No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Norbert Elias (2014 [1970]), Was ist Soziologie? (What is Sociology?), 12. Auflage, BeltzJuventa Grundfragen der Soziologie

“No man is a beginning; everyone continues. " - p.37


People often see themselves as the center of their own universe, surrounded by society: family, school, profession, state. The point in sociology is to see oneself as a human being among other people. Of particular importance is the specific coercion that social structures that people form with each other exert on these people.

Elias observes the reification and dehumanization of social structures, leading to the "metaphysics of social structures" often encountered in everyday thinking, as well as in sociological thinking about the relationship between the individual and society.

Before scientific access to natural events was possible, people explained the natural limitations to which they were exposed using speech- and thought-instruments that resulted from the experience of the limitations that people exert on each other.

In the context of human and social events, people are constantly exposed to inevitability, which they try to explain to themselves in order to better control the blind course of the often meaningless, often destructive and suffering inevitability and so they bring it under their control using this knowledge to make that it is less life-wasting, less loss-making and less meaningless.

People therefore often use models of a naive egocentric, i.e. mythical-magic type. This occurs in all those cases where people try to explain inevitability, solely on the basis of the personal character or personal goals and intentions of other individuals or groups of individuals. This very frequent exclusion of one's own person or group from the explanation of figurations that one forms with others is one of the many manifestations of naive egocentrism/ anthropomorphism that can be felt everywhere today in thinking and speaking about social processes. They intermingle in many ways with ways of thinking and speaking to explain social inevitability, modeled by ways of thinking and speaking that serve to explain natural inevitability. In the course of the scientificization of thinking about what we now sharply differentiate as connections between inanimate nature and human-social contexts, many word- and concept-formations have spread and solidified in Europe that go back to the scientific development of physical-chemical natural connections.

The various manifestations of magic-mythical thinking in words and concepts contribute to perpetuating the inappropriate ways of speaking and thinking and block the development of more autonomous speech that is better tailored to the specific characteristics of humans. One of the tasks of sociology is not only to examine and explain the specific inevitability to which people in certain empirically observable societies and groups or in societies in general are exposed, but also to detach thinking and speaking about such inevitability from heteronomous examples and, instead of the mythical-magical or scientific word- and concept-formations, gradually develop others that do better justice to the peculiarities of the social figurations formed by individuals.

Ideas such as that of a purely mechanical causality or an unintended, meaningless and unplanned law of nature took generations to develop in hard, often life-threatening struggles. These ideas developed from anthropomorphic and egocentric ways of thinking, which ultimately permeated in the everyday thinking and speaking of social associations of elites. The next generations are confronted with "correct", "rational" or "logical" ideas and ways of thinking.

Because they constantly prove themselves to a relatively high degree in observation and action, one no longer wonders how and why human thought has such a level of adequacy in relation to this particular level of integration of the universe. The static philosophical conception of scientific knowledge as an "eternally human" form of knowledge blocks the question of the sociogenesis and psychogenesis of the natural scientific ways of speaking and thinking. Today, the question is usually buried before it is asked, by posing it as a "purely historical" question versus the so-called "systemic" question. This distinction in itself is an example of the inadequacy of scientific models for capturing long-term social processes, including the scientificization of thought.

The representatives of the natural sciences, two centuries ago, had to fight against the institutionalized magic-mythical model of ideas and thought, plus they had to defend themselves against the heteronomous use of the no less firmly institutionalized scientific models.

Many of the nouns used in the social sciences - as in everyday life - today, are formed as if they were physical objects that can be seen and felt in time and space, which exist independently of all humans. This is a social transformation that could only be carried out as a series of long-term multigenerational developments. It required many linguistic and conceptual innovations. If people would rush it, they would jeopardize their current understanding. Individual new words can, under certain conditions, often quickly gain a place in social traffic, but the understanding of new ways of speaking and thinking never develops without conflict with the older and more familiar ones; it requires a reorganization of the perception and thinking of many interdependent people in a society. Such relearning and commemoration of many people, including acclimation to a whole complex of new terms or old terms in new meanings, usually takes a succession of two or three generations, and often enough much longer. It can facilitate and accelerate such a reorientation if you can better see the common task.

That social limitations are quite independent phenomena would not be so difficult to understand if our speech and thought were not riddled with words and concepts such as "causal necessity", "determinism", "scientific law" and others, all terms for which experiences in the field of physical-chemical natural sciences served as a model. In language they are unexpectedly transferred to areas of experience of a different type, including those of the human interdependencies we call societies, because the sense of their connection with the development of physical-chemical sequences of events has been lost, so that they can be used as general terms or 'a priori' conceptions of the context of events given to all people.

If you exceed the elasticity of this leeway, according to Elias, you not only risk losing the ability to communicate with other people, you risk losing control of yourself to the extreme, in fantasies and mental games. A rearrangement depends on the course of development in society as a whole, on the development of the human network as a whole. This can be done, if the fluctuating trend in the power distribution and the accompanying power struggles do not completely block and stifle the reorientation. The less likely the transition to a less imaginative, more realistic thinking is, the greater the anger and passion of these struggles and the more imaginative and unrealistic people's thinking. If one does not consider and conceptually process the complex relationship between fantasy and reality, one cannot explain how the increasing scientificization of thinking about extrahuman natural contexts also increases the chance that people, in constant feedback and at the same time in practice, reduce the risk of these processes and better manage these processes according to their own goals.

Many people today speak of the sciences with a noticeable discomfort and sometimes with a certain contempt. "What have they brought us, all those scientific discoveries?" they ask: "machines, factories, big cities, atomic bombs and the other horrors of scientific warfare". This line of reasoning represents a typical case of suppressing an unwelcome statement and "moving" it to a more welcome one. The hydrogen bomb serves as a kind of fetish, as a thing on which one can release one's fear, while the real danger lies in the mutual threat of hostile groups of people, some of whom are themselves interdependent by their hostility, and from which those so entangled know no way out. The complaint about the bomb and the scientists, whose reality-oriented research made it possible, according to Elias, is a pretext for obscuring one's own complicity in the mutual threat or at least one's bewilderment at the seeming inescapability of the threat from humans, while at the same time eluding the attempt to seek a more realistic explanation for the social entanglements that lead to a gradual escalation of threats between groups of people. If you explain your own discomfort about life in scientific-technical-industrial societies on bombs or machines, on scientists or engineers, you avoid the difficult and perhaps unpleasant task of getting a clearer, more realistic picture of the structure of human interdependencies, especially for the conflict situations embedded in them, responsible for the development and possible use of scientific weapons of war or for the rigors of legends in large technological cities and in factories. It is the destructive power of human entanglements, not the atomic bomb, that people should fear. The danger does not lie in advances in natural sciences and technology, but in the use of research results and technological inventions by people under the pressure of their  interdependencies and the associated struggles over the distribution of power opportunities of various kinds.

