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The Society of Individuals published

Posted on by Stephen Mennell

The latest volume to appear of the Collected Works of Norbert Elias in English is:

Norbert Elias, The Society of Individuals (Dublin: UCD Press, 10 December 2010 [Collected Works. vol. 10]). xvi + 224 pp. ISBN: 978-1-906359-07-2.

Translated by Edmund Jephcott. German text edited by Michael Schröter. This volume edited by Robert van Krieken.

Philosophers and social scientists have for decades – centuries even – tied themselves in knots over the supposed problem of ‘individual’ versus ‘society’, and its offshoots such as ‘agency’ and ‘structure’.

Elias shows the falsity of problem, which ought to be easily resolved by thinking in terms of processes extending over the generations – though in practice the baleful influence of philosophy leads to its constant resurrection.

The Society of Individuals consists of three essays, the first written in 1939, the second dating from the 1940s and 1950s, and the third a final reflection composed in 1987 only three years before Elias’s death. In each, Elias takes the discussion to a new level, demonstrating that individualisation is an inherent component of the personal socialisation process and of inter-generational civilising processes, exploding the myth of the ‘We-less ego’, and introducing important conceptual innovations, including ‘I-identity’ versus ‘We-identity’ and the ‘We–I balance’.

Like previous volumes in the series, this too has been carefully edited and corrected, and explanatory notes have been added where necessary.


Norbert Elias (1897–1990)

Note on the text


Part I:  The Society of individuals (1939)

Part II:  Problems of self-consciousness and the human self-image (1940s–1950s)

1          Wishful and fearful self-images of human beings as individuals and of society

2          The thinking statues

3            Individualisation in the social process

Part III:  Changes in the We–I balance (1987)

Appendix I: Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘The Book of Pilgrimage’

Appendix II: Two poems by Goethe

Appendix III: Power Struggles and the concepts of ‘state’ and ‘society’

Appendix IV: Migration and the conflict of generations



This volume is published at the list price of €60.00, but it can be purchased direct from the publishers at the discount price of €48.00 – go to