Problems of Involvement and Detachment Author(s): Norbert Elias Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Sep.

, 1956), pp. 226-252 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The London School of Economics and Political Science Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/587994 Accessed: 01/10/2009 21:26
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Problems

of

Involvement

and

Detachment

NORBERT ELIAS
? Old Lady: Are you not prejudiced man rarelywill you meet a moreprejudiced noronewho {ells Author: Madame,

one he himself keepshis mindmoreopen. But cannotthat be because part experience, through prejudiced we of ourmind,that svhich act with,becomes with? and open part andstillwekeepanother completely to observe judge Old Lady: Sir, I do not know. neither I and it may well be that we are talkingnonsense. do A"thor: Madame, in Old Lady: That is an odd termand one I did not encounter my youth. in unsoundness abstract we A"thor: Madame, apply the term now to describe tendency speech. in or, conversation, indeed,any overmetaphysical Old Lady: I must learnto use these termscorrectly. Death in the afternoon. E. Hemingway, cannot say ol a man's outlook in any absolutesense that it is ", Xdetachedor involved (or, if one prefers," rational" or " irrational " objective" or " subjective"). Onlysmallbabies,and amongadults perhapsonly insane people, become involved in whatever they experience with completeabandonto their feelingshere and now; and again only the insanecan remaintotally unmovedby what goes on aroundthem. Normally betweenthese two extremes. In adult behaviourlies on a scale somewhere some groups,and in some individualsof these groups,it may come nearer to one of them than in others; it may shift hither and thitheras social and mental pressuresrlse and fall. But social life as we know it wouldcome to an end if standardsof adult behaviourwent too far in either direction. As far as one can see, the very existenceof orderedgrouplife dependson the those interplayin men's thoughtsand actionsof impulsesin both directions, that involve and those that detachkeepingeach other in check. They may and form alloys of many clash and strugglefor dominanceor compromise differentshades and kinds howevervaried, it is the relation between the two which sets people'scourse. In using these terms,1one refersin short to NE
{ ^ 1 It is still the prevalent practice to speak of psychological characteristics and of social characteristicsof people not only as different,but as separableand in the last resort independent 226

and of other activities. To give a brief and all too simple example of their meaning in this context: A philosopheronce said. It is the continuum that lies betweenthesemarginal polesthat presents the principal problem. Can one.speak. used as universals they are. They have been chosen in preference to other perhaps more familiar terms precisely because they do not fall in line with linguistic usages which are based on the tacit assumption of the ultimate independence of psychological and social properties of men.depends the standard on formsof dealingwith.NORBERT ELIAS 227 changing eqiilibriabetweensets of mental activitieswhichin man's relations with men.the meaning whichit has for them. If Paul's propositions begin to tell more about Peter than about himself the balance begins to turn in favour of detachment. They do not suggest as some current scientific concepts do that there are two separate sets of human functions or attributes. althoughthe degreeof detachment sets of properties. nevertheless. . marginal concepts.what doesit implyif one says that ? in societiessuch as ours with a relativelyhigh degreeof industrialization and of controlover non-human forcesof nature. The same holds good of their use as expressions referring to men's relation to " objects " in general. and of thinkingand speakingabout. Canone determine with greateraccuracythe position of specificattitudesor productsof men within this continuum One might. for examplethat in societieslike ours peopletend to say be more detachedin their approaches naturalthan to social events. the characteristics of the perceiver overshadow those of the perceived. must appear as equivocal and vague. therefore. one psychological and one social in character. at least summarily. And if this is the assumption underlying one's form of discourse. In the main.approaches natureare on the to whole more detached than those to society? The degree of detachment shown by differentindividualsin similarsituationsmay differgreatly. Can to one trace. at best. They do not referto two separateclassesof objects. these phenomena graduallyevolvedin their society. of differentdegreesof detachment and involvementregardlessof these individualvariations? II The way in which individualmembersof a group experiencewhatever affectstheirsenses." One can say.some of which bear the stamp of higher. " If Paul speaks of Peter he teUs us more about Paul than about Peter. what we observeare people and people'smanifestations. Both these terms express quite clearly that changes in a person's relation with others and psychological changes are distinct but inseparable phenomena. that in speaking of Peter he is always telling us something about himself as well as about Peter. such as patternsof speechor of thought. ? impressionistically. by way of comment. They seem preferable to others which like " subjective" and " objective " suggest a static and unbridgeable divide between two entities " subject " and " object ". others of lesser detachmentor involvement. terms like " involved " and " detached ". with non-humanobjects and with himself (whatevertheir other functionsmay be) have the functionto involve and to detach. As tools of thinking. Thus. One would call his approach " involved" as long as his own characteristics. " involvement" and " detachment " wouldremainhighlyineffectual they wereunderstood adumbrate sharp if to a divisionbetweentwo independent sets of phenomena. which communicate with each other only occasionally during a limited span of time with a definite beginning and a definite end by means of those one-way connections which we call " causes-and-effects" and then withdraw from each other until a new causal connection is established again with a definite beginning and a definite end. as they are used here.criteria for differentdegreesof detachment and involvement What in fact is meant. in this respect.

is limited by the public standardsof detachmentembodiedin modes of thinkingand use speakingaboutnatureand in the widelyinstitutionalized of naturalforces wsthpreviousages controlof emotionsin experifor humanends. But these involvements. in the sense in which they ".228 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT shown in one's encounterwith natural forces may vary from indindual to indisridual and from situation to situation. all individualsuse in thinking. in societies like ours. " " organism " cause-and-effect or " nature". The immediateproblems. Like other human activities scientificinquiriesinto nature embodysets " of values. to by they are often enoughinfluenced specificneedsof the community which they belong.personal induce problemsof a differentkind. scientificproblemswhich or communal. procedures and in most cases. representa relativelyhigh degreeof detachment. to some extent. The aim of these inqwries not is to find the inherentorderof events as it is. has grown. counter-balanced checkedby institutionalized which compel scientists. the naturalsciences. independently of any. are used to-day.and the importance. but the of any particularobserver. To say that natural sciences are " non-evaluating or " valuefree" is a misuseof terms. But the sets of values. more or less. the latter.in other words. to detach themselves.in short. Even scientific approachesto nature do not requirethe extinctionof othermoreinvolvedand emotiveformsof approach. the types of evaluations which play a part in scientifieinquiriesof this type differfrom those which have as their frame of referencethe interests. so does " of the sociallyinducedexperience natureas a " landscape or as " beautiful". conceptslike " lightning". They may hope will that the resultsof their inqulries be in line with theoriesthey have enunand ciated beforeor with the requirements ideals of groupswith which they in identify themselves. The former.as that of natureitself.determine as a rule nothingmorethan the generaldirectionof inquiries. promptedin the pursuitof their task by personalwishesand wants. relevanee. the seientificproblemswhich they may have induced. from the urgent issues at hand. they are.the value of with the place and functionit what one observesis assessedin accordance appearsto have withln this orderitself. scientistshave learnedthat any . is these from other less detachedapproaches the manner What distinguishes in which tendenciestowardsdetachmentand towardsinvolvementbalance each other and blend. " tree " or " wolf " not less than " electricity". Like other people.for the time being. Involvement lessened. They may wish to foster their own career.owe their forrnand their of continuum theoriesand observameaningto the widerand less time-bound of by tions evolved in this or that problem-area generations specialists.the well-beingor sufferingof oneself or of social units to which one belongs.scientistsengagedin the study of natureare. but it has not disappeared.often serve merely as a motive force. The range of individualvariationsin detachment. Compared has encingnature. speakingand acting. the concepts themselveswhich. In the explorationof nature.more narrowlytime-bound. are no longerdirectlyrelatedto specificpersonsor groups.

