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Cas Wouters

Erasmus, the Dutch humanist, advised his readers in the sixteenth century not to spit on or over the table but underneath it. After that spitting became ever more restricted, until it was banned altogether. In the 1960s most British buses still had "No Spitting" signs. In the West even the very urge to spit has generally disappeared.

Medieval people blew their noses with their fingers. In 1885 Christoph Höflinger, the author of a German manners book, warned his readers not to clean their nose with anything but a handkerchief. Evidently this had not yet become a general habit, for he acknowledges the "courage and mastery over oneself" required to maintain a "decent demeanor."

These examples show some of the changes that have come about in Western manners—changes in behavior as well as in the sensibilities and norms regulating what range of behavior is allowed, what is prescribed, and what is forbidden. Some changes in this range have become formalized as good manners, others as laws. The code of manners and the judicial code supplement and reinforce each other; both provide motives and criteria for punishment and reward. Transgressions against the code of manners are punished in a variety of ways, ranging from assigning blame by means of gossip to excommunication, all involving a loss of face, respect, or status. Manners provide important criteria for social ranking.


Any code of manners functions as a regime, that is, as a form of social control demanding the exercise of self-control. A regime of manners corresponds to a particular network of interdependencies, to a certain range of socially accepted behavioral and emotional alternatives as well as to a particular level of mutually expected self-controls. All individuals are confronted with demands on self-regulation according to the code of manners prevalent in their particular group and society. Thus the history of manners offers empirical evidence for social and psychic processes; that is, for developments in relationships between individuals and groups (social classes, sexes, and generations) as well as developments in individuals' patterns of self-regulation and personality structure.

As a rule, manners among the upper classes serve to maintain a social distance between those classes and those trying to enter their circles. Manners are instruments of exclusion or rejection and of inclusion and group charisma: individuals and groups with the necessary qualifications are let in while the "rude"—that is, all others lower down the social ladder—are kept out. The dual function of manners is evident in a comment such as "They are not nice people": manners are a weapon of attack as well as a weapon of defense. Any code of manners contains standards of sensitivity and composure, functioning to preserve the sense of purity, integrity, and identity of the group. Incentives to develop "good taste" and polished social conduct further arise from the pressures of competition for status. In this competition manners and sensibilities function as power resources, deployed by the upper classes to outplay and dominate lower classes.

From the Renaissance onward European societies tended to become somewhat more open and socially more competitive. As a result the sensibilities and manners cherished by the established functioned as a model for people from other social groups aspiring to respectability and social ascent. Good manners usually trickled down the social ladder. Only at times of large-scale social mobility, when whole groups gained access to the centers of established power, did their manners to some extent trickle up with them. In contrast to individual social ascent, the ascent of an entire social group involves some mixing of the codes and ideals of the ascendant group with those of the previously superior groups. The history of manners thus reflects the social ascent of increasingly wider social groups in European societies since the Renaissance.

Some changes in manners are symptomatic of changing power balances between states. As France became the most dominant power in Europe, French court manners increasingly took over the model function previously fulfilled by Italian court manners. In the nineteenth century, with the rising power of England, the manners of English "good society" came to serve as a major example in many other countries. After World War II, when the United States became a dominant superpower, American manners served more easily as a model.


Interest in the history of manners, a fairly young and as yet understudied discipline, has grown together with interest in the history of emotions, mentalities, and everyday life, all of which became more serious topics of research after the 1960s. Among the studies that prepared the way was the work of the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, particularly his The Autumn of the Middle Ages, originally published in 1919. This book had an unusual focus on manners, emotions, mentalities, and everyday life in the fifteenth century; it presented a lively sketch of the wide range of behaviors, the intensities of joy and sorrow, the public nature of life. Throughout the 1920s this work remained exceptional. In the 1930s the historians Lucien Febvre, Marc Bloch, and others associated with the French Annales school again took up an interest in mentalities, lifestyles, and daily life.

The first systematic study of the history of manners, The Civilizing Process by Norbert Elias, appeared in German in 1939. This book provided a broad perspective on changes in European societies; pivotal to Elias's work was an analysis of the extensive European literature on manners from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The book thus enlarged the empirical basis of cultural history as it had been written thus far. Elias focused particularly on manners regarding the most basic human functions such as eating, drinking, sleeping, defecating, and blowing one's nose. Because these manners are universal in the sense that humans cannot biologically avoid these activities, no matter what society or age they live in, they are highly suitable for historical and international comparison. Elias presented a large number of excerpts from manners books in chronological order, thus revealing an overall directional trend in codes of behavior and feeling. By studying these sources, Elias uncovered evidence of long-term changes in these codes as well as in people's psychic makeup. Elias made connections between the changes in personality structure and changes in the social structure of France and other European societies and offered explanations for why this happened. According to his theory the main motor of the directional process is the dynamic of social relations—that is, in changes in the ways in which people are bonded to each other. Changes in these networks of interdependency are also changes in status competition; they are changes in sources of power and identity, in the ways people demand and show respect as well as in their fears of losing the respect of others and their own self-respect.

On the European map the study of the history of manners has many blank spots. Manners as a serious object of study has faced a major obstacle in the strong social pressures of status competition. No matter what definition of "good manners" may prevail, if these do not come "naturally," that is, more or less automatically, the effect is ruined. Only manners springing from the inner sensitivity of "second nature" may impress as "natural." Otherwise, the taint of longings for status and the fear of losing status attach to an individual, provoking embarrassment and repulsion. Thus, status competition and inherent status fears have exerted pressure to associate the entire topic of manners with lower classes and lower instincts. That is, as good manners themselves were taken for granted, the subject of manners was limited to spheres in which good ones were taken to be absent. Throughout the period from the 1920s to the 1960s, manners were discussed mainly in the context of the behavioral "problems" of lower classes, of children having to learn such things as table manners, as well as of social climbers and nouveaux riches who were usually seen as being too loud and too conspicuous. Status fears have thus functioned as a barrier to developing the level of reflexivity needed for serious interest in the history of manners. These fears have impeded the development of a historical perspective by making people less inclined to perceive of their own manners and those of their social group as the outcomes of social and psychic processes.

The social ascent of certain groups—the working classes, women, youth, homosexuals, and blacks—spurred the development of the level of detachment and reflection needed for studies in the social history of manners and mentalities. In the 1960s and 1970s these groups were emancipated and further integrated within nation-states. They succeeded in being treated with more respect. An avalanche of protest against all relationships and manners perceived as authoritarian coincided with the widening of circles of identification. As processes of decolonization took hold, whole populations were emancipated and integrated, however poorly, within a global network of states. Greater interest in the daily lives of "ordinary" people ensued. With increased mobility and more frequent contact between different kinds of people came the pressure to look at oneself and others with greater detachment, to ask questions about manners that previous generations took for granted: why is this forbidden and that permitted? These processes have been the driving forces behind the rising popularity of the study of manners and mentalities.

Existing studies of manners concentrate on changes in upper-class manners. They highlight the ways manners were used to differentiate groups by class, but they do not deal directly with lower-class manners. In particular, the code of manners prevalent in lower classes before they experienced a certain degree of integration into their societies is left unstudied. It is the task of social history to examine how long these distinct lower-class codes of conduct persisted; to what extent they were integrated into the dominant code; to what extent people from lower classes did imitate their "betters"; and when and how these mixing processes occurred to form uniform national codes of manners. The following sketch of changes in European regimes of manners owes a debt to Norbert Elias's The Civilizing Process in two ways. First, it uses his theoretical perspective on manners as a model; second, to illustrate changes up to the nineteenth century, it relies on empirical data extracted from his research and presented by Stephen Mennell (1989). For the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this article draws on studies by Michael Curtin (1987), Leonore Davidoff (1973), Horst-Volker Krumrey (1984), and several by Cas Wouters. The following discussion is a general one; only few remarks indicate variations in the development of manners within western Europe, and differences between western and eastern Europe are neglected altogether. In general, specific national regimes of manners have developed from different national class structures. In each country a national regime of manners emerged out of changes in the relative power of the rising and falling strata, out of their specific forms and levels of competition and cooperation. The ways in which the ranks of falling strata were opened up by and to rising strata appear to have been decisive in the development of distinctive regimes of manners and to have determined variations in the general pattern set out here.


The manners books studied by Elias included prominent ones that were translated, imitated, and reprinted again and again. These books were directed primarily at the secular upper classes, particularly people living in courtly circles around great lords. Early modern terms for good manners such as "courtesy" derive from the word "courts." With few exceptions, these books address adults and present adult standards. They deal openly with many questions that later became embarrassing and even repugnant, such as when and how to fart, burp, or spit. In the sequence of excerpts Elias presents, changes in feelings of shame and delicacy become vividly apparent. The series on table manners, for example, shows that people at feudal courts ate with their fingers, using only their own general-purpose knife or dagger. The main restriction on using the knife was not to clean one's teeth with it. Everyone ate from a common dish, using a common spoon to put some of the food on a slice of bread. One was advised to refrain from falling on the dish like a pig, from dipping food one has already taken bites from into the communal sauce, and from presenting a tasty bit from one's mouth to a companion's. People were not to snort while eating nor blow their noses on the tablecloth (for this was used for wiping greasy fingers) or into their fingers.