Factual, realistic thinking about natural relationships is now part of the basic attitudes of people in more developed societies. In connection with the mechanization of all life, even the most private, they also dominate the whole way people think and act. In private life there is at most room for egocentric fantasies about natural relationships, and often enough people are aware of them, as personal fantasies. In contrast, in the same societies, the scope for egocentric and ethnocentric fantasies as determinants of perception, thinking and acting in areas of social life unrelated to scientific and technological problems is still relatively large. Even the specialists in research, the representatives of the social sciences, hardly have common standards of mutual control and self-control, which enable them, with the same certainty as their colleagues in the natural sciences, to express personal fantasies, political or national ideals and reality-oriented theoretical models, which can be verified by empirical research. In the largest part of society, this still allows people to indulge in communal fantasies without recognizing them as such, reminiscent of the magnitude of fantasy thinking about natural events in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, foreigners and especially Jews were held responsible for the outbreak of the plague and, as a result, were massacred en masse.

With regard to people's social coexistence, people are still exposed to a very high level of fear; a fear they cannot explain. Because people in need cannot live without explanation, fantasy explanations fill in the gaps. As in the case of the plague, the excitement over largely misunderstood social needs and fears culminated in fantasy statements that labeled socially weaker minorities as their founders, as the culprits, and thus led to their murder.

One can see the simultaneous factually oriented handling of technical aspects and the imaginary solutions for social problems (see also Paul Watzlawick's "Hecate's Solutions"; MF). The National Socialist hope of a solution to social problems through the extermination of the Jews is perhaps a particularly extreme case of a currently quite universal phenomenon of human social life. It illustrates the function of fantasy explanations of social needs and fears, the real explanations of which one does not want to perceive or cannot perceive. Social fantasies have been given a scientific, biological cloak. Unchecked by subject knowledge, these fantasies are - especially in crisis situations - one of the most murderous drivers of human action. It doesn't take mental illness to unleash them in such situations.

All history thus far has actually been a burial place of human dreams. They often find short-term fulfillment. In the long run they almost always end up with an emptying of being and meaning and destruction precisely because goals and hopes are so imbued with fantasies: the actual course of social events always hits them hard.

The peculiar dryness of many ideological analyzes is based not least on the tendency to view ideologies as fundamentally "rational", congruent with the actual group interests, and to view their affective and imaginative, their egocentric or ethnocentric unreality as a negligable expression.

When talking about the nation-state, too, one experiences oneself as if the units one speaks of in the first person, "I" and "we", are completely autonomous: people are taught from an early age that they have their own nation-state with unlimited "sovereignty", i.e. absolute independence. The ruling elites and many members of the nations, or at least the great power nations, see themselves at the center of humanity as in a fortress, enclosed, surrounded and at the same time separated from all other nations outside them. One does not yet see oneself and one's own efforts as an integral part of the figuration. The rigidity of the polarized national belief systems prevents that the oligarchies of the ruling party on all sides recognize clearly enough that they themselves (the party traditions and social ideals that serve them to legitimize their claim to power), are exposed to the danger of armed conflict that they themselves build the basis for.

It is hardly appropriate to say, as Max Weber actually put it, that today's bureaucracy is a "rational" organizational form and the behavior of the incumbent official is a "rational" behavior. That is very misleading. The bureaucratic reduction of social interdependencies to individual administrative departments with a strict division of power, staffed by hierarchically organized specialists and oligarchic top groups who seldom think beyond self-management has much more of the character of a ill-considered traditional organizational form than a  “rational” organizational form clearly thought-out and continuously checked for suitability for the task.

Chapter 1 – Sociology, Comte's Question

No one has more explicitly and consistently emphasized the interdependence of observation and theory as the core of all scientific work than Auguste Comte (1798-1857). According to Comte, the scientific work is based on the inseparable connection of theory building and empiricism. Comte tried to develop a sociological theory of thought and science. He tried to determine the relationship between the three main scientific groups in his field of view - the physical, the biological and the sociological. Comte, in the context of this system of sciences, sought to establish the relative autonomy of sociology in relation to physics and biology, and to define its own procedures. The approach to the individual in thinking, in cognition and in scientific work builds on that of previous generations. Comte's transition from a philosophical to a sociological theory of knowledge and science is apparent first of all from the fact that he did not use an individual person as the unit of analysis, but human society.

For Comte, the problem of the relationship between the non-scientific and the scientific forms of knowledge becomes the central question. People's thinking first about inanimate, then about living nature and finally about societies is initially always based on speculation, on the search for absolute, definitive and dogmatic answers to all questions and on the desire to find explanations for all events of affective significance in the actions, goals and intentions of certain persons.

In the metaphysical phase, the statements based on personal authors are replaced by statements in the form of personified abstractions such as "nature" or "reason". When people in a certain branch of knowledge have finally reached the positive or scientific stage in their thinking, they give up asking for absolute beginnings and absolute goals, which are of great emotional importance to them, but cannot be substantiated by any observation. Theories are models of observable relationships. Comte has shown that without what we would call the religious kind of knowledge, the emergence of a scientific stage is unimaginable. To find their way, people need a kind of map that shows how the various individual phenomena they observe are related. These theories must be developed in constant feedback with individual observations.

