George Simmel

2851 Words12 Pages
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 influenced by Simmel. This was especially true of those who developed the symbolic interaction approach including writers in the Chicago school, a tradition that dominated United States sociology in the early part of this century, 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 Simmel obtain a regular academic appointment, and this appointment was in Strasbourg, far from Berlin. In spite of these problems, he wrote extensively on the nature of association, culture, social structure, the city, and the economy. His writings were read by Durkheim and Weber, and Simmel contributed greatly to sociology and European intellectual life in the early part of this century. One of his most famous writings is "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's writings 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 and Kant. When Simmel discusses social structures, the city, money, and modern society, his analysis has some 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 the discovery of natural laws that govern human interaction. "For Simmel, society is made up of the interactions 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 social interaction at the individual and small group level, and viewing the study of these interactions as the primary task of sociology makes Simmel's approach different from that of the classical writers, espe... ... middle of paper ... ...uggests that the spread of the money form gives individuals a freedom of sorts by permitting them to exercise the kind of individualized control over "impression management" that was not possible in traditional societies. ... ascribed identities have been discarded. Even strangers become familiar and knowable identities insofar as they are willing to use a common but impersonal means of exchange. (Ashley and Orenstein, p. 326) At the same time, personal identity becomes problematic, so that development of the money form has both positive and negative consequences. That is, individual freedom is potentially increased greatly, but there are problems of alienation, fragmentation, and identity construction. 6. Conclusion. Simmel's sociology can be regarded as similar to that of the other classic writers in some senses, although he had less to say about social structure or its dynamics than did Marx, Weber, or Durkheim He did discuss objective culture and his writings on money have some affinity with Weber's rationalization. Where his contribution is notable for contemporary sociology is his view of society, the emphasis on social interaction, and his writings on the city.

More about George Simmel

Open Document