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Lesson 7 Georg Simmel


Lesson 7 Georg Simmel Robert Wonser SOC 368 Classical Sociological Theory Spring 2014 – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Lesson 7 Georg Simmel

Lesson 7Georg Simmel
  • Robert Wonser
  • SOC 368 Classical Sociological Theory
  • Spring 2014

Simmels Life
  • Born in Berlin to a middle class Jewish family in
    1858 which had converted to Christianity.
  • Simmels father died when Georg was very young,
    and he was not close to his mother.
  • Simmel experienced social marginality both in the
    family and in his academic life.
  • Simmel saw the social life of contemporary
    societies as creating social marginalization, but
    as opposed to Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, he saw
    this a having positive attributes.

Simmels Life
  • Attended the University of Berlin
  • Doctoral thesis on the philosophy of Immanuel
  • Simmel was in the midst of a thriving
    intellectual German community
  • Jews and radicals were marginalized from this
    community Simmel among them
  • Because he could not secure a permanent academic
    position, Simmel became a lecturer living off
    student fees

Simmels Life
  • He became enormously popular among students and
    offered courses on a wide array of subjects
    logic, ethics, philosophy, political science,
    psychology, sociology
  • Simmel experienced anti-Semitism and the
    jealously of the academic community
  • Simmel finally became a full professor in 1914,
    only to die 4 years later

Intellectual Influences Max Weber
  • Simmel and Weber were very close friends and
    intellectual peers
  • Simmel disagreed with Webers search for
    historical particularities, and instead focused
    on invariant laws of social life
  • Simmel and Weber both offered challenges to the
    Marxian critique of the capitalist political

Intellectual Influences Herbert Spencer
  • Simmels first sociological work Social
    Differentiation (1890) was indebted to Spencerian
  • Simmels later work maintains this focus of the
    importance of differentiation and more
    importantly the relevance of social structures in
    social life

Intellectual Influences Immanuel Kant
  • Kant is interested in what he calls pure reason
    based upon a categorical imperative
  • The transcendental aesthetic is that by which
    human beings transform the buzz and chaos of the
    phenomenal world into meaningful order
  • This creates a transcendental logic whereby
    perceptual knowledge is transformed into
    conceptual knowledge

Intellectual Influences Immanuel Kant
  • sense knowledge ? perceptual knowledge ?
    conceptual knowledge
  • what drives this process is a structured set of
    categories which are embedded in the human mind
  • whereas Kant argues that structures exist in the
    mind, Simmel modifies Kants argument by
    suggesting that structures exist in social
  • Simmel asks the question what are the basic
    forms of interaction, or structures which affect
    social action?

Intellectual Influence Karl Marx
  • Simmel argues against Marxs labor theory of
    value for Simmel the price of a product is
    based upon supply and demand, and social desire
    (social distance)
  • The greater the difficulty in obtaining an
    object, the greater its value.
  • Simmel argues that alienation is natural in a
    society which is large, complex, and highly
    differentiated, and that competition is an
    important factor in the reduction of social
    alienation free competition increases the free
    circulation of social exchanges
  • Money is not as oppressive commodity, as Marx
    contended, but is instead a generalized medium of
    social exchange which increases social
  • The ultimate tool

Simmels Approach to Sociology
  • What makes sociology different from other
  • Isnt it just an arbitrary label?
  • Simmel says no.
  • Sociology is the study of social interaction and
    the consequences of social interaction.

Simmels Approach to Sociology
  • Simmels three questions
  • What is society?
  • How should sociology study society?
  • What are the problem areas of sociology?

Levels and Areas of Concern
  • Macroscopic assumptions about the psychological
    components of social life
  • Sociological components of interpersonal
  • Structure of, changes in, cultural spirit of
    his times
  • higher levels emerge out of lower levels
  • if society is to be an autonomous object of an
    independent science, then it can only be so
    through the fact that, out of the sum of the
    individual elements that constitute it, a new
    entity emerges otherwise all problems of social
    science would be those of individual psychology
  • Ultimate metaphysical principles of life

Simmels Approach to Sociology
  • Groups and the Forms of social life
  • The Geometric Metaphor Focus on Form over
    Context (goals, values, purposes, etc.)
  • Sociologys Problem Areas
  • General/Historical Sociology focus on invariant
    patterns of form (and content, while
    distinguishing both)
  • Pure/Formal Sociology (generic social processes,
    structured role relationships)
  • Philosophical Sociology (epistemological
    questions, or metatheoretical questions) what
    is the relationship between individual and

The Web of Group Affiliations
  • How does social differentiation affect social
    relationships and networks of group life?
  • The most important variable is social
  • Change from organic (local in-group) to rational

The Web of Group Affiliations
  • Consequences of social differentiation
  • role conflict
  • role strain
  • multiple identities and social uniqueness
  • increased personal freedom
  • cognitive complexity
  • Empathy
  • social differentiation ? creativity ? social

  • Conflict is generally seen as a destructive
    social force.
  • This emerges when one looks at the contents of
    the conflict
  • Conflict, however, is a social form which
    facilitates social solidarity
  • While Simmel argues that humans have an innate
    fighting instinct that is the cause of social
    conflict, conflict is best understood as a
    socially organized phenomenon.

  • The basic form of conflict Generally, social
    conflict is oriented towards a goal/purpose.
  • Conflict within groups
  • With groups of strong similarity or personal
    connection conflict can emerge over very petty
    concerns, and these conflicts can be highly
    emotionally charged.
  • Differences can be a sign of personal and group
  • Conflicts against accepted opponents can be
    direct or indirect (competition) rule bound,
    one unites in order to fight, competition
    promotes social solidarity.

