Georg Simmel

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There are four basic levels of concern in Simmel’s work. First are his assumptions about the psychological workings of social life. Second is his interest in the sociological workings of interpersonal relationships. Third is his work on the structure of and changes in the social and cultural “spirit” of his times. He also adopted the principle of emergence, which is the idea that higher levels emerge out of the lower levels. Finally, he dealt with his views in the nature and inevitable fate of humanity. His most microscopic work dealt with forms and the interaction that takes place with different types of people. The forms include subordination, superordination, exchange, conflict and sociability.[8]

Dialectical thinking

A dialectical approach is multicausal multidirectional, integrates facts and value, rejects the idea that there are hard and fast dividing lines between social phenomena, focuses on social relations, looks not only at the present but also at the past and future, and is deeply concerned with both conflicts and contradictions. Simmel’s sociology was concerned with relationships especially interaction and was known as a “methodological relationist”. His principle was that everything interacts in some way with everything else. Overall he was mostly interested in dualisms, conflicts, and contradictions in whatever realm of the social world he happened to be working on.[8]

Individual consciousness

Simmel focused on forms of association and paid little attention to individual consciousness. Simmel believed in the creative consciousness and this belief can be found in diverse forms of interaction, the ability of actors to create social structures and the disastrous effects those structures had on the creativity of individuals. Simmel also believed that social and cultural structures come to have a life of their own.[8]

Sociability

Simmel refers to "all the forms of association by which a mere sum of separate individuals are made into a 'society,'"[9] which he describes as a, "higher unity,"[9] composed of individuals. He was especially fascinated, it seems, by the, "impulse to sociability in man,"[9] which he described as "associations...[through which] the solitariness of the individuals is resolved into togetherness, a union with others,"[10] a process he describes by which, "the impulse to sociability distils, as it were, out of the realities of social life the pure essence of association,"[10] and "through which a unity is made,"[10] which he also refers to as, "the free-playing, interacting interdependence of individuals."[10]

He defines sociability as, "the play-form of association,"[10] driven by, "amicability, breeding, cordiality and attractiveness of all kinds."[10] In order for this free association to occur, he says, "the personalities must not emphasize themselves too individually...with too much abandon and aggressiveness."[10] He also describes, "this world of sociability...a democracy of equals...without friction," so long as people blend together in a spirit of fun and affection to, "bring about among themselves a pure interaction free of any disturbing material accent."[11] As so many social interactions are not entirely of this sweet character, one has to conclude that Simmel is describing a somewhat idealised view of the best types of human interaction, and by no means the most typical or average type.

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