Spread Of The Pressure For Foresight & Self -Constraint



The Hindsight and Foresight of Inner City Units


“The Denser becomes the web of interdependence in which the individual is enmeshed with the advancing divisions of functions, the larger the social spaces over which the network extends, and the more they become integrated into the functional or institutional units- so correspondingly the more threatened is the social existence of the individual who gave way to spontaneous impulses and emotions, the greater is the social advantage of those who are able to moderate their effects, and the more strongly is each individual constrained from an early age to take into account of the effects of his or her own or other people’s actions on a whole series of links in the social chain.”


Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychgenetic Investigations


I strayed across Elias by chance, yesterday as a new copy of his work was sitting on my partners desk so it’s not played any particular role so far. Alarm bells ring as Elias uses hindsight and foresight as playing a role in making Western thought distinctive. These searches for the ‘boundary between’ often seem to be based on shifting sands. Endal Tulving who did a lot of early work on episodic memory, saw ‘mental time travel as a feature which defined the border between human and animal. That is increasingly called into question as the experiments have widened into study of other species.

The specific idea and the ground it is placed in may be questioned but the subject remains a vital and interesting one. As Tulving is a big beast in the psychological jungle, Elias is a significant figure in the history of sociology, he is not going to be without his critics.

Elias’s ‘civilizing processes’ is rather  technical use of the term, it does not seek to demonstrate that the West is more civilized, more that the concept is a social processes, shaped within a given culture. Not rational but not irrational, un-planned but with a determinable pattern.

Raising questions about history and the historical processes.

Questions historians like, but I don’t think you have to believe everything that is written.

It patterns well with the late material I have.

Elias’s covers a lot of ground and I am less certain of his usage of medieval sources here. On first glance it works in a general sense but I do have to distort specific examples to reach the same level of generalization.

Difficult game to call. Dating early sources is difficult as the contexts are often multiple as the development of manuscripts is organic.

A 9th century source may be a re-working of older material altered, in the 10th century and found in a 16th century copy of a 13th century orignal document.

Getting a sense of the processes of time deployed in these documents is essential to begin to work within them.

It’s a distinctive sense of time, which is entirely retrospective. A continual crafting and re-working of the material, creates an organic whole in which past, present and future are condensed into one.

Not read enough to tell if similarity or a difference with Elias’s thoughts lurk in the closing sentence.

Note of caution to myself in dealing with Elias (or my own mind). Its not a processes confined to the past.





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