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Joop Goudsblom: A Short Reading List


In his obituary for the late Johan Goudsblom (1932–2020), Stephen Mennell mentioned some examples that showcased Joop’s particular synthesis of bio-ecological evolution and sociological developments. The following post expands some of Stephen’s remarks through a brief introduction to 4 pieces written by Joop.


Goudsblom, Johan. 1987. ‘The Sociology of Norbert Elias: Its Resonance and Significance’. Theory, Culture & Society 4(2-3): 323-337.

–. 1987. ‘The Domestication of Fire as a Civilizing Process’. Theory, Culture & Society 4(2-3): 457-476.


In the first article from this issue of the journal Theory, Culture & Society, Joop explains the contrasts between the static approach of Talcott Parsons and the more dynamic approach developed by Elias, as well as summarising core processual concepts of interdependence and power relations. His piece still offers some useful responses to the question of why study Elias in the first place.

For his second article, Joop condenses the arguments in his book on Fire & Civilisation. The domestication of fire is a long term socio-psychological process that interweaves technical, intellectual and emotional regulations, which have come to constitute the basic attributes of human societies. Mastery of fire from passive to active use, became the foundation for subsequent agrarian and industrial socio-ecological regimes. The question of how fire became energy (both physiological and technological) remains relevant in contemporary discussions about the decarbonisation of agriculture and industry in efforts to confront climate change.


Goudsblom, Johan. 1996. ‘Human History and Long-Term Social Processes: Toward a Synthesis of Chronology and Phaseology’. In The Course of Human History: Economic Growth, Social Process, and Civilisation, eds. Johan Goudsblom, Eric Jones and Stephen Mennell. London: M.E. Sharpe.


In this book chapter, Joop advocates for a synthesis that bridges history and sociology through a combination of chronological and phaseological explanation of events and processes. It is a useful chapter to help contemplate not only one’s own research, but also the research design of projects that investigate relations across a single day, month, years, decades, hundreds of years or more. Joop’s subsequent chapters on the interconnections between organised religion, agrarian regimes and militarisation processes build on this foundation.


Goudsblom, Johan. 1986. ‘Public Health and the Civilising Process’. Millbank Quarterly 64(2): 161–182.


Joop’s essay highlights the trend in current societies towards greater hygienification via concerns about physical health and experiences of disease. Understanding the sociological development of hygiene connects with the piece by José Gonçalves Gondra highlighted by Ana Flávia Braun Vieira. Stephen has already raised the relevance of this piece for understanding the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be used to frame a series of upcoming posts about the pandemic from the perspective of process sociology. Nathalie Heinich has already started a fascinating discussion into a pertinent contemporary issue. So stay tuned.