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Simmel and Benjamin’s recipe for Sociology Essay

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Apparently modernity isn’t all that bad – not all doom and gloom as some would have you believe. Simmel and Benjamin think so anyway. Their approach to sociology is a little different to others. Sure, there are still some Marxist and Weberian notions in their recipe, but they throw in some ideas from intoxicated artists, aesthetics, and find significance in the chaos of modern life. This essay will look at these notions, first by examining the formulation of Simmel and Benjamin’s theories and secondly examining how these differ from other approaches.

TAKE SOME BAUDELAIRE...
Of course we cannot begin a discussion of the work of Simmel and Benjamin without mentioning the influence of the poet Baudelaire, whose observations and writings in the mid-19th century on city life informed both Simmel and Benjamin’s perspectives of the modern condition, and resultingly their sociological approach to its examination. For Baudelaire, life in the metropolises of 19th century Europe – Berlin, Paris, London, etc – was an experience informed by the crowd; the masses that flocked to the cities; that filled the streets and walkways; of multifarious shape, form and grade. While some responded with dismay and disdain to such a mass (Engles and Poe), Baudelaire allows the experience to wash over him, refraining from such a critical perspective but observing with interest and describing within his works the interactions and dances between people. The observer watches the dance of variety; of the many; of the mass – he is the flâneur (Benjamin 1973: 128).
The flâneur is the well-to-do gentleman with time on his hands, who strolls, who wanders casually the streets of the city drawing in the display of the crowd – of variety, juxtaposition, of change....


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...omes one on meaning – something that contrary to some notions can be found by looking at pieces of modernity – through an interpretative perspective. Modernity is thus redeemed – Utopia is still in sight.

Works Cited
Benjamin, Walter, 1973, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, London, New Left Books, pp. 120-131; 157-158
Buck-Morss, Susan, 1993, ‘Dreamworld of Mass Culture’ in Levin, David (ed), Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision, Berkley, University of California Press
Clark, Nigel, 1999, Lecture Notes: Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin, University Of Auckland
Craib, Ian, 1997, Classical Social Theory, Oxford, Oxford University Press, Ch. 10 Frisby, David, 1985 ‘Georg Simmel: First Sociologist of Modernity’ in Theory, Culture
and Society, Vol. 2, No. 3 Simmel, Georg, 1950, The Sociology of Georg Simmel, New York, The Free Press, Ch. 4


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