of so have the sets of values which they use.l Here. It rather confuses the issue if the term " value ". the primarytendencyof man to take the short route from a strongly felt need to a preceptfor its satisfactionhas becomemore or less subordinate preceptsand procedures to whichrequire longerroute.of a courseof events independent any specificgroupof human of observers. Not oniy has this narrow use of the word led to the odd conclusion that it is possible to sever the connection between the activity of " evaluating " and the " values " which serve as its guide. at approximating to the " truth ". as it were. as it is sometimesexpressed. the other heteronomous. Moreover. from the workshopsof the specialiststo the general public. it has become embodiedin the conceptualtools. Yet. one of which is " value-free " while the other is not. here too. in its application to sciences. In most industrial societies. Naturalscientistsseekto findways of satisfying a human needs by means of a detour the detourvia detachment. their work is not " value-free ". 1 This concept has been introduced here in preference to the distinction between scientific procedures which are " value-free " and others which are not. of which one or the other may be dominant. it has also tended to limit the use of terms like " value " or " evaluating " in such a way that they seem applicable only in cases of what is otherwise known as " bias " or " prejudice ''.maintainedby various forms of social control and socially induced emotional restraints. their inherentorderor. but it is. Other more involved and emotive forms of thinking about nature have by no means disappeared. even the aim of finding out the relatednessof data.and are spreading agasn and again. is reserved to those " values " which intrude upon scientific theories and procedures.these moredetachedformsof thinking represent only orle layer in people's approachesto nature. They set out to find solutionsfor problemspotentiallyrelevantfor all humanbeings and all human groups. every scientific endeavour has moral implications. the level of detachmentrepresented the scientist'swork has by becomemoreor less institutionalized partof a scientific as traditionreproduced by means of a highly specializedtraining. one may find it both simpler and more apposite to distinguishin scientificpronouncements betsveen two types of evaluations. have in relationto personalor socialproblems the day a high degreeof autonomy. . Yet. by means of their theories. impersonaltypes of explanationsof naturalevents and other conceptsbased on the idea of a relativelyautonomous order. conceptsand methodsof this type have spread. The questioncharacteristic men's involvement: of " What does it meanfor me or for us ? " has becomesubordinate questions to like " What is it ? " or " How are these events connectedwith others? " In this form. Theproblems or which they formulateand. In that sense.NORBERT ELIAS 229 direct encroachment upon their work by short-terminterests or needs of specificpersonsor groupsis liable to jeopardizethe usefulnesswhich their workmayhavein the endforthemselves fortheirowngroup. in contrast to that of many social scientists. protectedby firmly establishedprofessional standardsand other institutionalsafeguards agalnst the intrusionof heteronomous evaluations.try to solve.are used by people almost as a matter of coursethough most of them are probablyunawareof the long struggleinvolvedin the elaboration and diffusionof these forms of thinking. in society at large. from outside. Instead of distinguishing between two types of sciences. one autonomous. the basic assumptionsfthe methods of speakingand thinking which scientists use. implies that one regards the discovery of this relatedness or of the " truth " as a " value ".

they gradually changedfromgathering fniits androotstowards gro+ring plants deliberately their own use.230 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT Thus in fallingill one may find one's thoughtsstray again and again to the question: " Who is to blame for this ? '> The childhoodexperienceof pain as the outcomeof an attack and perhapsa certainurgeto retaliatemay assertthemselveseven thoughunderthe pressure an overgrown of conscience the attack may appearas deserved} that one may come to feel.increasing theirforesight.not fromconscious unconscious or motivesof any kind.which. in this sphere.in short.have growntogether. instead of using stones as they found them against human enemies or beasts. seems to becomeless and less so as scienceadvances. in course of of time. greater security and other new long-term satisfactions. rightlyor so wrongly. to fotm andto face a pictureof the physicaluniverse whichis emotionally far from satisfactory. The road they have travelledis still far fromclear. and with it. III Thusin theirpublicapproaches nature. Moreinvolvedforms of thinking. Throughoutthese developmentsthe mastery of men over themselvesas expressed their mentalattitudestowardsnature in and theirmasteryover naturalforcesby handling them. And yet one may accept at the same time the doctor'smore detacheddictum that this illness followed primarilyfrom a completelyblind biologicalcourseof events and not from anybody'sintentions. it impliedthat they themselves for as well as their social life and their naturalsurroundings.in fact. continueto form an integral part of our experienceof nature. that their outlook as well as their actionschanged. When men. In their experience naturemen have been able. with greater restraint of their momentary impulses. They have learnedto imposeupon themselves greaterrestraintin their approaches naturalevents and in exchange to for the short-term satisfactionswhich they had to give up they have gained greaterpowerto controland to manipulate naturalforcesfor their own ends. The same can be said of those later stages in whichchangesin men'sthinkingabout naturebecamemoreand morethe task of scientificspecialists. But one cansee in broadoutlinesomeof its characteristic patterns and mechanisms. whichat the sametime agreesbetterwith the cumulative but resultsof systematicobservations.men have travelleda long way to (and have to travel it again and again as they grow up) from the primary. gradually changed towards fashioningstones in advance for their use as weaponsor tools (as we may assumethey did at some time).one has only oneselfto blame for it. the childhood patternsof thinking. But in this area of our experiencethey have becomeincreasingly overlaidand counterbalanced otherswhichmake by higher demandson men's faculty of looking at themselvesas it were from outsideand of viewingwhat they call " mine" or " ours" as part systemsof a largersystem. when. The level and patterns of detachmentrepresented public standardsof by .

have helpedto increasethe difficulties of which men have in extending their control over processesof social change and over their own feelingsin thinking about them. concomitant. of preventingthem. Dangers threatening men from non-humanforces have been slowly decreasing. that is. and an increasein the phantasy-content men'sideas about. Nothingin our experience suggeststhat part-processes this kind must of always work in the same direction. Thus. on the total situationof the social units concerned. The change towards greater control over natural phenomenaappears to have followedwhat in our traditional languagemight be called " the principle of increasingfacilitation".like distant observers.in theirstrugglewith the non-human forcesof nature. and the gradualacceleration this process. The formerhelplessness the face of incomprehensible unmanageable in and natural forceshas slowly given way to a feelingof confidence. Some of the phasesin which they went into reversegear are known from the past. and they had.NORBERT ELIAS 23I thinkingaboutnaturalevents werein the past and still are dependenton the level andthe manner controlrepresented publicstandards manipulating of by of them and vlce versa. It must have been extremelydifficultfor men to gain greatercontrolover natureas long as they had little controlover it.and.calmly. on the one hand. IV Paradoxically enough. Not the least importanteffect of a more detachedapproachin this field has been that of limiting fears. Increasingsocial tensions and strife may go hand in hand with both a decreaseof men's ability to control. they were too deeply involved to look at natural phenomena. naturalas well of as social phenomena. They had little controlovernaturalforceson whichthey weredependdent for their survival.they could not help feelingstronglyabout every occurrence they thought might affect their lives. being most vulnerableand insecure.in short.must have movedin what appearsin retrospect a vicious as circle. Whetherfeed-backmechanisms this kind work in of one or in the other directiondepends. they had little chanceof controllingtheir ovvnstrong feelings in relation to nature and of forming more detachedconceptsof naturalevents as long as they had little control over them. the steady increasein the capacity of men. Whollydependenton phenomena whosecoursethey could neitherforeseenor influenceto any considerable extent. For a very long time.the easierwas it for them to extend it. little chanceof extendingtheir control over their non-humansurroundings long as they could not gain as greatermasteryovertheir own strongfeelingsin relationto them and increase their control over themselves.one the . therefore. men. both for a moredetachedapproach naturalforcesand for controlling to them. from irradiating widely beyondwhat can be realistically assessedas a threat. they lived in extremeinsecurity. on the otherhand. and the morecontrolthey gained.

surpassthe comprehension those involved.have given men greaterpowerand security. And they are not able to visualizethemselvesas part of these larger patterns because. Moreand moregroups. The networkof humanactivitiestends to becomeincreasingly complex.to accelerate processof change as the in the latter.they iSs . vanquishing defeated. Thus vulnerableand insecureas men are under these conditions. othersthat way.far-flungand dosely knit. see.in turn.given theirpresentapproaches. tend to besomedependent each otherfor their on secunty and the satisfactionof their needs in ways which. as it were. But the growthof men'scomprehension naturalforcesand of the use of made of them for human ends is associatedunth specificchangesin human relationships. they were as in the past in their deaSings with non-human forces. They are too deeplyinvolved to look at themselvesfrom without. No one is in charge. the generallevel of well-being to enlargethe areaof securitythroughthe and applicationof patient and systematicresearch. from outside.narrowand parochial with problems which each of them has to face.232 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT might say.bound up with specificchangesin humanrelations it has helped. it goes hand in hand with the growinginterdependence of growingnumbersof people. are They are incessantlyfaced with the task of adjustingthemselvesto changes whichthoughperhapsof theirown makingwerenot intendedby them.with phenomena. have increasingly broughtupon them differentformsof insecurity. The same processwhichhas made men less dependent the vagariesof on naturehas made them more dependenton each other. on manr of its levels no other means of adiustmentexist.still remainchainedto each other. at the same time. It is as if firstthousands. they cannot help beingpreoccupied the urgent.and with them moreand moreindividuals. or No one can regulatethe movementsof the wholeunlessa great part of them are able to understand. of increasing facilitation. Somewant to go this. they tend to go hand in hand with tensionsand frictions between groupswhich. They fall upon each other and. No one stands outside. for the greater part. They can only look at whateverhappensto them fromtheir narrowlocationwithin the system. being hemmedin and moved uncomprehendingly hitherandthitherin wayswhichnoneof themintended. The gradualacceleration the incrementof in knowledgeand use of non-human forces.of men's powerto raise. and is experienced many as ar by alien external force not unlike the forces of nature.then more and more millionswalkedthroughthis worldtheir hands and feet chainedtogetherby invisibletles. Ishe changeswhich. still beyondtheircontrol. And as these changesfrequently bringin theirwakeunforeseen gainsfor someatld losses for others. with regardto non-human forces. of then millions. Thus what is formedof nothing but human beings acts upon each of them. Tests of strengthand the use of organized forceserve often as costly means of adjustmentto changeswithin this tangle of interdependencies. the whole patterns to they fortn together. In their reiationswith each other men are again and again confronted. with problems which. are inescapablychainedto each other. in this sphere.

