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Elias’s Collected Essays: First of three volumes published

Posted on by Stephen Mennell

The latest volume of the Elias Collected Works, volume 15, is the first of three volumes of Elias’s Collected Essays, all of them edited by Richard Kilminster and Stephen Mennell

Essays II: On Civilising Processes, State Formation and National Identity is numerically the middle one of the three volumes, but the first to be published. The other two, Essays I: On the Sociology of Knowledge and the Sciences (vol. 14) and Essays III On Sociology and the Humanities (vol. 16) are already in press, and will be published in the first half of 2009. Unlike in the German Gesammelte Schriften, where Elias’s 80-90 essays are arranged in order of the date of their publication, the Editorial Advisory Board for the Collected Works decided to group them thematically, as the titles of the three volumes indicate.

Of the 18 essays in volume 15, Essays II, as many as 11 have not previously been published in English. These are:

‘Civilisation’, probably Elias’s most succinct exposition of his theory of civilising processes, written for a German textbook of basic concept of sociology, published in 1986.

‘What I mean by civilisation: reply to Hans-Peter Duerr’, which appeared in Die Zeit in 1988.

L’Espace privé – “Private space” or “private room”’, a lecture given in Berlin in 1983, one of several essays in which Elias criticises the work of the historian Philippe Ariès, who was present in the audience on this occasion.

‘The structure of development of standards of behaviour’, Elias’s foreword to Hans-Volker Krumrey’s book Entwicklungstrukturen von Verhaltensstandarden (1984).

‘Power and civilisation’, a lecture given in 1981 in Graz.

‘The Germanesi’, Elias’s postscript to Meike Behrman and Carmine Abate’s 1984 book of that name, a study of the effects on their home village of Italian Gastarbeiter returning from Germany to their original communities.

‘The charismatic ruler’, published in Der Spiegel in 1989 to mark the centenary of Hitler’s birth.

‘Public opinion in Britain’ and ‘National peculiarities of British public opinion’, two lectures given in Germany in 1959 and 1960. For British readers especially, these two enjoyable and insightful lectures will confirm the truth of L. P. Hartley’s famous dictum, ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’.

‘Fear of death’, a 1986 lecture in Groningen, deals at some length with a subject that Elias is often accused of neglecting: religion. (Actually, in the course of editing the Collected Works, it becomes clear that Elias actually discussed religion in very many parts of his work.)

‘Has hope a furure?’, a contribution to the 1986 Christmas edition of Die Zeit.

Even among the essays originally written in English, many have not until now been at all easy to track down. One example from volume 15 is Elias’s 1950 review of Eva G. Reichmann’s book Hostages of Civilisation: A Study of the Social Causes of Antisemitism.

Like all volumes in the series, these latest three have been very carefully edited and annotated to improve the readability of the texts: sadly, it appears that the first editions of most of Elias’s works in English escaped the attentions of competent copy-editors, a lacuna that has now been remedied.

Especially because of the higher standard to which these volumes have been produced, which makes Elias’s texts much more accessible both to students and scholars, it is important that they find their way into university libraries throughout the world. Readers of Elias-I are urged to ensure that they are ordered by their own institutions’ libraries.

You can also buy copies of the volumes direct from the publisher, at a discount, via the website:

Previously published volumes in the series are:

1 Early Writings (2006)
2 The Court Society (2006)
4 The Established and the Outsiders
7 Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilising Process
8 Involvement and Detachment (2007)
9 An Essay on Time (2007)
Supplementary volume: The Genesis of the Naval Profession (2007)