DU SOL BA 3rd Year History of Social Thought Notes Chapter 7 Georg Simmel (1858—1918)
What is the subject matter, of sociology according to Georg Simmel ?
How did Georg Simmel try to solve social problems ?
Georg Simmel favoured comparative method as the most suitable for scientific analysis of group behaviour and held it as the core ingredient in sociological methodology. At the same time he preferred to avoid large scale analysis.
Georg Simmel was confronted with two contemporary socio-logical theories regarding the nature of society, (f) Sociological realism which regarded society as a real entity, and (n) Sociological ionisation which thought of society as a fictitious abstraction. Simmel rejected these theories and also the views of Comte and Spenser and took a rather middle path. He opined that, ‘society is neither great collective being, nor a fictitious entity, rather it exists in the process of interaction among social units,* both individuals and groups. He supported the conception that society consists of a web of patterned interactions and that the state of a genuinely scientific sociology was to study the forms of these interactions as they occur and reoccur in diverse historical periods.’ Thus according to Simmel society comprises a bunch of complex interactions between individuals.
For Simmel, the central part of study in sociology is sociation which means ‘particular patterns and forms in which men associate and interact with one another’. In comparison to other social thinkers, Simmel was practical and realistic in his approach to the study of social problems. According to him, the legitimate subject matter of sociology, entails in the description and analysis of practical forms human interaction and then crystallisation in group characteristics. To quote his words, “Sociology asks what happens to men, by what rules they behave, not in so far as they unfold then understandable individual existence in their totalities, but in so far as they form groups and are determined by the groups existence because of interaction ’.
Three forms sociology. Georg Simmel gave following three forms of sociology.
(i) General Sociology. It involves the study of a social problem or a social phenomena in .terms of development, for example^ the study of the expansion of the groups and the development of individuality conducted by Simmel.
(ii) Philosophical Sociology. Philosophy according to Simmel is not confined to a particular subject matter. Rather it is a distinct mods of treating any given subject matter, characterised of receptive¬ness to the totality being and at the same time of expressive of a fundamental attitude or world orientation on the part of the philosophizing person. Thus according to Simmel philosophical sociology studies ‘philosophy of social sciences and the study of epistemological and metaphysical aspects of society’.
(iii) Formal Sociology. It attempts to study classification and analysis of forms of sociation, being Simmel is regarded as one of the founders of formal sociology.
Simmel’s idea of Formal Sociology can be studied under follow¬ing heads :
1. Distinction between form and content. According to Simmel, formal sociology keeps away (isolates) ‘form’, from the com piexitres of ‘content’ of human sociation and attempts to generalise it higher level of abstraction. The ‘content’ of interaction includes individual drives, purposes and other motive powers. The forms of interaction on the other hand, ‘maybe thought of as basic struc¬tural configurations or abstract, analytical aspects of social unity and not concrete entities.’
2. Forms of Sociation. Sociation is a type of reciprocal relationships established by the individuals through interactions with one another. Out of the numerous forms of ‘sociation’ identified by Simmel following three are important.
(b) Triad, and
(a) Dyad is the simplest form of sociation between two persons, The limitation to two members is a condition under which alone several forms of relationship exist; monogamous marriage is one of the example.
It has been emphasised by Simmel that the difference, between the dyad and larger groups consists in the fact that in dyad has a different relation to each of its two elements than have larger group o their members. The dyad is not an autonomous, super individual unit in relation to its participants.
(b) Triad occurs when a new member is added into the dyad as for instance, a child is born in a family constituting of wife and husband. this addition of a member being about profound structural changes. The third element, the child closes the circle by ying the parents to each other, strengthens the union of the two and produces a new bond between them.
Simmel writes: ‘The yad represents both the first social synthesis and unification, and irst separation and antithesis. The appearance of the third party e indicates transition conciliation and abondanment of absolute contrast although, on occassion, it introduces contrast.” The difference between triad and dyad is that fixed in it has potential existence independent’ of each of its members does not automatical dissolve the group also it is possible for two members to form a coalition against the third member. One of the special things about the analysis of dyad and triad that Simmel used this analysis not only “to explain patterns of interaction in every day life but also forms of political alliances, historical constellation and pressure group situation”.
(c) Superordination and Subordination is one of the significant form of sociation discussed by Simmel and because of this his essay, ‘Superordination and Subordination’ is termed as a classic. According to Walter, “Power in the form of subordination and superordi¬nation is a constitutive force without which society would lose its coherence. Superiority and subordination are found in every human association and they are by no means necessarily subsequent to the formation of society. It is rather one of the forms in which society comes into being.” Simmel points out that ‘societal form of superordination’ involves a sense of readiness on the point of the superordinate to consider himself bound by his own orders or words.
