Monday, April 09, 2012

Whitaker On Trialectics: The Comparative History of Environmental Degradation and Sustainability

Spirit of the Staircase Notes about My Talk on Trialectics

This two-part video is a 23-minute discussion of my method of trialectics with 7 minutes of discussion.

Whitaker on Trialectics: Comparative History of Environmental Degradation & Sustainability (1/2)

This was a presentation at "Norbert Elias and Figurational Sociology: Prospects for the Future," in Copenhagen, Denmark, April 4, 2012. For what Elias and 'figurations' are, read about it elsewhere, like at Wikipedia.

The main point is that Elias's "civilizing process" is very abstract and artificially dichotomous to civilized/uncivilized.

Instead, I suggest we think and research about particular jurisdictions as the strategic empirical research pieces, and that instead of framing history as 'civilizing'/'decivlizing' we talk about the different civilizing potentials of differnt orientations of jurisdictions, and talk about the intercompeting civilizing/tyrannizing potentials of different jurisdictions and their supporters and detractors in interaction--competitive with each other for hegemony over the direction, quality, and content of what is to be 'civilizing'.

This takes the focus away from 'civilizing' to 'jurisdiction-izing', i.e., how do a plurality of people and myriad elites with many different interests come to accept particular more singular (and ongoingly contentious) hierarchies of certain elites over them (both followers and other elites taking up subordination). Elias only talks about willing followers. He has nothing to say about unwilling followers or unwilling other elites. Both have to be integrated into any sense of history of jurisdictions. I argue its done in three different ways. These three different ways require us to take into account interscientific spatial and temporal effects on forming or demoting jurisdictions: violence, ideological appeals, and material appeals and how they all generate different forms of clientelistic (jurisdictional) behaviors--ranging from full acceptance to partial acquiescence to mere surface support while plotting revenge.

Any figurations are more interscientific than Elias lets on, and what makes them interscientific is their internal ideological and material issues. Jurisdictional figurations are built from ideological infrastructures and material infrastructures organized via different organizational/content orientations in different cases.

I argue that a better, more empirical, and less philosophically reductionistic way to think about world history is as a series of jurisdictional changes. I argue that much of world history has an interscientific basis we are required to analyze: history as an open-ended process of environmental degradation within its strategic jurisdictional organization typically, though there have been contexts where people organize more sustainable jurisdictional arrangements in the past as well. This is obviously a way to integrate more real world concern into Elias for several issues: more individual agency and its ongoing interpretation and change of interpretation in reference to which jurisdictional figurations to support or to deny support to; more political conflict over the terms of any 'civilizing' process--wholly left out of Elias; more place for integrating autonomous culture used by all parties in jurisdictional contention or agreement; more room for the relative autonomy of institutional issues; and integrating the biophysical issues into figurations (which Elias wanted though failed to do in his lifetime).

All these issues can be brought into figurations. Elias skips over these in his comparative historical studies that concentrated unfairly only on the social psychology side of history in state formation--instead of these strategically different, contentiously implemented, and institutionally contentious arrangements of social psychology, leadership, followership, materials, and cultural motifs: called jurisdictions.


Sorry for the lack of visibility of the slides in the yellow font. First, I attempted to adjust it in rendering this video. Second, during the talk, when I noticed what was happening, I spoke clearly about ‘what was printed in the yellow font’ to correct for the lack of visibility so listen closely as I fill in the yellow text if you are reading the slides. This old university's room arrangements--once a hospital designed for lots of natural light before the invention of electricity--is not a good architecture for competing with modern presentations based on weak LCD projectors. Plus, attempting to describe principles and patterns of 3,000 years of history in 23 minutes is an interesting challenge whether conducted in an old hospital or not.

So the following short notes are my 'spirit of the staircase' comments. They are directed toward what I felt were the questions or confusions mentioned in the very short 7-minute comment period.

Background of Myself

First, this whole presentation is premised on a huge amount of empirical work I have done with over 3,000 years of data in three areas of the world: China, Japan, and Europe. This comparative historical analysis of multiple areas of the world is in the book Ecological Revolution.

In a sentence, you might call it my critique of Marx's conflict theories of macro history, my critique of Smith's/classical economic micro theories of markets and commodities, and out of that, my additions to Elias's models of civilizing processes of figurational change over long term history. To Elias I added critiques I had of Marx and Smith to integrate politicized material conflicts and far more conflictual cultural and jurisdictional relationships within Elias's figurational models. This widens Elias's concepts.

What I reject is that Marxism is the only conflict sociology. What I reject is that Marx and Smith are the only way to analyze commodities in history. What I reject is Elias's rather functional and depoliticized version of detachment is the only version of detachment. All are wrong. You can have a conflict sociology that analyzes the conflict with a great deal of detachment in its analysis by considering different subjective figurational groups in contention for the same objective jurisdictional bases of hegemony. Marx fails to have a monopoly on conflict. Elias fails to have a monopoly on detachment in one's analysis, and both Marx and Smith fail to have a monopoly on their equally reductionistic macro or micro analysis of markets, economics, and materials in human history.

Second, I found that materials are more empirically analyzed as a material figuration in history as an infrastructural relationship with hegemonic materials politically, institutionally, and culturally keeping out their challengers. This means that material dominance is a form of jurisdictional domination held in place by politics instead of (ahistorical claims of) markets. Additional to material infrastructures, there are ideological infrastructures in figurations. Other ideological issues in human figuations are empirical issues that Elias leaves out that are politically and culturally contentious (like decisions of gender, ethnic relations, sexuality, ageism, religious status, language use, etc.). These ideological issues are held in place by politics in politicized ideological figurations in history just like certain material issues are held in place by politics in politicized material figurations in history. Both these wider ideological/material issues of infrastructural choice can be added to Elias's models of only etiquette based historical figurations. Both of these ideological and material choice issues are ways of establishing infrastructural forms of jurisdictional figurations between elites and followers.

