Notes on Georg Simmel

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Notes on Georg Simmel 28/11/11 18:52 Notes on Georg Simmel These notes on Georg Simmel were prepared for Sociology 250, Introduction to Social Theory, in Fall, 1995. The notes provide an overview and some examples of Simmel's approach to the study of society. Sections 2 and 3 of these notes are the parts most applicable to the discussion of interaction and community in Sociology 304. 1. Introduction. While Simmel is generally not regarded as being as influential in sociology as were Marx, Web
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  28/11/11 18:52Notes on Georg SimmelPágina 1 de 6http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/simmel.htm Notes on Georg Simmel These notes on Georg Simmel were prepared for Sociology 250, Introduction to Social Theory, in Fall,1995. The notes provide an overview and some examples of Simmel's approach to the study of society.Sections 2 and 3 of these notes are the parts most applicable to the discussion of interaction andcommunity in Sociology 304. 1. Introduction .While Simmel is generally not regarded as being as influential in sociology as were Marx, Weber,Durkheim, or even Parsons, several of the early United States sociologists studied with or were influencedby Simmel. This was especially true of those who developed the symbolic interaction approach includingwriters in the Chicago school, a tradition that dominated United States sociology in the early part of thiscentury, before Parsons. Georg Simmel (1858-1918, Germany) was born in Berlin and received his doctorate in 1881. He was of Jewish ancestry and was marginalized within the German academic system. Only in 1914 did Simmelobtain a regular academic appointment, and this appointment was in Strasbourg, far from Berlin. In spiteof these problems, he wrote extensively on the nature of association, culture, social structure, the city, andthe economy. His writings were read by Durkheim and Weber, and Simmel contributed greatly tosociology and European intellectual life in the early part of this century. One of his most famous writingsis The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903) and his best known book is The Philosophy of Money (1907).Simmel's ideas were very influential on the Marxist scholar Georg Lukacs (1885-1971) and Simmel'swritings on the city and on money are now being used by contemporary sociologists.Simmel combines ideas from all of the three major classical writers and was influenced by Hegel andKant. When Simmel discusses social structures, the city, money, and modern society, his analysis hassome similarities to the analyses of Durkheim (problem of individual and society), Weber (effects of rationalization), and Marx (alienation). Simmel considered society to be an association of free individuals,and said that it could not be studied in the same way as the physical world, i.e. sociology is more than thediscovery of natural laws that govern human interaction. For Simmel, society is made up of theinteractions between and among individuals, and the sociologist should study the patterns and forms of these associations, rather than quest after social laws. (Farganis, p. 133). This emphasis on socialinteraction at the individual and small group level , and viewing the study of these interactions as theprimary task of sociology makes Simmel's approach different from that of the classical writers, especiallyMarx and Durkheim.It is Simmel's attempt to integrate analysis of individual action with the structural approach that make hiswritings of contemporary interest.Simmel began his inquiries from the bottom up, observing the smallest of social interactionsand attempting to see how larger-scale institutions emerged from them. In doing so, he oftennoticed phenomena that other theorists missed. For example, Simmel observed that thenumber of parties to an interaction can effect its nature. The interaction between two people,a dyad  , will be very different from that which is possible in a three-party relationship, or triad  . (Farganis, p. 133) 2. Size of Group . Simmel considered the size of the group in which social action takes place to be a  28/11/11 18:52Notes on Georg SimmelPágina 2 de 6http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/simmel.htm   factor in determining the nature of the group. Here he was concerned with the form of the group, ratherthan the content of the interaction. In the dyad , a relationship can be considered relativelystraightforward, in that each individual can present themselves to the other in a way that maintains theiridentity, and either party can end the relationship by withdrawing from it. Various strategies emerge in the triad that change the form of interaction from the dyad. In the triad, there may be strategies that lead tocompetition, alliances, or mediation. The triad is likely to develop a group structure independent of theindividuals in it, whereas this is less likely in the dyad (Ritzer, p. 166).As group size increases even more, Ritzer notes that the increase in the size of the group orsociety increases individual freedom. (p. 167). The small circle of early or premodern times,firmly closed against the neighbouring strange, or in some way antagonistic circles ... allows its individualmembers only a narrow field for the development of unique qualities and free, self-responsiblemovements. ... The self-preservation of very young associations requires the establishment of strictboundaries and a centripetal unity. (Farganis, p. 140).As the group grows in numbers and extends itself spatially, the group's direct, inner unity loosens, andthe rigidity of the srcinal demarcation against