Throughout the Middle Ages this kind of advice was repeated. Then, from at least the sixteenth century onward, manners were in continuous flux. The codes became more differentiated and more demanding. In the sixteenth century the fork is mentioned, although only for lifting food from the common dish, and handkerchiefs and napkins appear, both still optional rather than necessary: if you had one, you were to use it rather than your fingers. Only by the mid-eighteenth century did plates, knives, forks, spoons, and napkins for each guest, and also handkerchiefs, become more or less indispensable utensils in the courtly class. In this and other aspects, the code of these upper classes was then beginning to resemble the general usage of later centuries.

Erasmus wrote that it was impolite to speak to someone who was urinating or defecating; he discussed these acts quite openly. In his conduct manual, Il Galateo ovvero De' Costumi (1558), Giovanni della Casa wrote that "it is not a refined habit, when coming across something disgusting in the sheet, as sometimes happens, to turn at once to one's companion and point it out to him" (Elias, 2000, p. 111). This warning is in line with other evidence from early manners books, which indicate that urinating and defecating were not yet punctiliously restricted to their socially designated proper places. Often enough, needs were satisfied when and where they happened to be felt. These bodily functions increasingly came to be invested with feelings of shame and repugnance, until eventually they were performed only in strict privacy and not spoken of without embarrassment. Certain parts of the body increasingly became "private parts" or, as most European languages phrase it, "shame parts" ("pudenda," deriving from the Latin word meaning to be ashamed).

The same trend is apparent in behavior in the bedroom. As the advice cited above indicates, it was quite normal to receive visitors in rooms with beds, as it was very common to spend the night with many in one room. Sleeping was not yet set apart from the rest of social life. Usually people slept naked. Special nightclothes slowly came into use at about the same time as the fork and the handkerchief. Manners books specified how to behave when sharing a bed with a person of the same sex. For instance, a manners book of 1729, as quoted by Elias, warned that "it is not proper to lie so near him that you disturb or even touch him; and it is still less decent to put your legs between those of the other." From the 1774 edition of the same book, an advance in the thresholds of shame and repugnance can be deduced, for this pointed instruction was removed and the tone of advice became more indirect and more moral: "you should maintain a strict and vigilant modesty." The new edition also noted that to be forced to share a bed "seldom happens" (Elias, 2000, p. 137). Gradually, to share a bed with strangers, with people outside the family, became embarrassing. As with other bodily functions, sleeping slowly became more intimate and private, until it was performed only behind the scenes of social life.

In directing these changes in manners, considerations of health and hygiene were not important. They were used mainly to back up—sometimes also to cover up—motivations of status and respect. In all cases restraints on manners appeared first, and only later were reasons of health given as justifications. Nor did changes in poverty or wealth influence the development of manners prior to the mid-nineteenth century, after which their importance did increase.

In general, as Elias's examples showed, what was first allowed later became restricted or forbidden. Heightened sentivity with regard to several activities, especially those related to the "animalic" or "first nature" of human beings, coincided with increasing segregation of these activities from the rest of social life: they became private. Again and again, what was once seen as good manners later became rude or, at the other extreme, so ingrained in behavior as to be completely taken for granted. Social superiors made subordinates feel inferior if they did not meet their standard of manners. Increasingly, fear of social superiors and, more generally, the fear of transgression of social prohibitions took on the character of an inner fear, shame.

All new prescriptions and prohibitions were used as a means of social distinction until they lost their distinctive potential. Gradually, ever-broader strata were willing and anxious to adopt the models developed above them, compelling those above to develop other means of distinction. For instance, it became a breach of good manners to appear naked or incompletely dressed or to perform natural functions before those of higher or equal rank; doing so before inferiors could be taken as a sign of benevolence. Later, nakedness and excretion not conducted in private became general offenses invested with shame and embarrassment. Gradually, the social commands controlling these actions came to operate with regard to everyone and were imprinted as such on children. Thus all references to social control, including shame, became embedded as assumptions and as such receded from consciousness. Adults came to experience social prohibitions as "natural," coming from their own inner selves rather than from the outer realm of "good manners." As these social constraints took on the form of more or less total and automatically functioning self-restraints, this standard behavior had become "second nature." Accordingly, manners books no longer dealt with these matters or did so far less extensively. Social constraints pressed toward stronger and more automatic self-supervision, the subordination of short-term impulses to the commandment of a habitual longer-term perspective, and the cultivation of a more stable, constant, and differentiated self-regulation. This is, as Elias called it, a civilizing process.

In his explanation, Elias emphasized the importance of processes of state formation, in which taxation and the use of physical violence and its instruments came into fewer and fewer hands until they were centralized and monopolized. Medieval societies lacked any central power strong enough to compel people to restrain their impulses to use violence. In the course of the sixteenth century, families of the old warrior nobility and some families of bourgeois origin were transformed into a new upper class of courtiers, a tamed nobility with more muted affects. Thus the territories of great lords were increasingly pacified, and at their courts, encouraged especially by the presence of a lady, more peaceful forms of conduct became obligatory. Such conduct was a basic part of the regime of courtly manners, and its development, including ways of speaking, dressing, and holding and moving the body, went hand in hand with the rise of courtly regimes.

Within the pacified territories of strong lords, the permanent danger and fear of violent attack diminished. This relative physical safety facilitated the growth of towns, burgher groups, commerce, wealth, and, as a result, taxation. Taxes financed larger armies and administrative bodies, thus helping the central rulers of the court societies to expand their power and their territory at the expense of others. The dynamic of the competition for land and money went in the direction of expanding the webs of interdependence, bonding together the people of different territories. Political integration and economic integration intertwined and reinforced each other, culminating in the absolute monarchies of the later seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries.

The inhabitants of these states were increasingly constrained to settle conflicts in nonviolent ways, thus pressuring each other to tame their impulses toward aggressiveness and cruelty. Moreover, families of bourgeois origin had risen in power, enough to compete with the nobility and forcefully to demand more respect. Their former social superiors were obliged to develop the habit of permanently restraining their more extreme expressions of superiority, particularly violent ones. Such displays were successfully branded as degrading. As they came to provoke shame and repulsion, impulses in that direction and the corresponding feelings of superiority (and inferiority) came to be more or less automatically repressed and rejected. Thus, in a widening circle of mutual respect and identification, the more extreme displays of superiority and inferiority were excluded from the prevailing regime of manners.

In the early modern period, the general level of mutual identification was such that, for example, displays of physical punishment and executions were common public spectacles. Moreover, these were still considered necessary to bolster central authority and to seal the transfer of vengeance from private persons to the central ruler. From the early seventeenth century onward, the more extreme, mutilating punishments were mitigated or abolished. During the nineteenth century most corporal punishments were abandoned or, like executions, removed to within prison walls. And in the twentieth century, in most western European countries executions were abolished altogether. The taming of aggressiveness coincided with an increase in sensibility toward suffering, that is, in the scope of mutual identification. Growing sensitivity to violence, suffering, and blood can be deduced also from changes in manners such as increasing restrictions on the use of the knife as an instrument and symbol of danger. For instance, it was frowned upon to eat fish or cut potatoes with a knife or to bring the knife to one's mouth. In a related trend, the slaughtering of animals and carving of their meat were removed from the public scene into slaughterhouses. The carving of large cuts of meat was also increasingly removed from the dinner table to the kitchen.


In absolute monarchies all groups, estates, or classes, despite their differences, became dependent on each other, thus increasing the dependence of each of the major interests on the central coordinating monopoly power. Administration and control over the state, its centralized and monopolized resources, first expanded and spread into the hands of growing numbers of individuals. Then, with the rise of bourgeois groups no longer dependent on privileges derived from the Crown, in an increasingly complex process royal or "private" state monopolies turned into societal or "public" ones. With the exception of the Netherlands, where monopoly administration had already in 1581 been taken over by merchant patricians, this shift from private to public occurred in the late eighteenth century, first in France and later in many other European countries. This process accelerated in the nineteenth century, with the rising power and status of wealthy middle classes and the declining importance of courts, formerly the aristocratic centers of power.

The transition from the eighteenth-century courtesy genre of manners books to the nineteenth-century etiquette genre expresses this change. The etiquette genre presented a blend of aristocratic and bourgeois manners. The aristocratic tradition continued, for example, in the importance of being self-confident and at ease. Even the slightest suggestion of effort or forethought was itself bad manners. Whereas courtesy books typically advocated ideals of character, temperament, accomplishments, habits, morals, and manners for aristocratic life, etiquette books focused more narrowly on the sociability of particular social situations—dinners, balls, receptions, presentations at court, calls, introductions, salutations. Etiquette books were directed at sociability in "society" or "good society," terms referring to the wider social groups, segments of the middle and upper classes, that possessed the strength of a social establishment. Especially in "society," manners were decisive in making acquaintances and friends, and through manners one could gain influence and recognition. Manners also functioned as a means of winning a desirable spouse. In comparison to court circles, the circles of "good society" were larger, and sociability in them was more "private." In many of those circles the private sphere was more sharply distinguished from the public and occupational sphere.