The conceptual separation of an eternal form of thought from its changing content is not based on an examination of the facts themselves, but is based on the human need for certainty in order to discover the absolutely immutable behind all that is changeable. The tendency to refer to something immutable when thinking about what changes is related to an untested evaluation, according to Comte a symptom of a theological mindset. The philosophical blending of ideal and fact, the culmination of the method of classical physics, into the scientific method par excellence, has, as Comte pointed out, hindered the autonomous development of sociology to the present day. The traditional philosophical approach to problems is egocentric because it is limited to how an individual acquires scientific knowledge. However, an individual person has always acquired certain 'thinking forms', specific categories, special ways of relating individual perceptions to each other through socialization processes, in the course of certain learning processes. Comte argued that all scientific ways of thinking must have sprung from pre-scientific ones, that the theological or metaphysical, is the primary, the more spontaneous, though certainly not the more factual and realistic way of thinking of people. (See Swuste and Borys: "safety science is pre-scientific"; MF).

Even today people try again and again to reduce the structure of social processes to biological or psychological structures. Comte refuted this idea more than 150 years ago. The intertwining of interdependent individuals constitutes a level of integration, whose forms of connection, whose processes and structures cannot be deduced from the biological or psychological idiosyncrasies of the individuals who form them.

In the primitive state of our knowledge there is no regular intellectual division of labour. All knowledge is cultivated simultaneously by the same people. Different kinds of ideas develop. This is the weakness of our scientific system. The proper means of counteracting the harmful influence that threatens the intellectual future of people due to the excessive specialization of individual inquiry is no return to the old indifference, but perfecting the division of labor itself. We need a special branch of science dedicated to the study of scientific theories, which determines the idiosyncrasies of each individual science and discovers its relationships and interdependencies with other sciences.

Chapter 2 – The Sociologist as Myth Hunter

There are a number of social factors that make the scientific study of the sciences, as suggested in Comte's comments, difficult to develop. The philosophical inquiry of the sciences has the task of determining how a science should proceed on the basis of certain predetermined principles, that are closely related to the idea adopted by theology that the task of scientific work is to make eternally valid judgments or to proclaim absolute truths. This is an ideal that, on the basis of a long theological-philosophical tradition, is presented as a preconceived dogma and partly unspoken as a moral postulate, without it being empirically checked whether this dogmatic hypothesis corresponds to what scientists do. Although "progress" is useless as a criterion for the development of society as a whole (an expression of dogmatic conviction), it is an expression of the standard that scientists use for their research results. Uplifting ideas have their place in human life, but the philosophy of science is not the place for it. Scientists are myth hunters; they seek to replace images of contexts of events, myths, beliefs and metaphysical speculations that cannot be substantiated by observation of facts with models of relationships that can be checked, verified and corrected by observation of facts. This quest for myths remains the task of the sciences, because often enough scientific theories themselves are transformed into belief systems, within or outside the group of scientific specialists. They are extended or used in a way that is not justified by further theory-driven observation of facts. (See safety culture; MF).

In the more advanced sciences, the relationship between more recent research results and existing older knowledge serves as the main yardstick, not something that can be expressed by static polarities such as "correct" or "false", but only by references to what lies in between, by the dynamics of scientific processes, in the course of which theoretical-empirical knowledge becomes greater, more correct, more appropriate. At the center of a sociological philosophy of science, which focuses not on the postulation of scientific ideals, but on the investigation of sciences as observable social processes, there is the character of the cognitive processes, in the course of which there are at first few, then always more and more organized groups of people bringing the realm of human knowledge and thought into ever closer reconciliation with an ever wider observable realm of facts.

In a philosophical problem where there are only static alternatives, the prescientific or non-scientific forms and results of knowledge are "false", the scientific "true". The sociological theory of knowledge is exclusively concerned with the social relevance of pre-scientific thought structures. Just as the philosophical theory of science almost exclusively takes natural contexts as a model for its presentations, so the sociological theory of knowledge has hitherto referred almost exclusively to ideas about societies, to political or social ideologies, without ever asking how and under what conditions a non-ideological, scientific knowledge of natural and social contexts is possible.

Whenever we come across terms in the language of a society that encompass the idea of ​​an impersonal, partially self-regulating and self-perpetuating coherence of events, one can be sure that these terms are descended in a continuous line of development from other terms that implies the thought of a personal connection of events. These form the starting point in all cases. First, people model all their experiences in their minds according to the experiences they have among themselves in their groups. It took a very long time, a cumulative and combative effort of many generations, before people could grasp the difficult notion that the thinking models they developed about their own intentions, plans, actions and goals - both means of knowledge and tools for manipulating the context of events - were not always appropriate. What we call "nature" today was certainly a largely self-regulated, self-perpetuating, and more or less autonomous context of events before humans could perceive the infinite variety of individual natural events as one planned by no one.

The contexts of society can be better understood and explained if they are processed not only as connections created by certain well-known persons, but also as impersonal, partly self-regulating and self-perpetuating connections of events. A range of events, previously experienced relatively unreflected as a multiplicity of actions, intentions and purposes of individual living beings, have now been recognized at a greater distance as a relatively autonomous, relatively uncontrolled and impersonal set of events of their own kind.

It is symptomatic of the transition from pre-scientific to scientific knowledge acquisition that the intellectual tools people use are slowly losing the character of action terms and taking on that of functional terms instead. This is a prerequisite for the development of relatively autonomous theories about the context of observable details and for the use of systematically conducted observations as a touchstone of these theories. As long as it is believed that events are the result of more or less arbitrary intentions and plans of certain living beings, it does not seem particularly useful to get to the bottom of problems through observation (compare BBS, MF). Developing a relatively autonomous image of society, which is suitable as a model for scientific development, is particularly difficult, if only because people have to fight for the idea of ​​the relative autonomy of social-functional contexts, not only in disputes with pre-scientific images of society, but also in disputes with predominant images of nature.

All categories, especially those of causality, all thinking aids in general that can be used to conceptually understand functional relations, all methods of examining such functional relations, originate initially from this other field of experience. Moreover, the social power and therefore the social status of the professions involved in the study of these lower levels of integration is particularly high, and social scientists, like all emerging groups, are all too willing to associate themselves with the older sciences by adopting their prestigious models.

Systematic observations only gain meaning and value as a knowledge tool for people when they develop an idea of ​​a field, which makes it useful to use systematic observations to unlock this field. The development of the theoretical picture and the development of the picture they make of the method for scientific research in this field are inextricably linked. Many people hesitate to recognize the society they themselves form with others as a functional context that has relative autonomy over the intentions and goals of the people who form it. The transition to this knowledge initially means an emptying of meaning for people. Is there no intention at all, no purpose at all behind the eternal orbiting of the planets? To see nature as a mechanical, functional context, one had to break free from the far more satisfying idea that behind every natural event there was a meaningful purpose as the actual determinant force. Only thanks to the ability to face the futility and meaninglessness, the blind mechanical regularity of the physical functional interrelationships, one was able to face the constant threats of this event and give it meaning and purpose.