it is. Yet.there is no reasonto assumethat social data. and we can hardlyimagine. if taken into acJcount problemsand the difficulties an equal advancein the of the social sciencesstand out more clearly. situationand attitudesare " ". What is sigiificantly differentin these two fields is the situationof the investigators and.lend themselvesbetter than those of the latter to an exploration meansof scientificmethodsensunnga high degree by of certainty.as long as their ability to controlthe courseof events is small. The similaritiesbetweenthis situation and that which men had to face in past ages in their relationswith the forces of nature. that man'sintellectualpowersas such or are incommensurate the task of evolving theones and methods for the to study of social data to a level of fitness. The comparison throwssomelight on their situation as well as on ours.it is.how a comparable degree of detachmentand control may be attained with regard to social phenomena.if it is not stated explicitly. While in men's relations with nonhuman forces the standardof both the control of self and that of external events is relativelyhigh. for thousandsof years it was equallyimpossiblefor those who struggledbeforeus to imaginethat one could approach and manipulate naturalforcesas we do. in relationsof men with men the socially required and socially bred standardof both is considerably lower. is at work not only in men's relationswith the non-humanforces of nature. as part of it. Thus a circularmovement betweeninner and outer controls. Q . that the relationsof personsare less accessibleto man's comprehension than the relationsof non-human phenomena.NORBERT ELIAS 233 cannotstand back and look at the courseof events calmlylike moredetached observers. in thinking in and of. on the other hand. It is often implied.by their very nature. We do not know. may deeply affect their lives. V It also throws some light on the differences that exist to-day between the standardsof certainty and achievementof the natural and the social sciences. but also in theirrelationswith each other.a feedbackmechanismof a kind.comparable that reachedin the to study of physicaldata. on the other hand. and to approachthem with greater detachment. are often obscured by the more obnous differences. But it operatesat presentin these two spheres on very differentlevels. they feel. them. and it is. difficultfor men in that situation to controlmore fully their own strong feelingswith regardto events which. difficultfor them to extend their understanding and controlof these events as long as they cannotapproach them with greater detachmentand gain greatercontrolover themselves. the relationship between " sxbjects and " obyects If this relationship. We do alreadyknow that men can attain a considerable degreeof controlover naturalphenomena impinging upon their lives and a fairlyhigh degreeof detachment manipulating.that the " objects" of the former. to put it in a nutshell. Again. theirattitudeswith regard to their " objects". However.

as immediate participants fromwithin. Perhapsthe most persistent effortin that directionhas been madeby the greatpioneering sociologists the nineteenth of and early twentiethcenturies.underlying scientificpursiits. So does any change in their conception of the social universe. The task of socialscientistsis to explore. For man forms part of both. patterns the they form together. they wereso deeplyinvolvedin the problemsof their own society that they often viewed in fact the whole development men's relationswith each otherin the light of the hopes and of 1 The problem of " facing oneself " is no doubt far more complex than can be shown here. On the one hand. They cannothelp expenencingthem. on the otherhand. However. Every major change in men's conception of nature. of detaching all themselvesfrom their role as immediateparticipantsand from the limited vista it offers. and often enough in a way vYhich runs counter to deeply felt beliefs and ideals. the inherentorderof the social developmentof mankind. But it probably has its limits. . as beings set apart from each other by very strong walls. of seeing themselves as they are without the shining armourof fantasies shielding them from sufleringpast. goes hand in hand with a change of the picture they have of themselves.1 the " objects" are also " subjects". they all attemptedto discover. There can be little doubt that the picture of self which is thus built up in the growiIlgperson makes it rather difficult to envisage oneself in a more detached manner as forming patterns with others and to study the nature and structure of these patterns as such. In that respect the problem of increasing detachment i the social sciences is hardly diSerent from that which plays its part in the development of the natural sciences. But socialas distinctfromnatural sciencesare concernedwith conjunctions persons. andthe greater strainsandstresses the to whichthey or their groupsare exposed. at present such problems can be discussed only in societies which demand and produce a high degree of individualizationand in which men are being brought up to experience themselves. They tried to workout a comprehensive and universallyvalid theoreticalframework within which the problemsof their own age appearedas specificproblemsof detail and no longer as the centralproblemfrom which those of other ages receivedtheir relevanceand their meaning. The investigators themselvesform part of these patterns. It plays its part in explorations of nature as well as in those of society. There is no lack of attempts in the social sciencesat detachingoneself from one's positionas an involvedexponentof social events. Success and failure of any attempt to chatlge from a more involved to a more detached view of social phenomena is bound up with the capacity of men to revise the picture they have of themselves in accordance with the results of more methodical studies. directlyor by identification.andto makemenunderstand. more perhaps than ever before. the nature and the changingconfiguration all that of binds them to each other.the moredifficultis it for them to perfotmthe mental operation. Here. in one form or of the other. men face themselves. However that may be. and at working out a widerconceptual framework withinwhichthe problems the day can of find theirplaceand theirmeaning. underpresentconditions. And yet.from one angle or the other. it must still be regardedas an open problem how far men are capable of " facing themselves ". But theirworkalso showsmost conspicuously the difficulties which. It is fairly safe to say that their capacity to do so grows and declines with the degree of security which they enjoyed and enjoy. present and future.its " laws " as some of them calledit. therefore.stand in the way of such an attempt.234 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT The generalaim of scientificpursuitsis the samein both fields. stripped of a goodmany philosophical encrustations is to find out in what way perit ceiveddata areconnected with eachother.

and to form relatively fitting theories about. can themselves act. considerably has advanced somesocialsciences. for example. in retrospect. in it is difficultto sift one fromthe other and to sort out their contribution the to developmentof a more universallyvalid system of theories about men in society from ideas relevant only as an expressionof their own ideals and idiosyncrasies the strugglesof a particularhistoricalperiod. one refers only to one facet of the relationship between the mode of thirlking and the situation of those who think.the other more to a heliocentric approach. Anthropologists. they are relevant to any theory of knowledge and of sciences. a of 1 The evident differences in the levels of development of different social sciences have perhaps not found quite the attention they deserve as a subject of research. Only with the help of such an integrating framework is it possible to determine with greater precision different stages and levels of thinking and knowing whether or not one adopts concepts like " level of detachment ". they have a better chance not only because it is easier to survey. in comparative studies on the development of social sciences it may be more appropriate and more profitable to focus on the relations of observers and observed than on either of them or on " methods " alone. Like the differences in the development of natural and social sciences generally.l To a greateror lesser extent. . instead of being allotted to largely independent fields of studiesJ are linked to each other as different. These two forms of approach-one more involved which made them see the developmentof humansociety as a whole in the light of the pressingproblemsof their own time. more emotive forms of thinking. and the to a simplegeocentric. To complete the nexus one would have to add that the more detached theoretical tools of thinking which anthropologists have a chance to build up in accordance with their specific situation. too. even if tensions mount between social units to which they belong as participant members and others in relation to which they play mainly the part of investigators. anthropologists have a better chance of developing theories on human relations to a higher level of fitness than say.it would require fuller elaboration of the general conceptual framework that has been used here and within which. On these lines. as a rule. within certain limits as a shield against the encroachment upon their scientific work. as one has seen. those engaged in the study of highly differentiated societies to which they themselves belong or which are antagonists or partners of societies to which they belong. social units which are small and not too complex in structure. a good deal more factual materialabout social phenomena has been broughtto light. in and advancedin some more than in others. " level of control " and others which have been used here. The elaborationof a more impersonal body of theoriesand their adjustmentto a wldeningrangeof observedfacts brought to light undertheirguidance. To set out here more comprehensively the problems raised by such differences would require an exposition of the wider theory of knowledge implied in these observwations on detachment and involvement. one moreakin. less directly involved in the problems they study.NORBERT ELIAS 235 fears. " level of Stness". that. in most cases study societies to which they do not belong. but inseparable and interdependent facets of the same process. one might say. the development of scientific thinking as of thinking in general. researchin all humansciencesstill tends to oscillate betweentwo levels of consciousness two formsof approach. Here. under present conditions. other sociologists mostly societies of which they are members. and that of changes in the situation of those who thiIlk. of more involved. but also because the investigators themselves are. one might say. But in saying this. the othermoredetachedwhichenabledthem to visualizethe short-term problemsof their own time in the light of the long-termdevelopmentof society-were so inextricablyinterwoven their work that. the enmitiesand beliefsresultingfrom their role as immediateparticipants in the strugglesand conflictsof their own time. and perhaps even on their personai outlook. And the constant upsurgeof the formerin connectionwith acute social and political tensions effectively bars in most social sciences the steady continuity of research whichhas becomeso marked characteristic manynaturalsciences. in Since then.