  • Conflict between groups
  • increases group centralization miserable
    people loves miserable company.
  • increases social solidarity within each group
  • reduces the amount of tolerance for deviance and
  • increases the probability of coalition formation
    among similarly aligned groups.

Philosophy of Money
  • the focus is on the establishment of social
    exchange relationships as a social form, in
    particular economic exchanges
  • Money is both a cause and consequence of social
  • Humans are teleological, and use many tools to
    accomplish their goals
  • Money is an incredible social tool because is it
    abstract, fluid, and subject to great
  • The use of money allows for an increase in the
    number of groups to which an individual can

Philosophy of Money
  • The value of an object is based upon supply and
    demand, upon the subjective/objective split.
  • Money becomes a standardized yardstick for the
    measurement of value, and is an extension of
    human nature
  • Money can become the value of anything ethics,
    love, aesthetics, etc. and thus can change or
    replace social relationships.

  • Money can become the value of anything ethics,
    love, aesthetics, etc. and thus can change or
    replace social relationships.
  • Example prostitution
  • How did Simmel feel about this ability of money?
  • Money performs the interesting function of
    creating distance between people and objects and
    then providing the means to overcome that
  • Another example of his dialectical thinking

Philosophy of Money
  • Money and the Social Whole
  • increases the velocity of exchange
  • value of money increases as does the perception
    that needs can be realized
  • creates options for social exchange and helps to
    create social continuity
  • allows for the creation of multiple ties
  • increases the distance of exchange

Philosophy of Money
  • promotes trust, solidarity, and commitment
  • increases the importance of a centralized
    government (taxes)
  • taxes promote solidarity
  • penetrates all social relations
  • increase the quantification and objectification
    of social relations

Philosophy of Money
  • Money and the Individual
  • increases personal freedom and choice
  • increases self expression through material
  • creates distance between self and material
    objects which can be discarded
  • money increases the multiplicity of social
    involvements, but reduces strong emotional ties
  • money mediates personal interaction

More Money, more
  • Problems arise because all these developments are
    at the level of objective culture and are
    integral parts of the process by which objective
    culture grows and further impoverishes individual
  • Money is the purest form of exchange, process
    continues on in perpetuity (unlike in barter

Objective Culture and Individual (Subjective
  • Cultural level of social reality, objective
    culture, things that people produce (like art,
    science, philosophy, etc.)
  • People produce culture, but we can reify social
    reality, the cultural world and the social world
    come to have lives of their own, lives that come
    to dominate the actors who created and daily
    re-create them.
  • Over time objective culture exerts more control
    over the individual.
  • Individual (subjective culture) is the capacity
    of the actor to produce, absorb, and control
    elements of the objective culture.

Objective Culture
  • Grows and expands in various ways
  • Absolute size grows with modernization
  • number of different components of the cultural
    realm grows
  • Elements of cultural world become more entwined
    in an ever more powerful, self-contained world
    that is increasingly beyond control of the actors.

Objective Culture
  • Simmel worried what would happen to individual
  • The total value of something increases to the
    same extent as the value of its individual parts
    decline. (Simmel 1907/1978199)
  • ? tragedy of culture

More-Life and More-Than-Life
  • Simmels answer to Marxs fetishism of
  • People possess a transcendent ability
  • First, creative capacities (more-life), people
    are able to transcend themselves.
  • Second, this transcendent, creative ability makes
    it possible to produce sets of objects that
    transcend them.
  • What weve created (more-than-life) come in
    opposition to more-life that produced objects in
    the first place.
  • Weve reified our individual cultural output into
    objective culture which restrict further cultural
  • Stifling them, like an iron cage almost

Urban Sociology
  • Metropolis and Mental Life
  • Metropolis as the genuine arena where objective
    culture comes to dominate individual culture.
  • It is where money lives
  • Creates the blasé and reserved attitude

Metropolis and Mental Life
  • The city is the frightful leveler where
    everyone is reduced to a rational calculating
  • Cannot maintain individuality in the face of the
    expansion of objective culture.
  • Although, people are freer here than in small

Tragedy of Culture
  • Simmel saw the significance of the individual
    declining as money transactions become an
    increasingly important part of society and as
    reified structures expand.
  • The loss of individual subjective culture in the
    face of the expansion of objective culture

  • Conforming to fashion allows us to conform to the
  • Fashion is also the norm if we wish to deviate
    that we depart from
  • Everyone accepts what is fashionable, then some
    deviate from this, creating a new sense of
    fashion. Process repeats ad infinitum
  • Fashions are doomed to not last

Social Geometry
  • Numbers
  • Dyad group of two
  • Triad three-person groupwhat effect does
    adding a third person do to the group?
  • Movement from dyad to triad is essential to the
    development of social structures that can become
    separate and dominant over, individuals.

Social Geometry
  • Group size
  • increases individual freedom
  • Also scares into retreating into small groups,
    like the family.
  • Distance the properties of forms and the
    meanings of things are a function of the relative
    distances between individuals and other
    individuals or things.
  • the stranger is psychologically far but
    physically near

Key Ideas
  • society is composed of exchange relationships
    through money, conversation, symbols, friendship,
    love, conflict
  • conflict can be functional
  • developed an interest in urban environments and
    the social alienation they produce
  • the modern world creates a blasé attitude
  • the stranger
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