Levels of integration, rioting and protest

Reading the introduction by Norbert Elias the  The Sociology of Community edited by Bell and Newby 1974. Richard Kilminster told me this is a recycling of an essay Elias wrote sometime before that is connected to his ideas on The Outsiders and the Established but explicitly is an application of his ideas on levels of integration. I think this is also illuminating on our current condition of burgeoning critique of our current state of affairs due to unregulated and dysfunctional capitalism but our lack of a way forward or any clear articulation of what needs to be done and to what ends. I will be making some notes here in due course on Zizek’s and Bauman’s take on this. It is a great shame Elias is no longer around to shed light on this but I think we an construct something along the lines of what he may have argued had he witnessed the Arab Spring, the the UK ‘consumerism by other means’ riots and the Occupy Wall Street movement spreading round the globe.

The nub of his argument is that as societies become more complex a higher level of integrations develops involving a restructuring of webs of interdependencies. The opportunities for relatively autonomous decision making and action in the old communities and localities become reduced and constrained as they become restructured as components of a lower level of integration. This is putting it in the most abstract terms but the important thing is to study how the resistance and instability is a consequence of this process. Although these are increasingly widespread networks of interdependencies the process does not produce an equal balance of power. The lower levels of integration become more dependent on the higher levels and are shaped, enabled and constrained by the higher levels that are much less dependent on any particular component of the lower level. This leads to a number of difficulties for members of the lower levels of integration trying to make changes and have a clear idea of what to do and to what ends. Firstly, they are in several crucial ways ‘constructed’ by the higher levels they are resisting . This can, for instance, mean that they conceptualise their predicament and its solutions in terms of the vocabulary and framework of the higher level and this reinforce it or at best modify it. This is s sort of intellectual colonisation or dependency. Secondly, the dependencies that restrict their freedoms ‘from’ and ‘to’  cannot be simply recast as an act of will. The new forms of autonomy desired cannot easily be disentangled and reconstituted form the complex webs of dependencies people are embedded in and embodied in them. There may be a nostalgic harping back to previous forms of local autonomy and living but the development of the systems of dependency we now inhabit cannot just be rewound.

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