self-justifications. have remained exceedinglygreat. Theirexperience themselvesas upholders a particular of of socialand political creedwhichis threatened. for instance.as a rule.whateverelse may have changedsince the days of the pioneering sociologists. to And yet.Hence. in as not by an involvedcriticfromanothercontemporary group. of social problemswhich appearto requirefor their solution proceduresevolved and employed by scientific specialists.fromconflictsand frictionsamongthemselves.is not only difficult itselffor anyonewhosegroupis involved in in such a stzggle. Group-images. if it has not actuallyincreasedJ hardlylessened. As members suchgroupsscientificspecialof ists engaged in the study of society share with others these vicissitudes. has .some who have risen beforetrying to hold what they have and some going down. the represent. expressedin public. social scientistsare liable to be caughtin a dilemma. cases which groupsmake out for themselves.like the experience theirfellows.are engagedin a strugglefor positionand often enoughfor survival. undesirable. in all these groupsa point beyondwhichnone of its members can go in his detachment withoutappearing and. They workand live in a worldin whichalmosteverywhere groups.as representatives a specificway of life in need of of defence.some trying to rise and to better themselves the teeth in of strong opposition. For of the time being. includingtheir own groups. There is. it may also weaken the cohesion and solidarityfeelingof his groupand. in fact. so far as his groupis concerned. certainbasic characteristics the social scienceshave not. to hold up before these groupsa mirror whichthey can see themselves they mightbe seen. its capacityto survive. howevermuch thet may approximate what we call the " truth". of classes or of nations. without becominga dangerousheretic.can hardlyfail to have a strong of emotional undertone. those. with it. Under these conditionsthe membersof such groups can hardly help being deeply affectedin their thinking about social events by the constant threats arisingfrom these tensionsto their way of life or to their standards of life and perhapsto theirlife. Fragmentation of social researchhas grownapace.236 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT The pressureof short-termproblemswhich can no longerbe solved in traditional ways.to others. For the immediatedifficulties of men springing in their own midst fromthe unmanageable up forces of socialchange. in addition. howeverconsistenthis ideas or his theoriesmay be in themselvesand with observedfacts. The strengthof involvements. Even as an aim of researchthe idea of a widertheoretical framework connecting unifyingthe problems results and and of more limited inquirieshas become more remote. has increased together with the complexityof human relationsitself.but by an inquirer trying to see in perspective structureand functioning theirrelationship the of with eachother.within the social context of men's lives. to many it appears unattainable. To sift out the formerfrom the latter.smalland great. if social scientistsalthoughusing more specializedprocedures . an amalgamof realisticobservations collectivefanand tasies (which like the myths of simplerpeople are real enough as motive forcesof action).

that it might put weaponsin the hand of opponentsor that. in orderto understandthe functioningof humangroupsone needs to know. NORBERT ELIAS .on a priori assumptions. The problemconfronting them is not simply to discardthe latter role in favourof the former. with the basic tenets of these communalbeliefs? Without greaterdetachment and autonomyof thinking. As thingsstand. not simply a dilemmaof this or that historian.politicalscientistor sociologist(to name only some of the present divisions).or at least not to disagree. in order to understandthe structureof molecules.237 and a moretechnicallanguageare in the last resortnot muchless affectedin their approachto the problemsof society by preconceived ideas and ideals.can they hope to put in the hands of their fellow-menmore fitting tools of thinkingand more adequateblueprintsfor the handlingof social and politicalproblems-moreadequateblueprints than those handed on unreflectinglyfrom generationto generationor evolved haphazardly the heat of the battle ? And even if they do not acceptsuch in beliefsunquestioningly. economist. they not often impelledto use them as the general are frame of referencefor their studies simply by sentimentsof solidarity. the social and politicalaffairsof their groupsand their time. as it were. if it is ultimatelybased on dogmaticbeliefs. They cannotcease to take part in. ideas and evaluations on which are imperviousto argumentsbased on a more systematicand dispassionate examination of the available evidence? Can social scientists make any specific contributionto the solution of major problemseven of their own groups. Theirown participationand involvement.and one cannot know without active participationand involvement.what it feels like to be one of its atoms. they themselvesmight be exposed to ostracismif to nothing worse? The dilemma underlying many of the presentuncertainties the sciences of of men is.of loyalty or perhapsof fear? Are they not sometimesonly too justifiedin thinkingthat it might weakena causewhichthey regardas their own if they were to subjectsystematically religiously the held social creedsand ideals of one of their own groupsto a more dispassionate scientificexamination.of their own country. but that of social scientistsas a professional group. any hypothesisor theorydeservethe epithet " scientific". it is not the perplexityof individualsocial scientists. frominsidehow humanbeings expenencetheir own and other groups.class. are they really justified in calling themselves " scientists" ? Does any statement. their social task as scientistsand the requirements theirpositionas members othergroups of of often disagree. and the latter are apt to prevail as long as the pressureof group tensions and passionsremainsas high as it is. as one can see. profession whateverit is.is itself one of the conditionsfor comprehending problemsthey try to solve as scientists. if they accept or as the self-endent foundationof their theoriessome of the religiouslyheld creeds and normsof one or the other of these groupsso that the results of their studies are destinedfromthe start to agree. and to be affected by. For while one the need not know. by passionsand partisanviews than the man in the street.moreover. as a result.

They often ceivedand religiously as of foundations their pronouncements seem to considerthese heteronomous not characteristic. too. but which is not alwaysequallyappropriate used in their with which dealingswith others.in the widespread with experimainlyin connection developed ality" with the use of categories that the use of other forms ences of physicalevents. Aspectsof their procedures for are widely regardedas the most potent and decisivefactor responsible of and arsthe essentialcharacteristic sciencesgenerally. for example.one amves at a generalmodel of scientificprocedure . That is the ascendancygained. as but of their subject-matter such. and in the assumption thinking must necessarilyindicate a leaning towards metaphysicsand of irTationality. this mechanicaldiffusionof models of identification " rationexpressesitself. and is apt to becomewiderstill whenever pressure tensionsand passionsmounts in society at large. of This is so difficulta task that many representatives social sciences. of a specificsituationand. of at present. of a specificdilemma.theoriesof sciencestill use as their principalmodel the physicalsciencesften not in but their contemporary. withinit. shows itself in many The same tendency towards over-generalization currentideas of what is and what is not scientific. specificconceptsof causationor of explanation and formedin this mannerare generalized used almostas a matterof course in inquiriesabout relations of men.the selectionof materialand the construction theoriesis very of the wide. The latitude they allow each other in their use of dogmaticideals and evaluationsas a basis for the setting of of problems. their achievements and techniquesof By abstractingsuch aspects from the actual procedures the physicalsciences. VI The chance which social scientists have to face and to cope with this of dilemmamight be greaterif it were not for anothercharacteristic their situationwhichtends to obscurethe natureof these difficulties.238 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT The problemconfrontingthose who study one or the other aspects of humangroupsis how to keep their two roles as participantand as inquirer group. as a professional their work the undisputeddominanceof the latter.by a manner or style of thinking which has proved highly adequate and successfulin men's dealings with if physicalevents. to establishin clearly and consistentlyapart and. Oneof the majorreasonsfor the difficulties about knowledge to men have to contendin theirendeavour gainmorereliable themselves is the uncriticaland often dogmatic applicationof categories and conceptshighly adequatein relationto problemson the level of matter and energy to other levels of experienceand amongthem to that of social phenomena. Not only specific expectationsas to how perceiveddata are connectedwith each other.appearto regardthe determination their inquiriesby preconheld socialandpoliticalidealsas inevitable. in their classicalform. over the centuries. By and large.

