Violence and aggression as almost always reactions to societal circumstances and many theorists over the centuries have attempted to explain the phenomenon of deviance, aggression and violence. Norbert Elias proposed the idea of sociogenesis and psychogenesis in order to understand how violence changes with changing circumstances and Anderson wanted to explain deviance in poor black inner-city societies. However, violence and its causes have to be addressed in a multidisciplinary context due to the variables that are not controlled by external forces.
Norbert Elias traces the history of behavior and etiquette as it has changed over time while Anderson focuses on the problem of inner-city poor. We discuss the implications of social change on violence and personality from both Elias’s and Anderson’s point of view as well as explore how Anderson might have critiqued Elias’s assumptions. According to Elias sociogenesis and psychogenesis studies try to explain and understand the complex mechanisms that constitute social change in history (Elias, 1968: XV).
A set of norms and values are created by society to physically control human behavior and times have changed in such a manner that what is considered “acceptable” is actually unrecognizable by modern standards. What causes these changes? Elias explains the metamorphosis of the state or nation in terms of the advent of Western Christendom. Christianity became the benchmark for which the idea of civilization was built (Elias, 1968: 53-54). He uses the example of a Renaissance writer called Erasmus of Rotterdam to explain the treatise of ‘civilized’ behavior.
As we know, the feudal system was as much a control system to root out behavior that might detract from the power of the despot as it was a social construction of oppression. Elias marks the concept of ‘civilite’ or civilization as coming in to being around the second quarter of the 16th century (1520 onwards) (Elias, 1968: 53). He goes into detail about the treatise written by Erasmus with particular emphasis on what behavior was acceptable and what was not. Some things were acceptable for those only of the lower class, the higher classes having more stringent measures of behavior (Elias, 1968: 63-70).
These behavioral consistencies included how to eat and how to deal with bodily functions. These rules and regulations functioned not only as guidelines to prevent offensive behavior but also to incur the feeling of shame. Shame, essentially as an emotion excludes the person from society or from a particular caste. This occurs also on a micro-level, in modern times where you are labeled according to your behavior. For instance, a child picks their nose in public and are immediately taunted because of it.
This excludes the child from the social arena by default. In the same way, whether you ate with your hands; with a plate or without one determined which sector you came from and you were immediately looked upon as a ‘lesser’ person. Today, we seek to treat all humanity as equals. Elias explains also cultural differences that rise during the Renaissance period, specifically that of English and German, finding that what is acceptable in Germany would not have been in England (Elias, 1968: 72). Elias differentiates between self-constraint and social constraint.
The changes in focus relied not on rationally thought out decisions to change, but on change implemented by the individual (Elias, 1968: 230). The idea of sui generis was initiated by Emile Durkheim but used by Elias in the context to explain that social change did not occur because someone decided it should, but because all society is interdependent. It is our understanding that it not merely an individual mental construction, the presence of societal reasoning or even the nature of society that causes the change, but a combination of all (Elias, 1968: 231).
Despite this, inter-relational changes occur with one idea from one person or group thereof who initiate the change and the set of complex social norms create a wall around acceptability and behavior that will ostracize you from society (Elias, 1968: 233). Humans as a gregarious species are inclined to want to be around other people and the fear of not being accepted or being an outcast is severe enough to control most actions unless a reformed group stands against it. On the other hand, there are groups of people who for some reason have been shifted from the social system and create for themselves, their own set of norms and values.
Anderson expresses just this form of social anomaly. The Code of the Street deals with the idea that the poor inner-city black community has effectively created their own rules and norms for which foreigners therein have to play by. As opposed to Elias’s explanation of Erasmus, Anderson says that the code of the streets is based on what Anderson describes: a harsh reality that the sense of alienation of a social, ethnic or cultural group has caused the creation of inner-city black youth cultures of their own (Anderson, *:172).
This is made worse by readily available drugs, alcohol and weapons in the sector that makes violence not only a way of conducting oneself but also of physic aspects. This is because substances also have their affect on how violence is borne. Anderson also differentiates between decent families and street families. The decent families have an obsessive need to impress authority and respect, but in street families respect is earned (Anderson,*: 173). Many street families have single mothers, whose care is often sporadic and therefore leaving the children to fend for themselves (Anderson, *: 174-175).
With little supervision it means that the children essentially initiate violence as a way to deal with the hardships of life. This basically becomes a ‘survival of the fittest’. Respect is earned by how strong you are and how much influence you wield in the field (Anderson, *: 175). These moral ‘codes’ are internalized by the time the child is a teenager and the cohesive qualities of the aforementioned need to fit into a group are cemented (Anderson, *: 176). Elias’s explanation is similar in that the social codes are developed in the same sui generis manner.
Yet, as opposed to Elias’s explanation, the feudal system is not dependent on segregated formal norms, but on society based norms. For instance, in the pre-Renaissance time that Erasmus described had a higher degree of control and democracy was not a feature. In today’s world however, several groups have broken away from these norms because they do not suit them. Taking into account the treatment of all people as equal, when the normative rules and regulations serve one culture of ethnic group better than another, the break-away group needs to create its own values.
The Renaissance did pose a different way of thinking, producing the idea that people need not be controlled. This is seen by the example of the Englishman in Germany. The way they lived was not acceptable to the English way of life, but in the same way, the ‘decent’ family does not consider the ‘street’ life to be acceptable either. The common denominator however, remains that all groups are human. All humans need the same things: food; shelter; healthcare; clothing and security.
Yet they also need companionship and the sense of belonging which is what social cohesion is about. The two theorists are not entirely at loggerheads, but do not agree on everything. There were evidently differences in thought and most of all from a generational point of view. Can Elias’s theory hold out in modern times? In modern times such as with street codes, the difference is great. Slavery has been abolished and the gap between the previously disadvantaged is vast and there are evidently problems that need to be resolved.
There is a reason why the aggression and violence has occurred, in an attempt to deal with the fact that disadvantages still exist. Elias made an interest theory based on historical metamorphosis which does still play a role in the way society changes but does not necessarily explain why it does. We learn that religion had a great deal to do with social change and that it was largely forced on the public, but Anderson offers us a current explanation for very specific problems of violence and aggression.