Georg Simmel insists that there is reciprocal relationship bet¬ween subordinate and superordinate, “rather than one of implicit obedience by the farmer and aboslute domination by the latter,” The reciprocal relation exists even in the cases* of extreme domination.
3. Social Types. Simmel evolved a large number of social types for ‘analytical purposes’. The term social types may be defined “as a conception abstracted from the structural components of a particular social relationship and involves the essential qualities of the person as well as the awareness and expectation of the status role involved.’ Simmel gave a classical treatment to the social type ‘stranger’. He wrote, “to be a stranger is naturally a very positive relation ; it is a specific form of Interaction.
The inhabitants of Sirius are not really strangers to ns, at least not in any sociologically relevant sense they do not exist for ns at all they are beyond far and near. The stranger, like the poor and like sundry “inner enemies” is an element of the group itself. His position as a full-fledged member involves both being outside it and confronting it…elements which increase distance and repel, in the relations of and with the stranger, produce a pattern of coordination and consistent interaction” In addition to this type, Simmel described in great detail such diverse types as “the mediator,” “the poor,” “the adventurer,” “the miser,” “the man in the middle,” “the modem cynic” and the “renegade”.
4. The Significance of the Numbers. Simmel in his approach to the study of society, emphasises classically the effects of sheer numerical size on the forms of sociation. The number or size of this group provides greater opportunities for interaction. He points out, “beyond a certain size, individualism and structural differentiation develop. In larger groups, face to face interaction is replaced by “formal arrangements consisting of offices, written rules and well defined tasks and responsibilities whereas interaction in small groups involves the total personality of individual members, participation in large groups is weak and restricted to a segment of personalities.”
Simmel, though emphasised the significance of numbers but was strictly against the practice to treat individuals in sociological analysis as free-standing entities—“social atomos” nor as merely social organs devoid of their integrity as persons.
Briefly discuss Simmers Theory of Conflict. What is its relevance today ?
In society several forces are acting and reacting on each other and it is a continuous process. Conflict is an intense reaction and cannot be restricted in any way. As long as the people love, hate and envy each other and have unlimited desires, in the society the conflicts will continue.
Georg Simmel on Social Conflict. It is everywhere accepted that conflict is sociologically important. It helps in modifying interest groups and in them unification. Conflict cannot be carried on alone but it can be only in a group situation. According to him, the causes of conflict are hate, envy, needs, and desires. Behind every- conflict there either of the causes mentioned above must be present. Conflict aims at resolving divergent dualism and is a method of achieving some kind of unity. In the process, it is just possible that one of the parties may be eliminated. In his own words, “It is roughly parallel to the fact that it is the most violent symptom of disease which represents the efforts of the organism to free itself of disturbances and damages caused by them.”
Simmel believes that conflict resolves tensions between con¬trasts. Conflict is not always negative but it is sometimes positive. In fact both positive and negative aspects are integrated in the conflict. These can be separated only conceptually and ‘ not empirically.
According to Simmel, a harmonious group is an impossibility but that is also not always essential for life process. That is also not likely to provide a stable social structure. It is wrong to believe that opposition of one individual to another in the same asssociation is a negative factor. On the other hand, it is a way for achieving co¬existence. He has also said that if one has no power and right to oppose tyranny, one will suffer desperation which will ultimately end social relationship. According to Simmel, disagreeable circumstances get intensified if these are borne quietly without protests and there are no conflicts of views and opinions. In fact, it is conflict which provides subjective satisfactions, diversion and belief.
Unity and Discard. Unity and discard, according to Simmel, are two important interactions, but it is usually misunderstood that these two kinds of interactions tear down what the others build up. This misunderstanding arises because of two fold meaning of the concept of unity. Unity is understood usually as consensus of inter¬acting individuals as against discards. Similarly, unity is also under¬stood to mean group synthesis of persons and energies, i.e., ultimate wholeness of the group. Thus by unity we understand unitary relations and while so doing we usually forget larger meaning of the term.
Like unity, the meaning of discard is also misunderstood and this aggravates the relationship of unity and discard. Discard is understood to have negative and destructive character. According . to Simmel, “In reality, however, something which is negative and damaging between the individuals, if it is considered in isolation and as aiming in a particular direction, does not necessarily have the same affect within the total relationship of these individuals”.
