Ill Met in Ghana: Jack Goody and Norbert Elias on Process and Progress in Africa

Katie/K Liston, Stephen/S Mennell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


In recent years, Sir Jack Goody has published a series of essays (2002, 2003,2004, 2006: 154–79) criticizing Norbert Elias’s theory of ‘civilizing processes’.In all of them, Goody – himself a West African specialist – makes clear thathis disagreement with Elias dates back to their acquaintance in Ghana. Thedate is highly significant for it is unlikely that Goody’s opinions of Elias’sideas were initially formed by his reading of Elias’s publications. There werealso important differences between them in their approaches to theories oflong-term social development. Despite appearances to the contrary, Eliasand Goody have in fact much in common intellectually. Goody is one of themost historically orientated of anthropologists, and many points of contactwith Elias are evident in his work on literacy (1968, 1987), food (1982), orThe Domestication of the Savage Mind (1977). Both swam against theahistorical current of their respective disciplines and both rejected the oldnotion of ‘progress’. Elias’s fault is that occasionally his formulations mayappear to give the opposite impression. Goody’s fault, perhaps, is that – inspite of his own historical perspective – under any model of a structuredprocess he suspects there lurks a vision of progress and of Europeansuperiority.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-70
JournalTheory, Culture and Society
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Key words
  • civilization ■ Norbert Elias ■ Jack Goody ■ Naturvolk ■ progress


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