In general, jurisdictional formation and jurisdictional changes (acceptances, rejections, or shifts) were the major issues of contention or cooperation in human societies over time; and I found that there was a pattern in jurisdictional change typically--while arguing that instead of being fatalistic about this pattern it only came out of the typical choices in human history. Environmental degradation or sustainability are these choices. Tyranny or representation are these choices as well. All these four issues are jurisdictional. The ongoing choices that are made--politically, culturally (in political sponsorship of different cultural motifs/referents over others marginalized or repressed), institutionally, and materially (material choices and their organization)--matter for the ongoing morphological direction of the figuration. Elias is silent on these ongoing conflictual and cooperative choices of direction within a figuration and how they are made by jurisdictional alliances at the heart of any figuration. Though what are jurisdictions, sociologically speaking? There were dictionary definitions though there was a lack of definition sociologically so I built one:

Third, naturally, lacking any other scholar's sociological awareness of jurisdictional changes over time as a major issue in human history, I developed a vocabulary both for cultural flows in such arrangements of jurisdictions as well as material flows within jurisdictions as part of how such jurisdictional settlements were reached or broken. After all, I am studying environmental degradation and amelioration politics cross-culturally here.

I wanted to talk about how within all historical figurations there is something Elias leaves out because of his exclusive interest in data coming only from social psychological history: additionally [1] figurations are jurisdictional, implying thus [2] there are positions of leadership and followership within a figuration, and implying thus [3] there is a certain degree of political conflict, implying [4] a relatively autonomous leeway within a figuration for its future direction and conditions because it is a series of definitions for cultural and material appeals that hold the jurisdictional figuration together as a somewhat allied yet typically domineering condition between different groups that develop arrangements under who is leadership making systemic decisions and who is follower. Thus there are cooperative and conflictual issues within any jurisdictional figuration, surrounding the (changing, contentious) issues of the definitions of hegemony. [5] So the particular history of this figuration is hardly as smooth as Elias implies because it is an interaction of both trends as well as discontinuities by challengers that attempt redefinition of the conditions of the figuration (the conditions being who gets leadership, under what deals culturally and materially, and who accepts (or is demoted unwillingly into) followership under these terms. [6] That figurations are jurisdictional claims implies that the singular evolutionary figurational model for Elias should be replaced by a conditional political alliance model of a jurisdictional figuration, and be replaced as well as by conceiving that there are multiple mutually opposed versions of different jurisdictional figurations organizing themselves on different principles of leadership, followership, and conditional referents--in contention with each other over the conditions of hegemony of one over the other, as well as what are the conditions in which such hegemony is created or breaks down.

Jurisdictions are figurations in which there are certain hegemonic legitimate/legitimated versions of material flows and their organization, as well as where there are certain hegemonic versions of culture (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.). Both get preferentially treated or encouraged in a certain jurisdiction, to establish it as a figuration that is shared in its acceptance--with jurisdictions built on more than cultural appeals, they are built on material consumptive ambivalence appeals--as well as divisions and repressions of other legitimate alternatives, sometimes very violently. (Such jurisdictional figurational arrangements can be built on violence threats as well I note.) When either cultural, material, or violence appeals lose their luster you have a great deal of rejections of a certain jurisdictional figuration or shifts to another. Thus both cultural/ideological, material, and sponsored allowances for violence issues within figurations are politically conditioned by particular strategic design issues--some successful some unsuccessful, though always contentious.

I understood jurisdictions as innately figurational in the Elias sense of long historical time of flows of cultural interactions, yet additionally such figurations in history are conflictual/cooperative arrangements or "assemblages" strategically between certain elites, certain appeals/materials, and certain followers--thus using certain informal political strategies, certain formal institutions, and certain formal policy (over other choices desired by other jurisdictional alignments) to manage such arrangements of clientelism desired. When accepted, this formulates a figuration 'stronger' or more hegemonic in its arrangements than other jurisdictional figurations simultaneously existing. However, I noted as well that violence can be very much part of how jurisdictions are established in some cases, instead of it entirely being based on cultural acceptance and material ambivalence provided.

The view of jurisdictional figurations changing over time, from one jurisdictional hegemony to another or entirely breaking down, is the basic principle of human history. Within this there is an open-ended, human-agency-based action and interpretation that matters far more than Elias lets on, because such jurisdictional figurations are hardly stable or wholly shared issues as he implies. They are somewhat contractual arrangements of ambivalence, instead of only acculturation, under certain ideological/material/violence conditions of strategy of others, and with a great deal of violence sometimes holding together any so called 'civilizational' arrangement of jurisdictions. I stress sometimes, because it really does depend on the case. Sometimes more material ambivalence is the strategy to maintain jurisdiction of certain elites over followers. Sometimes ideological appeals seem more important than material arrangements. Sometimes violence can increasingly be the chosen strategy to hold together a particular jurisdiction from its challengers. The mix of all three depends on the case and depends on people's ongoing interactive strategies to formulate, maintain, or challenge existing hegemonic alliances of jurisdictions.

[7] I would additionally replace Elias's singular 'civilizational process' with two versions of it: an unrepresentative, degradative one called the trialectical process that tends to repeat in human history due to choices of maintaining unrepresentative jurisdictions; and a more representative, sustainable direction called the affirmitization process that 'affirms' existing pluralities of interests more equitably in jurisdictional representation in figurations in which the trialectial dynamics/process is demoted--equally by choice.

Despite the future being a choice, due to 'our' bad choices (both our elite's bad choices in history typically to create unrepresentative jurisdictional figurations, and follower's bad choices to accept it), figurations change over time in the trialectical process typically. In this manner 'we' (i.e., elites and followers hardly with the same interests or active corporately) choose to continue to create repeating environmental degradation processes in human history because we choose ongoing unrepresentative jurisdictional figurations. For the former trialectical process, this process of jurisdictional change tends to be a drifting process built into elite/follower interactions with the ongoing action/interpretation of all groups in response to the ongoing changing material environment: typically the widening consumptive consolidation and environmental and social externalities that any short-term successful extension of a jurisdiction involves undermines itself in time. This political primacy of degradation as an elite choice contributes to a particular jurisdictional figuration's illegitimacy into novel reformulated versions of jurisdictional figurations after it.

This can become a repeatedly chosen process of maintaining strategies of unrepresentative jurisdictions in which each have internal alliance-based contradictions (i.e., attempting to be representative yet attempting to be gatekept and strictly informal forms of clientelism and repression).

