References



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References

  • References

  • Coser, Lewis A. 1971. Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

  • Hess, Beth B, Elizabeth W. Markson, and Peter J. Stein. 1993. Sociology. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.



1858-1918

  • 1858-1918

  • Born in Berlin, Germany (lived in an area similar to New York City’s Times Square)

  • His family was business-oriented, prosperous, and Jewish

  • His father converted to Christianity--died in Simmel’s youth

  • A modern urban man--without roots in traditional folk culture



How is society possible?

  • How is society possible?

  • Simmel proposed that sociologists focus on people in relationships. Society, for Simmel, was the patterned interactions among members of a group, the sum of responses to ordinary life events.



Simmel began with the elements of everyday life--playing games, keeping secrets, being a stranger, forming friendships--and arrived at insights into the quality of relationships. As with Durkheim and Weber, Simmel resisted reducing social behavior to individual personality. Nor, for Simmel, could social relationships be fully explained by larger collective patterns such as “the economy.” Rather, the results of everyday interaction creates a level of reality in its own right--an “interaction order” that is never totally fixed and is therefore always problematic and capable of change.

  • Simmel began with the elements of everyday life--playing games, keeping secrets, being a stranger, forming friendships--and arrived at insights into the quality of relationships. As with Durkheim and Weber, Simmel resisted reducing social behavior to individual personality. Nor, for Simmel, could social relationships be fully explained by larger collective patterns such as “the economy.” Rather, the results of everyday interaction creates a level of reality in its own right--an “interaction order” that is never totally fixed and is therefore always problematic and capable of change.

  • (Hess, Markson, and Stein 1993:13-14)



Simmel’s approach to sociology can best be understood as a self-conscious attempt to reject the organicist theories of Comte and Spencer, as well as the historical description of unique events that was cherished in his native German. He advanced, instead the conception that society consists of a web of patterned interactions, and that it is the task of sociology to study the forms of these interactions as they occur and reoccur in diverse historical periods and cultural settings.

  • Simmel’s approach to sociology can best be understood as a self-conscious attempt to reject the organicist theories of Comte and Spencer, as well as the historical description of unique events that was cherished in his native German. He advanced, instead the conception that society consists of a web of patterned interactions, and that it is the task of sociology to study the forms of these interactions as they occur and reoccur in diverse historical periods and cultural settings.

  • (Coser 1971:177)



Society is merely the name for a number of individuals connected by interactions.

  • Society is merely the name for a number of individuals connected by interactions.

  • The major field of study for the student of society is…sociation, that is, the particular patterns and forms in which men associate and interact with one another.

  • (Coser 1971:178)



In Simmel’s perspective a host of otherwise distinct human phenomena might be properly understand by reference to the same formal concept. To be sure, the student of warfare and the student of marriage investigate qualitatively different subject matters, yet the sociologist can discern essentially similar interactive forms in martial conflict and in marital conflict.

  • In Simmel’s perspective a host of otherwise distinct human phenomena might be properly understand by reference to the same formal concept. To be sure, the student of warfare and the student of marriage investigate qualitatively different subject matters, yet the sociologist can discern essentially similar interactive forms in martial conflict and in marital conflict.

  • Although there is little similarity between the behavior displayed at the court of Louis XIV and that displayed in the main offices of an American corporation, a study of the forms of subordination and superordination in each will reveal underlying patterns common to both…

  • (Coser 1971:179)



Social Processes

  • Social Processes

  • Conflict and Cooperation

  • Subordination and Superordination

  • Centralization and Decentralization



The term form was perhaps not the best choice…Had Simmel used the term social structure--which, in a sense, is quite close to his use of form--he would have probably encountered less resistance. Such modern sociological terms such as status, role, norms, and expectations as elements of social structure are close to the formal conceptualizations that Simmel employed.

  • The term form was perhaps not the best choice…Had Simmel used the term social structure--which, in a sense, is quite close to his use of form--he would have probably encountered less resistance. Such modern sociological terms such as status, role, norms, and expectations as elements of social structure are close to the formal conceptualizations that Simmel employed.

  • (Coser 1971:181)



Simmel constructed a gallery of social types to complement his inventory of social forms:

  • Simmel constructed a gallery of social types to complement his inventory of social forms:

  • The Stranger

  • The Mediator

  • The Poor

  • The Adventurer

  • The Man in the Middle

  • The Renegade

  • (Coser 1971:182)



Simmel conceives of each particular social type as being cast by the specific reactions and expectations of other. The type becomes what he is through his relations with others who assign him a particular position and expect him to behave in specific ways. His characteristics are seen as attributes of the social structure.

  • Simmel conceives of each particular social type as being cast by the specific reactions and expectations of other. The type becomes what he is through his relations with others who assign him a particular position and expect him to behave in specific ways. His characteristics are seen as attributes of the social structure.

  • (Coser 1971:182)



The Stranger

  • The Stranger

  • The stranger” in Simmel’s terminology, is not just a wanderer “who comes today and goes tomorrow,” having no specific structural position. On the contrary, he is a “person who comes today and stays tomorrow…He is fixed within a particular spatial group…but his position…is determined…by the fact that he does not belong to it from the beginning,” and that he may leave again. The stranger is “an element of the group itself” while not being fully part of it. He therefore is assigned a role that no other members of the group can play. By virtue of his partial involvement in group affairs he can attain an objectivity that other members cannot reach…Moreover, being distant and near at the same time, the stranger will often be called upon as a confidant…In similar ways, the stranger may be a better judge between conflicting parties than full members of the group since he is not tied to either of the contenders

  • (Coser 1971:182)



The Poor

  • The Poor

  • Once the poor accept assistance, they are removed from the preconditions of their previous status, they are declassified, and their private trouble now becomes a public issue. The poor come to be viewed not by what they do--the criteria ordinarily used in social categorization--but by virtue of what is done to them. Society creates the social type of the poor and assigns them a peculiar status that is marked only by negative attributes, by what the status-holders do not have.

