Introduction: In the case of German philosopher and sociological thinker Georg Simmel, the rhetorical truth is that thoughts are indeed worth more when one is six feet under. Most accounts of Simmel focus solely on his piecemeal ideas, most of which could not be used in any sort of serious empirical research. Although many of his ideas may seem reflexively true to our emotionally charged subjective minds, it would be quite difficult to impose positivist research methods to many, if not most, of Simmel’s concepts.
During his life, Simmel was regarded as an academic reject. Mostly due to the fact hat he was born Jewish in an antisemitic Germany, and partially because his concepts were so novel and foreign to macrosocial theorists and academics alike. Luckily, as many accounts collaborate, his charismatic personality and affectionally charged constructs seduced an impressive following. Attracting large audiences, Simmel’s lectures must have been like his innumerable papers and essays on the term he coined, microsociology, charged with humanistic sensitivity.
The “transition crisis” (Athabasca: 271) that surely every member of the social whole felt, yet could not define at the time, must have contributed to his popularity amongst those ithout much serious academic sociological knowledge. While Simmel was regarded in his day as eccentric, a man whose pursuits were trivial and insignificant, he is now credited as a the founding father of many factions of what we call micro social theory. Micro social theory seeks to find the meaningful and useful interactions between individuals and how they effect the whole, macrosocial level of society as a whole.
By focusing on some key concepts and his intellectual influences, it will be shown how Simmel was an essential thinker for sociology as a science, and not a scatter brained academic failure. German Idealism: Perhaps the most influential individual on Simmel’s work was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant himself was influenced by greats like the Greek Aristotle, as it is apparent in his German idealist writings. The most profound influences of Kant can be seen on Simmel’s constructs of reality and his humanistic ethical approach to the process of sociation.
According to Simmel, there was an important shift occurring as industrialization took over rural life. The goal of practical life, of the money economy, in essence, the city, was “to transform the world into an rithmetic problem, to fix every part of the world by mathematical formulas” (Simmel: 85). He often makes distinctions between the “head” and the “heart” to account for this shift in human interactions, what he calls a “blaze attitude” (Simmel: 86). Like the moral philosopher Kant, Simmel chose to focus on the foundation of what he thought was the building blocks of society, or as he coined agency interactions, pure sociology.
In opposition to his humanistic views of the interpretations of human interaction, it is with the social geometry of pure sociology that Simmel contradicts imself and shifts to the positivist side. Simmel thought that he could devise a universal law that could be applied to small group interactions. Through the process of sociation, that is the “subjectively meaningful” interactions that occur between individuals, people form numerically significant groups. The importance of dyads and triads, as these relationships made up various forms that together made up social geometry. A dyad consists of two people, a triad, three.
Within these close groups, “innumerable events, actions, [and] interactions,” also referred to as “contents” (Ritzer: 271) could occur to create forms. For Simmel, a form was very much like what we refer to as a ‘frame’ in the microsocial theory, dramaturgy (Athabasca: 278), today. A form was a pattern from which people could use to construct the contents, and thus reality, around them. It is clear how German Idealism hugely influenced Simmel’s work. Using Kantian philosophy and combining it on a (slightly) larger social scale, Simmel was able to create a flexible blueprint to 2 place “the complexities of social reality’ (Ritzer: 272).
While it is true that his theory lacked any sort of comprehensive and applicable whole, it should be apparent now ow his ideas laid the foundations, at least, for more modern microsocial contributions to sociology. Dialectical and Marxian Influences: Mirroring the basic ethics of Kant in his humanistic concepts and views on empiricism, Simmel deviated in his extremely pessimistic outlook on the nature of man. It is innocuous to conclude that the somber views Simmel had of people and society in general came from his own life experiences, and the Hegelian approach to dialectics he applied to social interactions.
Like Kant, Georg Hegel was also a renowned German philosophical idealist, whose main contribution to Simmel was his ialectical approach to subjective and objective reality (Athabasca: 274). Like Marx, Simmel believed that the subjective imagination of human beings is necessary to create the objective reality of which is tangible, thus reality. If we remember the Marxian concept of alienation, we can see the overlap and similarities between Simmel’s dialectical approach to objectification, or as he terms it, “objective culture” (Ritzer: 277).
Many contemporary social theories and ideas rely heavily on the alienating effects of our capitalist consumer society on individuals, such as the popular “One Dimensional Man” by Herbert Marcuse. Through the subjective, human beings create the objective, which leads to these objects (literally, tangible items) eventual control and domination over all aspects of human life (alienation). For example, people conceive or imagine machines, such as a car (subjective).