If this path of human history is chosen I call it the 'trialectical process' because in such a context of unrepresentative jurisdictions, the dynamics of three positions come into the fore in relational dynamics of a dyadic arrangement for jurisdiction always attempting to marginalize another position instead of jurisdictions attempting to represent all. This makes any jurisdictional figuration unstable over time as it is based on intentional inclusions and exclusions. As its legitimacy changes with material conditions over time (influencing reevaluation and delegitimation of previous principles of ideological settlement), there are trends due to its internal alliance contradictions that encourage ongoing reevaluation of it by its adherents or those increasingly less ambivalent to its degradative capacities or those left out of the previous jurisdictional settlement.

Such trialectical history is premised on elites maintaining violently gatekept choices of unrepresentative jurisdictional figurations. Such trialectical history is equally premised on followers of course being unable to formulate more representative pressures, materially and culturally. As a result, this is an ongoing elite hegemonic strategy that is an unrepresentative figuration. Because of a jurisdictional strategy's lack of representation, it encourages internal alliance contradictions to build over time in each jurisdiction both materially and ideologically--that can pull the alliance/ambivalence within it apart, both between leaders and with followers.

On the contrary to this repeating human/environmental degradative pattern in the trialectical process, a more representative version sometime appears in history, the 'affirmitization process.' The affirmitization process is where jurisdictional arrangements between leaders and followers tend toward greater representation in jurisdictional definitions in some circumstances in history. This can remove the trialectical dynamics and its process of mounting environmental degradation.

Disaggregating Elias's idea of a singular 'civilizing process' instead for two different empirically defined 'civilizing' processes in human/environmental history can hopefully sensitize Elias scholars to issues of the choice and quality of the jurisdictions within any civilizing process: with some figurations more repressive and degradative materially and culturally by choice (and self-destructive), and some figurations more representative culturally and materially and thus sustainable by choice (and durable).

I am interested in both the environmentally degradative processes of jurisdictional figurations in the trialectical process; as well as interested in the particular moments in human history that we can learn from in the past or present where jurisdictions started to get more 'affirmitive' and representative--culturally and materially.

This open-ended interaction of people is like Elias describes a figuration. However, unlike Elias (though like history, sorry Elias) figurations have elements of (non-Marxist) conflict and strategic human agency attempts to guide their organization into different paths by all parties attempting to 'reformulate the jurisdictional game' that they are playing with each other over the terms of acceptance/denial of another's jurisdictional power over them. This is seen in the contention over certain elite-led figurations attempting to imprint certain versions of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, handicapped status, age, religion, language, violence, materials, etc.--where some followers accept the social psychological imprinting and material ambivalence as an alliance deal with elites while other groups fail to do so.

By drawing only his data from the social psychological side of the history of figurations, Elias artificially played down this strategic political contention over these internal referents in a figuration even though this contention and the referents as strategy are what build figurations in the first place. Jurisdictional issues build figurations, and jurisdictions are a more primate phenomenon than the secondary figurational settlement per se. Jurisdictions assemble figurations. While it is pointless to separate these two terms of jurisdictions and figurations, my point is that concentrating only on social psychological outcomes of particular jurisdictions/figurations is misleading for the origins of figurations themselves as highly jurisdictional constructs of contentious referents.

These internal referents to any figuration are more open to change and contention over them than Elias describes. This is because they are either imposed more representatively as legitimate or more tyrannically as requiring active legitimation and violence to maintain certain referents over other choices of them. These terms of jurisdiction can be weakened or strengthened by different groups over time depending upon what they appeal to in practice or how they change their strategies of jurisdictional figuration in the face of internal conflict within the jurisdictional figuration or in the face of conflict from a more successful jurisdictional figuration outside of it. There is much contention within figurations over the orientation of hegemony. Such figurations are in origin assembled from these referent categories of strategy, making all the below jurisdictional, figurational and stratification decisions.

On social stratification issues, these are very important in figurations and in jurisdictions. Elias's data world tends to ignore the social inequalities of stratification built into particular figurations because, as I said, his data and interest is exclusively toward one side of the figurational data: the social psychological sources instead of the strategic jurisdictional sources. The internalized social psychological issues that interested Elias are outcome effects of particular strategies of jurisdictions. Particular jurisdictions create particular figurations as stratification regimes, and particular figurations as stratification regimes create successful (or failed) social psychological internalization.

Elias's view of figurations themselves are thus skewed to one side of data (the social psychological side) and skewed to one side of this conflict over terms (the 'post-conflict' internalization only), instead data drawn from the real, more contentious origins of open-ended autonomous cultural, political, and individual debate over the acceptance or denial of support for such jurisdictional figurational arrangements that gets combined with the social psychologicical internalization of them or the open rejection of them--for other jurisdictional, figuational, and stratification regimes as more legitimate. 

Memorize the abbreviation: “G.E.S.H.A.R.L.I.M.C.V.T.O.P.J.” [I suggest remembering it as G.E.S.H.A.R.   L.I.M.   C.V.   T.O.P.J.]

It helps make sense for classifying the variety of separate details in inequalities and stratification in a particular figuration at a particular moment; and from it, it helps make sense for empirically plotting historical change in figurations: one can analyze in a figurational change the overlappings of the below via comparisons of their changes, over time, in:

1. Gender [1] Stratification between (M v. F); [2] stratification within gender (‘proper’ M v. M; ‘proper’ F v. F); [3] 3rd gender
2. Ethnicity, [1] racial projects in stratification, jurisdictionally defended as a figuration; [2] or without racial projects (ideology)
3. Sexuality,
4. Handicapped Status,
5. Age,
6. Religion,
7. Language,
8. Ideology Family/Kinship, Pol. Organization; above accretive variables can be ideological, categorical stratification as well; jobs clean/unclean; racial projects (ethnic ideological projects: open (Brazil from 1950s) or closed (formal apartheids—U.S. in many states before 1950; South Africa before 1990s; or Israeli apartheid or Koreans/burakumin in Japan, today), stratification by ‘ism’: party, nationalism ideology, internationalism ideology, localism ideology, anarchy, socialism, communism, etc; multi-dimensional
9. Materials, hegemonic materials v. other materials for same social use demoted or banned (example: oil v. electric cars; etc.)
10. Class, people with materials and people without (though class fails to always associate with other dimensions like honor or positional and jurisdictional power)
11. Violence,
12. Territory, stratification’s spatial relations; different spatial access abilities in a state or globally based on social classification
13. (H)onor (5 Kinds of Status/Prestige: economic honor to other honors) [1] Economic capital (class) [more than ownership honor: [2] distributional honor (potlatch / charity)]; [3] human capital, [4] cultural capital/habitus, [5] sexual capital
14. 3 Positions: INTRODUCING stratification/jurisdictions caused by strategic positions [trialectics]
15. 3 Jurisdictions: INTRODUCING stratification caused by jurisdictional (cultural-political) claims [the 'wrapping' around particular figurations of the above referents and how they are justified (public, private, secret/militarized, etc.)