  • (Coser 1971:182)



The stranger and the poor, as well as Simmel’s other types, are assigned their positions by virtue of specific interactive relations. They are societal creations and must act out their assigned roles.

  • The stranger and the poor, as well as Simmel’s other types, are assigned their positions by virtue of specific interactive relations. They are societal creations and must act out their assigned roles.

  • (Coser 1971:183)



To Simmel, sociation always involves harmony and conflict, attraction and repulsion, love and hatred. He saw human relations as characterized by ambivalence; precisely those who are connected in intimate relations are likely to harbor for one another not only positive but also negative sentiments.

  • To Simmel, sociation always involves harmony and conflict, attraction and repulsion, love and hatred. He saw human relations as characterized by ambivalence; precisely those who are connected in intimate relations are likely to harbor for one another not only positive but also negative sentiments.



Erotic relations, for example, strike us as woven together of love and respect, or disrespect…of love and an urge to dominate or the need for dependence…What the observer or the participant himself thus divides into two intermingling trends may in reality be only one.

  • Erotic relations, for example, strike us as woven together of love and respect, or disrespect…of love and an urge to dominate or the need for dependence…What the observer or the participant himself thus divides into two intermingling trends may in reality be only one.

  • …Because conflict can strengthen existing bonds or establish new ones, it can be considered a creative rather than a destructive force.

  • (Coser 1971:184-185)



Simmel’s emphasis on the structural determinants of social action is perhaps best exemplified in his seminal essay, “Quantitative Aspects of the Group.” Here he comes nearest to realizing his goal of writing a grammar of social life by considering one of the most abstract characteristics of a group: the mere number of its participants. He examines forms of group process and structural arrangement insofar as these derive from sheer quantitative relationships.

  • Simmel’s emphasis on the structural determinants of social action is perhaps best exemplified in his seminal essay, “Quantitative Aspects of the Group.” Here he comes nearest to realizing his goal of writing a grammar of social life by considering one of the most abstract characteristics of a group: the mere number of its participants. He examines forms of group process and structural arrangement insofar as these derive from sheer quantitative relationships.

  • (Coser 1971:186)



Dyad versus Triad

  • Dyad versus Triad

  • A dyadic relationship differs qualitatively from all other types of groups in that each of the two participants is confronted by only one other and not by a collectivity. Because this type of group depends only on two participants, the withdrawal of one would destroy the whole: “A dyad depends on each of its two elements alone--in its death though not in its life: for its life it needs both, but for its death, only one.”

  • (Coser 1971:186)



When a dyad is transformed into a triad, the apparently insignificant fact that one member has been added actually brings about a major qualitative change. In the triad, as in all associations involving more than two persons, the individual participant is confronted with the possibility of being outvoted by a majority.

  • When a dyad is transformed into a triad, the apparently insignificant fact that one member has been added actually brings about a major qualitative change. In the triad, as in all associations involving more than two persons, the individual participant is confronted with the possibility of being outvoted by a majority.



The triad is the simplest structure in which the group as a whole can achieve domination over its component members; it provides a social framework that allows the constraining of individual participants for collective purposes…Thus, the triad exhibits in its simplest form the sociological drama that informs all social life: the dialectic of freedom and constraint, of autonomy and heteronomy.

  • The triad is the simplest structure in which the group as a whole can achieve domination over its component members; it provides a social framework that allows the constraining of individual participants for collective purposes…Thus, the triad exhibits in its simplest form the sociological drama that informs all social life: the dialectic of freedom and constraint, of autonomy and heteronomy.

  • (Coser 1971:187)



When a third member enters a dyadic group, various processes become possible where previously they could not take place. A third member may:

  • When a third member enters a dyadic group, various processes become possible where previously they could not take place. A third member may:

  • Mediate

  • Rejoice

  • Divide and Rule

  • (Coser 1971:187)



Real World Applications of the Dyadic/Triadic

  • Real World Applications of the Dyadic/Triadic

  • Social Form



Economic exchange, Simmel argues, can best be understood as a form of social interaction. When monetary transactions replace earlier forms of barter, significant changes occur in the forms of interactions between social actors. Money is subject to precise division and manipulation and permits exact measurement of equivalents. It is impersonal in a manner in which objects of barter, like crafted gongs and collected shells, can never be. It thus helps promote rational calculation in human affairs and furthers the rationalization that is characteristic of modern society. When money becomes the prevalent link between people, its replaces personal ties anchored in diffuse feelings by impersonal relations that are limited to a specific purpose. Consequently, abstract calculation invades areas of social life, such as kinship relations or the realm of esthetic appreciation, which were previously the domain of qualitative rather than quantitative appraisals.

  • Economic exchange, Simmel argues, can best be understood as a form of social interaction. When monetary transactions replace earlier forms of barter, significant changes occur in the forms of interactions between social actors. Money is subject to precise division and manipulation and permits exact measurement of equivalents. It is impersonal in a manner in which objects of barter, like crafted gongs and collected shells, can never be. It thus helps promote rational calculation in human affairs and furthers the rationalization that is characteristic of modern society. When money becomes the prevalent link between people, its replaces personal ties anchored in diffuse feelings by impersonal relations that are limited to a specific purpose. Consequently, abstract calculation invades areas of social life, such as kinship relations or the realm of esthetic appreciation, which were previously the domain of qualitative rather than quantitative appraisals.

  • (Coser 1971:193)





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