Elias Norbert(1897-1990) German-born sociologist who, after leaving Germany in the Hitler era, worked first in England and later in Ghana, Holland and Germany He describes his approach to sociological analysis as FIGURATIONAL SOCIOLOGY, in which changing social ‘configurations’-rather than societies – are analysed as the unintended outcome of the interactions of interdependent individuals (see also FIGURATION). His most important work, The Civilizing Process (1939), attracted little attention at the time of its publication in German. However, by the time the English edition appeared (2 vols. in 1978 and 1982), an ‘Elias school’, dedicated to promoting ‘figurational sociology’, had become well established in Holland and England (see P. Gleichman et al., 1977). The theme of The Civilizing Process is the relation between European state-formation and changes in individual patterns of behaviour and personality, including new forms of morality and individual self-control (see also CIVILIZING PROCESS). The Court Society (1969) deals with related themes. The theoretical underpinnings of figurational sociology are outlined in What Is Sociology? (1970). There are parallels between Elias's focus on ‘figurations’, rather than on individuals or societies as separate entities, and those approaches in modern sociology which emphasize the importance of modes of social analysis which acknowledge the interrelation between STRUCTURE AND AGENCY (see STRUCTURATION THEORY). Other works by Elias include The Loneliness of the Dying (1982) and Involvement and Detachment (1986).
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000