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Figurational Sociology

Dr Katie Liston and Stephen Mennell

Subject Philosophy
Sociology » Sociological and Social Theory

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


“Figurational” sociology is the term used for the research tradition stemming from the work of Norbert Elias (1897–1990). The name comes from Elias's use of the grounding concept of “figuration” as a deliberate attempt to bypass and reformulate the speech and thought parameters of what he saw as homo clausus (“closed person”) assumptions underlying much of sociology. Figurational sociologists reject such common notions as agency–structure, action–structure, or “individual” and “society,” all of which imply that “the individual” is something separate and isolated from “society.” They think instead in terms of figurations or complex webs of interdependent relationships between people (homines aperti, or “open people”). These complex webs of interdependence are always in a state of flux, hence the alternative title of “process sociology” preferred by many researchers working within this tradition. Figurational dynamics can be seen in the longer and shorter term and might include state formation processes, civilizing and decivilizing processes, or the deamateurization of sport amongst many others. A German of Jewish background, Elias served in World War I, then wrote a doctorate in philosophy at Breslau before switching to sociology, studying under Alfred Weber in Heidelberg and serving as Karl Mannheim's assistant in Frankfurt (1930–3). As a refugee from Nazi Germany, he passed his ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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