‘Some of my readers may perhaps wish me to tell only about aspects of humankind’s development that are pleasant and hopeful. But such a selection is the true meaning of the trahison des clercs. We may or may not welcome the increasing integration of humankind. What is quite certain is that, to begin with, it increases the impotence of the individual in relation to what is happening at the top level of humanity’
(Norbert Elias, Changes in the We-I Balance , The Society of Individuals, Collected Works 10, UCD Press, 2010: 149).
Thirty years later it seems that nothing has happened to contradict the assessment of the increasing integration of humankind as being a major trend, or more exactly that ‘integration–disintegration tensions’ are part and parcel of the contemporary world. However, we have more difficulties in imagining how it would be possible to see only the ‘pleasant and hopeful aspects’ of human development or even what they finally are. Global warming, refugee crises, the rise of populisms and finally the explosion of old and new forms of war and terrorism: Elias was right to wonder whether humankind would survive the violence of his time and ours.
The next Elias Conference in Brussels will be the opportunity to explore the political topicality of process sociology and to learn from Norbert Elias’s analysis and intuitions to think about (de)democratisation, (dis-)Europeanisation and Brexit, (de-)civilizing processes in America in the Trump era, or facing the tragedy of migrants in Mediterranean, among other signs of civilizing breakdowns, or at least potential breakdowns or counter-processes.
This conference also aims to open new fields of discussion and to consolidate and enlarge the already existing research networks among Elias’s fellows and readers of all countries, disciplines and generations. In the light of today’s crises, following Ghandi’s famous comment – ‘What do you think about Western civilization? I think it would be a good idea’ – the perspectives from the Global South on Western civilization could prove to be particularly valuable.
The conference will also include a Special Session on ‘Process Sociology and Processual Sociology’, centred on the work of Andrew Abbot and his book Processual Sociology (University of Chicago Press, 2016), exploring the ways in which his thinking and that of the Elias research tradition are complementary (or otherwise). Professor Abbott has agreed in principle to take part in the conference, although it is too early to confirm that that will prove possible. With or without his actual presence, this will be an unprecedented opportunity for dialogue between different horizons of research.
The conference will be preceded by a PhD workshop on 4–5 December 2018 organised by Professors Robert van Krieken and Stephen Mennell for PhD students interested in integrating civilizing processes and historical sociology perspectives into their research. Further information about this will be widely circulated in spring 2018.