others is softened through mutual relations andconnections. (Farganis, p. 140). This implies much greater possibility of individual freedom andflexibility, with the common culture and form of association greatly weakened.The metropolis or city becomes the location where the division of labour is the greatest and where thisindividuality and individual freedom is most expanded. At the same time Simmel notes that for theindividual this creates the difficulty of asserting his own personality within the dimensions of metropolitan life. (Farganis, p. 142). The growth of the city, the increasing number of people in the city,and the brevity and scarcity of the inter-human contacts granted to the metropolitan man, as compared tothe social intercourse of the small town (Farganis, p. 143) makes the objective spirit dominate over the subjective spirit. Modern culture in terms of language, production, art, science, etc. is at an everincreasing distance. This is the result of the growth of the division of labour and the specialization inindividual pursuits that is a necessary part of this. Subjective culture is the capacity of the actor toproduce, absorb, and control the elements of objective culture. In an ideal sense, individual culture shapes,and is shaped by, objective culture. The problem is that objective culture comes to have a life of its own. (Ritzer, p.162). The individual has become a mere cog in an enormous organization of things and powerswhich tear from his hands all progress, spirituality, and value in order to transform them from theirsubjective form into the form of objective life. (Farganis, p. 143). This sounds much like Marx'salienation, Durkheim's anomie, or Weber's rationalization, although Simmel associates this with the city,rather than with the society as a whole, as do the other classical writers.Where Simmel differs from these other classic writers, is that Simmel returns to the individual ,analyzing how the individual deals with the developments of modern society, and considering how theindividual personality is developed in these circumstances. Simmel notes that one way individuals assert apersonality is to be different, to adopt manners, fashions, styles, to appear concentrated and strikinglycharacteristic. The brevity and fleetingness of contact in the city mean that lasting impressions based onregular and habitual interaction with others cannot be developed. In these circumstances, obtaining self-esteem and having the sense of filling a position may be developed by seeking the awareness of others. (Farganis, p. 143). This means that individuals may adopt some characteristic fashions and intheir personal mannerisms may try to appear to the point. Note that the personality is not an isolatedentity but also is a social entity, one that depends on interaction. Social interaction, looking to the reactionof others, and seeking the recognition and awareness of others is an essential aspect of individualpersonality. In this way Simmel ties together the individual and the social, and each require the existenceof the other.  28/11/11 18:52Notes on Georg SimmelPágina 3 de 6http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/simmel.htm Further, the intellect and personal psyche develop in a different way in traditional and in modern society.In rural and small town settings, impressions of others are built up gradually, over time, on the basis of habit. Many of these impressions are less conscious and are built on more deeply felt and emotionalrelationships. (Farganis, p. 136). In contrast, in the city, there is sharp discontinuity, single glances, amultitude of quick impressions.Thus the metropolitan type of man -- which, of course, exists in a thousand individualvariants -- develops an organ protecting him against the threatening currents anddiscrepancies of his external environment which would uproot him. He reacts with his headinstead of his heart. .... Intellectuality is thus seen to preserve subjective life against theoverwhelming power of metropolitan life, and intellectuality branches out in many directionsand is integrated with numerous discrete phenomena. (Farganis, p. 137)Thus Simmel views objective culture as having an effect on the individual, but at the same timeconsiders how this alters the development of the individual, how the individual understands this anddevelops in this context, how the individual interacts with other individuals, and how these interactionsform the social life of the city. Simmel concludes his essay by noting how the city influences individualsand provides the opportunities and the stimuli for the development of ... ways of allocating roles to men.Therewith these conditions gain a unique place, pregnant with inestimable meanings for the developmentof psychic existence. (Farganis, p. 144). Note allocating roles to men rather than men to roles as thestructural functionalist might describe this process. While Simmel is concerned with the possible negativeeffects of objective culture, he considers it possible for personalities to develop within these conditions. 