Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu – relational sociology for the 21st century

Course content

This innovative course focuses on two of the most prominent relational thinkers in the 20th century, Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu. First we compare the key concepts in their two different but similar perceptions of relational sociology. Second we look at two of their most famous empirical studies – On The Process of Civilisation and Distinction – to detect differences and similarities. Third we explain how establisher-outsider relationships (relations between education, class, gender and ethnicity) are related to state formation processes. Fourth we discuss how these two sociologists can explain long-term, structural change in complex societies. Finally, we propose an important synthesis by discussing some of the main strengths and weaknesses in each of their approaches.


MA course in sociological theory (MSc 2005)

MA Theory and Methodology course (MSc Curriculum 2015)

Specialiseringslinje: Politisk Sociologi

Course package (MSc 2015):

- Welfare, inequality and mobility
- Knowledge, organisation and politics
- Culture, lifestyle and everyday life

Learning outcome


By the end of the course students are

- famliar with key concept used by Elias and Bourdieu



By the end of the course students are able to

- apply these concepts in discussions and debate

- Critically discuss the key concepts used by Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu in the development of relational sociology

- Assess the weaknesses and strengths in Elias's and Bourdieu's theoretical perspectives



By the end of the course students are able to

- Take responsibility and structure their own academic learning

A combination of interactive lectures and student-led discussions. My aim is to inspire students so that they begin to ask challenging questions about the content of the course. I strongly encourage students to think about and share their experiences with one another, illustrating through concrete examples the application of theoretical concepts and their relevance to different societies.

1)Norbert Elias (2012), What is Sociology? Dublin: UCD Press, Collected Works, volume 4

2)Pierre Bourdieu (1989) Social Space and Symbolic Power, Sociological Theory, Vol. 7, 1: 14-25.

3)Stephen Mennell (1998) Norbert Elias: An Introduction Dublin: UCD Press.

4)Richard Jenkins (2002) Bourdieu, Revised edition, London: Routledge.

5)Bowen Paulle, Bart van Heerikhuizen and Mustafa Emirbayer (2012), Elias and Bourdieu, Journal of Classical Sociology, vol. 12 no. 1, pp. 69-93

6)Loic Wacquant (2004) ’Decivilizing and demonizing: the remaking of the American black ghetto’, in Steven Loyal and Stephen Quilley (eds), The Sociology of Norbert Elias, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lectures: 15
Course preparation: 61,25
Exam Preparation: 61,25
Total: 137,5


Inspired by the work of Norbert Elias, I am developing a distinctive, multi-disciplinary approach to political sociology and early childhood, one that is relational, comparative and historical. I am currently writing a book on the Sociology of Early Childhood, to be published by Sage in 2014 and have co-edited a multi-disciplinary, social science Monograph with Professor Stephen Mennell (2011), Norbert Elias and Figurational Research: Processual Thinking in Sociology, Oxford: Blackwell.

Kurset fungerer også som liniefag for specialiseringsretningen: Politisk sociologi

SAMF IT has created a page for installing Software on personal computers: http:/​/​​english/​stud/​software/​

Type of assessment
Written assignment
Individual/group. Free written take-home essays are assignments for which students define and formulate a problem within the parameters of the course and based on an individual exam syllabus. The free written take-home essay must be no longer than 6 pages. For group assignments, an extra 3 pages is added per additional student. Further details for this exam form can be found in the Curriculum and in the General Guide to Examinations at KUnet.
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Please see the learning outcome.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 15
  • Preparation
  • 61,25
  • Exam
  • 61,25
  • English
  • 137,50