Jurisdictions as figurations and social stratification are constructed and assembled in these 15 areas in open-ended history. Elias is deficient in describing this. Elias as well is deficient in describing how to integrate material flows into these figurations (#9), which I am doing.To use earlier terms, the politicized material infrastructures in figurations relate to #9 while the politicized ideological infrastructures in figurations relate to all the others.

Do some people really think that, for instance, the definitions of gender hierarchies and leadership/followership (or any of the above 15) are just 'evolutionarily' or randomly set, or always willingly internalized by all whatever they are, instead of built as piecemeal contentious settlements from people's ongoing decisions and choices in history in interaction over time in what they are willing to accept or willing to challenge? And that these 'referent definitions' or conditions are equally set or challenged by social movements. Social movements are autonomous cultural issues forming figurations and jurisdictions distinct from Elias's straightjacketed, over-encompassing conception of state politics alone influencing culture. Thus the causality of figurational creation can be the other way round as well--with culture influencing state issues instead of only Elias's vice versa one-way causality of states designing figurational settlements. After all, there is a give and take between state and cultural issues in the formulation of workable (or unworkable and rejected) settlements of political, cultural/ideological, and material clientelism in figurations. Elites appeal to others in certain referents to gain jurisdictional power or to demote or to redefine the conditions of another's jurisdictional power. Followers can make decisions of their own as well about their own social psychological internalization. Elias is unable to deal with social movements or culture as this autonomous issue involved in such settlements. This is because, as I said, Elias draws skewed, limited data in his analysis of the phenomena of figurations from only post-conflict social psychological internationalization--which has hidden these issues of wider jurisdictional contention and contention over the internal referents and stratification regimes of particular figurations.

In short, to Elias we bring issues he left out--conflict sociology on the referents/terms of any hegemonic culture in figurational hegemony, human individual agency (even though it is still within jurisdictional figurational construction or the process of leaving one jurisdiction for another), more autonomous cultural issues (instead of only concentrating on only one-way causality of 'civilizing processes' based from state formation issues over cultural sponsorship as he did--since it can go both ways in rejection of such state formation), and material flows as political forms of establishing jurisdiction and ambivalence in figurations.

Let's link issues of jurisdictions, figurations, and stratification together in their typical historically unrepresentative dynamics, in the chart below. This trialectical process or the affirmitization process are both scenarios for how figurations may change over time similar to Elias's sense of a singular civilizing or decivilizing process:

Reframing Conflict in History as Conflict and Cooperation in History: Three Main Points

To a conflict sociology, like Marx for example, we bring out issues Marx left out or misinterpreted: he left out the many levels and types of leadership/followership relations across all these referents and where the relationships are hardly always exploitative. The relationships between elites and followers can be clientelistic, cooperative, representative, and/or unrepresentative/exploitative. All these are premised on some form of conflictual or cooperative behavior in jurisdictional/cultural figurations between elite-and-base groups--instead of there being only economic conflict or exploitation in history. Hardly all power relationships are completely extortive or completely repressive as he argues. Many are mixed forms of pseudo-representative forms of representation and extortion which are simultaneously conflict and encouraged cooperation typically under certain biased terms of extension simultaneously for social control and social mobility. Plus, on the misinterpretation of a mere dyadic class conflict in Marx's historiography, we bring out a more demonstrable sociospatial and strategic basis for conflict than the economic reductionistic cherrypicking Marx: conflict is premised on [1] a trialectical contention (instead of dialectical contention in Marx) based on [1a] intercompetitions between different size and sale of positions or reach of inter-contending leadership groups and [1b] the multiple regionalized groups (which can be leadership/jurisdiction elites themselves in certain situations rejecting delocalized leadership elites), and [2] conflict over [2a] the many different 15 referents above (instead of only economics!) and [2b] whether these choices of referents may form representative or unrepresentative jurisdictional figurations.

To give names to these different sizes and spatial scales of jurisdictional reach in contention with each other in history, the more empirically demonstrable conflicts in history over time are seen between what I have labeled 'aristocratic' positions versus 'royal' positions versus multiple regional positions. Hence, there are trialectical dynamics in history instead of mere dialectical ones. Marx and others over-preferenced a philosophy of history in time. If he had analyzed the history of space as well in how "the political landscape" (Smith, 2003) develops, he would have easily seen this.

Unrepresentative, hegemonic jurisdictional-cultural figurations are only dyadic (between two positions of three) in their political alliance attempts, or they are more 'monistic' when they reject delocalized elites altogether and are just regional jurisdictional-cultural figurations. When unrepresentative dyadic choices of jurisdictional alliance are arranged in this way, it establishes a jurisdictional figuration that maligns other hegemonic positional choices, input, or participation. Thus when unrepresentative, jurisdictional figurations are forms of hegemonic domination of certain definitions of the figuration's referents over others' voided choices.

When implemented as political, cultural, and material alliance, choices between certain elites in certain strategies/referents of appeal are aimed toward certain regional base groups of support. This sets up conflict with maligned other trialectical positions that want something more representative and/or want a jurisdictional figuration differently aligned. Unrepresentative choices of jurisdictions, figurations, and stratification--when implemented--call forth conflict and call forth a trialectical dynamic of a third position waiting for strategic changes over time. The conflicts within history are within jurisdictional strategies over the terms--between leadership and followers in a singular jurisdiction, and between different potential versions of jurisdictional settlements themselves over different referents being instituted.

In other words, unlike Marx, there is nothing 'permanently' conflictual about human history. There is a choice for conflict when it exists based on the choice of extending unrepresentative jurisdictional strategies. Equally seen occasionally in history are greater choices for creating representative elites out of representative referent choices. It depends on the historical case and the ongoing decisions.

