I have been scratching a Norbert Elias shaped itch for well over a decade. It all started towards the end of my undergraduate dissertation when my supervisor suggested how Elias’s work, particularly the Established and the Outsiders, might help me generate a developmental account of anti-Nike activism, as well as explaining to me why such an account might be more productive than the diatribe I originally had in mind. I went into the dissertation hoping to develop a strategy that would bring down a corporate giant. I left it with the sense that the world must know about this Norbert Elias chap. Ah, the street-wise rebelliousness of youth!
For at least a year, I read nothing but Elias’s work. I eventually became frustrated, however, by certain recurrent characteristics of his writings, and by what I saw as his and his followers inability to properly address these. And yet, the fascination remains. Initially, towards the beginning of my PhD, I took Elias’s account of politics to task in what eventually became a paper published in The Sociological Review. More recently, it was what I saw as figurational sociology’s under-informed account of philosophy which wound me up – that paper has been under review since August. Today, I submitted a paper outline to the organisers of April’s 4th Conference on Practical Criticism, this time having a go at Elias’s account of science.
Surely, once this third paper is finished, that will have to be it. You don’t need to have studied the history of manners to realise that most people today frown on vigorous and persistent public self-scratching.