History of one delusion

Sometimes, it is difficult to find a source of a particular delusion. For example, when did nakedness become a source of embarrassment? It was not always that way.

In 1939 Norbert Elias [1], a German sociologist, has published ‘The Civilizing Process’ [2]. The book “remained largely unknown and unread among both the German and English speaking public for thirty years”. The goal of the author was to explore “the civilizing of manners and personality in Western Europe since the late Middle Ages”, and to show “how that was related to the formation of states and monopolization of power within them” [3]. “Elias traced how post-medieval European standards regarding violence, sexual behaviour, bodily functions, table manners and forms of speech were gradually transformed by increasing thresholds of shame and repugnance, working outward from a nucleus in court etiquette” [4].

“Elias has argued that the development of civil society in Europe was predicated on codes of etiquette as the basis of social intercourse. One component of the new etiquette was the emergence of the ‘shame frontier’. Until the sixteenth century, ‘the sight of total nakedness was the everyday rule’ for bathing and for sleeping <…> Moral conduct and codes of etiquette were not attached to the sight of the naked body” [5,6].

“In the ‘manners books’ or guides to conduct that appeared especially in the period between the 1300s and the 1700s, Elias identified changing emotional attitudes to the basic physical realities of human existence. <…> For example, being discovered naked became a source of embarrassment. What had once been permissible became forbidden” [7].

It seems to have been common practice, at least in the towns, to undress at home before going to the bathhouse. “How often,” says an observer, “the father wearing nothing but his breeches, with his naked wife and children runs through the streets from his house to the baths … (N. Elias)

References
[1] Norbert Elias – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[2] Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, Vol.I. The History of Manners, Oxford: Blackwell, 1969.
[3] Stephen Mennell, Norbert Elias (1897-1990), A Biographical Sketch
[4] The Civilizing Process – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
[5] Jennifer Craik, The face of fashion, London: Routledge, 1993.
[6] Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave, New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
[7] Andrew Linklater, Norbert Elias, Process Sociology and International Relations

10 comments
  1. I need to read that book. It is time for all nudists to stop expressing shame when confronted by clothed people. We should act as if we are supposed to be this way, that it is necessary to be nude. We need to change the definition of what nudity is. If the homosexual community can change a simple word that used to mean “happy” to “homosexuality”, then we can change the definition of what nudity is and means.

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