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The Norbert Elias Book Prize 2020

As members of the jury for the Norbert Elias Book Prize 2020, we were greatly impressed by the range and quality of the nine books, all published in 2018 and 2019, that were nominated for our consideration. All were to a greater or lesser extent influenced by the sociology of Norbert Elias, and the diversity of topics with which they were concerned demonstrated once again the seminal significance of Elias’s thinking.

We found it very difficult to choose a single winner. Finally we chose:


Raúl Sánchez García, The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019. xi + 239 pp. ISBN: 978-1-138-57169-3 (hbk); 978-0-203-70257-4 (ebk)).


This ambitious book traces the development of Japanese martial arts in very long-term perspective, connecting ancient martial traditions with the martial arts practiced to day. It tells a complicated story about the structured process in which warriors’ practices became systematised and expanded to the Japanese population and the world. Obviously, the author is influenced by the rich body of figurational research on sport from Elias and Dunning to their many successors today; but he also draws upon the whole theory of civilising, state-formation and habitus-formation processes. It is thus not just a study in the sociology of sport, but also a major study in comparative-historical sociology. In particular, it is a substantial contribution to the long-recognised but still under-researched question of analogues in other historic civilisations to the long-term social processes identified by Elias in European development. Comparisons are made in particular between the development of combat practices in Japan, England, France, and Germany. Light is also consistently shed on a gender blind spot, taking into account the neglected role of women in martial arts.


Because we found it quite challenging to separate out one winner from such a competitive field, in which there were many worthy winners, we wish on this occasion to break with tradition from the earlier Elias Book Prize, and to mention two other books that were in close contention until the final stage:


Arne Worm, Fluchtmigration aus Syrien: Eine biographietheoretische und

figurationssoziologische Studie (Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2019). 317 pp. ISBN: 978-3-86395-432-1; eISSN: 2699-0997.



John Connolly and Paddy Dolan, Gaelic Games in Society: Civilising Processes, Players, Administrators and Spectators. (Cham, Springer Nature Switzerland/ Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 213pp. ISBN: 9783030316983.


Stephen Mennell, Dublin

Annette Treibel, Karlsruhe

Stephen Vertigans, Aberdeen