The life and career of the bourgeois classes both in business and the professions depended heavily on the rather punctual and minute regulation of social traffic and behavior. Accordingly, nineteenth-century manners books placed great emphasis on acquiring the self-discipline necessary for living a "rational life"; they emphasized time-keeping and ordering activities routinely in a fixed sequence and at a set pace. The entrepreneurial bourgeoisie needed to arrange contracts, for which a reputation of being financially solvent and morally solid was crucial. To a large extent this reputation was formed in the gossip channels of "good society" (or its functional equivalent among other social strata).

The reputation of moral solidity referred to the self-discipline of orderliness, thrift, and responsibility, qualities needed for a firm grip on the proceedings of business transactions. Moral solidity also included the sexual sphere. It was inconceivable that any working bourgeois man could create the solid impression of living up to the terms of his contracts if he could not even control his wife or keep his family in order. Therefore, bourgeois means of controlling potentially dangerous social and sexual competition to a substantial degree depended on the support of wives for their husbands. At the same time, these pressures offered specific opportunities to women. Whereas men dominated the courtesy genre of manners books, in the etiquette genre women gained a prominent position, both as authors and as readers. As the social weight of the bourgeoisie increased, middle-class women enjoyed a widening sphere of opportunities. Although confined to the domain of their home and "good society," in the nineteenth century upper- and middle-class women more or less came to run and organize the social sphere. The workings of society in large part took place in women's private drawing rooms. To some extent, women came to function as the gatekeepers of this social formation, as arbiters of social acceptance or rejection.


As circles of good society were larger, more open, and more competitive than court circles, the people in them developed increasingly detailed and formal manners for social circulation. Particularly in Britain but also in other countries, a highly elaborate and increasingly formalized regime of manners developed. It consisted of a complicated system of introductions, invitations, leaving cards, calls, "at homes" (specified times when guests were received), receptions, dinners, and so on. The regime regulated sociability and functioned as a relatively refined system of inclusion and exclusion, as an instrument to screen newcomers into social circles, to ensure that the newly introduced would assimilate to the prevailing regime of manners, and to identify and exclude undesirables. A basic rule of manners among those acknowledged as belonging to the circle was to treat each other on the basis of equality. Quite often this was expressed in what became known as the Golden Rule of manners: do to others as you would have them do to you. Others were treated with reserve and thus kept at a social distance. In short, members treated everyone either as an equal or as a stranger; in this way more extreme displays of superiority and inferiority were avoided.

Entrance into "society" was impossible without an introduction, and any introduction required the previous permission of both parties. After an introduction, a variety of relationships could develop, from merely a "bowing acquaintanceship" to one with the "right of recognition," as the English called it. As a rule these differentiations in social distance among those included in "society" ran parallel with differentiations in social status. Thus, even within the ranks of "good society" the practice of reserve functioned to keep people considered not equal enough at a social distance and thus to prevent (other) displays of superiority and inferiority. Procedures of precedence, salutation, body carriage, facial expression, and so on, all according to rank, age, and gender, functioned to regulate and cover status competition within the ranks of "good society."

As large middle-class groups became socially strong enough to compete in the struggle for power and status, they also demanded to be treated according to the Golden Rule. As "good society" expanded in the nineteenth century, circles of identification widened and spread, becoming increasingly multilayered. As ever larger groups ascended into these ranks, status competition intensified, pressuring all toward greater awareness and sharper observation of each other and of themselves. Sensitivities were heightened, particularly to expressions of status difference. As standards of sensibility and delicacy were rising, the manners of getting acquainted and keeping a distance became more important as well as more detailed.

To keep a distance from strangers was of great concern. Especially in cities, the prototypical stranger was someone who might have the manners of the respectable but not the morals. Strangers personified bad company. Their immoral motives and behavior would put the respectable in situations that endangered their self-control, prompting loss of composure in response to repulsive behavior or, worse, the succumbing to temptation. The repeated warnings against strangers expressed a strong moral appeal, revealing a fear of the slippery slope toward giving in to immoral pleasures.

These warnings were directed at young men in particular. Playing a single game of cards with strangers, for example, would "always end in trouble, often in despair, and sometimes in suicide," an early-nineteenth-century advice book warned. By its nature, any careless indulgence in pleasure would lead to "a lethal fall" (Tilburg, 1998, pp. 66, 67). This strong moral advice was intended to teach young men the responsibilities needed not only for a successful career but also, as marriages were no longer arranged by parents, for choosing a marriage partner. Advice betrayed the fear that such choices would be determined mainly by sexual attraction. Social censorship verged on psychic censorship: warnings expanded to the "treacherous effects" of fantasy. This kind of high-pitched moral pressure stimulated the development of rather rigid ways of avoiding anything defined as dangerous or unacceptable via the formation of a rigorous conscience. Thus the successive ascent of large middle-class groups and their increasing status and power relative to other groups were reflected in the regimes of manners and of self-regulation.


Developments from the Renaissance to the end of the nineteenth century can be described as a long-term process of formalizing and disciplining: more and more aspects of behavior were subjected to increasingly strict and detailed regulations that were partly formalized as laws and partly as manners. The regime of manners expanded to include restrictions on behavior defined as arrogant and humiliating, as wild, violent, dirty, indecent, or lecherous. As this kind of unacceptable behavior was sanctioned by increasingly vigorous practices of social shaming, emotions or impulses leading to that behavior came to be avoided and repressed via the counterimpulses of individual shame. Thus, via an expanding regime of manners, a widening range of behavior and feelings disappeared from the social scene and the minds of individuals. In the nineteenth century, among upper and middle-class people this resulted in the formation of a type of personality characterized by an "inner compass" of reflexes and rather fixed habits, increasingly compelling regimes of manners and self-regulation. Impulses and emotions increasingly came to be controlled via the more or less automatically functioning counterimpulses of an authoritative conscience, with a strong penchant for order and regularity, cleanliness and neatness. Negligence in these matters indicated an inclination toward dissoluteness. Such inclinations were to be nipped in the bud, particularly in children. Without rigorous control, "first nature" might run wild. This old conviction expresses a fear that is typical of rather authoritarian relationships and social controls as well as a relatively authoritative conscience. The long-term trend of formalization reached its peak in the Victorian era, from the mid-nineteenth century to its last decade; the metaphor of the stiff upper lip indicated ritualistic manners and a kind of ritualistic self-control, heavily based on an authoritative conscience and functioning more or less automatically as a "second nature."


Around 1900 large groups with "new money" were expanding and rising, creating strong pressures on "old money" establishments to open up. Whole groups and classes still were outspokenly deemed unacceptable as people to associate with, but as emancipation processes accelerated, the old avoidance behavior of keeping a distance became more difficult. People from different social classes had become interdependent to the point where they could no longer avoid immediate contact with each other. Especially in expanding cities, at work and on the streets, in public conveyances and entertainment facilities, people who once used to avoid each other were now forced either to try to maintain or recover social distance under conditions of rising proximity, or to accommodate and become accustomed to more social mixing. At the same time people were warned against the dangers of familiarity, of being too open and becoming too close. From another direction came attacks on traditional ways of keeping a distance as an expression of superiority. As some social mixing became less avoidable, more extreme ways of keeping a distance and showing superiority were banned. Manners became less hierarchical and less formal and rigid.

The same trend is apparent in manners regulating the relationship between the sexes. From the end of the nineteenth century onward, women gradually escaped from the confines of the home and "good society" (or its functional equivalent among other social strata). Chaperonage declined, and upper- and middle-class women expanded their sources of power and identity by joining the suffragette movement, attending university, engaging in social work, or playing sports. Women, especially young women, wanted to go out, raising the question of whether they were allowed to pay for themselves. The respectability of meeting places and conditions of meeting became more flexible, as young people began to exert control over the dynamics of their own relationships, whether romantic or not.

In the 1920s many newly wealthy families were jostling for a place within the ranks of "good society." The rise of whole social groups triggered a formidable push toward informalization, and rules for getting acquainted and keeping a distance declined. The expansion of business and industry, together with an expansion of means of transportation and communication, gave rise to a multitude of new types of relationships for which the old formality was too troublesome. New meeting places for the sexes such as dance halls, cinemas, and ice-skating rinks were debated for the freedom they offered. As women entered the wider society by going to work in offices, libraries, and other places, office manners became a topic. The whole trend implied rising demands on the social navigational abilities of the individual, a greater capacity to negotiate the possibilities and limitations of relationships easily without tension.

