Norbert Elias and the Habits of Good Sociology
journal contributionposted on 01.07.2013, 12:05 by Jason Robert Allan Hughes
This paper explores the somewhat mixed reception of Elias’s work as, in part, understandable in terms of Elias’s transgression of a dominant code of ‘sociological etiquette’ that I have here called the ‘habits of good sociology’. I explore a number of key ‘habits’, which include: empirical legitimacy, political alignment, and relativistic egalitarianism which have arguably come to dominate the discipline in recent years. I argue that Elias’s ambition to develop a central theory falls foul of a prevailing sentiment in which no single perspective should be elevated over and above any other, and where epistemic relativism has become something of a creed in the teaching of sociology. In relation to this, I will explore the model of sociological practice developed in Elias’s work and suggest that it is this model of the sociological endeavour – one in which considerable sociological ambition is combined with empirical humility (i.e. that handkerchiefs might be as important as, say, economic relationships) – that remains an important component of his intellectual legacy. Ultimately, my contention is that while it is probably unrealistic in the current intellectual climate to expect Elias’s work to comprise a ‘central theory’, his approach nonetheless offers a model of sociological practice that might permit ‘advances’ in sociological knowledge to take place.