C. and the Making of the Modern World Economy.E. J. E.A. London: Crown Agents. K. G. Worsley. Goody.E. London: T. Forde (eds) African Systems of Kinship and Marriage. London: Routledge. China. on food. New York: Guilford Press. Watts. 2008 .R. Elias. Address: St John’s College. (1994b) Reflections on a Life (Edmund Jephcott trs. Berkeley: University of California Press).M.D. J. Goody.sagepub. P. 1939] The Civilizing Process (Edmund Jephcott trs. on flowers and on other cultural topics. (2000) Eight Eurocentric Historians.E. My own attempt to query this approach was not included in the published outcome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. JACK GOODY was William Wye Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and is now a Fellow of St John’s College. E. London: MacGibbon & Kee. Oxford: Blackwell. B. [email: jrg1@hermes. in A. (1950) Report on a Social Survey of Sekondi-Takoradi. (2000) The Great Divergence: Europe. Elias. Pomeranz. (1998) ‘Shin Buddhism and Protestant Analogies with Christianity in the West’. by Eleonora Ravenna on September 30. (1990) Demystifying Mentalities. Gough.).A. London: Oxford University Press (For the International African Institute). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Princeton. England. there has been change over time. (1981) Rural Society in South-East India. Richards. (1996) The East in the West. (2000) ‘Derrida Dreams about Le Shuttle. K.

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