Until the 1960s some manners books still contained separate sections on behavior toward social superiors and inferiors. Later these sections disappeared. Ideals for good manners became dissociated from superior and inferior social position or rank. The trend was to draw social dividing lines less on the basis of people's belonging to certain groups—by class, race, age, sex, or ethnicity—and more on the basis of individual behavior. The avoidance behavior once prescribed toward people not deemed socially acceptable was increasingly discouraged. No longer could certain groups be legitimately targeted; rather, certain behaviors and feelings—including humiliating displays of superiority or inferiority—were considered inappropriate and could be shunned as such. Avoidance behavior, no longer explicitly set out as rules, thus tended to become internalized; tensions between people became tensions within them. Accordingly, traditional ways of keeping a distance and being reserved when confronted with those outside one's social circles were transformed into the "right of privacy," a concept which lacked a specified class component. The perception was that each individual should have the right to be left alone, to maintain a personal or social space undisturbed by unwanted intrusions.

Restrictions on ways and places of meeting sharply diminished from the 1960s onward. Early in that decade Mary Bolton, in The New Etiquette Book, observed (as though with a sigh): "Boy meets girl and girl meets boy in so many different ways that it would be quite impossible to enumerate them." This change in the conditions of "respectable" meeting is in keeping with a general shift in the balance between external and internal social controls. Respect and respectable behavior became more dependent on self-regulation, and self-controls increasingly became both the focus and the locus of external social controls.

In the 1960s and 1970s, with entire groups rising socially, practically all relationships became less hierarchical and formal. The emancipation and integration of large social groups within welfare states coincided with informalization: the regime of manners rapidly lost rigidity and hierarchical aloofness. Many modes of conduct that formerly had been forbidden came to be allowed. Sexuality, the written and spoken language, clothing, music, dancing, and hairstyles—all expressions exhibited the trend toward informality. On the one hand, the spectrum of accepted behavioral and emotional alternatives expanded (with the important exception of displays and feelings of superiority and inferiority). On the other hand, an acceptable and respectable usage of these alternatives implied a continued increase of the demands made on self-regulation.

In increasingly dense networks of interdependency, more subtle, informal ways of obliging and being obliged demanded greater flexibility and sensitivity to shades and nuances in manners of dealing with others and oneself. The rise of mutually expected self-restraints allowed for what might be called a controlled decontrolling. Emotions that previously had been repressed and denied, especially those concerning sex and violence, were again "discovered" as part of a collective emotional makeup: in the emancipation of emotions many emotions reentered both consciousness and public discussion. From a set of rules manners turned into guidelines, differentiated according to the demands of the situation and relationship. This was accompanied by a strong decline in social as well as psychic censorship. Both the fear and awe of fantasy or dissident imagination diminished together with the fear and awe of the authorities of state and conscience. On the level of the personality, an authoritarian conscience made way for a conscience attuned to more equal and flexible relationships. As a psychic authority, conscience lost much of its more or less automatic ascendancy, a change that can be described in shorthand as a transition from conscience to consciousness.

Within families, commanding children and presenting them with established decisions came to be seen as dangerous. Acceptance of peremptory authority—do it because I said so—was seen as a symptom of blind submissiveness, estranging children from their own feelings. Parents more intensely invested in their children's affective lives, and family ties gained in confidentiality and intimacy. Pedagogical regimes stressed mutual respect and affection, and parents and teachers sought to direct children to obey their own conscience and reflections rather than simply obey the external constraints of adults.

In the 1980s the collective emancipation that had flourished in the 1960s and 1970s disappeared and a market ideology spread. This reflected a change in Western European power structures: politicians and governments came to side less with unions and social movements, and more with commercial and managerial establishments. From the 1980s onward the prevailing power structures allowed only for individual emancipation. Individuals aspiring to respectability and social ascent came to feel strongly dependent again on the established elites and they adjusted their manners accordingly. Thus the sensibilities and manners of the elites again functioned more unequivocally as a model. This shift was reinforced in the 1990s. The events that followed the collapse of the Iron Curtain—breaking out into violence in some cases, such as in the former Yugoslavia—intensified feelings of fear, insecurity, and powerlessness. Increased awareness of European nation-states' lack of control over global processes stimulated a tendency to identify with the established order and to focus with great concern on anything perceived as a threat to it—criminality and bad manners in particular. Accordingly, the whole regime of manners became somewhat more compelling. To a large extent, informal behaviors that had become socially acceptable in the 1960s and 1970s remained so, through their endorsement by and integration into the standard, dominant code of manners.


In the twentieth century a dominant process of informalization followed the long-term trend of formalization: manners became increasingly relaxed, subtle, and varied. As more and more groups of people came to be represented in the various centers of power that functioned as models for manners, the more did extreme differences between all social groups in terms of power, ranking, behavior, and management of emotion diminish. More and more social groups directed themselves to uniform national codes of behavior and feeling. Thus, as power inequalities lessened, the Golden Rule and the principle of mutual consent became expected standards of conduct among individual, and groups.

The turn of the twentieth century, the Roaring Twenties, and the permissive decades of the 1960s and 1970s were periods in which power differences sharply decreased. They were also periods with particularly strong spurts of informalization. As power and status competition intensified, and sensitivities over social inequality increased, demonstrations of an individual's distinctiveness became more indirect, subtle, and hidden. References to hierarchical group differences, particularly to "better" and "inferior" kinds of people, were increasingly taboo: social superiors were less automatically taken to be better people. Yet it was not until the 1960s that the once automatic equation of superior in power and superior as a human being declined to the point of embarrassment.

As bonds of cooperation and competition blended, the people involved came to experience more ambivalence in their relationships. At the same time, many people increasingly felt compelled to identify with other people, as was expressed and reinforced by welfare state institutions. Widening circles of identification implied less rigid boundaries of nation, class, age, gender, religion, and ethnicity and provided a basis for a rising societal level of mutual trust. Expanding and intensified cooperation and competition prompted people to observe and take the measure of themselves and of each other more carefully, and to show flexibility and a greater willingness to compromise. Social success came to depend more strongly on a reflexive and flexible self-regulation, the ability to combine firmness and flexibility, directness and tactfulness. As manners and relationships between social groups became less rigid and hierarchical, so too did the relationships between psychic functions such as impulses, conscience, and consciousness. A larger and more differentiated spectrum of alternatives opened up, with more flowing and flexible connections between social groups and psychic functions.

Introducing the term "third nature" as a sensitizing concept can illuminate these changes. The term "second nature" refers to a self-regulating conscience that to a great extent functions automatically. The term "third nature" refers to the development of a more reflexive and flexible self-regulation. Ideally, for someone operating on the basis of third nature it becomes "natural" to attune oneself to the pulls and pushes of both first and second nature as well as the dangers and chances, short-term and long-term, of any particular situation or relationship. As national, continental, and global integration processes exert pressure toward increasingly differentiated regimes of manners, they also exert pressure toward increasingly reflexive and flexible regimes of self-regulation.

See also other articles in this section.


Curtin, Michael. Propriety and Position: A Study of Victorian Manners. New York, 1987.

Daalen, Rineke van. "Public Complaints and Government Intervention: Letters to the Municipal Authorities of Amsterdam 1865–1920." Netherlands Journal of Sociology 24 (1988): 83–98.

Davidoff, Leonore. The Best Circles: Society, Etiquette, and the Season. London, 1973.

Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Rev. ed. Oxford, and Cambridge, Mass., 2000. Originally published in German in 1939.

Franke, Herman. The Emancipation of Prisoners: A Socio-historical Analysis of the Dutch Prison Experience. Edinburgh, 1995.

Krumrey, Horst-Volker. Entwicklungsstrukturen von Verhaltensstandarden: Eine soziologische Prozessanalyse auf der Grundlage deutscher Anstands- und Manierenbücher von 1870 bis 1970. Frankfurt, 1984.

Mason, John E. Gentlefolk in the Making: Studies in the History of English Courtesy Literature and Related Topics from 1531 to 1774. Philadelphia, 1935; New York, 1971.

Mennell, Stephen. Norbert Elias: Civilization and the Human Self-Image. Oxford and New York, 1989. Rev. ed. published as Norbert Elias: An Introduction. Dublin, 1998.

Schröter, Michael. Erfahrungen mit Norbert Elias: Gesammelte Aufsätze. Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1997.

Spierenburg, Pieter. The Spectacle of Suffering: Executions and the Evolution of Repression: From a Preindustrial Metropolis to the European Experience. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1984.

Swaan, Abram de. In Care of the State: Health Care, Education, and Welfare in Western Europe and the USA in the Modern Era. Oxford, 1988.

Swaan, Abram de. "Widening Circles of Disidentification: On the Psycho- and Sociogenesis of the Hatred of Distant Strangers—Reflections on Rwanda." Theory, Culture, and Society 14, no. 2 (1997): 105–122.

Swaan, Abram de. "Widening Circles of Social Identification: Emotional Concerns in Sociogenetic Perspective." Theory, Culture, and Society 12, no. 2 (1995): 25–39.

Tilburg, Marja van. Hoe hoorde het? Seksualiteit en partnerkeuze in de Nederlandse adviesliteratuur 1780–1890. Amsterdam, 1998.

Wouters, Cas. "Changing Patterns of Social Controls and Self-Controls: On the Rise of Crime since the 1950s and the Sociogenesis of a 'Third Nature.' " British Journal of Criminology 39, no. 3 (summer 1999): 416–432.