Social processes also have relative autonomy in relation to human intentions and goals. It is much more reassuring if you can imagine that history (of certain human societies) has a meaning and a purpose, and there are always new people telling us what that meaning is. Presenting the social contexts as relatively autonomous, partly self-regulating functional contexts, which are not guided by one's intentions and goals, means in the first instance an emptying of meaning. Only then can humans hope to explain and systematically investigate these meaningful and purposeful social-functional contexts of their own kind.

The first condition is the relative autonomy of the field of a science in relation to the fields of other sciences. Then comes the relative autonomy of scientific theory, both with regard to insider pre-scientific ideas that work with the concepts of purpose, meaning, intention, etc., as with the theories of other fields. Finally, the third layer is the relative autonomy of a particular science in the institutional structure of scientific research and education and the relative autonomy of the professional groups.

In addition to real scientific specialization, which is justified by the structure of the disciplines, there is also a considerable degree of pseudo-specialization. The concept of orienting science toward a single discipline, e.g., physics, roughly corresponds to the procedure found in humans when they imagine that all humans should resemble themselves, and if not, they should not be real humans. The object image, as it emerges in the course of scientific work, and the image of the method used to develop an object region are functionally interdependent. Scientific progress in any scientific field also depends on the scientific standard and scientific ethos of the specialized representatives. Their more or less regulated competition, their disputes and agreements ultimately determine whether and to what extent an individual researcher's results are recorded as secured, as progress in the acquisition of scientific knowledge or not. So great is the vehemence and intensity of the extra-scientific, domestic, and interstate disputes that efforts to achieve greater autonomy for sociologically theoretical approaches in relation to extra-scientific belief systems have not been particularly successful. Today people no longer fight in the name of certain monarchs or religions, but mainly in the name of certain impersonal principles and articles of faith, such as "conservatism" and "communism", "socialism" and "capitalism". Central to each of these social belief systems, in whose name people fought each other, was the question of how people should organize their own social lives with each other (as societies).

One cannot understand the structural change in human self-experience (because of the -isms) as long as it is not clear which changes in people's social coexistence are reflected in this change in human self-experience:

- industrialization means nothing more than that more and more people are professionally active as entrepreneurs, employees or workers;

- rationalization of the mastery of nature means that more and more people are working as physicists or engineers;

- democratization means that the power weights are leaning more towards the former "plebs".

All spheres into which we imaginatively divide societies - the economic, political and social spheres - relate to specific connections between functions that people perform both for each other and for themselves. If one sees the political, economic and all other spheres as functional contexts of interdependent people, it becomes clear that conceptual separation leads the investigation of social problems astray. The phenomenon and the decision about e.g. taxes is not economic, political or social, but the result of power balances between different groups of people, for example between government and administration, between richer and poorer classes, which can be determined sociologically with great precision. Above the many details, one does not see clearly enough the common thread in the change in the  figurations that people form with each other. Firstly, there is the reduction in power differences. The distribution of voting rights is manifest, institutional. The result of a latent shift in the balance of power in favor of broader layers. Now the chances of the ruled to control the ruler became slightly greater. This greater reciprocity of dependencies necessitates a transformation of thinking about society, the formulation of relatively impersonal programs for the improvement of social conditions and thus the perception of societies as such, as functional relationships of many interdependent people. The general movement is a transformation towards the reduction of all power differences between different groups, including those between men and women, parents and children; functional democratization. Third, this greater institutional multipolarity and reciprocity of control over different social groups is merely the institutional expression of a reduction in the power differentials between all groups and all individuals in the course of this social transformation. Each group, each individual, becomes functionally dependent on more and more others because of the idiosyncrasies of their own functions. The chains of interdependence differentiate and lengthen; thus they also become more opaque and uncontrollable for each individual and for each group alone. The opacity of social networks to the people who form them because of their dependence on each other, is a peculiarity of these networks at all stages of their development. Sooner or later one will have to try out more consciously which type of orientation, scientific or based on a certain social conviction, is more effective and more promising for illuminating the still relatively opaque, for controlling the still relatively uncontrolled development of human societies.

Chapter 3 – Game Models

More or less fluctuating power relations are an integral part of all human relationships. Power is not an amulet that one person has and the other does not; it is a structural idiosyncrasy of  all human relationships. In simplified models, the concept of power has been replaced by that of relative skill level (“Spielstärke”). Skill level relates to one player's odds of winning over another. Not only the concept of power, but also many other concepts in our language compel us to imagine the idiosyncrasies of moving relations as slumbering substances. We will see how much more appropriate it is to think in terms of balance from the start.

Game models are models of relatively regulated relationships. One can observe how and under what conditions relationships normalize that are not regulated by norms. The fact that human relationships are absolutely abnormal and unregulated does not mean that they are also unstructured. It is one of the fundamental misconceptions of human relations to imagine that their structure, their character as a particular order, arises from their normalization. What may appear to those involved as the pinnacle of disorder also represents a specific aspect of social order: there is no absolute chaos among people, as there is none in the rest of the world (See Georg Simmel's Conflict; MF). Decay and destruction, as structured phenomena, belong just as much to a natural order as construction and synthesis, death as well as birth, disintegration as well as integration. For those involved, for good and understandable reasons, they are incompatible and contradictory phenomena. As the subject of research, they are inseparable and equal.

The interdependence of individuals as enemies is no less a functional relationship than their relationship as friends, as employees, as specialists dependent on each other through the division of labour. The function that individuals have for each other is ultimately based on the fact that they can exert a compulsion on each other through their interdependence. The explanation for the actions, for the plans and objectives of each of two tribes are not freely chosen decisions, plans and objectives of a individual tribe; they can only be found if one takes into account the limitations they exert on each other as enemies because of their interdependence, because of their bilateral function. As enemies, they also have a function for each other that one must know in order to understand the actions and plans of each tribe.