We build these cars, make them real and usable (objective), but are now indebted to the absolute necessity of this invention of the imagination to transport us to and from where we need to go. We create necessities and dependence on the object that was only available from within our subjective minds. We remove ourselves from the equation once the object becomes objectified. This concept of objectification led to Simmel’s explanation of conflict in social interactions. For Simmel, conflict was not simply a problem facing human kind, but an inherent aspect of our very nature.
According to Simmel’s hopeless view on the nature of human kind, the eradication of conflict from human interactions was not possible. Not only was conflict a necessary feature of social interactions, but Simmel argued that it was at times positive. Using the example of exterior conflict creating social solidarity within a group, such as allies in war, it can be seen how conflict can create cooperation in times of need. On smaller scales, conflict could be used in similar observations to account for interpersonal interactions, such as Simmel’s “All or Nothing” element in the dyads of marriage or friendship (The Dyad and the Triad: 81).
This belief in the total commitment to the survival of the intimate group on the inclusion of both members to agree to the dyad itself, or lose membership completely. Types: A paper on the accomplishments of Simmel would not be complete without mention of his classification of social types. Through the conception of social types, it becomes frustratingly obvious how contradictory Simmel’s fond regard for the humanistic pproach really was. However useful the categorical and systematic descriptions of social types are, we cannot help but notice their empirical and thus positivist nature.
While Simmel owed much of his ideas to Kant who challenged many of the Enlightenment methodological assumptions, social types were the exception. Many academic criticisms of Simmel’s work focused around his contradictory research methods, lack thereof, or the perceived unimportance of everyday social interactions. 3 Social types could very easily be placed next to Max Weber’s ideal types, Just on human rather than a structural or institutional level.
Whereas Weber used ideal types as a schematic research method to compare deviations from the norms of bureaucracies, Simmel used social types as a way to categorize individual attributes of people. For example, Simmel’s types included “stereotypical social roles… such as the miser, the spendthrift, the flirt, the stranger, the adventurer etc. ” (Athabasca: 280), all of which were used to in comparative analysis of real people, in the real world. Using this outline for his microsociological analysis of individuals and their intimate relationships, Simmel showed how the actions of a few affect the entire ocial reality.
This is so important to understand, as without the individuals that create the whole that is the abstract society, there would be no society. Conclusions: The ad hominem attacks on Simmel’s microsocial ideas were not based on any serious inquiry into the legitimacy of his research or concepts. As we acknowledge today in many major areas of microsocial theory and research, Simmel was simply far ahead of his fellow macrosocial theory giants, like Durkheim, Marx, or Weber. Simmel thought inside the macro box, which did not fit with current popular social thought.
His ideas revolutionized social theory, and paved the way for some of the most important and relevant modern-day sociological explanations, like Symbolic Interactionism. As Simmel’s interesting outlooks on the world of fashion explain, what is ‘in’ one moment, will soon be out the next. Sociology, like fashion, has historically gone through periods of transformation and popularity, and has also been the subject of many criticisms from more positivist sciences, like physics, math, or even biology. In his day, Simmel’s ideas were scoffed at, and he was denied any kind of academic recognition for his contributions to sociology.
As a result of his perseverance, Simmel could indeed be credited as the founding father of microsocial theory. Influenced by many other academic giants, his concepts were at times contradictory, but these overlapping of seemingly opposing views did lend Simmel’s work its cutting edge controversial flare. Whatever one chooses to believe about Simmel, it must be understood that the very simple everyday importance of human interactions he introduced have led to credible research methods. Simmel was a sociological trail blazer, whose insights paved the way for some of the most important social science esearch of our modern world. Reference List Athabasca University. Simmons, Tony. 2009. Sociology 335: Classical Sociological Theory??” Study Guide. Athabasca, AB Athabasca University. Simmel, Georg. 2009. Sociology 335: Classical Sociological Theory??” Reading File. Athabasca, AB: (Reading 16. Simmel, Georg. “The Dyad and the Triad. “) Athabasca University. Simmel, Georg. 2009. Sociology 335: Classical Sociological Theory??” Reading File. Athabasca, AB: (Reading 17. Simmel, Georg. “The Metropolis and Mental Life. “) Ritzer, George. 2008. Classical Sociological Theory. 5th ed. New York: McGraw Hill. 5