they may go too far in their repudiation in their denial of the functions and which the older models had or have in the developmentof their own. In fact.it represents disthe tinguishingcharacteristics common to all scientific. The assumption that in this generalized is form " the scientificmethod" can be transferred fromthe fieldwhereit originated. It is this strongconcentration theirattentionon problems " method" whichtends of of to obscurefromtheir view the difficulties that springfromtheirsituationand from their own approaches the problemsthey study. minglein it with otherscharacteristic of certaintypes of animals. as distinct from nonscientific. and amongthemnewscientific specialisms. It resembles general a concept" animal" formed withoutreference to the evolutionary diversityand connections animalspeciesfroma rather of restricted observational so that structures functionscommonperhaps field and to all animals. In most of these respects the emergenceof the younger social sciences from underthe wings of the older naturalsciencesfollowsthe usual pattern. If. Amongsocial scientistsin particular is not uncommon it to attributedifficulties and inadequacies their work to the fact that they do of not go far enough in copying the method of physical sciences. fromthe physicalsciences. it often constitutesa curious compoundof featureswhich may be universalwith others characteristic of the physical sciences only and bound up with the specific nature of their problems. to all other fields. mammals only or of vertebrates. and that whereverit is appliedit will workits magic. in they are constantly in dangerof using in their inquiriespreconceived and immovablesocial convictionsas the basis for their problemsand theories. the earlystagesof theirdevelopment. The fact itself that people confrontedwith the task of formulating and exploringnew sets of problems modeltheir conceptsand procedures those on whichhave provedtheirworthin otherfieldsis in no way surprising unique. In name.of.NORBERT ELIAS 239 which is knownas ' the scientificmethod". say. as scientiststhey are in dangerof being dominatedby models derivedfrom inquiriesinto physicalevents and stampedwith the authorityof the physical sciences. and then again. apt to oscillate: they may is go too far for a while and may go on too long in their uncriticalsubmission to the authorityand prestigeof the dominantstandards.as in other processesof emancipation. and in the course of this processtheir attitude towardsthe older groups. But therecan have been rarelya situationin whichthe gradientbetween .forms of solving problems.to biologicalas well as to social sciences. in continueto rely on older models.regardless the of differentnature of their problems. Sometime is neededbeforea new group of specialistscan emancipateitself from the rulingstyle of thinkingand of acting. as participants the life of a turbulentsociety. or It is a recurrent featurein the historyof men that new crafts and skills.as distinct from non-livingthings and from plants. to The superiorachievementand status of the physicalsciencesitself constitutes a highly significantfactor in the situationof those who workin the field of social sciences.

It often serves as a means of circumventing difficultieswhich spring from their dilemmawithout facing it. one mightthink. whollyidenticalwth that of fields like logic and mathematicswhich are collcerned with the inherentorderof certaintools of thinkingalone. boundup with the assumptionthat among propositionsof empiricalsciences. in social sciences. In the physicalsciences} is not only the development it and use of a specific methodforthe solutionof problems the testingof theories.the goal towardswhich positive sciencesare striving is not.and the claimoftenmadefor it as the supreme characteristic researchthat is scientific.one will probablyfind that the tendency to consider highlyformalized a pictureof this one set of sciences theirmethod and as the norm and ideal of scientificinquiriesgenerallyis connectedwith a specificidea aboutthe aim of sciences. the only relevantdistinction to be made is that betweenpropositions which are true and others whichare false. in many cases. However. In order to be able to use methodsof this kind and to prove themselvesscientificin the eyes of the world. and but the framingof problemsand theoriesitself which presupposes high a standardof detachment. or even of to the exclusionfrom the field of systematicresearch.have led to the neglect. As a result. It certainlyhappensin empirical investiga- . On closer investigation.of a methodakin to that evolvedin the physicalsciencesoften gives to the former appearance a highlevel of detachment of " objectivity" the of or whichthose who use this method are in fact lacking. It is.investigators frequentlyinducedto ask and to answer are relativelyinsignificant questionsand to leave unanswered othersperhapsof greater significance. and that the aim of scientificresearch of its procedures and is simply and solely that of findingthe " truth ". and by theirvery naturecannotbe.a crucialquestionis oftenregarded sealedand solvedwhich as in fact is still in abeyance: the question whichof the procedures techniques and of the physicalsciencesare commensurate the task of social sciencesand to which are not. of sifting trlle from false statements. Hencethe use.240 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT the comparatively high level of detachmentmanifestin the older branches of knowledgeand the much lower represented the youngerbrancheswas by equally steep. as among those of pure mathematics and relatedformsof logic. it creates a facade of detachment maskinga highly involved approach. wide problem-areas of which do not lend themselveseasily to an exploration meansof a method by for which the physical scienceshave providedthe prototype. They are inducedto cut their problemsso as to suit their method. The abstractionfrom these specificprocedures a general of modelof the scientific method. The same method transferred social sciencesis to not infrequently used for the exploration problems of and theoriesconceived andstudiedunderthe impactof stronginvolvernents. The exclusiveand seeminglyfinal characterof many currelt statements about the scientificmethod finds expression the strangei-lea in that problemswhich do not lend themselvesto investigations means of bv a methodmodelledon that of the physicalsciencesare no concernof people engagedin scientificresearch.

in the acquisitionof knowledge. VII Is it possibleto determine with greaterprecision and cogencythe limitations of methods of scientific researchmodelled on those of the physical sciences? Can one. in particular.In some. vary a good deal from disciplineto disciplinein accordance with the differenttypes of problemsthat present themselvesfor solution. theoriesor modelsand that of observations and perceptions specificearents. to use a less hallowedterm. one might say.one can see to-day no limit to the usefulnessof procedures whichmake relationsof quantitiesstand for the non-quantitative aspects of the relations of data.what identifiesthem as scientificmethods is simply that they enable scientists to test whether theirfindings pronouncements and constitutea reliable advancein the direction towardstheir commonobjective. on the basis of such a reduction. too of quantifyingmodels and techniquesin empiricalresearches ? At the presentstate of development.inevitably. Peopleengagedin empirical research oftenput forward propositions or theorieswhose merit is that they are truer than others or.questionsemerge and are solved as a result of an uninterrupted two-waytrafficbetweentwo layers of knowledge: that of generalideas.highly adequatetheoreticalconstructsappearsto be without bounds. of or. weightand relevanceof quantithe fying procedures clearly differsin differentproblem-areas.throw more light on the limits to the usefulness mathematical as this termis perhaps widein this context. the scope for reducingother properties to quantitiesand for workingout. It is the objective of scientists. The latter if not sufficiently of informed by the formerremainsunorganized and diffuse. to develop a steadily expanding body of theoriesor models and an equally expandingbody of observations about specific earentsby means of a continuous.NORBERT ELIAS 24I tions that peoplemake statementswhich are simply found to be false. one might say it is charand acteristicof these scientificas distinct from non-scientific forms of solving problemsthat. The methodsactually used in empiricalinvestigations. the formerif not sufficientty informedby the latter remainsdominatedby feelingsand imaginings.critical confrontationto greaterand greatercongruitywith each other. In generalterms. above all in the physicalsciences. What they have in common. that they are more adequate. In other fieldsof research scope for similarreductions clearlyvery the is much narrower.more consistentboth with observations in themselves. But oftenenoughroughdichotomies " true " and " false" arehighlyinadequate like in theircase. and theoreticalconstructsbased on such reductionsalone often prove far less adequate. Have problem-areas whichdo not lend themselvesas well as the physicalsciencesto the application quantifying of methods of researchcertaingeneralproperties which can accountfor such differences in the scope and relevance of quantifyingproceduresas instruments of research ? .

in mathematical increasefrom one set of sciencesto the other sviththe increase progressively in the numberof factorsthat has to be taken into account. it is for that reason that one has to resign oneself to the use of less precise and less satisfactorymethods of investigationin many fields of studies.according a not uncommon becomesmorecomplex. and as a result study of inorganic of this increasein numbers. each by meansof measurements of the variablesaffectingthe behaviourof such a unit would have to be the by measured itself so as to determine quantitativeaspectsof its relations with others. As one passes from studiesof matter and energy and to and its varioustransformations those of organisms their development as species and individualsand again to studies of men as societiesand indito viduals(innot quitethe samesenseof the word). whichtends to assumethe character of an a priori belief: by the expectationthat problemsof all kinds can be satisfactorilysolved in terms of quantitiesalone. Perhaps the best way to indicate of is briefly this aspect of these differences the hypotheticalconstruction a model of models which representdifferentframes of referenceof scientific according form as compositeunits arranged problemsin a highly generalized . measurements and mathematicaloperationsgenerally.the greater would be wouldbe the matheand the numberof measurements the morecomplicated necessaryto determinetheir interplay. Accordingto this view. Moreand more.variables. If one acceptsthe idea that it is the aim of scientificinvestigato tions everywhere explainthe behaviourof compositeunits of observation fromthat of their simplerconstituentparts. this approachto the observablelimitationsof quantifying in of is methodsin research itself not uncharacteristic the manner whichforms data becomedisin of thinkingmost serviceable the explorationof physical a tended into what almost represents generalstyle of thinking.but also by the mannerin which constituentsof such units are connected with each other. factors. comtechniquesand in money and time would puting machines. variablesor suchlikeincreaseas one moves from the and matterto those of organisms of men. the greater whichone encounters view. The greater the number of variables. these demandswould becomeprohibitiveand researchon quantitativelines alone would no longer be possible. of aloneaffectedby the number interacting are disciplines not factcrs or conditions. of The propertiesof differentunits of observationcharacteristic different parts. However. the problems complexityis often thoughtto followfromthe fact that the numberof interacting parts. The choice of a heap of more and more factors or variablesas a model for increasing by complexityis determined a generalexpectationwhich is evidentlybased but in on experiences physicalresearch.becomemore and more complicated and diicult. In the light of matical operations in this hypothesisthe demandsmade on the resourcesin manpower.so the argumentseems to run.the area within which this expectationcan be safely used as of a guide to the formulation problemsand theorieshas very definitelimits. In a way.242 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT It is possibleto think that this problemitself can be readilysolved in terms of quantitiesalone.

