Norbert Elias and Weber Contribution to Economy
This paper argues that in their respective works, Norbert Elias and Max Weber came up with different arguments on a psychological and sociological plane for the explanation of society and the modern economy. Whilst Elias is more focused historically on the development of the individual, Weber argues that history is not necessarily a good case study for sociological development. However while both authors use an element of sociological Darwinism in their arguments, they are far apart on the schools of thought regarding economic and social development in the modern age.
Norbert Elias: The Society of Individuals
Norbert Elias’ famous work deals with the sociology of individuals in the context of the human marketplace. There is a sense of the psychological implications as described by Elias especially when he intends to explain how the human being is structured and how society is shaped in today’s modern world.
Elias focuses on how the relationship between emotion and behaviour can be used to explain certain sociological practices. It is interesting to note that he only came into his own in the 1970’s since he was largely forgotten in the decades before that although he rapidly became one of the most important German sociologists of all time.
Elias’ is similar to Max Weber in his painstaking and detailed descriptions of sociological structures where large agencies are concerned although he never loses sight of the individual in this mind set and frame. In a way he is an opponent of structural functionalism whilst also being a proposer of structure over agency which remains also one of the main tenets of Weber’s work.
In ‘The Civilising Process’, Elias focuses on the psychological structures which are created by the sexual attitudes and mores of the time coming up with his own theory of agency over structure as well as individualism. His interesting and painstaking study on how European civilisation developed independently especially with regards to sexual attitudes and bodily functions is pretty ground breaking. Elias also delves quite deep into certain psychological questions such as the limits of repugnance and shame as well as the dismantling of attitudes at court which were already dated and heavily influenced by prejudice.
One could also argue that Elias was a precursor of the study of the human mind as espoused by Freud and his contemporaries. This was also visible in his proposal of self-restraint which then led to Freud coming up with his ‘super-ego’ theory which is an accepted for of psychological behaviour and which is at the opposite end of what may be termed as restraint of the self. Another aspect of the Elias work is the proposal regarding the early modern state where all these behavioural patterns seem to fall into place accordingly.
Social connections and networking are also very important parts of Elias’ work, ‘The Society of Individuals’. Elias argues that the complex networking and social connections create several issues which may mean that man is simply out to dominate society. The children of the powerful elite are inculcated with a mentality that they are far better than others and this is simply a psychological pattern in a psyche which creates a super ego fallacy. The societal structure can only be described as a wen of interconnected devices which simply work together towards one common goal which is a society rigidly divided into class structures.
Elias has often been criticised due to the fact that on initial study, his works seem to be a modern form of social Darwinism. However the idea of progress which goes ahead and which moves relentlessly upward has also been studied by other philosophers including Max Weber. His theories and writings create a clear portrayal of the functioning economy as part and parcel of the modern social state.
There have been very little works in the social sciences which have aroused greater controversy or have left such an indelible impression as Max Weber’s ‘Economy and Society’. It is quite jam packed with what one can describe as individualism on a methodological level whilst also full of examination of those social structures which make up a modern economy as well as a modern society. However it is also quite obvious that Weber manages to avoid those stumbling blocks which may be described as evolutionary as well as the rise in the West of bureaucracy and rationalization, two aspects which Weber has tackled profoundly in other works. It is also interesting to note that ‘Economy and Society’ ends up in being an attack on several aspects of Marxism especially in the way it discusses the subject of alienation especially with regard to the proletariat and bureaucracy itself.
There are also a proliferation of arguments and themes which are built into Economy and Society which occasionally leave the text as appearing to be slightly rambling and lacking coherence. However there is no denying that the arguments on the economy are extremely powerful in their own way and also create a mind-set which can show how the human mind works especially within the large social structures of the mind.
At times. ‘Economy and Society’ may seem to be a very complex and largely fastidious work which is full of bureaucracy in its own right. However other critics such as Chales Camic and David Trubeck have painstakingly analysed the work and have also come out on Weber’s side especially in the manner with which bureaucracy and the notion of the supra actor is defined in the book. Other sociologists such as Yuichi Shionoya argues that Weber’s is not actually a historical nor an empirical approach which is more linked to the Schmoller school but rather concentrates on the development of society as a whole. Thus one could argue that Weber has come up with the notion of grand sociology which takes onto a higher plane and also enables us to understand the different aspects of modern society far, far better.
Weber was also very much on the side of what can be termed as methodological individualism and as such was very critical of the Historical School which were only interested in organic unity and participants or actors which were very much on a level that could be termed as supra-individual. This also meant that Weber proposed that the solution to find what could be termed as the general laws of society could not rest solely on scientific explanations and here perhaps this was an argument that went against what Elias proposed in his work. However weber also focuses intrinsically on the particular aspects of society and the economy thus avoiding certain generalizations which may seem to be less far reaching than others. Thus Weber did not believe that historical evolution could be used as a tool to explain social and economic behaviour which is certainly the argument presented by Elias in his ‘Society of the Individual’.
Another aspect which is hugely important in both Weber’s and Elias’ work is causal interpretation. Here we have two opposing schools since Weber is a proponent of the individualist school or the particular explanation while Elias is more of a generalist. So Weber can be classified as an ontological sociologist whom focuses on methodological individualism although he did argue that some historical aspects could be explained if the constancy of such individual progress was not challenged.
Both Weber and Elias rely on a thorough causal explanation especially with regards to certain events and situations. There is also an intrinsic and highly individual understanding of certain situations as well as a rejection of how units of society supposedly evolve. However Max Weber’s work may be the one which comes closer to our understanding of the modern economy especially when he applies several methodological aspects to the problem that has historic background. Other critics have spoken extensively on how this methodological individualism may be applied but it is certainly true that nothing mirrors today’s economy as Weber’s work does.
An economy is made or broken by the strength of its individuals and also be a collective bond. In their different ways, both Elias and Weber explain this especially in the context of psychological behaviour and sociological patters within a historical context. Perhaps, Elias work is better understood by the psychologist since there are some Freudian elements in it although Weber’s brand of individualistic study is also very much rooted in classical psychology.
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