The concept of function, like that of power, must also be understood as a relational concept. One can only speak of social functions if there are more or less compelling interdependencies. One cannot understand the function of A for B without considering the function of B for A. You can see that the concept of function is a relationship concept if you consider all functions, including the functions of institutions, as aspects of relationships between people - as individuals or as groups. Then you can see how closely the functions that interdependent people have for each other are related to the power relations between them. Functions are always subject to a test of strength, which usually revolves around issues such as: Who needs whom more? Whose function for the other, whose dependence on the other is greater or less? Whose dependence on the other is correspondingly smaller or greater? Who is more likely to gain power and can thereby control the other more, diminish the functions of the other or even take away their functions?


The borderline case, where the point is not only to deprive the other side of certain functions, but also of life, must not be lost sight of in any sociological analysis of complications. Just the realization of this ultimate ratio of all social circumstances makes it possible to ask the question how it was and is that people could arrange their relations with each other in such a way that this ultimate ratio only appears as a fringe case of social relations? This unregulated relationship model reminds us that any relationship between people is a process. Where there are no common standards by which to orientate, each side orientates itself by its conception of the power resources available to the other side, by its physical strength, its cleverness, its weapons, its food resources and supplies. The sequence of actions on both sides can only be understood and explained in terms of their interdependence.

Models of standardized entanglements also simplify thought experiments that can demonstrate the process nature of relationships between interdependent people. At the same time, they make clear how people's interdependence changes when the distribution of power weights changes. People who play games with each other always influence each other. The balance of strengths (which is power) determines to what extent player A can influence player B's respective moves by his respective moves and to what extent he is influenced by his moves. If the difference of strengths in A's favor is very large, then his ability to force his opponent into a certain behavior is correspondingly large. Because of his greater playing strength, A not only has a high degree of control over his opponent B. Second, he also has a high degree of control over the game as such. He cannot absolutely, but to a large extent determine the course of the game - the "game process", the relationship process - as a whole and thus also the result of the game.

As the difference in strength between A and B decreases, so does the strength of one of the two players to force the other to behave in a certain way. The less one of the two players can control the game configuration; the less it depends solely on the intentions and plans each individual player has made for themselves over the course of the game. Conversely, the overall plan and individual move of each of the two players depend all the more on the changing game configuration, on the game process; the more the game takes on the character of a social process and loses that of the execution of an individual plan, the more the interweaving of the properties of two individual people results in a game process that neither player has planned.

If a much better player A plays simultaneously, separately, against several other players B, C, D, etc., it is in fact a series of two-player games, each of which has its own balance of power and development and between them there is not a direct interdependence. A has more power, has a very high degree of control over his opponent as well as over the course of the game itself. The distribution of power is clearly unequal, inelastic and stable. However, the number of active relationships that a single person can independently play at the same time is limited.

If player A did not play separately, but at the same time against everyone together, the formation of groups of weaker players without strong internal tensions is a power factor in their favor. Conversely, the formation of groups of weaker players with strong intra-group tensions creates a power factor in favor of their opponents.

If A's playing strength decreases, A's control over the opponent's moves and play decreases if the group of opponents is somewhat in agreement. According to the rules of the game, if you were to give both sides the same chance of winning, and you were playing against each other with roughly the same skill level, then neither side has the ability to exert a decisive influence on the other side. In this case, the game process cannot be determined by a single player or by one of the two playing groups. The interweaving of the moves of each individual player and each group of players - move by move - with those of the individual opponents and those of the opposing team takes place in a certain order to be determined and explained. But to do that, you have to take some distance from the positions of both as they appear when looking at each side for themselves. We are dealing here with an order of a certain kind, an interwoven or figurative order, within which no action on the one hand can be explained solely as an action on the one hand, but only as a continuation of the previous interweaving and the expected future. intertwining of actions on both sides.

As the number of players involved in a multi-player game increases, so does the pressure on the players to change their grouping, their relationships with each other, and their organization. The individual player has to wait longer and longer before he can play. It becomes increasingly difficult for the individual player to get an idea of ​​the course of the game and the changing game configuration. Without such an image, the individual player becomes disoriented. The figuration of the interdependent players and the game they play with each other is the frame of reference for the moves of each individual. He must be able to picture this configuration in order to estimate which move gives him the best chance of winning or the best chance of repelling attacks from opponents. As the number of interdependent players grows, the game's figuration, development and direction become increasingly opaque, uncontrollable for the individual player. The interweaving of more and more players works more and more as if they lead a life of their own. As the number of players grows, not only does the flow of the game become more obscure and uncontrollable for the individual player, but it also gradually becomes more apparent to the individual that he cannot see through and control it. Both the game configuration itself and the individual player's image of the game configuration, the way he experiences the game flow, change together in functional interdependence as two inseparable dimensions of the same process. As the number of players increases, it becomes more difficult for each individual - and thus for all players - to make appropriate or correct moves - seen from their position in the game as a whole. The game is becoming more and more disorganized. The malfunctioning puts increasing pressure on the group of players to reorganize; it is a pressure in a certain direction.

The growth in the number of players can lead to a disintegration (fragmentation) of the player group; they can also form a new figuration with each other of interdependent small groups, each playing a more or less autonomous game for itself, while at the same time all remaining interdependent as rivals for certain opportunities that they equally desire; or the group of players remains integrated, but becomes more complex: it becomes a two-storey group. All players remain interdependent, but they no longer all play directly with each other. This function is taken over by special game coordination officers - representatives, MPs, leaders, governments, princely courts, monopoly elites, etc. -; together they form a second, smaller group, which is located on the second floor, as it were. In the event of large power differences between the first and second floors, only the players on the second floor have a direct and active part in the course of the game; they have the monopoly on access to games. Each player on the second floor is in a sphere of activity that can already be observed among the players of one floor games; the number of players is small, everyone involved on the second floor can imagine the movable figuration of the players and the game; he can plan his strategy according to this picture and can intervene directly with each of his moves in the constantly moving figuration of the game. He can also influence this configuration to a greater or lesser extent according to his own position within the group and follow the consequences of his move for the course of the game, which arise when other players make their counter moves and the leveling of his move comes with that of others. reflected in the constantly changing game configuration. Three-, four- and five-storey games are far too complicated structures to reveal their direction of structure and development without in-depth scientific research. Even in a game with no more than two levels, the figuration of the players and the game already has a degree of complexity that does not allow anyone to control the game based on their own superiority according to their own goals and wishes. He makes his moves simultaneously and in a network of interdependent players in which alliances and contradictions, cooperation and rivalry exist on different floors. One distinguishes, first, the balance of power in the smaller group of players on the upper floor, secondly, the balance of power between the players on the top and those on the ground floor, and third, the balance of power between the groups on the ground floor; and if you want to go further, you can add the balance of power within each of these groups. Models with three, four, five and more floors would accordingly have more intertwined power relations.