Wouters, Cas. "Developments in Behavioural Codes between the Sexes: Formalization of Informalization, the Netherlands 1930–1985." Theory, Culture, and Society 4, nos. 2–3 (1987): 405–429.

Wouters, Cas. "Etiquette Books and Emotion Management in the Twentieth Century: American Habitus in International Comparison." In An Emotional History of the United States. Edited by Peter N. Stearns and Jan Lewis. New York, 1998. Pages 283–304.

Wouters, Cas. "Etiquette Books and Emotion Management in the Twentieth Century: Part 1—The Integration of Social Classes." Journal of Social History 29 (1995): 107–124.

Wouters, Cas. "Etiquette Books and Emotion Management in the Twentieth Century: Part 2—The Integration of the Sexes." Journal of Social History 29 (1995): 325–340.

Wouters, Cas. "How Strange to Ourselves Are Our Feelings of Superiority and Inferiority." Theory, Culture, and Society 15, no. 1 (February 1998): 131–150.

Wouters, Cas. Informalisierung: Norbert Elias' Zivilisationstheorie und Zivilisations-prozesse im 20. Jahrhundert. Opladen and Wiesbaden, Germany, 1999.

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There has not been a great deal of scholarship on manners and childhood (historians of manners have focused more on class and gender relations), but a historical trajectory can nevertheless be traced in the numerous discussions of proper conduct that have circulated in the West since the Middle Ages. The path has been mostly continuous, despite each generation's sense that manners have changedusually for the worsefor the succeeding generation. This continuity reflects basic biological and developmental constraints on the construction of childhood. It also upholds historians' recent revision of the notion advanced in the 1960s and 1970s that views of childhood have changed dramatically over time, from medieval and early modern "miniature adults," for example, to Victorian innocents. While changes in the larger society and culture have affected parenting styles and rules for youth, expectations for proper behavior in children have changed little. The stability of manners for children reminds us of the stubborn reality of their physical and mental immaturity. Children are not born with proper behavior; they need to be taught the rules. Above all, they need to be taught self-control. And children's physical and intellectual weakness relative to adults has led to continuous demands that they defer to their elders. Thus, although the story of manners and inequality has changed along with the larger social order, the social inferiority of children has a long history. There appears to have been only one exceptional period: that of the postWorld War II baby boom. But this exception only proves the rule, as recent decades show a reversion to tradition.

While this entry focuses on the history of manners for children as manifested in America, many of the patterns are more general. Indeed, differences in manners between America and western European societies are often overstated. Whether acknowledged or not (and in some periods Americans actively denied it), Americans have looked to tutelage from Europe for most of their history. Continuity and the pan-Western applicability of manners for children are seen first in one of the earliest manners books for children printed in America, Eleazar Moody's The School of Good Manners. While compiled by Moody, a Boston schoolmaster, in 1715, much of this work was adapted from a 1595 English version of a French courtesy work of the 1560s. There were at least five other English editions in the seventeenth century before Moody's American adaptation. And Moody's work was published over and over againin at least thirty-four editions between 1715 and 1846. The book also appeared under other titles.

The Seventeenth Century to the Civil War

The many different editions of this work give us a sense of the prevailing rules for proper behavior in children from the seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries. Above all, they were to defer to their elders, especially their parents. They were to show their reverence in various ways, such as bowing whenever they encountered adults and refraining from interrupting them. They needed to master their bodies by standing up straight, avoiding any fidgeting, and restraining their tongues. Moody and his imitators spent a good many words instructing children in table manners. Among other things, they advised children to come to table with their hands and face washed and their hair combed. They were to wait for all to be seated before sitting themselves. They were not to express any likes or dislikes concerning the food. They were to wait for others to begin eating, and then eat slowly and carefully. They were to sit up straight, and keep their elbows off the table.

The continuity in manners for children indicated by the persistence of these rules conflicts with the notion that the eighteenth century saw great change in the status of children. The ideas of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are supposed to have revolutionized parentchild relations. These Enlightenment ideas did change the advice given to parents on how to behave with children. Parents were urged to be a bit more loving in their demeanor than they had been in the past. This change was subtle, for discussions of proper parental behavior in seventeenth-century America (mostly from the pens of New England Puritans) had not been starkly authoritarian. Still, this evolution in proper parental behavior may have modified the tenor of children's relations with adults. More important in changing the context for children was the liberation of youth from their formerly shared inferior status. Lumped together with children in the seventeenth century, from the mid-eighteenth century on youth were increasingly asked to behave like adults. This development yielded tangible results for children in the nineteenth century. Antebellum conduct works described a middle-class world of adults in which youth were accepted on equal footing, but from which children were banished. While youth were given the same advice as adults on how to make and receive parlor visits, for example, children were best left at home. Parents were even discouraged from allowing their children to make an appearance when they entertained. With middle-class housing growing increasingly substantial and differentiated in the nineteenth century, instructions to keep the children's nursery or playroom "back stage" became explicit. To be sure, nineteenth-century art and literature often portrayed middle-class children as angelic innocents. But these portrayals do not appear in manners advice, unless one interprets children's banishment from society as a means of protecting their innocence.

The PostCivil War Era

While children were not taught how to behave in adult society, they still needed to learn the old rules in order to keep their place, whether at home or at school. The fact that Moody was a schoolmaster is reflective of another important continuity in the history of manners for children: from the seventeenth century to the present, parental admonition has been thought to require reinforcement in the classroom. Early nineteenth-century schoolbooks included chapters on manners and politeness, often copied from Moody's compilation. These were surely more influential in the northern states, where common schooling was more widespread. But their influence spread along with both settlement and schooling to the West. In the postCivil War era, some new states actually passed laws providing for the instruction of manners in schools. And a 1911 survey of public schools suggested that the majority were teaching manners. In more recent decades, a whole industry has sprung up providing audiovisual materials for the teaching of etiquette in schools. To be sure, the context for this instruction changes. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the perceived need for manners in the curriculum was undoubtedly a byproduct of fears generated by the cresting tide of European immigration. In the early twenty-first century we are more likely to look to schools to carry out business left unfinished by harried single parents or two-career couples. The changing social and cultural context makes the need seem urgent and new, but the reality is that Americans have always looked to schools to help teach children manners.

The postCivil War era did see some significant changes in American manners. Antebellum authors had pretended to be departing from European ways in prescribing a code of behavior more fitting for a republic, although in fact there were few differences in the rules they gave from those prevailing in Great Britain, whether for children or adults. After the Civil War, the authors stopped attempting to appear so democratic, and indeed, as befitted this rapidly industrializing society with its growth of inequality, they grew unabashed in their pursuit of European or "aristocratic" ways. New etiquette writers inscribed these changes in new works. But they did not write new advice for children. While Moody's work was not reprinted after mid-century, continuity is reflected in the incredible longevity of a contemporaneous work, Youth's Behavior, better known as "George Washington's Rules of Civility." As a youth, Washington had copied out one hundred and ten maxims from this book, which, like Moody's, was a seventeenth-century English version of a late-sixteenth-century French work. While it did not have as great a circulation as Moody in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it had even greater staying power. Youth's Behavior differed from Moody in important ways, but offered similar advice on deference to superiors, control of the body (especially speech), and proper behavior at table. These rules continued to be cited well into the twentieth century. Samuel Goodrich, author of the popular Peter Parley series, quoted extracts in his 1844 work Whatto Do and How to Do It. Sarah Josepha Hale quoted nearly thirty of the precepts in Happy Homes and Good Society (1867). Amy Vanderbilt recommended them as late as 1952.

The Early Twentieth Century

There were many new works for children published in the twentieth century, but these, too, display a remarkable continuity of expectations. Gelett Burgess revived an old practice of setting rules to rhyme in his popular Goops and How to Be Them (1900). Burgess began with table manners, and gave all the ancient injunctions about not talking while eating or eating too fast. He reiterated the old advice to respect elders, joking "When you're old, and get to be, Thirty-four or forty-three; Don't you hope that you will see, Children all respect you?" Gelett's work is stamped with a certain late-Victorian fastidiousness. It devoted separate pages to the need for cleanliness, neatness, tidiness, orderliness, and punctuality. It begged children to refrain from "Disfiguration" (drawing on fences and walls), and playing in Sunday clothes. This combination of traditional rules with a new push for cleanliness and order persisted in the 1920s. It is seen in Margaret Bailey's The Value of Good Manners (1922), where she named cleanliness and tidiness as the first requirements for well-mannered children. And she held out for deference to elders, disagreeing with those who would suggest that it was passé. She thus gave rules that are found in Moody: when adults entered the room, for example, children were to rise and offer their seats.

