Blackwell’s need to reprint The Civilising Process afforded an opportunity to make some revisions to the text. Although not many people seem to have noticed, quite a number of serious errors had crept into the 1994 one-volume edition, which was pro-duced by scanning the 1978/1982 two-volume edition. Most notably, in the famous excerpts on behaviour at table from medieval and early modern manners books, the running footnotes containing comparative texts had been hopelessly scrambled in with the main text. So the Board of the Norbert Elias Foundation suggested that the book be reset, to which Blackwells readily agreed. The three of us took on the task of making corrections, and they proved to be rather more extensive than we originally in-tended. In the event we did not merely correct the 1994 text, but undertook a thorough revision of the original English version. Translation is an imperfect art, and translating Norbert Elias’s German into English poses peculiar problems. They arise mainly from his attempt always to write in a processual way, minimising the use of static concepts, and also to avoid referring to ‘the individual’ in the singular and as something separate from other people – what Elias was later to call the homo clausus image, prevalent in Western thought. Edmund Jephcott’s fine translation of The Civilising Process, published in 1978 and 1982, was one of the earliest of Elias’s German writings to appear in English, and since then there have been many discussions among Elias scholars about the best ways of rendering his ideas. In addition, Heike Hammer’s definitive scholarly edition of the German text of Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation, published by Suhrkamp in 1997, was extremely useful in correcting the English text, especially in relation to bibliographical details. 

The book has been entirely restructured. Hitherto, it has been common for the two original volumes of the English translation to be misperceived as two separate or only loosely-connected books. Many American sociologists, in particular, have cited the book they knew as The History of Manners without apparently being aware that it is only one half of a single book, without referring to the other half which centres on state-formation processes, and (most seriously) without reading what is perhaps the most sustainedly brilliant part of the entire work, the so-called Synopsis which shows how the ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ aspects of the overall process of development are interwoven with each other. The sequence of contents in this revised one-volume edition has now been amended to make clear that this is indeed a single book, and to bring it into line with the German edition. There are now four parts: Part One on the concepts of civilisation and culture; Part Two, to which the original title ‘Civilisation as a Specific Transformation of Human Behaviour’ is now restored; Part Three, on feudalisation and state-formation; and Part Four, the con-cluding ‘Synopsis’ or synthesis. The mis-leading title ‘the history of manners’ disap-pears completely, and the title ‘Changes in the Behaviour of the Secular Upper Classes in the West’ is restored to the original first volume (containing Parts One and Two). The long introduction which Elias wrote in 1968, when Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation was first reprinted, appears here as a Postscript – for that is what it is, the author’s afterthoughts thirty years after he wrote the book. For most new readers it will perhaps make better sense after they have read the book itself; but readers who are looking for a general statement of Elias’s intellectual position (subsequently developed in the many other books he wrote in the 1970s and 1980s) should turn first to the Postscript. 

The whole text has been carefully compared line by line with the German original and very extensively revised. Apart from correcting some major errors that had crept in, such as unscrambling the texts on behaviour at table, we have made a number of changes which we hope will clarify the text. For instance, writing in German in the 1930s, Elias frequently used the term Habitus, which in the 1970s and early 1980s was quite unfamiliar in English, and was therefore generally translated by expressions such as ‘personality makeup’. Since then, particularly through the writings of Pierre Bourdieu, the more precise term ‘habitus’ has re-entered the vocabulary of anglophone social scientists, and therefore we have restored it in the present text. Another example is the word ritterlich, which we render literally as ‘knightly’ in place of Jephcott’s ‘chivalrous’, since it most fundamentally connotes a rather violent way of life. And we have in places restored Elias’s use of Freudian terminology, to help make a little clearer the influence of Freud which Elias always acknowledged to have been strong. In this revised translation, the word Trieb is translated as ‘drive’, not as ‘instinct’; Elias was one of the most important contributors to what are now called ‘the sociology of emotions’ and ‘the sociology of the body’, and nothing could be more misleading than to convey the impression that his theory rests on essentialist assumptions of the kind usually associated with the concept of instincts. We have also taken the opportunity to make corrections to the text of Parts One, Two and Three corresponding to those which Elias, in consultation with Johan Goudsblom, made in the English translation of Part Four. In particular, the 1939 German text contains many examples of homo clausus expressions that Elias later rejected, for the sorts of reasons that he sets out in the 1968 Postscript, and we have silently corrected these. Towards the end of his life, Elias also came to feel strongly that exclusively masculine expressions should be avoided where females as well as males are being referred to; we have made appropriate amendments. On the other hand, Elias in the 1930s used a number of concepts such as ‘mechanism’, ‘cause’ and ‘law’ of which he became critical in the 1960s. In these cases, we have generally left the original text unchanged, largely because Elias did not concern himself at length with this issue in the 1968 Postscript. 

For those familiar with the 1978/1982 text, one of the most striking differences is that we have made extensive changes to the tenses used in the text. In Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation, Elias wrote much of the time throughout the work in the historic present, which is (or was) more acceptable in German than in English, where good style requires that it be used only sparingly for rhetorical effect. Thus Elias’s historical narrative of French history in Part Three has now been changed mostly into the past tense; this should make it easier for the reader to distinguish between when Elias is providing narrative as empirical evidence (past tense) and when he is drawing general theoretical conclusions from the evidence (present tense). 

Four of the plates from Das mittelalterliche Hausbuch, to which Elias refers in the section entitled ‘Scenes from the Life of a Knight’, are included in an appendix for the first time in any edition in any language. We trust they will contribute greatly to readers’ understanding of that part of the book. We hope that our efforts have resulted in a clearer and more readable, as well as more accurate, text that will make this twentieth-century sociological classic newly relevant to a twenty-first-century audience.

Eric Dunning, Johan Goudsblom, Stephen Mennell (Leicester, Amsterdam and Dublin)

[The above is extensively adapted from the Editors’ Note to the Revised Translation.]

source: Figurations (Newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation) no. 13, pp. 3-4