As long as the power differences are large, it seems to the people on the upper floor as if the whole game and especially the players on the lower floor are there for themselves. With the shift of the balance of power, the situation is reversed. More and more, it seems to everyone involved that the players on the upper floor are there for those on the lower floor. This elaboration of transferable ways of thinking, which corresponds to the increasing awareness of the initially uncontrollable nature of the game flow for the players themselves, is a slow and arduous process. The metaphors used oscillate again and again between the idea that the gameplay can be reduced to the actions of individual players and the other idea that it has a suprapersonal character. For a long time, it has been extremely difficult for players to realize that the uncontrollability of gameplay for themselves, which can easily make the gameplay appear like some sort of "super person", stems from their interdependence and dependence as players and the tensions and conflicts inherent in this interdependence.

The control of human behavior is by nature, based on the inherited constitution of the human organism, set up in such a way that it is determined to a lesser extent by innate impulses and to a greater extent by impulses shaped by individual experience and learning than that of any other living being. Their behavior cannot only be shaped by learning, it must be shaped by learning. The comparison of innate signal systems that can only be modified to a limited extent by learning and on which living beings below the level of evolution of homo sapiens are dependent, with learnable signal systems of the language type conveys a very clear picture of the specific tasks of sociology. Like human societies, the languages ​​in which people communicate with one another are made possible by the biological organization of human beings. By virtue of this biologically conditioned relative detachment from biological mechanisms, by virtue of the specific dependence of adolescents on learning from others, human societies have to deal with a subject area, with a type of order, with forms of connection that are different from those with which biologists are concerned.

In general, it is still customary today to continue to use the tools of communication and reflection that have come from a certain linguistic and thought tradition, unchecked, until they have to be put aside as unsuitable. The reason for the extraordinary persistence of language and thought tools lies in their social nature. In order to perform their tasks, they must be communicable. If one recognizes their relative unsuitability and tries to develop them further, one can only proceed in very small steps. If you fail to do this, words and thoughts quickly lose their communicability. The complexity of many current sociological theories is not due to the complexity of their subject area, but to the use of terms that have proven themselves to a great extent in other (physical) sciences, or the use of everyday terms that are taken for granted, which are unsuitable for their use to develop the specific social functional contexts.

Our languages ​​are constructed in such a way that in many cases we can only express a constant movement, a continuous change, by first giving it the character of an isolated object in a state of rest when speaking and thinking, and then, to a certain extent afterwards, through adding a verb to express that what is normally at rest is moving (e.g. 'a river flows'). The languages ​​of the European type form their sentences around two main elements, noun and verb, subject and predicate. The tendency of our languages ​​to put nouns in the center of our attention, which have the character of things in a state of rest, and to express all changes, all movements through attributes or through verbs, as something additional, is in many cases a technique conceptualizing what we are observing.

This constant state reduction and the associated evaluation of the unchangeable as the real and essential in all phenomena also extends to spheres where this restriction is completely wrong. The mental separation between the agent and his activity, between quantity and course of events, between objects and relationships, is extremely obstructive to the understanding of human networks. As if all objects of our thinking, including people themselves, were first of all objects, not only without movement, but also without relationships. Think of terms such as norm and value, function and structure, social class or social system. The term society itself has this character of an isolated object in a state of rest, like that of nature. The same is true of the concept of the individual. Individuals can acquire their specifically human character, e.g. their ability to speak, think and love, only in and through their relationship with others, i.e. in society.

Many conceptualization tendencies experience a special reinforcement and hardening through certain aspects of the physical-chemical sciences and their processing in philosophical theories of science. It is perhaps not unimportant for sociologists to point out that the tendency to reduce status is based on a very specific valuation that is sacred by tradition. It is almost taken for granted and is reinforced again and again by the tacit consensus that what changes, since it is transient, is less important, less significant, in short, less valuable than the unchangeable. One of the strangest ideas that people have come up with is the idea that any change that can be observed could ever be explained as the effect of an immobile, a quasi-dormant "Ur-Sache". A brief, unbiased reflection can show that a movement can only be explained by a movement, a change only by a change.

The classical sociologists of the 19th century such as Comte, Marx and Spencer strove to tap into change. In the twentieth century, partly in response to speculative aspects of the classical sociological theories of social change, the tendency towards state reduction in sociology gradually gained the upper hand. Tranquility and immutability appear as normal peculiarities of a social system, and changes appear only as the result of disturbances in the normal state of equilibrium in societies. At present, a type of abstraction prevails in sociology that appears to refer to isolated objects in a state of repose.

The issues with which sociology has to do with are much better under control if one does not abstract from the movements, from the process character and terms that include the process character of societies and their various aspects as a frame of reference for the research into any given social condition. It is more appropriate to the specific interweaving order and the peculiar forms of connection with which one has to deal in sociology if one thinks from the point of view of the relationships in terms of the related. Even "power" does not refer to an object at rest. It expresses a relationship between two or more people, or even between people and objects. It's about more or less fluctuating changes in power. Man is constantly on the move; it is not just going through a process, it is a process. Man evolves. What the conventional concept of the individual expresses is an ideal. At the end of the day, you believe or feel that you actually are what you should be, what you might also want to be. More precisely, one mixes fact and ideal; what is and what should be.

It is an experience that makes it appear to people as if they themselves, as if their actual "self" somehow existed in an "inside" of its own, and as if it were there inside as through an invisible wall of everything "outside" is separated from the so-called "outside world". Inside the skull there is only the brain, inside the chest the heart and the intestines. Is this really the core of individuality, of one's own self, which exists separate from the world outside, i.e. also from "society"? One cannot imagine a single person who exists entirely for himself without other people in this world. The image of man that one needs to study sociology can therefore not be the image of a single person, a "homo sociologicus". As a starting point for studying sociology, one obviously needs an image of people in the plural, a multitude of people as relatively open interdependent processes. From the moment we are born, we begin to play games with other people. The self-experience makes it appear as if you are outside the game of the others. It is not possible to understand the tasks of sociology as long as one is not able to perceive oneself as a person among others and in play with others. Indeed, this insight requires a further push of self-distancing. It is only with its help that what appears as the actually existing, separating distance between oneself and "others", between "individual" and "society", between "subject" and "object", can be seen as the reification of one's own, socially built-in distancing acts.