Unlike Elias, there is nothing smoothly shared culturally in a figuration between leadership and followers either. Elias edited out the 'systemic events' in his figurational histories: the historical moments where jurisdictional directions, allegiances, interpretations, and strategies are decided for culture and politics. These are equally moments where such settlements are (successfully or unsuccessfully) challenged by those left out of the previous settlement in attempts to rewrite the jurisdictional and figurational settlements. Elias, by drawing most of his data from very depoliticized sources of etiquette manual books, totally misses the could have drawn other 'etiquette' data from massive numbers of European political tracts that discussed whether it was proper or otherwise to give cultural credence to certain leaders or to just cut off their head. Elias leaves out the more politicized side of etiquette in investing figurational leaders with cultural legitimation for making decisions politically. There are always leadership/follower conflicts in figurations over the terms of who is the legitimate or illegitimate leader--who deserves credence or 'etiquette' or who deserves shunning and rejecting.

Plus, Elias totally leaves out that the institutional issues of history and the cultural figurations in history have a relative autonomy alterable by design because they are connected to different groups hegemonic interests for steering the political, institutional, and cultural issues to their preferred direction. Same as above, trialectical or affirmitive, it's either someone's choices to implement conflictual arrangements of formal institutions, formal policy, and informal cultural politics that are innately unstable manners to achieve power--or it's someone's choices to implement less conflictual and more representative arrangements of the same in differently oriented jurisdictional-cultural figurations that are more stable.

[3] Plus, there are at least four areas of relatively autonomous conflict (positions of state, science/religion/culture, consumption, and finance) in which different strategies of positional groups contend for different representative/unrepresentative hegemonic domination of the formal institutional and formal policy output of these venues, aiming to give preference to their particular preferred versions cultural referents and thus their chosen allies--instead of there being only one reductionist area of conflict (economics/consumption) like in Marx's thought.

In this way, I bring a bit of more realistic conflict to Elias's view over the terms of the figuration, and I bring a bit of more realistic strategic conflict and cooperation without economic reductionism to Marx's conflict sociology view. I additionally bring to Smith the more realistic political infrastructural politics of contention between different material referents preferred by different groups as part of their jurisdictional, figurational, and stratification settlements--instead of such ahistorical micro-level views of commodities/materials.

If anything, Elias is case oriented instead of oriented toward abstract theorizations. However, there are aspects of Elias view of figurations, or Marx's conflict ideas, or Smith's view of commodities and markets that are "not reality congruent" to figurational reality: particularly regarding the relative autonomy of internal referents to any figurational/developmental process that are thus, second, involved with strategic assembling/popularizing/censoring of referents as a form of alliance building to formulate a jurisdictional style against other versions of the same and against alternative jurisdictional projects in their eras.

I am arguing that Elias's views of figurations are useful though deficient. First, a useful research tool that would help adapt Elias would be adding in an appreciation of the innate jurisdictional (leadership/follower political clientelism) quality within hegemonic cultural figurations over time, and within that, the awareness that such leadership is hardly functional innately and has a relative autonomy for human agency choices. It can be more unstable and based only on strategically unrepresentative appeals. It can be more stable and based on more representative appeals. So there are many different disagreements over the current terms of leadership/followership and disagreements over the future direction of any current jurisdictional arrangements and their cultural contexts. Second, following from that, this addition to Elias encourages us to explore the figurational interaction between jurisdiction, hegemonic culture, and stratification and where it comes from historically: it makes all referents of current versions of any hegemonic culture in human figurations (including etiquette) seem more fluxing and relatively autonomous choices of strategy, employed contentiously, strategically, and cooperatively between different options of leadership elites as different appeals to inclusion or exclusion of different groups. Each strategy aims to create such hegemonic jurisdictional-cultural figurations in the first place whether they are chosen to maintain, to undermine, or to build up other jurisdictional figurations, representative or unrepresentative.

Background of the Conference

That Elias was deficient was a premise of this whole conference, though I met some people at the conference that were more interested in preserving Elias's past ideas without change than actually doing historical analysis. I ask them to go back and read the original purpose of the conference:

The whole point of this conference was that Elias was deficient in attempting to integrate the biophysical sciences into his figurations (despite being interested in doing so).

The original call for presentations at this conference was aimed to attract people who integrated biophysical issues into historical and social science in particular cases. However, beside myself I didn't see anyone integrating biophysical materials figurationally into particular historical case analysis.

Most were just the same old social science problem of ignoring the environmental issues in history, or there were philosophical attempts at integrating environmental issues as concepts yet without any case analysis.

There was an open call to analyze such material issues as historical figurations--instead of to analyze material issues as abstract, ahistorical, and economic based commodities--the three theoretical premises of both Smith and Marx which I find so wrong about both of them as useless abstractions outside of history instead of about it.

Since I had been working on both the sociology of jurisdictional change in human history, as well as noting the material aspects of human society as jurisdictionally arranged and changing as well, I put both of these cultural jurisdictional and material flow jurisdictional issues together in my paper.

In other words, for material political economy, I start over with figurational materials in particular historical cases. Smith and Marx are figurations of belief and social movements that started in Europe, and now are belief figurations around the world--yet both are very deficient in addressing human history because commodities are hardly abstract, they are hardly only economic, and they are very historically figurational throughout social relations beyond simple economic areas of any institutions in society. Material choices are jurisdictional referents--infrastructural issues of certain materials over others built from political arrangements. This was a slide I showed talking about all the various political intercessions that makes materials in social relations:

Consumptive Infrastructure Discussion;
Raw Material Substrate Path: 19 Politicized Positions [in a Jurisdictional Figuration] Around Material Flow Decisions

1. Pre-choice: research and knowledge gathered about choices; or inversely, a desire to institutionalize a particular choice
2. Pre-choice: the original choice for the raw material substrate, from the raw material substrate set of materials; competition from other choices, security concerns to get access and/or consolidate access; or alternatively, demoting other choices
3. Pre-choice: extraction sites with few locations or a choice of multiple extraction sites
4. Royalties issues, consumptive flow issues, keeping profits up
5. Labor relations
6. Financing
7. Transportation
8. Appropriate tariff barriers or lack of barriers
9. Taxation on shipments
10. Agglomeration/Storage, if appropriate before more shipping
11. Manufacturing, or refining, labor issues
12. Marketing / Advertising
13. Taxation on manufactured items
14. Transportation of manufactured items
15. Competition from others in bulk purchasing or sales
16. Consumption, more or less secondary manufacturing off the refined item
17. Consumer consumption
18. Waste disposal/recycling
19. Medicine (politically dealing with or politically ignoring externalities)

Once you look at any commodity choice as impinged upon or sculpted figurationally by at least 19 different nodes of politics, it's hard to see them as economic or market decisions. It becomes hard to see why people cling to economic reductionism. After that, it's hard to justify a particular zone of analysis called 'economics' as separate or primary over political investments and strategies. To the contrary, what is primary are politicized commodities first, and economic issues second. This is the issue of political primacy in commodities over other politicized versions of the same.

