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Then & Now documentary on Norbert Elias: The Civilizing Process

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The Civilizing Process was a study published In 1939 by the German Sociologist Norbert Elias. Ignored for years and often misunderstood, the book only became influential in the 1980’s and today is both highly lauded and widely criticised. At its core, the civilizing process is an analysis of how society and psychology interact, and how they change over time. For Elias, from around the 11th to the 16th centuries in the West, a change occurred. People became more ‘civilized’ – their manners, etiquette, and tendency towards violence all became more ‘controlled’. The book asks why? The breadth of his answer involves history, psychology, sociology, politics, culture, and economics; and jumps from medieval knights to modern businessmen. In other words, it’s a difficult book. At its heart questions about what’s rational, what’s intentional, what control and impulse mean. Elias argues that the monopoly on power and increasing interdependence that took place between the 11th-17th centuries had a huge effect on our psychology and is the cause of the rise in the importance of etiquette and manners, and the decline in violence, that we see across the period.

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