The function that the pronoun "I" has in human communication can only be understood in connection with all other positions to which the other members of the series of pronouns refer. The six positions are absolutely inseparable, one cannot imagine an "I" without a "you", an "he" or a "she", without a "we", "your" and "you". What they express is their position in relation to the person speaking, or, as the case may be, their position in relation to the whole group of those communicating. The term "individual" refers to interdependent people in the singular, the term "society" to interdependent people in the plural. Concepts that give the conceptualized the character of dormant and isolated substances make it difficult to do justice to the fact that all relationships between people have a perspective character. A simple example is the concept of function. Currently it is usually used in connection with the maintenance of a particular social system. It is said, for example, that a certain institution fulfills this or that function for its society. But if one goes back behind the reifying use of the term institution to the people who make up this institution, one sees very clearly that this one-perspective view of social functions is a rather gross simplification. It is related to the fact that the substantive character of the conventional concept of function obscures the character of social functions as attributes of relationships and thus also their multi-perspective character. For example, from the perspective of those who form them, institutions never have a function exclusively for the so-called "system". They always have a function for these people themselves. Depending on the distribution of power, one or the other can have the upper hand.

The pronoun model can be used as a set of coordinates, not only in relation to social functions, but in relation to each individual social structure. It has the advantage that behind all the apparently impersonal or perhaps even extra-human formations that so often populate the textbooks of sociology today, people reappear. One of the tasks of sociology is to take into account at least the third and first person perspectives. You can never imagine people as individuals, but only as people in figurations. The concept of figuration makes it possible to abolish the socially determined compulsion to mentally split and polarize the image of man, which constantly urges us to juxtapose an image of people as individuals and an image of people as societies. The course of the game from the interweaving of the actions of a group emerges on interdependent individuals.

The figuration that the players form with one another is just as "concrete" as the players are. What is understood by figuration is the changing pattern that the players form with one another as a whole, i.e. not just with their intellect, but with their whole person, all their actions and omissions in their relationship to one another. As you can see, this figuration creates a tension. One recognizes the character of a figuration as a structure in which there may be a hierarchy of several "I" and "He" relationships or "We" and "They" relationships when one thinks of a football game. In order to understand the game and to enjoy it, the audience must be able to follow the changing positions of the players on both sides in relation to one another, i.e. the fluid figuration that both sides form with one another. At the center of the changing figurations or the figuration process is a fluctuating equilibrium of tension, the back and forth of a balance of power that is now more towards one side and now more towards the other.

Figurations can be related to small or (very) large groups of people, e.g. from teams to nations. In the case of very large groups, the figuration is not directly perceptible because the chains of interdependence that bind people together here are much longer and more differentiated. One then tries to bring the peculiarities of such complex figurations closer to one's own understanding indirectly by analyzing the chains of interdependence. Whether one speaks of function or structure, of role or organization, of economy or culture, the meaning of these terms often neglects their tracing back to specific figurations of people as well as the meaning of the term "game" if one loses sight of it that the game is an aspect of a specific figuration of gamblers.

What matters are the theoretical prerequisites on the basis of which a statistical survey is carried out, i.e. above all the type of problem that this survey is aimed at. If research into figurative processes that resemble complex game play turns out to be a sociological task, then one must seek to develop statistical aids that are appropriate for this task. With the concept of figuration, Elias draws attention to the interdependencies of people. What actually binds people together in figurations cannot be said if one regards all individual people as "homo clausus". This keeps one at the level of behavioral science. In this way, all specifically sociological problems are reduced to social-psychological problems. The interweaving of the behavior of many individual people gives rise to specific interwoven structures that cannot be understood or explained by reducing them to the behavior of the individual participants.

Chapter five - entanglements - problems of social ties

Talcott Parsons' system theory is based on the idea of ​​humans as single individuals. The obvious fact is forgotten that a person's striving for satisfaction is directed from the outset towards other people and that satisfaction itself does not only depend on one's own body, but also to a very large extent on other people. Every person at a given time has many valences that are directed towards other people, some of which have found their firm bond and anchoring in other people, while others, free and unsaturated, are looking for bonding and anchoring in other people. It's about open people, not about "homini clausi".

With the death of a loved one, the specific figuration of the survivor's valences, his entire personal network of relationships, his balance changes. A more complete picture can only be obtained if one includes personal interdependencies, and above all the emotional ties between people, as a link between society and society in the area of ​​sociological theory. The emotional valences that bind people to one another, be it directly in face-to-face relationships or indirectly through anchoring in common symbols, represent a level of attachment of a specific kind. which represent a different level of interdependence that is less from the individual.

The primary function of the association is therefore to protect against physical destruction by others or the physical destruction of others. It is characteristic of Marx that he recognized the interdependencies that result from the professional production of food and other goods more sharply and clearly than anyone before him, and that he accordingly understood more clearly than his predecessors the structure of the conflicts that arise with the monopoly of the means of production by certain groups. But it is no less characteristic of Marx that he misunderstood the importance of the danger of the physical annihilation or subjugation of one group of people through the physical violence of another as the basis for specific forms of social integration and interdependence. The realization of the autonomy of what was called the "economic" sphere with a relatively new name at the time, was on the one hand connected with the development of the new science of "economics". But the theoretical exposition of the autonomy and autonomy of "economic" functional contexts in the overall context of a state society was, on the other hand, closely linked with the demand of the rising English possessing middle classes for freedom from state intervention for their own enterprises, with the demand that the autonomous laws of the " Economy ", the game of supply and demand, to let the" natural "run free.

The demand of bourgeois entrepreneurship that the "economy" should enjoy autonomy from state intervention is transformed into the idea that the economy as a sphere of society in the functional context of a state society is actually functionally completely autonomous. It was these liberal ideas that were reflected in Marx's conception of the "economic" sphere as an autonomous, autonomous and self-contained functional context within the functional context of society as a whole and especially in his conception of the relationship between economy and state.