He has pointed out that a different picture emerges when conflict is viewed in conjunction with other interactions not effected by discard. In that situation, the negative elements play an important positive role.
Group Membership and Conflicts. According to Simmel when a group has antagonistic relationship with a power outside the group that results in the tightening of relationship between group membership. The members of the group come closer and nearer to each other. Group consciousness and sense of unity then develops quicker and faster. Though the members of the group may other¬wise be quarrelling with each other but when they are challenged by some outside group of individual they unite to face that challenge. They then forget their internal differences. A moment comes which one decides whether co-operation of personalities in the group is possible or not. It is conflict which defines the boundaries of group against the enemy. It brings all those persons together, who otherwise , would never have come closer. It is in the process of conflict that unification is achieved. Sometimes when some elements outside one group collect the other group considers that as a step towards conflict and disharmony.
Simmel has opined that it is a common knowledge that when two nations come in conflict with each other the people in both the nations become more united than they would have during peace time. These states either form a federation or a confederation to face their common enemy. The stales can also completely unite. The unity can be either because of conflict or for the purpose of conflict. It does not end when the conflict is over. It is because some other interests develop, which had not come to the force when the conflict started. Conflict, he feels in significant because it helps in the articulation of latent relation and unity. It is also important because it helps in bringing group unity.
Conflict and Unification. In every society conflict is unavoidable, but every individual or group of individuals wishes to come out victorious out of the conflict situation. When a group is in conflict with an outside group, the need for unity and unification is badly felt. This need is badly felt when the group is not homo¬geneous. In the process, the number of conflicting groups is very much reduced.
This association of groups can be for single or multiactions. In the former case unity comes without residue. In that irrespective of the purpose for which unity was forged had been achieved or not, the members get separated. But there can be multi-action unity as well. In that the group unity continues because there is more than one purpose of conflict. Unity arising out of conflict can be lasting when the uniting parties are in a position to find out a common ground out of hostile relationship.
Sociological ‘Relevance of Conflict. For quite some time con¬flict was considered as a negation of unity and socially irrelevant. The sociologists therefore, laid no stress on the study of conflict, but studied only the individual and the society. According to Simmel, conflict is socially relevant and useful because the individual .cannot ‘attain the unity of his personally exclusively by an exhaustive harmonisation based on logical, objectives, religious or ethical norms.
On the other hand, he has held the view that contradiction and conflict not only preceded this unity but are operative in it at every moment of its existence. He has gone to the extent of saying that there is perhaps no social unit in which convergent and divergent currents among its members .are not inseparably interwoven. The discards in society are not negative, but are needed for the health of the society.
Simmel has thus very clear views about conflict. In his opinion, social conflicts are hot only unavoidable but essentially needed for waking, the society both progressive and dynamic. A perfectly harmonious society is not in the interest of the social progress and advancement.
Discuss Georg Simmers ideas about Human Culture.
What place does Simmel assign to human culture ? Examine.
Simmel was instinctively in favour of high culture and he himself was an example of high culture. He in spite of this, regarded modem condition of alienation and specialisation of cultural development. Each culture according to Simmel develops a multiplicity of cultural objects, these are to great extent, unrelated to each other. It is not possible for individuals to ignore these vast elements of cultural differentiation.
He writes. “Society strives to be a whole, an organic unit, of which the individuals must be mere members. Society asks of the individual that he employ all his strength in the service of the special function which he has to exercise as a member of it; that he so modify him¬self as to become the most suitable vehicle for his function. Yet the drive toward unity and wholeness that is characteristic of the individual himself rebels against this role. The individual strives to be rounded out in himself, not merely to help to round out society. He strives to develop his full capacities, irrespective of the shifts among them that the interest of society may ask of him. This conflict between the whole, which imposes the one-sideness of partial function upon its elements, and the part, which itself strives to be a whole, is insoluble.
Simmel points out that the cause of this growing alienation is the division of labour which is inevitable in the process of urbanization and industrialisation. Discussing the role of division of labour in the process of alienation, Simmel explains that it divisions the ‘creator’ from ‘creation’ so that the latter attains an autonomy of its own. By virtue of this gradual emergence of the reifiescation or objectification of cultural products; which is necessary accentuated by it. Here it sounds like the Marx philosophy of social alienation; but there exists a crucial difference for Marx alienation can be resolved in a future society based on communism; but for Simmel; the contradiction flowing from the antimony of life, hence alienation is eternal and ineradicable. Simmel very deeply studied the life of people