Civilizing Process

Norbert Elias' "civilizing process" concept looked at the connections between the development of European states and shifts in people's personalities and behavior, mainly due to the adoption of new aspects of morality and the establishment of etiquette and manners increased self-control.
Civilizing Process Sociology Definition


Norbert Elias’ “civilizing process” concept looked at the connections between the development of European states and shifts in people’s personalities and behavior, mainly due to the adoption of new aspects of morality and the establishment of etiquette and manners increased self-control.

Elias suggests a dual sociogenesis of the state, wherein the state’s social growth has both political and mental aspects. Human behavior undergoes a significant transformation as a consequence of the civilization process. It resulted in the creation of the modern state and the transformation of man from the Middle Ages’ warrior to the 19th century’s civilized man.

Profile of Norbert Elias

Sociologist Norbert Elias (1897–1990) was of German Jewish descent. Elias escaped National Socialism in 1933, and in 1954 he started working as a sociology instructor at the University of Leicester in England. Elias retired in 1962, and from 1962 to 1964; he taught sociology at the University of Ghana. He wrote his most important book, The Civilising Process, in German in 1939, but it was not until its English translation in 1978 and 1982 that it garnered considerable attention.

The Loneliness of the Dying (1982), The Court Society (1969), What is Sociology? (1970)  and Involvement and Detachment (1987)are only a few of his many other works.

Two fundamental ideas characterized his sociological contributions.

1. He was interested in understanding the development of civilization, which he characterized as the process by which internal moral control replaces external limitations on behavior.

2. He advocated for figuration or processual sociology, a conception of the continuous and infinite processual flux of all social connections, in place of functionalism and structuralism because of their propensity to reify social processes.

Thus, he used the term “civilizing processes” rather than “civilization” in his writing.

Three concepts are explained in theory.

Elias is attempting to comprehend three concepts. First the connection between state formation and evolving perceptions of Western European behaviors, including nudity, cleanliness, and violence. Second, he wants to examine how marketization, urbanization, and monetarization have affected how labor is divided. Third, as social connections between individuals increased, personality changes occurred.

He looks at etiquette and manners books from the 1350s to the 1800s. The need to separate and analyze a small portion of history has drawn attention to these papers.

Civilizing Process

The Civilizing Process by Norbert Elias, initially published in English in two volumes in 1978 and 1982 after first appearing in German in 1939, is today recognized as one of the most significant sociological works of the 20th century.

“Like Weber before him, Elias focuses on how structural and individual traits interact in social development to close the macro and micro sociology gap. Both Weber’s concept of rationalization and Elias’ “civilization process” have their origins in the evolving nature of interactions between social structure and human psychology. 

Elias’ attempt to encompass rationalization in a much larger trend that includes tighter regulation of impulses, drives, and emotions, a rise in individual shame and embarrassment over our animal nature, and the suppression of such “animalistic” behaviors behind the scenes of social life ever is, in fact, the civilization process.

This effort aimed to clarify how Europeans saw themselves as more “civilized” than their ancestors and nearby civilizations. Elias examined shifting ideas of shame and discomfort concerning, among other things, body appropriateness and violence by examining texts on manners that had been produced between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries.


Elias looked at the interactions between the rise of state monopolies of power, rising economic interdependence, and pressures to become attuned to others over greater distances that resulted in advancements in identifying with others in the same society regardless of social origins to explain those developments.

Elias’s theory of the civilizing process was not restricted to understanding evolving social relationships within various civilizations. The inquiry also focused on how Europe was divided into independent governments that fought one other for control and security.

Elias concentrated on the long-term joint development of the sociogenetic (structural aspects of social life) and psychogenetic (related psychological qualities).

Elias believed that monopolization, in particular the monopolization of physical force and violence, called for more restraint on the part of the state and the individual. 

Reciprocal dependency

Elias describes “a chain of mutual dependence” in “The Civilizing Process,” wherein individuals become reliant on one another to carry out their jobs and realize their objectives. Elias claims that this explains why civilizations needed greater stability, predictability, and oversight. People were more interdependent on one another even when they were not in direct touch, thanks to transportation and the growth of marketplaces. 

Rules of the game

Elias claims that this has made it necessary to plan activities and create the “rules of the game.” Playing by the rules meant that self-control became more and more necessary.

The blurring of class differences

Elias discusses how new behaviors and functions are developed due to various societies becoming more civilized. The weakening of class distinctions is one effect of these developments. For instance, the upper classes were often exempt from work, which was typically seen as a responsibility of the lower classes. 

Nearly everyone works in western civilization today. With the help of colonization, this process ultimately extended worldwide after starting in Europe.

Not linear and consistent

Norbert Elias contends in “The Civilizing Process” that civilization does not advance linearly or consistently. Various social formations and behaviors have been produced due to the diversity of social groupings and the diverse and unequal causes of change. Elias, on the other hand, views this as a new stage in the hegemonic development of the western habitus rather than a source of genuine social variation.


Two main criticisms of his work include

  1. It is unclear what causes, or mechanisms are responsible for these civilizing processes.
  2. It is said that empirical data do not support his thesis since contemporary civilizations exhibit a high level of harshness and daily violence.

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