agglomerations. Less adequate. as modelsof congeriesstep by step give way to those of self-regulating open systems and processeswith more and more levels many of the devices developedfor scientificresearch into units of the first type change.whoseconstituentsare associatedwith each other temporarily in the loosest possiblemannerand may exist independentlyof each other without changingtheir characteristic properties.this continuumof modelswouldhave one pole in formedby generalmodels of units. Not all frames of reference of physical problems cluster narrowly around the congeries pole of the model. of accordingto the degree of organization which they possess. As one moves along this continuumof modelsfrom paradigms loosely of composedto othersof highly organized units. their bulk can probably be assigned to a specific region of the serial model. For it is one of the tacit assumptions underlying both the conception and the establishment a scientificlaw that the phenomena which one wishesto of of state in the form of a law that the pattern of their connectionis necessary and unchanging. The type of relationship whose regularitycan be fairly satisfactorilyexpressedin the form of a law is a relationship which is impermanent though it has a permanent pattern: it can start and cease innumerable times without affectingthe behaviourof other constituentsof the largernexus withinwhichit occursor the properties 1 Even in the elementary form in which it is presented here. Arranged this manner. becomesthe conceptof a scientificlaw as the general theoreticalmould for particular connectionsof constituentsof a largerunit. .too.which consist of a hierarchyof interlockingpart-systems and part-processesand whose constituents are interdependent such an extent that they cannot be isolated from their to unit without radical changesin their propertiesas well as in those of the unit itself. such a serial model may help to clarify the confusion that often arises from an all too clear-cut dichotomy between congeries and systems. frames of referenceof the problems of diEerent disciplines. with it. Between these two poles would be spaced out intermediarymodels1 graded accordingto the degree of differentiation and integrationof their constituents. auxiliaries.they become. Not all frames of reference of biological or sociological problems have their equivalent close to the other pole. In many cases. their function. And although. Less adequate. not change their propertiesirreversibly they are cut do if off from other connectionsor from each other. or even lose. becomes the concept of an independent variableof a unit of observation whichis otherwisekept invariantand. They are. more widely scattered than it is often assumed.NORBERT ELIAS 243 to the extent of interdependence their constituentsor. such as congeries. in each of these areas.in that sense. in each of these areas of inquiry. at the most. The other pole would be formedby generalmodelsof units such as open systems and processes which are highly self-regulating and autonomous. frequently overlap. heaps or multitudes. from being the principalinstruments and techniquesof research. more generally. the type of observation experimentation and basedon the supposition that what one studies is a heap of potentially independentvariablesand their effects. projected on this model.

can be interpretedas regularitiesof the whole system only pShysicists entitled to judge. at any rateameans assuming that in the end all congeries including that of ene. Perhaps it is not yet quite clear why one should expect that the unconnected clusters of connections whose regularities one has more or less reliably determined will subsequently link up and fall into pattern.and an inEnite or multitudeof particular caseswhichare also conceivedas capableof preserving their signiEcant characteristics they are studiedin isolationindependently if of all other contlectiorss. to assume that regularitiesobserved in a part-regic)n a system. are instruments the solutionof problems for whosereferential frameis conceived as a congeries. the change does not appear to be very pronounced. What apparently has become more pronounced is the implied expectation that the diverse laws discovered in studies of isolated connections will eventually coalesce and form with each other a comprehensivetheoretical scaffoldiIlgfor the behaviour of the over-all system as a whole.l The more the framework problemsresemblesin its characteristics of a highly self-regulating system and process.ch they wouldnot occuror would not occur in this manner.244 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT of the larger nexus itself. a relatively high independence of parts and a relatively low degree of organization. on the whole. It is difficultto think of any well establishedterrnsexpressingclearly the differential qualitiesand the complementary character these two operaof 1 In the case of the second law of thermodynamicsan experimental and statistical law has been interpreted as a statement about qualities possessed by the referential system as a whole that is by the physical universe. This may or may not account for the fact that although the status of laws. the moredoes one require the paramount as vehiclefor exploring and presentingregularitiesof part-connections. system and process-models clearly representative the fact that part-eventsare linked to each other of as constituentsof a functioniIlg unit without whi. in this case. .ellectual operationsknown as iIlduction and deductionretain quite the same characterthroughoutthis continuum of models. When models of multitudes become subordirlate models of highly to organized systemsanother type of research operation gains greaterprominence modifying someextentthoseof induction deduction. the units of observation are simply conceitredas heaps.which may be generalconcepts. has to some extent declined in the physical sciences with the ascendance of models which have some of the characteristics of systems. morelikely is it that laws assumea subsidiary the role as tools of research.laws. But compared with the models of systems and processes developed in some of the biological and some of the social sciences those which have been produced in physical sciences show. in the classical sense of the words. if one may use experiencesin other fields as a model it is not always safe to assume that propertiesobserved as those of constituent parts of a system are also properties of the system as a whole. in a part-regionof both time and of space. propositions hypotheses. these general considerations about laws are hardly affected by this case. In physics as in other scientific disciplinesthe referentialframeworkof problemsis far from uniform. in short. Nor do those time-honoured int. To expect that they will do so.gy-matter will turn out to be systems of a kind or aspects and parts of systems. Whether or not one is justified. in the majority of cases. are However. However.severed. the greater in other words the chancethat constituentsare permanently connectedwith each other so that they are bound to change their propertiesirrevocablyif these connections are . In their classicalformthey are closelylinkedup with intellectual movementsup and down between discrete and isolated universals. to and namelymovements up and down between models of the whole and those of its parts. Generallass for particularcases. Although. there are others in which they are envisaged as units endowed with properties approachingto those of systems.

and one might call " synoptic" (not to say " synthetic") those steps which are aimed at forminga more coherenttheoreticalrepresentationof a system as a whole as a unifyingframework as a potential and testing-ground relativelyunco-ordinated for theoretical representations conof stituent parts.may . they confined themselves moreand moreto the exploration isolated of clustersof problems whichcouldbe exploredas nearlyas possibleby methods used by representatives othersciencesthoughthey themselves of lackedwhat these othersalreadypossessed: a moreunified. Its theoretical results have in that case. illustratethis stage. Manyof them. As the constituentsof such units lose their identity if their connection with othersis broken off. Or else analysis may be in advanceof synopsis. the characterof speculations.that of workinghypothesis. But whatever the technical tenns. becamedistrustfulof any over-all-view and of the very idea of " systems" itself.synopsismay be in advanceof analysis. as they become and remainwhat they are only as functioning parts of a functioningsystem of a specifictype. At an earlystage in the development a particular of field of problemssuch models. if they are conformable a largerbody of observational theoretical to and fragments. In the shortrun. But this reductionof the whole to its parts becomesincreasinglyless appropriate one moves if svithinthe continuum modelstowardsmorehighly organized of units. at the worst. in reactionfromthe morespeculative aspects of the work done by the system-builders which precededthem. the at best. In the case of units of observationsuch as multitudesand populations it is an appropriate of researchto developtheoreticalmodelsof a comaim posite unit as a whole by treatingit as the sum total of its components and by tracing back its propertiesto those of its parts. preoccupiedas they were with the processof mankindas a whole. PerhapsoIlemight call " analytical ' those steps of research which in the theoreticalrepresentation a system is treated more or less as a backof groundfromwhichproblems constituentpartsstandout as the primeobject of of researchand as a potential testing-ground theoreticalrepresentations for of the whole. A good deal of the work is done by sociologistsduring part of the twentieth century can serve as an illustrationof that stage. In that case. the study of temporary isolatesis useful only if its resultsare again and again referred back to a model of their system. or even of an individual system. Many of the ideas put forwardby the pioneeringsociologistsof the nineteenthcentury. the properties parts of cannotbe adequately ascertained withoutthe guidance provided a theoretiby cal modelof the whole.NORBERT ELIAS 245 tions.morehighlyintegrated system of theoreticalconstructsas a commonframeof reference isolatedstudies for of partwonnections. knowledgeconsists of a plethoraof observational and theoreticalfragmentsfor which a more unifiedtheoreticalframework not yet in sight. one can say that the solution of problemswhose framework representsa highly integratedunit dependsin the long run on the co-ordination and balancebetweensteps in both directions.like maps of largelyunexplored regions.