Even authors who thought they were coming up with something new were actually giving old advice. Lillian Eichler (1924) and Margery Wilson (1937) both claimed to be offering "the new etiquette," but their advice was strikingly traditional. Eichler stated, "The new etiquette does not attempt to stifle the child's personality. But it does attempt to stifle the bad habits [of] rudeness, disobedience, untidiness, bad table manners, and lack of courtesy" to parents and elders. While her pleas that children should not be repressed sounded new, her specific injunctions for children were old. As had authors before her, she stressed the importance of table manners, and gave the same basic instructions to "eat slowly and carefully, and keep the mouth shut while chewing." The nineteenth-century banishment of children from adult social life persisted as well, with her claim that children should not be included in formal dinners. Moody could have penned her advice for informal dinners, where she claimed that children "must not seat themselves until all the elders have been seated. They must come to the table with hands and nails scrupulously clean, hair brushed, clothes neat. They must not show greediness at table, displeasure because of some dish they do not like, or delight because of some dish of which they are particularly fond. They must not begin to eat before the others or leave the table before the elders have finished dining." Margery Wilson gave the same advice, and added precepts on correct speaking and greeting of adult guests that also echoed Moody.

There were some new notes sounded in advice to parents in these early-twentieth-century works. More often than in the past parents were reminded that they taught manners best by setting an example for their children, and that they should respect their children's rights. But what parents were encouraged to teach their children had changed little. At the same time that books of manners kept to the old standards, however, it is likely that changes in other social areas, especially in popular culture, began to have an effect on the actual behavior of children and youth. New, less formal signals about carriage and posture, dress and language, and other matters began to stream out of movies, magazines, and school peer culture by the 1920s. While these changes had a greater impact on youth, soon new child-rearing manuals would also begin to emphasize greater informality in parentchild relations.

The Postwar Period

In advice books to parents, a revolution in manners for children is first evident following World War II. After something of a hiatus during the Depression and war years of the 1930s and 1940s, etiquette works began to pour forth again in the late 1940s and 1950s. The reigning arbiter of manners in this period was Amy Vanderbilt, whose Complete Book of Etiquette appeared in at least ten editions between 1952 and 1970 alone. One notices a change right away in Vanderbilt's discussion of table manners. She is silent on the age-old admonition that children should be taught not to express their dislike of various foods, instead telling parents not to dictate what a child should eat. Instead of teaching children to be silent until addressed, she recommended encouraging children to converse at table, so long as they did not monopolize the conversation. Compared to the past, her expectations of children are surprisingly relaxed: if a child made a scene at the dinner table, she simply recommended gently removing him, for his own comfort, and urged parents not to expect too much of their children in terms of manners. In places Vanderbilt suggests that adults conform to children's lack of manners, as in her suggestion that because children like eating with their fingers, parents should give them plenty of opportunities to do so with snacks and picnics and in fact should join in, rather than give lectures on manners. Vanderbilt assured parents that manners could not be taught through "constant nagging," but rather children would naturally want to know how to behave properly. She suggested, moreover, that there would be something wrong with a child who was perfectly behaved. Some experts have dubbed this new approach an "informality" of manners.

Where did this change come from? Many observers of postwar child rearing have pointed to an author who was even more ubiquitous than Amy Vanderbilt: Dr. Spock. In addition to numerous English editions between 1945 and 1960 (and at least six editions since), his Baby and Child Care was published in twenty-four languages, including Croatian, Tamil, Armenian, and Urdu. While not as starkly childcentered as Vanderbilt, Spock's suggestions were similar. One of his brief sections on manners, for example, bore the reassuring header "Good Manners Come Naturally." He maintained that if parents were considerate of each other, their children would simply "absorb" good manners. He did think parents needed to do some actual teaching of manners, but rather than the old emphasis on the necessity of showing respect for elders, he claimed parents needed to teach manners because they owed it to their children to make them likeable by others. In all, however, he recommended a relaxed stance, regarding what formerly would have been seen as unacceptable behavior as a phase of development. He described how six to eleven year olds typically displayed bad mannersin their speech, at table, and in their comportment. But rather than advising parents to combat this development, he lauded it as an essential part of growing up. He assured parents that good manners would soon resurface on their own.

By the end of the baby boom, the pendulum began to swing back to tradition. This is evident in Eleanor Roosevelt's Common Sense Book of Etiquette (1962). Like other twentieth-century writers, she urged parents to respect their children's individuality and to show them courteous behavior, but she was equally emphatic that parents had an obvious duty to teach their children manners. While parental example was the most effective, kind instruction would also be necessary. Roosevelt's advice in specific situations was likewise a mix of postwar relaxation and a revival of older patterns. She opined, for example, that children should be encouraged to speak freely and have their dislikes respected at table, but maintained that children should show respect for their elders and learn table manners. Echoing Moody, she claimed that children should rise when elders entered the room and not sit down until the adults were seated. They were never to come to table without clean hands and face and combed hair.

After the Baby Boom

Roosevelt's ideas gave a glimpse of things to come when books addressing manners for children began to pour from the presses in the 1980s. But the immediate impact of the postwar relaxation in the teaching of manners to children was a marked hiatus in the production of instructions as the baby boom generation came of age. Their parents had been advised not to worry too much about manners, so the rising generation was without much lore to pass on. Very few works addressing manners for children appeared in the decade from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Virtually the only manners for children materials produced in this decade were some film strips for use in schools and a couple of episodes of a television show for children, Mr. Roger's Neighbor-hood. The dearth of books discussing manners for children in the late 1960s and early 1970s is not surprising given the cultural revolution taking place in the West at that time with the feminist and youth movements. But a long-term view shows two things. First, the anti-manners sixties and seventies were produced by child-rearing trends in the postwar decades, and second, the experiment could not last. As the boomers became parents and confronted their own uncivilized progeny, they began to look for help.

Manners writers in the 1980s and 1990s reflect the perplexities of their readers in their tone and format. Two of the most popular writers, Judith Martin (a.k.a. Miss Manners) and Mary Mitchell (a.k.a. Ms. Demeanor), both adopt the question and answer format of their newspaper columns in their books, as if to suggest that today's audience is in urgent need of answers to real and pressing etiquette problems. They both also employ humor to a degree not witnessed in earlier etiquette books. Perhaps this is to deflect the selfconsciousness of anti-ritual baby boomers in their quest for social certainty. That the boomers have a serious desire to teach their children manners despite their own deficiencies is shown by the rise of a new industry of manners schools and camps. Parents Magazinea doctor's office staplehas also published a steady stream of articles on how to teach manners to children. Even colleges are helping parents apply the finishing touches with special "dine and act fine" etiquette-lesson dinners for prospective job applicants.

What are children taught by all these agencies of manners instruction? By and large, the traditional rules. The only new spin is a nod, for the first time, to the multicultural character of American society. This usually takes the form of repeated acknowledgements that European-American standards for behavior are not the only standards present in American society, let alone the world. But this has not led to any lesser adherence to the old standards. Thus, after a typical twentieth-century nod to the idea that parents should not expect their children to be polite if they themselves are rude, Miss Manners launches into the old admonitions. Children should be encouraged to listen to rather than talk much before adults. They should address adults formally with proper titles unless invited to do otherwise. Family dinners should be employed to teach children table manners. Children should wait until their parents begin eating, should refrain from expressing their dislikes or playing with their food, should use their utensils and napkins properly, and should not leave the table without permission.

Mary Mitchell soft-pedals on deference to elders, advising children to feel free to initiate conversation with adults, and claiming that parents deserve respect because they are human beings and parents, not because they are older. But she, too, coaches parents in traditional table manners, reminding them, among other things, to teach children to sit up straight and refrain from eating too fast or talking with their mouths full. Elizabeth James and Carol Barkin's Social Smarts: Manners for Today's Kids (1996) is similar to Mitchell's work in acknowledging cultural differences while dispensing traditional European-American table manners rules, but is more traditional than Mitchell on respect for elders. Busy parents at the turn of the twenty-first century can also supplement their own instruction with that of their child's favorite cartoon characters, as manners are now taught in books and videos by the Berenstain Bears, Clifford (the Big Red Dog), Winnie the Pooh, Barney, and the Muppets. And parents can rest assured that these works teach the tried and true rules for children: polite address and posture, table manners, cleanliness. While the baby boom generation is ambivalent about the need for respect for elders, life with their own children has taught them that manners do not in fact "come naturally."

See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Child-Rearing Advice Literature; Hygiene; Theories of Childhood.


Bailey, Margaret Emerson. 1922. The Value of Good Manners: Practical Politeness in the Daily Concerns of Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page.

Burgess, Gelett. 1968 [1900]. Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants Inculcating Many Juvenile Virtues Both by Precept and Example. New York: Dover.

Caldwell, Mark. 1999. A Short History of Rudeness: Manners, Morals, and Misbehavior in Modern America. New York: Picador.

Eichler, Lillian. 1924. The New Book of Etiquette. Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday.

Goodrich, Samuel Griswold. 1844. What to Do and How to Do It, Or Morals and Manners Taught by Examples, by Peter Parley. New York: Wiley and Putnam.

Hale, Sarah Josepha. 1867; rev. ed. 1889. Happy Homes and Good Society. Boston: Lee and Shepard.

Hawkins, Francis. 1646. Youth's Behaviour, or, Decency in Conversation Amongst Men. French by Grave Persons for the use and Benefit of Their Youth. Now newly turned into English by Francis Hawkins. London: W. Lee.

Hemphill, C. Dallett. 1999. Bowing to Necessities: A History of Manners in America, 16201860. New York: Oxford University Press.

