Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland
Norbert Elias (1897–1990) was born into a Jewish middle-class family in Germany, where he initially trained in philosophy before making a deliberate move toward sociology. Elias fled Germany in the 1930s and wrote The Civilizing Process (recently published as On the Process of Civilisation) in London; it was eventually published in 1939 (Mennell 1998). His other significant work in the context of consumer culture includes The Court Society (2006), and Quest for Excitement (2008) written with Eric Dunning. His work synthesized concepts developed by earlier social thinkers such as Freud, Veblen, Simmel, Durkheim, Weber, and Mannheim, among others (Kilminster 2007).
Elias's theories stress connections between people across space and time. He examines civilizing processes (Elias 2012) in a technical, rather than normative, sense from the Middle Ages up to the nineteenth century, using successive editions of etiquette texts as his main source of data. He argues that over this long time period new standards of civilized conduct developed in an unplanned but structured way. Competition between aristocratic houses in France led to an eventual monopoly of the means of violence and taxation by a single royal house. Kings remained anxious about their control of territory and the degree of loyalty from other nobles. This led to the “courtization” and pacification of knights, who were increasingly ...