I additionally showed a chart with 92 different raw material substrate sets [over at Commodity Ecology] in which different materials politically compete with each other figurationally instead of only reductionistically and artificially assuming it is an economic and market competition alone. It is the 'established materials' in a category--with all their political, institutional, and potentially cultural allies--versus the unestablished political, institutional, or cultural allies of other materials seeking greater establishment. I've called this the raw material regime phenomenon.

So in some sense I see (an adapted) Elias-ian sense of materialized jurisdictional figurations can be a novel form of political economy, when [1] materials are properly analyzed within their specific historical, politicized, jurisdictional figurational flows (instead of reaching for timeless inductive ideas of economics that are ideological mystification about this politics), and [2] when Elias scholars finally come to terms with conflict in figurations over the terms in which people are living which are jurisdictional claims/issues of acceptance, rejection, or shifting and conflict between different simultaneously existing jurisdictional figurations in history, instead of just assuming as Elias does that we can lump everyone together in the same figuration as having the same material or cultural views about the same referents.

Elias is far "too functional" about such internal referents (material or ideological) as if culture or etiquette change is equally shared, just naturally happens, or follows along because of state formation change--when such a connection between cultural motifs and state jurisdictional extensions is a very contentious process of definition and counter-definition of acceptance, rejection, and/or coordination in ongoing time--instead of such a clean issue of state sponsorship always meeting with widely accepted cultural figurational arrangements as Elias argues by omission. I have read some critiques of Elias that he entirely ignored cultural issues for state issues--and I can believe it.

At the conference, others were attempting their own versions of merging material and social figurations--in Malthusianism! I even met some 'living fossils', some Malthusianists who ardently believed there was only one 'tent' of environmentalism, or only one way to think about human-environmental relations, theirs, instead of at least four tents to environmentalism! I'm sure my mouth dropped open: I was shocked Malthusians could still exist after 35 years of sociological critiques of Malthusianism (video continued here) with now five different theoretical views?] My environmental integration was based on case analysis. Malthusianism was always based on, well, only Malthus's inductions--instead of history.

People who have figurationally and historically analyzed the relations of demographics, agriculture, technology and environment all disagree with Malthus (see Marx, Boserup, Amartya Sen, Elinor Ostrom--or me). (Boserup was educated at the University of Copenhagen where the conference was held, so perhaps attendants should start with her.)

So my talk was hardly abstract--it was abstracted: I discussed some integrating theoretical principles for analyzing all civilizations in human history as equals without Eurocentric assumptions of primacy. Smith, Marx, and Elias are all Eurocentric in their analysis. However, Europe is just another case--a geographically larger case, though a mere case nevertheless of the same degradative figurational dynamics as the past as before, I am arguing, with rare attempts at escaping such repetitions sometimes in the past just as we have nowadays as well.

As I said, the talk's data was drawn from about 3,000 years of analysis of human history, material history, and environmental history of figurational change. The attempt was to closely follow the ongoing developmental changes in China, Japan, and Europe over 3,000 years over human jurisdictional politics (which are influenced by cultural changes, political changes, material changes, and environmental changes--i.e,. issues that influence jurisdictional changes).

On the contrary, Elias's empirical data and his subsequent ideas of theory were drawn exclusively upon Eurocentric cases and built from around only 500 years of time. Moreover, Elias only used a very limited set of data. It was very self-selected and deductive. It was about the (presumed direct! I think it is more indirect) interaction of only etiquette, courtesy and state formation--instead of as I am arguing, the wider view of what is happening in history is how 15 different social referents in any period fit together more inductively, strategically, cooperatively, conflictually, and interactively in historical assemblages in interaction within the politics in four different sites of political cooperation and conflict in such stratification (states, science/religion, consumption, and finance). Elias only analyzed the state 'node.'

I felt I should go to this conference because Elias has been an inspiration, and because they wanted to hear about material integration into figurational sociology--which I do. I had compared European cases and non-European cases for much larger periods of time than Elias ever did.

However in this talk, my interest was the methodological/theoretical principles derived from such a global, long-term view and how it challenged Smith, Marx, and Elias--yet how it could expand Elias instead of really challenge his figurational ideas. (If you want historical discussion of the long term figurational changes of China, Japan, and Europe, see the book Ecological Revolution or see these other video talks about Ecological Revolution below.)


Inset for that other talk is below; or, click here to start at 6:12 minutes into that when I start talking about these books.

Images of the Future: Toward a Bioregional State and Ecological Revolution (1/3)

March 2011, Seoul, Korea - Futures Studies lecture of Mark D. Whitaker, Ph.D., environmental sociologist, describing his comparative historical analysis of environmental degradation and environmental amelioration social movements that led him to develop the ideas of a bioregional state as a key way to achieve sustainability. Two books are quickly summarized: Toward a Bioregional State (2005) and Ecological Revolution: The Political Origins of Environmental Degradation and the Environmental Origins of Axial Religions; China, Japan, Europe (2009).

Toward a Bioregional State and Ecological Revolution: green constitutional engineering for the world

This is the second recommended talk about Ecological Revolution. This is my talk to other environmental sociologists about my two books: Toward a Bioregional State (2005) and Ecological Revolution (2009). It was filmed at the International Sociological Association, July 2010, Goteborg, Sweden.

In the Elias talk, the main issue I talk about rises to the fore of the analysis if you take a long enough view: there are jurisdictional figurations.