James, Elizabeth, and Carol Barkin. 1996. Social Smarts: Manners for Today's Kids. New York: Clarion Books.

Martin, Judith. 1982. Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. New York: Atheneum.

Martin, Judith. 1984. Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children. New York: Atheneum.

Mitchell, Mary. 1994. Dear Ms. Demeanor: The Young Person's Etiquette Guide to Handling Any Social Situation with Confidence and Grace. Chicago: Contemporary Books.

Moody, Eleazar. 1754 [1715]. The School of Good Manners. New London: Green.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. 1962. Eleanor Roosevelt's Common Sense Book of Etiquette. New York: Macmillan.

Schlesinger, Arthur. 1946. Learning How to Behave: A Historical Study of American Etiquette Books. New York: Macmillan.

Spock, Benjamin. 1945. Baby and Child Care. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Vanderbilt, Amy. 1952. Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette. New York: Doubleday.

Washington, George. 1926. Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, ed. Charles Moore. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Wilson, Margery. 1937. The New Etiquette: The Modern Code of Social Behavior. New York: Frederick A. Stokes.

C. Dallett Hemphill

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Need for Manners. Like clothing, housing, and food, the development of early-modern manners was linked to defining and maintaining social hierarchies. The German sociologist Norbert Elias argued that the early modern era was a period of change and cultural instability. The discovery of the New World unsettled formerly firm notions of geography, the Copernican Revolution obliterated old cosmologies, and the Reformation shattered the unity of Catholicism. Feudalism, as a political and economic system, was giving way to absolutism and capitalism, which, for much of the period, were not fully developed themselves. In a society undergoing such reorganization, recomposing all its hierarchies, the consolidation of an increasingly complicated system of manners, reinforced through public display and by shaming and ostracizing nonconformists, rendered clear for all the boundaries and limits of social relations. Etiquette thus evolved rapidly between 1500 and 1800 because it was a means for society, in an era of drastic cultural transformation, to redefine order within a newly chaotic world.

Status Hierarchies. Meals were designed to remind everyone of each other's status, and table manners were social acts that highlighted these status differentials. Indeed, the word courtoisie originally referred to forms of behavior that developed at feudal courts. Seating was established according to the guests’ social status. In Tudor England, for instance, the most important guests sat at a higher table placed at the end of the dining hall, and two other tables would be placed at right angles to the main table, forming an open-ended rectangle. If one of the host's servants inadvertently sat one guest further from the main table than his status merited, a feud could develop between the host's family and the offended guest's. For this reason, Tudor etiquette books focused on social hierarchies and who should sit where. Additionally, guests’ social status determined the quantity and quality of the plates and bowls placed before them; the most important guests had gilded silver tableware, while others would receive plain silver, pewter, or even pottery. While the cups of important guests were covered, guests of lesser importance had to share open cups. (A sixteenth-century Venetian book that prepared travelers to England, however, interpreted this custom as rooted in the parsimony of the English, who wanted to limit the amount of wine their guests would drink.) Etiquette required that guests who shared cups drink with both hands, as the tables were crowded and there was a lot of reaching, and it was considered rude to spill drink intended for others. Furthermore, guests were served different meals. The highest ranking guests might dine on quail while the lowest ranking guests might receive sausages and gruel. Far from being offensive, this practice was welcomed as a way to delineate the variegated social status of the guests. In Russia, for example, the host might reward a guest of limited status for having provided good service or advice by sending higher quality food from one table to the guest's plate. In Tudor England the status of the host determined, moreover, how much food he could offer his guests. A cardinal was allowed to serve nine dishes, a bishop seven, and the mayor of London six. Such sumptuary laws were not exclusive to the English elite; in Reformation Germany, for instance, Lutheran church officials, seeking to control what they viewed as peasant gluttony and debauchery, limited the number of guests and courses that could be served at baptisms and weddings. At fancy banquets, guests washed their hands before each serving, but this practice, too, was embedded with hierarchical meaning. In Tudor England, a mini-keg fastened on a mini-wagon went around the table, and guests washed their hands, in the order of their rank, with water released from the spigot. The use of communal serving plates also worked to emphasize status hierarchies. Normally four guests ate from one plate, and the order by which they served themselves mirrored their respective status. The Russian book Domostroi, written in the mid sixteenth century, counseled its readers not to begin to eat immediately when food is placed before them, but rather to pause to make sure that those more honored serve themselves first. Finally, there was a practical function behind carving the meat at the table in front of the guests. Though at first it seems odd to carve up an animal slowly and deliberately in front of one's guests, it enabled the host to reveal, in front of all, which guests received the most tender parts of the dish, and thereby reinforced social distinctions. Indeed, etiquette books in Tudor England were called “carving books.”

Tableware. For much of the early modern era, guests brought their own cutlery to a dinner, and almost no one, short of a monarch, owned matching sets of tableware. It is for this reason that privileged infants were given silver spoons at their baptisms, as they would use them throughout their adult lives. (With the exception of Italy, forks were rare throughout Europe for most of the early modern era.) Guests also brought their own knives to dinner; proper manners dictated that the guests speared the food from communal plates, and then pulled the food off their knives and ate with their fingers. Accepting this custom, Erasmus pointed out in his On Civility in Boys (1530) that only three fingers were to be used, not the entire hand. Knives, unlike cups and serving plates, were never shared. Since a knife is also a weapon, an assassination at dinner could have been camouflaged as a simple accident involving the passing of a knife between drunken guests. Knives were gradually phased out as eating utensils, and were replaced by spoons and forks precisely because bringing a weapon to a dinner party (even as an eating utensil) was ultimately seen as incongruous with a system (etiquette) established to consolidate deference.

Disciplining Process. In general, the low level of early-modern etiquette would surprise modern readers. A fifteenth-century French etiquette book, These Are Good Table Manners, considered it necessary to advise its readers not to be the first to take from a communal dish, not to put back into the communal dish anything that had been in one's mouth, not to blow one's nose into one's hand and then take a piece of meat with it, not to offer the person sitting beside one a piece of food already chewed, not to dip one's food

into the saltcellar (salt, like sauces, was served in bowls, and while one could freely dip food into a liquid sauce, dipping food into salt would quickly spoil it), not to sit on a seat upon which a previous guest had urinated, and not to loosen one's clothing and scratch at one's body parts during the meal. Erasmus counseled that because it was unhealthy to retain wind, the dinner guest ought to hide the sound with a loud cough, or reduce the sound by pressing one's buttocks firmly together. Rabelais made fun of the state of contemporary table manners in early sixteenth-century France by listing the offenses committed by Gargantua, and then attributing them to the boy's youthful age. Among Gargantua's indiscretions are wiping his nose with his sleeve at the table, washing his hands in the communal soup, spitting in the dishes, and blowing “a fat fart.” In Galateo (1558) Giovanni della Casa recommended that his readers not blow their nose in their napkin and then stare at the mucous; and not wipe the sweat off their face, caused, presumably, from eating hot food at a crowded table, with a sullied napkin. The Domostroi also tied control of the body to signs of social respect. It advised its readers not to pick their noses, cough, or sneeze while in the presence of a monk. The Domostroi further recommends that guests not insult their hosts by publicly denigrating the food “as sour, tasteless, too salty, bitter, moldy, raw, overcooked.” Finally, the regulations for dining at the lord's court in Wernigerode (1570) stipulated that no male table guest urinate in front of a lady, and that guests refrain from urinating in doorways or in front of windows. The regulations for dining at the court in Brunswick (1578) stated that guests refrain from urinating or defecating in closets or on staircases. It is important to remember, however, that with such court edicts, those of higher rank were imposing a strict control of impulses and emotions (shame and repugnance) on their social inferiors. Present-day understandings of the health risks involved with dining amid feces, urine, and sputum were not appreciated by early-modern medicine, and so the motivating force behind these etiquette suggestions and court edicts was, ultimately, the desire to discipline one's inferiors and to consolidate social hierarchies.


The’ following’ is from Antoine de Courtin's New Treatise on. Civility (1672), an etiquette book that guests at Louis XlV's Versailles probably followed. The relationship between manners arid consolidating status hierarchies is quite evident—note the references to “people of higher rank,” and “people so delicate.” Note also how the disciplining process is evolving, both in terms of relating table manners to feelings of shame, repugnance, and physical pain, but also in terms of sophistication—guests can receive additional spoons and plates from the host if etiquette requires it.

