Gendered Figurational Strategies in Norbert Elias’s Sociology
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University of Warsaw
Publication date: 2011-12-14
Polish Sociological Review 2011;176(4):425–436
Norbert Elias conceptualized social inequality as a result of shift in relative social forces of individuals in figurations, in which framework he also viewed the inequality between men and women. In this paper I examine the main thesis of what could be named Elias’s gender sociology: firstly, men and women use different strategies in their striving for an increase in relative power depending on their social position, and secondly, one of the most effective strategies which may be successfully used by the weaker party in order to change the distribution of power between the sexes is redefining the arsenal of cultural weapons used in this struggle. The antagonism between men and women trying to draw as much power as possible to themselves in the zero-sum social game can become very fierce, especially if the use of physical violence is legitimized on a respective level of civilization. On the other hand, according to Elias’s basic theoretical assumptions all individuals in a figuration are interrelated and interdependent, which restrains direct violence as well as suppresses radical liberation tendencies. This makes it easier for women to engage in strategies of coping with oppression on institutional, symbolic and proxemic level, which are discussed in the final part of the paper.
I would like to thank Professor Mieke Verloo for her kind encouragement and valuable comments on this paper, which was presented during Junior Visiting Fellows Conference of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna in June 2011.