Essay on The Civilizing Process by Norbert Elias

810 Words Feb 12th, 2001 4 Pages
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Summary: The Civilizing Process by Norbert Elias

Social scientist, Norbert Elias, examines in part two of his book, The Civilizing Process, the development of manners and the subsequent ‘civilizing' of Western Europe since the middle ages. This journey in time is an attempt to understand what actually happened to humanity during several transitional periods. Elias perceives the development of western civilization in three historical stages. (From the middle ages with a progression to the renaissance (extended to 1750) and finally to modern day society) Each society of the three stages had it's own standards of behavior, which influenced the individual to act in a certain "accepted" way. A correlation was also found between the
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This treatise was a "symptom of change, an embodiment of social processes," which left enormous amounts of information on socially acceptable behavior of that time to be studied (Elias 48). The book, never equaled by another in precision, clarity, or frankness was used as a valuable resource to Elias. Meant as instruction, Erasmus, (a guiding light of society at that time) coaches his audience (mainly the upper class) on dress, table manners, spitting, vomiting, bed room behavior, clothing and a host of many different things involved ones' appearance in society. Certain modes of behavior would be consider barbaric to modern times, while other aspects in the treaties, due in fact draw a parallel to current social norms. During the Middle Ages the table setting consisted of drinking vessels, salt-cellar, and a "well-cleaned knife" on the right, with bread on the left (spoons used commonly, folks rare in standard home of the time). Meat would be brought in, cut and taken in hand or on bread for consumption. Plates were uncommon.
The social elite, the kings and Queens alike all followed suit and ate with their hands. There was a catch, however. For the elite to be the "elite", they needed some form of mannerism to distinguish them from the commoners (marks of distinction between classes). The elite usually possessed gold utensils and had table decorations to make clear their social status and level of wealth. "It is most refined to use only three fingers"
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