If everyone is eating from the same dish, you should take care not to put your hand into it before those of higher rank have done so, and to take food only from the part of the dish opposite you. Still less should you take the best pieces, even though you might be die last to help yourself. It must also be pointed out that you should always wipe your spoon when, after using it:, you want to take something from another dish, there being people so: delicate that they would not wish to eat; soup into which you had dipped it after putting it into your mouth. And even, if you are at the table of very refined people, it is not enough to wipe your spoon; you should not use it but ask for another. . . . If you have: the misfortune to burn your mouth, you should endure it patiently if you can, without showing it; but if the burn is unbearable, as sometimes happens, you should, before the others have noticed, take your plate promptly in one hand and lift it to your mouth, and, while covering your mouth with the other hand, return to the plate what you have in your mouth, and quickly pass it to the footman behind you. Civility requires you to be polite, but it does not expect you to be homicidal toward yourself. It is very irapoEte to touch anything greasy, a sauce, or syrup, etc., with your fingers, apart from the fact that it obliges you to commit two or three more improper acts. One is to wipe your hand frequently on your serviette and to soil it like a kkchen cloth, so that those who see you wipe your mouth with it feel nauseated. Another is to wipe your fingers on your bread, which again is very improper. The third is to lick them, which is the height of impropriety.... As there are many [customs] which have already changed, I do not doubt that several of these will change in the future. Formerly one was permitted ... to dip one's bread into the sauce, provided that one had only not already bitten it. Nowadays that would be a kind of rusticity. Formerly one was allowed to take from one's mouth what one could not eat and drop it on the floor, provided it was done skillfully. Now that would be very disgusting.

Source: Norbert Elias, The History of Manners, translated by Edmund Jephcott (New York: Pantheon, 1978), pp. 92-93.


Norbert Elias, The History of Manners, translated by Edmund Jephcott (New York: Pantheon, 1978).

Jacques Revel, “The Uses of Civility,” in A History of Private Life: Passions of the Renaissance, edited by Roger Chartier, translated by Arthur Gold-hammer (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 184.

Alison Sim, Food and Feast in Tudor England (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997).

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The story of manners in the new nation is one of increasing opportunities for social equality for some, but not all, Americans. Manners, like many revolutions that mark the era, underwent an unfinished or partial revolution. Trends in behavior codes were transatlantic, and American independence did not greatly influence the pace or substance of change. Yet changing expectations for face-to-face behavior do suggest how the larger political and economic revolutions reverberating through Western civilization were enacted in daily encounters.

Diaries and letters provide glimpses of early American manners, but we discover a broader picture of contemporary expectations in the advice literature written by elites to teach certain behaviors to the middling and lower classes. Conduct literature in colonial America consisted mostly of imported English translations and imitations of Renaissance courtesy works and, especially in New England, local sermons. The courtesy works were nearly all intended for elite men, whereas the sermons were elite efforts to teach the lower sort how to defer.

The mix of advice books, sermons, treatises on family government and other published discussions of proper behavior began to change in the Revolutionary era. New works, generally of British authorship, were written by and for the rising middling sort. In addition, whereas most of the earlier literature had been intended for gentlemen, after 1750, and especially at the end of the century, there was a great deal of discussion of proper behavior for women. Notions of proper behavior in youth also underwent change. In all three cases—the middling, women, and youth—these groups whose status was rising in Anglo-America were given advice similar to that previously reserved for elite adult men. This advice generally consisted of how and when to exercise bodily self-control. To a greater extent than ever before, the concern was with proper behavior in encounters with equals. The lower sort and children were still asked to defer to their superiors.

The era's most popular and influential book of manners was Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son. Widely castigated for the worldliness of some of his advice—he told his son that the best shortcut to polished behavior was to take up with Parisian ladies of fashion—his work was nevertheless a runaway best seller after its posthumous publication in 1776. Although he was an aristocrat, Lord Chesterfield wrote advice that reflected the rapidly changing social scene of mid-eighteenth-century Britain. He told his son not to make the mistake of looking down on the rising middling sort. More important, his advice revived for an English audience the continental tradition of exacting particulars for deportment— "Remember the Graces!" was his constant plea. The specifics of how to stand, sit, and enter a room provided a ticket of entry into the newly empowered but self-conscious bourgeoisie. His work and that of many imitators formed the core of Anglo-American etiquette for nearly a century.

Chesterfield began to compose advice to his son when the latter was in his mid-teens and entering society while making a tour of the Continent. He was entering the world of adults and was expected to behave like one. Chesterfield and other authors whose work circulated in Anglo-America between 1750 and 1820 adopted a new stance toward standards of behavior for youth. Previously, youth had been taught an only slightly watered-down version of the deference repertoires children were taught to perform in the presence of their elders (or an even stricter repertoire should they happen to be positioned as servants). After 1750 youths were treated more as young adults than as older children. Expectations for children's behavior remained the same except for the recommendations of the philosopher John Locke, who urged parents to rule a bit more gently than in the past. But even Locke made clear distinctions between the handling of youth and the handling of young children.

Much of the advice to women in the era was a simple extension of the bodily self-control taught to youth and the middling sort. As the culture began to grapple with the meaning of equality in the case of relations between men and women, arbiters of behavior were no longer comfortable lumping women with other inferiors. But nor were they comfortable with sameness in expectations for male and female behavior. Thus began their first tentative steps toward the "ladies first" system of etiquette that would flourish in the nineteenth century. Rather than continue to call women men's inferiors, the new system would turn the world upside down and call them men's superiors—in the social realm. Chesterfield's disparaging of women while urging his son to cater to their needs hints at the reality behind this new kind of deference. It was not the old deference to the strong, but a new compensatory form accorded women who were increasingly deprived of power in the political and economic realms. After 1820, however, these realities were increasingly disguised in such a way as to make "ladies first" an axiom of modern manners until the late twentieth century.

Because manners are first and foremost the stuff of urban culture, these new expectations appeared first in the cities of the eastern seaboard. The books that codified these expectations gradually made their way to the countryside and went west with the ambitious. Many dissenters from the new behavior codes sprang up. Southern planters, for example, clung to the older exclusive aristocratic code longer than did their Yankee and British counterparts; it bolstered their claims to all forms of leadership through the early national period. But the power and utility of the bourgeois code for creating and maintaining a fictional theater of equals served the American Republic at least until the late nineteenth century, when great fortunes and great inequality could no longer be denied.

See alsoChildhood and Adolescence; Class: Rise of the Middle Class; Dueling; Equality; Women: Rights .


Bushman, Richard. The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.

Hemphill, C. Dallett. Bowing to Necessities: A History of Manners in America, 1620–1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Rozbicki, Michal. The Complete Colonial Gentleman: Cultural Legitimacy in Plantation America. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. Learning How to Behave: A Historical Study of American Etiquette Books. New York: Cooper Square, 1968.

C. Dallett Hemphill

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Borkenstein, Robert


Known for contributions in the area of chemical tests for blood and breath alcohol, Robert F. Borkenstein was the scientist who invented in 1954 the first practical, hand-held breath-alcohol-measuring device called the Breathalyzer . Based on Borkenstein's groundbreaking invention, police officers use such devices today as a simple but accurate way to determine a driver's level of intoxication. By taking a sample of expelled breath when a driver is stopped, police officers are able to calculate the amount of alcohol as a percentage of blood. Borkenstein was also instrumental in founding and developing the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety (ICADTS), an independent, nonprofit organization whose purpose is to reduce injury and death caused by the abuse of drugs and alcohol while operating motor vehicles.

Borkenstein was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. With an early interest in criminal justice and traffic safety, Borkenstein began his career in 1936 as a police photographer. He advanced quickly to criminal justice technician for the Indiana State Police, and completed his 22-year career as captain in charge of the Indiana State Police Forensics Laboratory. Borkenstein completed a bachelor's of arts degree in 1958 from Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington. Upon graduation, he became an IU professor and the chairman of the university's newly created Department of Police Administration, a position he held until his retirement in 1983. During his tenure, Borkenstein expanded the department so that today it offers masters and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees. In 1963, Borkenstein received an honorary doctor of science degree from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Then, in 1971, Borkenstein became the director of the IU Center for Studies of Law in Action. Today, the Center offers a one-week course (twice a year)the "Robert F. Borkenstein Course on Alcohol and Highway Safety: Testing, Research, and Litigation"for professionals in criminal justice, forensic science , law, and law enforcement. Indiana University bestowed Borkenstein with a honorary doctor of laws degree in 1987.

Because Borkenstein felt so strongly about reducing drunk driving, the use of breath samples for the enforcement of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits has been adopted in many countries around the world. Borkenstein's invention also allows for a larger percentage of impaired driving arrests by police officers because it eliminates the need to call a specially trained technician to take blood samples and the consequential delays for laboratory results. It also enables a greater number of convictions by prosecutors because the accurate breath samples are allowed as forensic evidence in court.

In 1950 Borkenstein attended the first meeting for the organization that would eventually become the ICADTS. Largely due to his early organizing efforts and his monetary contributions, the ICADTS became an international organization of professionals from such fields as economics, law, law enforcement, government, medicine , and public health. Borkenstein also helped to establish the Widmark Award, which is presented to individuals and organizationssuch as the U.S. National Safety Council and Mothers Against Drunk Driverswho have made outstanding contributions to reducing impaired driving.

During the 1960s, Borkenstein led a research team in the "Grand Rapids" study, which determined the relative risk of motored vehicle crashes due to BAC levels. The study was one of the earliest and largest studies of its kind and had a strong influence on strengthening the impaired driving laws around the world.

see also Automobile accidents; Breathalyzer®; Chemical and biological detection technologies; Sobriety testing.

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