Norbert Elias was a German-speaking writer and sociologist of Jewish origin, who was born in 1897 in Breslau and died in 1990 in Amsterdam.
After studying philosophy and medicine, he trained with German sociologists, in particular Alfred Weber and Karl Manheim. He was forced to leave Nazi Germany. After a brief spell in France, he moved to England, where he taught at several universities (London School of Economics, University of Leicester), and at Legon University in Ghana.
His work has long been marginalized and only latterly received attention in France. His work demonstrates the unity of the social sciences and embraces sociology, anthropology and history.
Elias was interested in how societies evolve out of fundamental elements such as the interiorization of norms, the mastery of emotions or the control of violence. His books deal with major issues through concrete and empirical phenomena such as the practices and mores of court society, sport, music, or the relationship between the sexes.
His interpretation of the social world starts from the notion of interdependence, which gives full scope to change and social transformation in his analyses. He then proposes to build this thinking around the notion not of society, but that of configuration so as to understand the multiple interdependencies that underpin social linkages.
He is the author of a major work of historical sociology, The Civilizing Process, published in France in two volumes, La Civilisation des mœurs (1975) and La Dynamique de l’Occident (1975).