at best. And if one of these groups.specialistsfor the study of units which representa relativelylow level of organization. For not only the whole system. VIII The difficulty that thereareoftenmorethan two levelsto be considered.inferences the solutionof problems for whosefralneof reference comprises many levels or perhapsthe wholesystem. within the whole system. or merelyof one of its aspects. Many of them draw from limited experiences with problemscharacteristic one of levei.can be. Theoretical models and methods of researchdesignedfor the study of units which are less differentiated and integrated. is Highly structuredsystems and processeshave often parts which are also systems and processes.246 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT be full of blanks and perhapsfull of errorswhich can be correctedorlly by furtherinvestigationsof parts. only partially appropriate means of researchinto more highly organizedunits even if as the latter contain the former or homologuesof the former as constituent parts. and of their own situation. but also each of its constituentsystems may displaypatternsof connections and regularities which are differentand whichcannotbe deduced fromthoseof theirconstituent systems.if. But howevermuch one or the other may lag behind. of a clear conceptionof the position and functionsof their own problem-area.studies on the level of the wholesystem and studies on the level of part-unitsare greatlyimpededif they cannot rely on a measureof correspondence co-ordination and whichallowsscientiststo move the focusof their observationsand reflectionsfreely from one level to the other. such systemswithin systems. In fact. such processeswithin processesmay consist of many levels of varyingrelativestrengthand controlling powerinterlaced and interlocked with each other.are greatly in advanceof others in the explorationof their level and the developmentof corresponding techniques.the unselect imitationof their modelsand methodsin studies of morehighly organized units is likely to give rise to a welter of misconceived problems. and these in turn may have parts which again are developingsystems though with a smallermeasureof autonomy. There are many instances of the difficultiesthat can ensue from the applicationof modelsdesignedfor the study of part-systems one level of at organization that of systems at anotherlevel or of the paramount-system to as a whole. In practice. as it has in fact happened. such as physicists.the old controversy about the usefulnessof physical . Take. at the same time. therefore. for example. so that those who are diggingup knowledge on one of them stand in need of free channelsof communicatiorl otherswho with are workingin the manygalleriesabove and below and. such lines of communication often deficient or nonare existent. Problems different on levels are frequently investigated different by groups of specialistswho look hardly beyond their particularpitch.

In living systems physical processesare patternedand organized a way whichinducesfurtherpatterningand organizing these in of processesnEven if merl should succeedin constructing artefactswith very much more and much higher levels of organizationand control than those of any known machine. but not only of some levels in the hierarchic orderof open systems represented even by animalsof a simplertype. It becomesless difficult to conceiveof a more fitting model for the solutionof this questionif it is acceptedthat there are types of problems whichrequirea differentapproach problemswhich can be broughtnearersolution only if one is aware that the units under observationhave propertieswhich cannot be inferredfrom those of their parts. physical systems. If one adheresto the traditionalway of thinking. one would expect organismsto display characteristics whichareonly in someregards similarto. But one could no longerexpect. whichcouldgrowand develop. are homologues of all. In order to accept either of these two alternatives.NORBERT ELIAS 247 systems such as machinesas explanatorymodelsfor biologicalsystems such as animalsand men.one has to stretch a good many points. Or one can adopt vitalistic models and assumethat specialnon-physical forcesareat workin organisms whichaccount for the observabledifferences between living and non-livingsystems. that an organismas a whole is a set of physicalevents on exactly the same level as physicalevents outside organisms. explicitly or not. Man-made machines.one can usually perceiveonly two possiblesolutionsto the focal problemof this controversy.in tackling the question whether or not living systems can be adequatelyexplainedby analogieswith non-livingsystems are closely bound up with the traditionof thinkingwhich decreesthat the behaviourof whole units has to be explainedfrom that of their parts. As in other cases in which it is difficult. that all problems organof ismswill be solvedin the endby analogies with machines with otherphysical or systems and that biologicalscienceswill graduallytransform themselvesinto physical sciences. The difficulties with which men have met.not simply to find a solution for a problem. and yet to reveal themselvesas nothing but heaps of physical particles if their many-levelledorgatlization destroyed or if is componentparts are studied in isolation. but in othersdifferent from. .artefactswhich could build and rebuildtheir own structurefromless highly organized materials. As each system of a higherordermay have properties differentfrom those lower-order systems which form its parts and as animalsrisingin the evolutionary scale representsystems within systems on a steadily rising numberof levels. Onecan eitheracceptphysicalsystemsof one liind or the other as complete models for organismsand assume.as we know them.but to think of any possiblemodel for a solution which would fit the available evidence reasonablywell. one would expect the behaviourand characteristics organisms correspond of to only partiallyto those of machines or of chains of chemicalreactions. it is the type of availablemodelsratherthan the evidencewhichrequires re-examination. in that case. at least since the days of Descartes.

. ever muchone may camps. The change towards greater cortical dominance(to mention only one of providesa usefulillustration the way in which a. In fact. Howleft with the choice betweentwo equally unsatisfactory on try one'shand at somekind of compromise.248 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT themselves. they may credit the " mind " with qualities of " matter " or " matter" with qualities of the " mind ".sooner or later. again on disputeabout in a differentform. While men orgariized functionpartly as other animalsdo. into a branch of the biologicalsciences even though resultsof studiesinto aspects of men within the competencyof the latter form an integral element of the former.one wouldhave to apply to their construction feel and reproduce and to their study biologicalas well as physicalcategoriesand models.spectof these differences) powerof a part-systemon a and an increasein the controlling co-ordinating systems goes hand in hand very high level in the hierarchyof interlocking with changes in the equilibriumand the functioningof systems on all of levels and with a transmogrification the over-allsystem itself.an idea as to how 1 One need hardly say that the same argument holds good with regard to the old dispute about the relationship of what is traditionally called " body " and " mind ". One or less irreconcilable opinionsare so far arrayedin two more can place orleselfnearerthose who think of societiesas heaps or masses of indindual people and of their propertiesand their development. one cannot comprehend the functioningand structureof systems which embodya higherlevel and control alone in terms of others which are less highly of organization of even if the formerare the descendants the latter. can Finally. and one can placeoneself the outcomeof individual nearer those who think of societies. it on only to the study of UIlitS a is a specificand partial model appropria$e relatively low level of organization. one seems to be alternatives. In controversiesbetween vitalists and mechanists. again.more or less as if they existed in some sense outsideand apartfrom the individualpeople by whom they are formed. is a style of thinking. again. to Common both sides. is a universalmodel.in the long drawn-out level and a different the relationshipof " individual. as a whole they functionand behavein a way no other animaldoes. the whole. In this case too proposals for the solution of the problem on purely physical and on metaphysical lines are usually representative of the same style of thinking and equally inept.l Or take the much discussedquestion of the relationshipbetween the behaviourof higheranimalsand that of men. Yet.both sides take it more or less for grantedthat the model of explanationaccordingto which studies in the propertiesof parts are expected to provide the key for the problemspresentedby those of the whole. It is to such as these that one will have to turn in order to establish differences more clearly and more firmly that and why the sciencesof men cannot be expected to transformthemselves. all these propositionstry to account for the whole in termr of its pa^. They may be monistic or dualistic.simply as intentionsand activities. Again. similarproblemsand similardifficulties be found."and " society". of social processesin all their various aspects. Attemptsto explainthe latter in terms of the formerare not uncommon.

city-states.and to gain controlover. as far as one can see.which has been found most serviceable in men'sattemptsto explain. Organized groups. They as formfamilies. In society at large. But whateverformit may take. that system in the hierarchy of R .of socialbeliefsand ideals which divide some of the most powerfulgroupingsof men. so far.with a dynamicpowereqiilibriumof its own. such as tribes. at least in clarifyingthis problem. But in this case the impasseis not only due to the uncrstical transferof models of thinkingfromone fieldto another. What has been said. Attemptsto workout bettertheoretical models for the relationship individualand society suffereven more from of the fact that this relationship become. one of the focal points.the difiiculties which stand in the way of any attempt to distinguishand to detach it clearly from the topical social and political questionswhich are often expressedin similar terms constitute one of the majorbarriers the further to development the socialsciencesandparticularly of to that of sociology. At the same time.And as it so happensthat this factualquestionis representative one of the basicproblems of of the social sciences. it showsmany of its characteristics presentsmany of the problems and generally associatedwith it. All societies. It is quite unique. classesor industrialsystemsand many similarstructures whichare interlocked and which may formwith each other an over-allsystem. so far in the history of mankindit neverwas. about othertypes of part-whole relationships can be of some help. reinforced it constantlyis by tensions and passionsof rivalling as groups. on as form only one. and then againon a higherlevel.individualsform many others. feudal kingdomsor nation-states. the questionwhat the rights and duties of individualsin society ought to be. or whether the wellbeingof society ought be consideredas more to important than that of individuals. has if not thefocal point. in the clash of value systems. are evocative of a wide range of practicalissues which are highly controversial. if not in solung. as groupsof groups.NORBERT ELIAS 249 phenomenaought to be explained.villages or towns.less well integratedsystem. this In hierarchyof interlocking social units the largest unit need not be the most highly integratedand organizedunit.and not all its featuresfit entirely in the schema of a part-wholerelationship.and other questionsof this kind. the question as to what the relationshipof individualand society ought to be tends to mask and to mufflein discussions studiesthe other and as to what kind of relationship actually is-so much so that the simple it questionof fact often appearsto be almost incomprehensible. may form part of anotherless highly organized. physicalevents. As a result.in our age. This. have the generalcharacteristics of systemswith sub-systems severallevels of whichindividuals. individuals. Answersto such questionsform in many cases the shibbolethby which followers of differentsocial and political creeds recognizefriend and foe. In manyrespectsthe relationship betweenmenas individuals menas societies and differsfromthese other types. in turn. nation-states a balance-of-power-system. tribes may form with each other a federation of tribes.