There are two types of jurisdictional figurations, very interrelated in each others' history in a case. In the first kind of jurisdictional figurational analysis, we can concentrate on a particular singular positional alliance itself.  On the one hand, in a singular jurisdiction there are planned figurational changes in history--in assemblages of culture, referents (including materials), politics, and institutions--with some groups doing and implementing hat they planned and some failing at it or getting a completely different outcome than they expected because history is open-ended and interactive with their jurisdictional attempts. Thus we can analyze singular jurisdictional attempts, with some successful and some failures. We can analyze their singular dynamics of implementation or rejection. This implies another point.

On the other hand, there are unplanned interactions with other versions of jurisdictional attempts at the same time, working for their goals. In this second kind of jurisdictional figurational analysis, it is built from studying jurisdictional figurations in interaction with each other. This is an interaction between multiple ongoing attempts at different dyadic positional alliances or it is the path toward greater representative arrangements for all three positions. If unrepresentative, it forms into an unstable, ongoing, trialectical dynamic built from the exclusion of a third position that seeks jurisdictional reorientation. This is the interaction between different jurisdictional attempts is a merged figurational issue--in which no one really designs the interaction in true Elias sense, if you read his work on 'game models' in his book What is Sociology.

Thus these analyses of singular jurisdictional figurations and the interactive, merged jurisdictional figurations are defined by contention and cooperation over hegemonies in jurisdictional formation. Jurisdictional figurations are defined by ongoing relations within themselves and with relations with each other in their figurational jurisdictional changes across whole assemblages of referents simultaneously. Each of them attempt to orient in different manners of hegemonic informal political alliances and the related use of design of formal institutions and formal policy to achieve that informal hegemony of jurisdictional alliance. Such hegemonies can dissolve as well--typically under ambivalent elites in the typical process of their own facilitated environmental degradation which can give rise to contexts where other elites can step forward more legitimately.

These jurisdictional figuration changes are across many different substantive areas simultaneously over time. As if this writing, I think there are 15 referents instead of as in Elias, who pre-limited his social analysis in figurations to only one referent: cultural issues of status/politeness/honor in cultures.

Additionally, Elias pre-limited analysis to only one direction of causality: his 'sociogenesis to psychogenesis' despite the opposite happening equally in history. Elias cherrypicked his data. I try to be more detached than he was by the checks of: [1] working over longer periods of time, [2] by being interested in the dynamics and process itself instead of any particular referents, [3] and by employing cases around the world instead of only from Europe.

This conference had an internal culture unlike many I have seen. On the one hand, I admired it and was thrilled by it: there were many historical sociologists in one compact arena of conversation typically using the same vocabulary and all basically agreeing on the same long-term historical sociological methods. That was wonderful for me. However, it was additionally rather embarrassing in how many openly ‘circled their wagons’ culturally against wider 'middle-range' sociology. They chose to hamstring themselves I think by arguing among themselves that the smallness of their conference was a sign of other's problems and of Elias's correctness instead of broaching the idea that, as I would argue in my talk (in its introduction) that the smallness of the conference was a sign that Elias 'as he stands' is very deficient.

Six Deficiencies of Elias

I feel Elias is very deficient in being unable to integrate many issues of middle range theory or basic common sense if you read any history, such as:

1. how you deal with conflict in figurational change, as well as cooperation; conflicts in figurations; conflicts between them

2. how you deal with material inequalities within figurations and how they change over time

3. how you deal with material flows within figurations; how do you deal with environmental embeddedness of figurations (or the lack of it in others as part of their figurations)

4. how you deal with individual human agency whether in social contexts already formed, or in contexts where people attempt to formulate a novel social formation for themselves out of nothing where successful figurations go to strategists plotting how to organize people in their figurations in particular manners, against others doing the same;

5. one question that kept coming up in the conference was how do you have or gain a normative view of critique in figurations; I argued it is easy: ask the people themselves about its legitimacy (the legitimacy of their leaders and their decisions): it is through looking into the degree of representation, unrepresentation, legitimacy, illegitimacy, and/or social mobility in jurisdictional figurations--which is equally a material access issue instead of only a cultural participation/representation issue. More representative figurations are 'better', by having more legitimately deliberated and chosen referents and with more social mobility possible. More tyrannous figurations are worse, by having violently imposed and violently maintained referents upon people, with little social mobility. I argue that such tyrannous jurisdictional figurations are unrepresentatively imposed, and their unrepresentativeness is  crucial to understanding how environmental degradation gets imposed in human history as well from unrepresentative arrangements without any feedback culturally or materially in choices.

6. how you theorize macro level conflict between figurations? You have to theorize a plural base of multiple figurations of political clientelism interacting, instead of just as Elias did, artificially and philosophically, relying on a singular analysis of a figurational change. Such singular figurations fail to exist in isolation from each other! Thus there are always at the empirical base of any figurational analysis multiple figurations, and 'personnel' moving between them all the time, changing their interpretive basis and their actions (and sometimes their identity/conversion) of support or opposition to different jurisdictional figurations. This opens up the previous point that there is Elias-ian 'sociogenesis causing psychogenesis' (to use his terms) AND equally all the time ongoing individual interpretive revaluation and action. Such 'traditional Elias-ian' sociogenesis causing psychogenesis coexists in history with its opposite--psychogenesis causing sociogenesis. Both are mechanisms in figurational changes. I would argue that no one makes up their mind individually, so even such psychogenesis of changes comes about through some type of figurational novelties of choices or cultural/material developments facing people in a previous jurisdictional ongoing in history.

If it's heresy, so be it: Elias-ians require a much broader temporal, spatial, and global view of cases before the jury decides. Besides, I think some Elias-ians are still the only group of sociologists who still believe in a singular causal variable of social actions, even though it was this singular 'first mover' idea of causality that Elias's figurational sociology was designed to remove. However, I talked to people who argued that Elias's 'sociogenesis' was the causal variable and 'psychogenesis' was the dependent variable. I talk to other Elias-ians who though that 'the Malthusian causality'--the singular variable of population--'caused' everything to do with environmental degradation in history. I am unsure how either of these beliefs got into some Elias-ian's heads. This is a huge misreading of Elias who transcended such word games. The point for Elias was sociogenesis and psychogenesis were interwoven historically instead of interpreting sociogenesis as an example of a 'first mover' causality that Elias believed in, when in fact his argument was designed to demote it! Elias's critique was designed against those who exclusively argued causality from either sociogenesis or psychogenesis. Re-read his What is Sociology about this.

