Conference – Reinventing Norbert Elias: for an open sociology
Amsterdam, 22–23 June 2012
[NOTE: Abstracts (max 250 words) are to be submitted by 1 February 2012, to: ReinventingElias@gmail.com.
Please include in your abstract: name, affiliation, email address, phone number; as well the panel for which you want the abstract to be considered. You will receive notice of acceptance by 15 March 2012.]
This conference aims to investigate the relevance of the figurational or ‘process sociology’ of Norbert Elias for current sociological theory and research. The organising committee, consisting of social scientists from several Dutch universities and a renowned Australian expert, hope to attract scholars from around the world to join us in discussing and rethinking Norbert Elias’s sociology for the twenty-first century. How can figurational sociology contribute to current sociological debates? What is the place of Elias in today’s social scientific landscape? How can the insights and concepts of figurational sociology be developed further? Are Elias’s critiques of mainstream sociology still valid? Is figurational sociology a paradigm in itself, or rather a perspective to be used alongside others?
In recent decades, Norbert Elias has acquired a place in the pantheon of modern classical sociologists. His work is well known outside of the direct circles of his students, friends and collaborators in Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. Many of Elias’s insights have been incorporated in current sociological work. Elias is now recognised as pioneer in such divergent fields as relational sociology, historical sociology, the sociology of sports, culture, organisations, and emotions.
The conference will be held at the University of Amsterdam, where Elias spent the last decade of his long and productive life. The Netherlands, and the University of Amsterdam in particular, became an important international centre for figurational sociology. However, in the past decade, figurational sociology has lost its dominant position at the University of Amsterdam, increasingly becoming one paradigm among many.
For this conference, we have invited four plenary speakers: two young sociologists who have used Elias’s work in new and creative ways, and two established scholars who are well-versed in process sociology. The conference will be preceded by a short intensive course on Elias and process sociology, which will be open to interested PhD candidates from the Netherlands and beyond. This course will be taught by renowned figurational sociologist Robert van Krieken (University of Sydney) in conjunction with Bart van Heerikhuizen (UvA). Professor van Krieken will also take part in the panel discussion at the end of the conference.
The paper sessions for this conference are organised around themes that are both central to the work of Elias, and at the heart of present-day sociological debates: sociology and history; bodies and biology; emotions and affect; and national habitus and cross-national comparison. Separate calls for papers for each of these topics can be found below.
1 Selected papers from this conference will be included in an edited book or a special issue of a journal.
2 The short intensive course preceding the conference is intended to attract and inform young researchers with an interest in figurational/process sociology and more generally in relational sociology.
3 By bringing together different ways of working with Elias’s legacy, the conference seeks to arouse interest in new ways of using this legacy, among students and academics, and to specifically look for ways to link Eliasian sociology with current sociological debates. The aim is to contribute to the elaboration and expansion of an open sociology: a broad and open approach, a preference for comparative and historical questions, mixed methods, an interest in the sociology of emotions, and a marked disregard of disciplinary boundaries.
4 Finally, we hope to strengthen, consolidate, and expand the international network of scholars with an interest in relational and process sociology.
Call for Papers, by theme
Almost without exception, the founding fathers of sociology put great emphasis on the importance of history in sociological analysis. Comte, Marx, Weber, Elias and even Durkheim – without hesitation all would have endorsed Norman Gottwald’s maxim that ‘history without sociology is blind, sociology without history is empty’. Yet after 1945, mainstream academic sociology did not give much attention to history, nor to long-term social change. Norbert Elias’s historical sociological approach reconnected sociology to the dynamic classics and distanced itself from American functionalism.
For young sociologists in the 1970s, this came as a relief. The boundaries between sociology and history became more diffuse; historical sociology and social history bloomed. But in contemporary sociology, especially in the Netherlands, an historical perspective is virtually absent, and the distance between sociology and history has grown. At best, the development of a certain social phenomenon is treated as some kind of ‘historical background’ instead of seen as a fundamentally formative force and explanatory principle.
This session focuses on questions like: Do sociologists need history? Do sociologists and historians need each other? In what ways can sociologists incorporate history into their work? What do they miss by ‘hodiecentrism’, restricting their research to static relations in the present? What could historical sociological analysis contribute to dominant debates in current sociology? Why has historical sociology become a relatively unimportant branch of sociological research and teaching?
2 Bodies and Biology
Organiser: Rogier van Reekum (University of Amsterdam)
Social scientific theorising and research have recently seen a marked increase in attention for bodily practices and processes. Parallel to that development, there has been a return of interest in biology: both regarding its impact on actual behaviour, and regarding the relationship between biology and long-term historical processes. This seminar aims to investigate the relevance of the body and biology for social science. Elias, for his part, developed a strong focus on bodily processes and the ways in which these were themselves transformed through (very) long-term processes. The control of the body is a major element in the civilising process. Elias stressed the embeddedness of habitus formation within wider chains of dependence and longer phases of change. How can appreciation of the bodily aspects of social practice and (very) long-term processes help us in our sociological theorising and research? If so, can insights from evolutionary biology be successfully utilised? We invite anyone working on these issues to submit a paper. We are open to both empirical research and theoretical explorations.
Emotions are a crucial part of social life, and in that respect also an important topic for sociology. Emotions are individually embodied but always embedded in social relations, referring to others, and formed in relations and interactions with others.
Emotions are also social in the sense that, in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s terms, people use the ‘feeling dictionaries’ and ‘feeling bibles’ that are characteristic of the societies in which they live.
But emotions are elusive. How can sociologists give emotions the sophisticated attention they deserve? Which is their specific domain, the sociological niche between other disciplines, in the study of emotions? In the work of Norbert Elias emotions play a crucial role, and the way he connected relations and emotions has been very inspiring for a whole generation of sociologists. But his focus is on the social regulation of emotions.
In recent decades, there has been much research in psychology and the neurosciences that can be also useful for sociology. What insights from these disciplines are relevant for sociologists studying emotions? How can they incorporate these insights, particularly but not only with regard to the study of long-term social processes? We invite people working on these themes and issues to submit a paper – we are open to theoretical reflection and empirical research, with a preference for the combination of both.
4. Sociological comparison and national habitus
Organisers: Giselinde Kuipers (University of Amsterdam & Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Johan Heilbron (Erasmus University Rotterdam & Centre de sociologie européenne, Sorbonne–Paris)
National comparison has always been central to process sociology. In The Civilizing Process, Elias contrasted Germany and France, to better understand the dynamics of state formation and civilisation. Later, Elias’s comparative approach was expanded to Europe, North America, and Asia. Similar social processes – state formation, civilisation, informalisation, globalisation – often develop and work out differently in different national contexts. Comparison, therefore, allows researchers to uncover underlying mechanisms of social processes.
National comparison also allows us to recognise and understand the specificities of different nations. In The Germans, Elias coined the notion of ‘national habitus’ to explain how, in the course of state formation, inhabitants of a particular nation become more similar in outlook and emotional make-up.
This panel invites both theoretical and empirical papers concerned with national comparative research from the perspective of figurational or process sociology. Especially in Europe, where large-scale quantitative comparative research has become the dominant form of social research, we feel process sociology can make a timely and critical contribution.
We are specifically interested in two issues. First, we are looking for papers engaging with national comparison in the current age of increasing globalisation and trans-nationalism. How do national contexts and trans-national processes interact and intersect? What do we compare when we compare nations in the twenty-first century? Second, we look to revitalise and expand the concept of ‘national habitus’. How can we understand national difference and specificity not only at the level of institutions and processes, but also at the level of embodied, everyday practice?