they tend to fall into a mannerof speakingand thinking which suggeststhat social phenomenaexist in some sense independentlyof individualpeople.250 PROBLEMS OF INVOLVEMENT AND DETACHMENT systemswhichconstitutesthe highestlevel of integration organized and power is also the system whichhas the highestcapacityto regulateits own course. it has a higher degree of autonomy than any of its constituents. But the scope for autonomous actions varies with the propertiesof -theparamountsystem as well as with the location of part-unitswithin it. to developandperhaps change to the institutionsof the paramountsystem which. that the regularities compositeunits can be deducedfrom those of their parts and of perhapspuzzledby the fact that they cannot deducethe social regularities whichthey observesimplyand clearlyfromindividualregularities. attributes the and the behaviourof systems on differentlevels and above all those of the paramount system itself cannot be described simply in terms appropriate to those of their parts. they may.as if societieswere nothingbut heaps of individualpeopleand who try to explain the formerin terms of the latter cannot conceive of the fact that groups formedby individuals. is enabled to perpetuateat least some of its distinguishing characteristics. As long as its organization remains more or less intact.wittingly or not. inducesthe organization and integrationof functionsin individualchildren who as adultswill be calleduponto. nor can they be explainedas effects of which their -constituents the cause. self-regulating systems that the regularities.wittingly or unwittingly. and so sloes the basic personalitystructureof its individualmembers. Those who approachsocial phenomena. this. by means of this and of other homeostatic devices. like other organizations part-units. Differentlevels in this hierarchyof systems.have properties of of their own which remainunintelligible an obsenrerif his attention is for focused on individual people as such and not. such as individuals as such or as families or as classes. And it is the structureand dearelopment this system which in the of last resortdetermines thoseof its part-systems including thoseof its individual members. Those who approachsocial phenomena. But expecting as they have been trained to expect. For on the propertiesand the developmentof this system dependthose of the institutionalized of relationships set which we call " family". it of " has this in common with other part-wholerelationshipscharacteristic of highly organized.co-operateor they may fight with each other.carryon. have a greater or smallermeasureof autonomy. as if these phenomena existedindependently the individuals whomthey are formed of by areusuallyawareof the fact that phenomena this kindhave theirirreducible of regularities. And yet they are nothing outside and apart are from these constituents. Thus unique as the relationship " individual and " society" is. at the same time. on the structuresand patterns which individualsform with each other. Like other open systems. in turn. They . for example. it can disintegrate the pressureof tensionsfrom if within or without becomestoo strong.

othersmainlybecause. Here as elsewhere. Some problemscannot be broughtnearersolution mainly because one has not sufficient facts to go on. of by They are concerned with phenomena from a sphereof life in which the contingencyof unmanageable dangers continuously is high. they are misconceived: General ideas. it is difficult them for to disengagethe ideas and concepts they use in their specializedwork as scientistsfrom those used day by day in their social life. As one has seen.moreor less. Some of the difficulties encountered socialsciencesare of this type.they are apt to seize UpOtl these models as on ready-made and authoritativemeans for gainingcertainty often enough without distinguishing clearlywhetherit is certaintyabout somethingworth knowingor somethingrather insigniScantwhich they have gained in this way. Ttis a questionhow far eitherof these two types of modelsis suited to scientific inquiriesinto social phenomena.at the same time. Since peopleconceivedthe idea that one might explorenot only physical. Pressed by uncertainties.the inability to think of in termsof systemsleavespeoplewith the choicebetweentwo equallyunpalatablealternatives. it is this mechanicaltransferof models from one scientificfeld to anotherwhichoften resultsin a kind of pseudo-detachment. The hypothetical modelused for the study of problems this kindis a continuum whichone of of marginal pole is formedby properties personsand theirsituationcharacterof istic of completeinvolvementand completelack of detachment(suchas one mightfindit in the case of youngbabies)and the otherof properties characteristic of complete detachmentand a zero-pointof involvement. They are due to insufficiences in not so much in the knowledgeof facts. Models the firsttype are often used unintentionally socialscientists. those of naturalsciences. one adumbrates the need for re-examination a wider problem: that of the nature and of acquisitionof human knowledgegenerally.as it were. withthe choicebetweenatomisticandhypostaticconceptions.the whole mannerof thinking may be malformed simply inadequateas a result of an uncriticaltransfer or of intellectualmodelsfrom one context to another.not unconnectedwith the strength of their involvements. and in handling.NORBERT ELIAS {t 25I tend to confuse" havingregularities theirown " with havingan existence of of theirown ". though not alwaysJ copieddeliberately social scientists.as problems. By raising it. have alwaysbeen. as in the basic ideas. in the sameway in whichthe fact that organisms have regularities which cannot be deducedfrom those of unorganized physicalevents is often interpretedas a sign that somethingin organismshas an existence independently physicalevents. facts. types of classes. . but they do not always by examine. scientifically. Modelsof the second type. in what respectthese modelsare consonantwlth their specific task. by two more powerfulgroups: models of setting and solving problemsabout social phenomenacurrent in society at large and those of dealingwith problems about " nature" developedby naturalscientists. underthe influence two types of modelsdeveloped.but also social phenomena. of in differentcontexts.those who tried to do so.are often. categoriesand attitudes used in making observationsof.

the discipline greaterdetachment.and to act upon.it is not less difficultfor them to gain greaterautonomyin the developmentof their scientificmodelsin relationto those of the older. How far it is possibleunder presentconditionsfor groupsof scientificspecialiststo raise of the standards autonomyand adequacyin thinkingaboutsocialevents aa.252 PROBLEMS OF INVOLYEMENT AND DETACHMENT and of in a malformation problems in severelimitationsof topics for research. ence can show. in contrast the to that of units of low organization.an over-allpictureof themselves which is less colouredby wishes and fears and more consistentlyformedin observationsof details. knowledgeone has gained about in of properties isolatedparts can only be assessedand interpreted the light of the knowledgeone has gained of propertiesof the whole unit. only tions and procedures of limiteduse in scientificstudiesof the latter.on many levels.g. And yet how with dispassionate cross-fertilization else can one breakthe hold of the lriciouscirclein whichhigh affectivityof ideas and low ability to controldangerscomingfrom men to men reinforce our work? . But in their case units of this type are always units. Nor can one know in advancewhetheror not the menace whichhumangroupson many levels constitutefor each otheris still too great for them to be able to bear. By and large. the more difficultis it to raise these standards. problemsof the physicalsciences conceptsof units with a relativelylow degree have as theirframeof reference of organization. is whetherit is mannerof thinkingabout social events in more adequateand autonomous a situation where men in groups. to populations the statisticalsense of the word. Problemsreferringto units of an equally low degree of in e. Typesof concepts. of The hypotheticalmodelused for the study of problems this kind is a conto according the degreeof interunits arranged tinuumof modelsof composite dependenceof part-units. constitutegrave dangers insight to be gainedfrom such for each other. organization. Perhapsthe most significant enough. physicalsciences. for in their case.ld only experiof to imposeupon themselves. of is reflections the awareness whathas beennamedhere.inadequately ": the " principleof increasingfacilitation The lower social standardsof and adequacyin thinking objectsand of detachment controlin manipulating about them. If it is difficultfor social scientiststo attain greaterautonomyof their scientifictheoriesand conceptsin relationto public creedsand ideals which they may share. The crucialquestion and morefirmlyestablished successful possibleto make much headwaytowardsa more detached. are not lackingin the socialsciences.of explanapartsof otherfar morehighlyorganized used for inquiriesinto the formerareJat the best.