Van Kreiken, R (1990) ‘The organisation of
the soul: Elias
and Foucault on discipline and the self’, European Journal of Sociology XXXI,
A focus on discipline is central
to modernity, with the
emergence of the self rather than the soul.
Objectification and disciplining of subjectivity
needs to both
individualism and soullessness. This is
the theme in Marx on commodification, Simmel on urbanism and
and so on, Weber on the role of the ascetic, Critical Theory on the
disciplined psyche, and the internalisation of the requirements of
There’s been a recent interest in
Foucault and Elias too. Foucault discusses
the emergence of
decentralised disciplinary personal power, and Elias the emergence of
civilisation. How is similar are these? They both converge on the notion of the
disciplined bureaucratic self. Weber
assumed a simple mechanism of transmission from social changes to
selves rather than changes in personalities and psyches as well. Elias was more interested in the structure of
the personality, and the opposition between society and human nature. Foucault noted the emergence of docile
bodies, and also recognised the positive aspects of repression, as a
of psychic energy. This energy is still
there, rather than being ruled by a dominant superego, channelled, for
For Elias, medieval life was
inefficient in terms of
regulation and constraint. Full
internalised regulation required the development of a more extensive
interdependence. The denser webs
produced more regulation which led to the ability to calculate the
conduct, a major difference emerging with modernity.
This was asserted though, rather than argued
from evidence, and can be criticised.
For example, the medieval period also seem to
require a great deal of
internalisation, and featured many more constraints.
Elias does hint at the positive advantages of
self restraint in modernity, though, especially in leading to greater
power in figurations.
Foucault argues for the
development of a whole inner life
including individual subjectivity, as central to regulation, as in the
of confession—inner selves are exposed in order to regulate them. Elias is sound on the regulation of the
physical aspects of behaviour, including violence, but this is too
explain the emergence of ‘love, caring, honesty, steadfastness for
which the… confessional culture,
culminating in the 20th
century in the therapeutic culture, was much more [important,
involving] their exposure and revelation
to public view’ (359).
Weber saw disciplinary activity
existing in small islands,
such as monasteries. Foucault saw the
importance of mobilising a whole range of techniques in different
the role of development of human sciences, and their material bases
such as the
development of work. There are links
between Weber and Foucault, however, for example both focus on
the church as important.
However, Elias argues for changes
in figurations themselves,
requiring different personality structures.
It is not so much a matter of particular events and
analysis at the level of social structure.
Rationalisation does affect the personality, but it
is successful only
after changes at the level of human relations and the whole social
He agrees with Foucault that it
is a general and
decentralised process, but social structures play moreover role in
this process. [There are links to the
notion of emergence as well, since it is only after agrarian labourers
systematic can calculative, and thus produce surpluses, that the
labour progress is even more]. Changing
relationships account for the role of ideas for the particular ‘actions
power for groups’ (361). There is an
underlying notion of inevitable and necessary progress towards self
however. Others see the role of
institutions like schools as insisting, coercing and institutionalising. Elias is closed to sociologism, though.
Elias sees power as the result of
interdependency, but for Weber and Foucault it is necessary to
pressures into the workings of actual institutions.
There are specific historical developments
rather than a general civilisation process.
The spread of these restraints among the working
class is imposed. This is closer to actual
history, rather than
Elias’s general view: there was a ‘civilising offensive’ (362), for
active attempt to Christianise, which included catholic as well as
churches. These organizations developed
chains of interdependencies, including launching an assault on popular
culture. Church intervention increases in
community affairs through developments in the legal system. These were the actions of an autonomous group
rather than the result of general social change. Thus
‘civilising tendencies’ did not just
emerge but were planned (363). [Bentham
is also cited as an active reformer here].
Civilisation is therefore a
project rather than a process, a
‘crusade waged by men of knowledge and aimed at extirpating the
wild cultures’ [actually a quote from Bauman] (363).
The break with tradition followed a conscious
direction, and featured increasing interventions into traditional life. The state in particular was actively in
breaking traditional communities.
The persecution of witches is a
good example, neglected by Weber,
Foucault and Elias [but not Adorno]. The
continued aggression and violence was the result of social disorder
change. The example also shows the
missing element of gender in Elias—women were still seen as a threat to
civilisation, an embodiment of emotion.
The female integration of the emotions meant
something quite different.
Disciplinary techniques might not
be causes, however. There are no simple
example sumptuary laws were constantly changed and adjusted. Christian offensives often failed at the
individual level, popular culture survived and even reinvigorated elite
cultural systems. A different picture
emerges if we view the perspective of rationality from every day life,
implies a pragmatic adjustment, where people both resist and try to
their lives [note that lots of historical analyses are cited throughout
Responses are important, and we
cannot just assume the
effects. There are also a decisive
points in history’ (366), sometimes the result of deliberate decisions
are then naturalised. Overall, we need
to tease out the interactions between the civilising process and
offensives, and generally to use more actual history to test Weber,
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