3. Individual and Society . For Simmel, there is a dynamic or dialectical tension between the individualand society -- individuals are free and creative spirits, yet are part of the socialization process. Simmelwas troubled by this relationship, viewing modern society as freeing the individual from historical andtraditional bonds and creating much greater individual freedom, but with individuals also experiencing agreat sense of alienation within the culture of urban life. Simmel notes:The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve theautonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of external culture, and of the technique of life. (Farganis, p. 136).Simmel makes three assumptions about the individual and society. (Ashley and Orenstein, p. 312). Theseare:Individuals are both within and outside society.Individuals are both objects and subjects within networks of communicative interaction.Individuals have the impulse to be self-fulfilling and self-completing, that is, they seek anintegrated self-concept. Society also tries to integrate itself (like Durkheim noted), althoughthe effect of this may be in opposition to individual integrity.In the social world, the various forms and styles of interaction are brought into existence by people andthe above assumptions are realized as individuals interact with one another. Ritzer notes that humanspossess creative consciousness and the basis of social life is conscious individuals or groups of individuals who interact with one another for a variety of motives, purposes, and interests. (p. 163)People are conscious and creative individuals and the mind plays a crucial role in this mutual orientationand social interaction. This creativity allows for flexibility and freedom on the part of the individual, butat the same time it helps to create the structures of objective culture that may constrain and stifle thisfreedom. That is social interaction becomes reularized and has atterns to it and these become forms of   28/11/11 18:52Notes on Georg SimmelPágina 4 de 6http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/simmel.htm  association. These patterns and forms, regardless of their content, is what sociologists should study.This means that society is not a separate reality of its own, but society merely is the name for a numberof individuals, connected by interaction ... society certainly is not a 'substance,' nothing concrete, but an event  : it is the function of receiving and affecting the fate and development of one individual by theother. For Simmel, society is nothing but lived experience , and social forces are not external to, nornecessarily constraining for the individual, rather it is individuals who reproduce society every livingmoment through their actions and interactions. Ritzer notes that Simmel disagreed with Durkheim that society is a real, material entity and did not view society as merely a collection of individuals. Rather,he adopted the position of society as a set of interactions. (p. 170).The individual in a social unit must be an entity or constituent part of the unit, and Simmel distinguishesbetween a personal self  and a social self  . If there is no self-consciousness , symbolic interaction woulddisappear and human experience would just be the responses to stimuli. Instead, we live and die in termsof what is inter subjectively meaningful -- i.e. view ourselves in terms of responses of others - and evenon others who we have never met.Ashley and Orenstein (p. 316) provide an example using sex and gender differences. Within a patriarchalor unequal male/female relationship, relations may appear to be intimate and spontaneous. In fact, if thesituation is one of dominant and subordinate, the nature of the relationship is structured by theexpectations of both the dominant and the subordinate. Objective form of dominance and submissioncontain the way in which what is thought of as subjective can be expressed. This dominant andsubordinate relationship is also maintained by the subjective impulses that are part of the interaction. 4. Fashion . An example of how Simmel examines some of these connections in a concrete connection ishis discussion of fashion. (See Ritzer p. 161 and Ashley and Orenstein, pp. 314-5). Simmel views fashionas developing in the city, because it intensifies a multiplicity of social relations, increases the rate of social mobility and permits individuals from lower strata to become conscious of the styles and fashionsof upper classes. (Ashley and Orenstein, p. 314). In the traditional and small circle setting, fashion wouldhave no meaning or be unnecessary. Since modern individuals tend to be detached from traditionalanchors of social support, fashion allows the individual to signal or express their own personality orpersonal values. Simmel noted that fashion providesthe best arena for people who lack autonomy and who need support, yet whose self-awareness nevertheless requires that they be recognized as distinct and as particular kinds of beings. (in Ashley and Orenstein, p. 314).Ritzer notes that fashion can be considered to be a part of objective culture in that it allows the individualto come into conformity with norms of a group. At the same time, it can express individuality, because anindividual may choose to express some difference from norms. Fashion is dynamic and has an historicaldimension to it, with acceptance of a fashion being followed by some deviation from this fashion, changein the fashion, and perhaps ultimate abandonment of the srcinal norm, and a new norm becomingestablished. There is a dialectical process involved in the success of the fashion involved in its initial andthen widespread acceptance also leads to its eventual abandonment and failure. Leadership in a fashionmeans that the leader actually follows the fashion better than others, as well as there being followers of the fashion. Mavericks are those who reject the fashion, and this may become an inverse form of imitation.In summary, fashion allows personal values to be expressed at the same time as norms are followed. Thetwo exist together, and the one without the other would be meaningless. In all of this, social interaction isof the essence - what others think, what one thinks that others think, how one conceives of fashion, etc.
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