Historical Social Research

Cas Wouters: Have Civilising Processes Changed Direction? Informalisation, Functional Democratisation, and Globalisation. [Abstract]

With his concept “functional democratisation,” Norbert Elias articulates how a specific type of “social equalisation” is connected to expanding interdependency networks and long-term civilising processes. This article initially focuses on connections between functional democratisation and informalisation, throwing new light on the wider framework of the theory of civilisation and informalisation, as well as on these processes themselves. These insights are followed by a discussion into how functional democratisation and informalisation are interconnected with social differentiation and integration as the two major process drivers of globalisation, thus illuminating directions of processes of civilisation, informalisation, and functional democratisation within the overall process of globalisation. Special attention goes to trends of differentiation and integration on the one hand, and integration conflicts or disintegration and defunctionalisation on the other. Considering from a global perspective which side of these opposing trends is dominant helps to clarify directions in processes of (in-)formalisation and of (de-)civilisation. In addition, it helps to explain the declining power and status of the West as a global establishment, and changes in the balance of power between national and international political and economic centres. Expanding global interdependencies have given rise to a variety of practical problems and theoretical questions – a major policy question among them: “How to steer clear of financial and/or political turbulence?” Issues such as economic crises, global migration, and populism, brought up major theoretical questions: “Have the driving processes of differentiation, integration, and increasing complexity of social functions stalled, changed direction, or ceased altogether?” In other words, “Have civilising processes changed direction?,” an issue that was first raised in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. Today, as strong spurts of globalisation give rise to feelings of loss and decline, it is reappraised once again in this paper.

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