The group-action, interweaving structuration of jurisdictions from many actors builds later figurations that once didn't exist, just as already built figurations construct people like Elias argued.


With longer and wider case studies, I have adjudicated that a traditional adherence to Elias, Marx, or Smith as they stand is mislaid. If you do actually do some empirical figurational case studies (as few even discussed this in this conference), Elias is clearly wrong on some points because his ideas clearly were 'not ripe yet' and derived from a very geographically Eurocentric, temporally limited, substantively limited set of research materials, and a very limited sense of unidirectional causality since he was only analyzing 'growing, assembling' forms of jurisdictions, when to be fair these were additionally eras of the 'dissolving of faith in others, and disassembling' of other jurisdictions. (In my paper, I suggested people re-read The Waning of the Middle Ages, by Johan Huizinga, for his take on the same eras as some of Elias's work.) These noted limitations like being unable to address assembling and disassembling of jurisdictions and figurational/cultural support simultaneously in the same eras have to be addressed in future work about figurations in history.

To rephrase, Elias I still believe is correct in his approach: analyzing developmental, networked, interactive changes over time--the sociogenesis aspects of how psychogenesis is created. However, he took [1] a too limited temporal view, [2] a too limited set of Eurocentric cases, [3] a too limited set of referents, and [4] a too limited unidirectional sense of 'assemblage-only' causality in the mechanisms involved in figurational change.

My prediction is that Elias will remain a marginal though serious challenge in sociological theory however correct its starting points, remaining marginal until the day when Elias scholars open up in these four areas, open up in the interscientific ways, open up in the mutual-causality ways, and open up to the four different sites of conflict in figurational history across at least 15 different referents--i.e., the many middle range theorizations and data analysis that can be added into particular case studies, I suggest above.

If all these areas are expanded as the base of data upon which theory is erected, we see issues of long-term figurational changes that are cooperation/conflict issues and collective/individual issues: conflict between jurisdictional figurations and conflict within them, against each other and against elements internally within them just as there is innately a cooperation between jurisdictions in establishing any hegemony among them and just as there is a somewhat cooperative support within any figuration. The issue is always one of 'to what degree, at what point, and in what case.' This is a more accurate basis of history that is simultaneously cooperative and conflictual, simultaneously keen on analysis of what is representational clientelism and what is tyranny, with each simultaneously built from sociogenesis that Elias described as his mechanism for psychogenesis, and as well built from the inverse where particular psychogenesis (in ongoing open-ended action and interpretation in the figuration) matter as to the direction that the singular figuration and the mutual interactions of multiple figurations takes over time.

In actually long term figurations, we have jurisdictional issues coming to the fore and in a repetitive process at ever-larger scales.

When we step back for a more distanced and detached view than even Elias had, these jurisdictional issues are primary, thus my interchangeable use of the terms jurisdictional figurations and figurations. Jurisdictional figurations are both collective arrangements (being developmental changes based on all 'players' interactions in cooperation and conflict), as well as comprised and respectful of the pluralities of individuated defection or re-design elements from all parties to a figuration over time, and third comprised of some actors or 'empty' positions within them seeking such positions of legitimate/legitimated authority over followers, to make decisions for the whole jurisdictional figuration. Sometimes such actors make such decisions easily (whether because it is legitimate, or because people are ambivalent, or because they are divided and unable to mount effective resistance). Sometimes such actors resort to violence to implement their choices of referents and jurisdictional orientation because the are illegitimately attempting to formulate a jurisdictional figuration over others unwilling to be integrated.

Elias is too limited and is unable to address figurations that are building themselves or dismantling others intentionally.

There is nothing in Elias's work that I am aware of describing how figurations fall apart because his time periods of analysis were really too short.

His work was admirably long for his era's sociology. (Elias's empirical work was finished by the late 1930s. His theoretical ruminations about it formed his later career--since this work was only published after the 1960s.).

However now, it is grossly shallow for what sociology regularly expects from a more globalized and deeper temporal base of data to analyze that we have and from greater middle-range data being integrated. Knuckle down and do the work.

People who criticize may be complacently nearsighted from a lack of a deep case analysis or two of their own, or they may be too attached to the idea of a particular referent as always a variable determining or dominating others (like class, etc.).

To really analyze what is social in human history and to get a feel for it, you have to at least research all your own beliefs to far back before they were all born to see how other people constructed their equally real identities in the jurisdictional dynamics of their era's mutual interaction in a particular case--when you and your own referents failed to exist. Say you are a Malthusianist. Well, go back to that period of history to see culturally what was happening around the invention of that interpretation as one of a choice among others, and what sponsored which choice. Say you are a Marxist, or a Smithian. Do the same. Otherwise you simply stay cloistered within your own jurisdictional figuration from birth to death. You fail to see how what you became was part of a previous design model of people--as useful clients to certain figurations, organized by people you should know about, and built from open-ended historical contexts that you should know about, and built from demoted choices you should know about.

Tackle any long term case for a few thousand years comparatively across multiple referents to help along that 'ego death' that is very useful in checking against any biases you may bring to any sociological study and topic focus instead of just researching your favorite biases and delimitations.

As an Elias scholar, it is important to research the way the figuration was before your pet topic was even born. How was a figuration, its political clientelism and contentions, and its contentious culture organized before people thought like you? You will see how inspiring Elias still is though you will as well see how deficient Elias becomes on noted issues above--if you start asking questions about why this particular figuration in history over another one in history.

Mostly, the trialectical struggle interacting with its building environmental externality effects is the motor of most history. I say most history because there are windows in our history where this trialectical dynamics of interactive identities, strategies, and jurisdictional attempts either break down or move toward greater representation. Thus to have a real history instead of just a repetition of it, requires more representative jurisdictions and material choices.

I suggest this requires demoting the trialectic, toward a Bioregional State, i.e., using green constitutional engineering and an Ecological Reformation to demote the unrepresentative jurisdictions and unrepresentative material choices of the world. The overall trajectory of historical development can be explained by a properly constructed positional analysis.

We now turn away from sociological analysis to our sociological world, already in (figurational) progress--either toward more environmental degradation or toward sustainability. Your choice of action and interpretation helps determine the strength of one or the other of these paths.


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