In accordance with the demand of bourgeois entrepreneurs and bourgeois economics that the state should only be an institution for the protection of bourgeois interests, Marx presented himself as if the state organization was actually nothing else, as if it actually had no other function got than to protect the bourgeois economic interests. A more detailed analysis of the sociology of development clearly shows that the development of state and professional structures are two completely inseparable aspects of the development of a functional context in society as a whole. From a sociological point of view, the development of state-political organization and that of professional positions are inseparable aspects of the development of one and the same social functional context. The distribution of "economic" opportunities is itself a function of the broader balance of power, the distribution of power opportunities between these groups. The balance of power within an industrial company is expressed not only in the distribution of economic opportunities, but also in the distribution of opportunities that the holders of one of these position groups have to control, dismiss, and command the others in the work process.

A class concept is required that takes into account the fact that organizational and functional interdependent disputes between workers and employers take place not only at the factory level, but also at many other levels of integration and especially at the highest levels of integration in a state society. Compared to pre-industrial and especially medieval societies of all kinds, the number of professional groups in industrial societies with different names is not only astonishingly large, but it is also increasing at a previously unknown rate. For the individual, this means that he is spun into long and ever longer chains of interdependence, which together form functional relationships that are uncontrollable for him. At the same time, it also means that the chances of power are distributed less unevenly compared to earlier societies, that the one-sidedness of the dependencies of interdependent positions on one another is relatively lower, the rate of reciprocity is relatively greater. It also means, however, that people who are interdependent in this way are more dependent on the functioning of the integration and coordination centers on many levels. The access to and the filling of coordinating and integrating social positions, however, gives their owners particularly great opportunities for power. Accordingly, one of the central problems of highly differentiated societies is the more effective institutional control of all integrating and coordinating social positions, which as such are indispensable. How can society ensure that the holders of such positions subordinate their own functions to their "it" or "you" functions to a greater extent? With the moves of thousands of interdependent players intertwined, no single player or group of players, however powerful they may be, is able to determine the course of the game alone. What you encounter there as "course of the game" is the appearance that you encounter here as "development". It is a partly self-regulating change in a partly self-reproducing figuration of interdependent people in a certain direction. The concept of development is not primarily to be understood as an action concept, but as a function concept.

  Chapter six - The problem of the "necessity" of social developments

Elias writes that one may express sociogenetic connections between an earlier and a later figuration more appropriately if one avoids using terms such as "cause" and "effect. A figuration must come from a certain earlier or even from a series of earlier figurations of a certain type. With this we cannot claim at the same time that these earlier ones necessarily had to be transformed into these later ones. Every relatively complex, relatively differentiated and more highly integrated figuration of people has as a prerequisite less complex, less differentiated and less integrated figurations from which it derives. Neither the interdependence of the respective figurative positions, nor the habitus of the people, through whose socially controlled alignment these positions acquire their meaning, can be explained or understood without going back to the figurative stream from which they emerge. Dedication refers to an order of descent. A figuration B is explained when one can determine how and why it emerged from figuration A. Access to such problems is still largely blocked by the fact that at present a scientific "explanation" is usually understood to be an explanation of the type of a single causal explanation. For example, the terms "capitalism" and "Protestantism" are often referred to in debates as if they were two separate objects. One of the difficulties of developmental sociology is precisely that for its investigation one needs models of figurations in a constant flow in which there are no beginnings at all; and since the conventional concept of causality basically always refers to the search for an absolutely imagined beginning, namely for a "primal thing", one should not expect the type of explanation that one needs for developmental sociological investigations to be the explanation for the Pattern corresponds to the traditional causality model. Here it is always a matter of explaining changes in figurations from changes in figurations, movements from movements, not from a "primal thing", which, so to speak, forms a beginning and does not move. It would probably be more precise and appropriate if, in this case, instead of speaking of necessity, one spoke of possibilities or probabilities of various degrees. The static use of terms such as "culture", "civilization" and "tradition" in relation to long streams of figuration is often quite problematic. On the other hand, not all figurations have the same scope for change. The probability that they - if they change - will change towards a certain figuration is high. In many cases, a figuration analysis can be used to determine why this is the case. Such tendencies to change are certainly not independent of the specific actions of the individuals who form these figurations; but the way they actually appear, they have not been planned, intentionally or purposefully brought about by any individual of the people who make up this figuration, nor by subgroups, or by all of these people together.

The idea that the restructuring of societies towards increasing centralization, and then again towards increasing control of the central controllers even by those previously unilaterally governed, also represents a social development in a certain direction, is still almost completely absent today. In other words, the view of the relative autonomy and arbitrariness of such a figuration and its immanent dynamics opens up to the people who form the changing figuration with one another, as long as they are emotionally still totally involved, nor too deeply into the disputes and conflicts, which result from the peculiarity of their interdependence with one another, are entangled. This view is only revealed to the people who form a figuration when they become aware of the figuration that they themselves form with one another, and thus also of its tendencies to change, of its "necessity" of the constraints that the intertwined opposing groups exert on one another, mentally able to distance themselves to a considerable extent. The danger and threat that people in a figuration represent for one another can only be reduced if the emotional load of their thoughts and actions is reduced and v.v. It would certainly be worth the effort to investigate in detail how people in this sphere of their network of relationships managed to work their way out of the circle of "objective" threat and "subjective" emotional thought and action, which constantly reinforce each other and how long it took in this case. The social genesis of increasing rationality and the liberation from previously uncontrollable constraints connected with it represents a long development with great difficulties. If, on the other hand, one emphasizes the indeterminacy, the "freedom" of the individual, one usually forgets that there are always many at the same time There are individuals who are mutually dependent on one another and who, due to their interdependence, suffer to a greater or lesser extent limitations in their scope of action, which at the same time belong to the conditions of their humanity. The increasing interdependence of intra-social and inter-social power struggles in their regulated, non-violent as well as in their unregulated, violent form shows in a particularly clear way the growing penetration and merging of internal and international development processes. One has to put the problems of the ascending and descending subfigurations in the course of a development and thus the problems of the structural tensions and conflicts of all development processes at the center of a sociological theory of development.