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We will contact you if necessary. To learn more about Copies Direct watch this short online video. Need help? How do I find a book? The goal of his sociology is, therefore, the study of the forms of being part of society, namely, sociation Vergesellschaftung.
Referring to his Soziologie around or , Simmel says that on this basis he secured a new concept of sociology in which I separated the forms of sociation from the contents, i. And since his key concepts are all relational ones, it is not surprising that Simmel conceives of society as a labyrinth or web of interactions. Further, he takes up the problem of our experience of time in essays on adventure, spatial dimensions of interaction, and mass in the sense of quantitative changes in group size including dyadic and triadic interaction that produce qualitative changes in the form of human interaction.
And all this is without regard to the more well-known contributions that Simmel made to social psychology in the fields of reference group theory, role theory, and so forth. Part II Into modernity 3 German sociologists and modernity Modernity has found here a dynamic expression: the totality of fragmentary, centrifugal directions of existence and the arbitrariness of individual elements are brought to light. Perhaps one can more precisely term it, the land of unlimited impossibilities. In its struggle consciously to assert itself as an independent academic discipline in the second half of the nineteenth century and especially around the turn of the century, sociology often took as its object of study that of which it was a product—modernity.
It might even be suggested that those who not merely analysed its features but also experienced and expressed its central features in their writings i. Sociology now abounds in theories of modernization which refer largely to the transformation of political, economic and social systems or sub-systems. Sometimes, as Habermas has argued with respect to the recent neo-conservative social theories of Bell and others, these are combined with a denunciation of the culture of modernism in order to assert the existence of post-modernism, postindustrialism and post-capitalism.
The result is that modernity itself is either subsumed under modernization or modernism or it disappears altogether as an object of investigation. The former task involves an overview of modernity as understood by Baudelaire and Marx. II In his writings on aesthetics, Baudelaire recognized modernity as both a quality of modern life and a new object of artistic activity. Both rely upon the concept of the new which is itself transitory. But, as Habermas points out, this newness can only be recognized in its juxtaposition with a classical past.
Benjamin maintained that in his poetical writings this polarity is given a specific location: the city of Paris in its decrepitude as antiquity; the masses as modernity. Yet this is no simple aesthetic antinomy since for Baudelaire the transitory, fleeting element itself contains its opposite: eternity. If we compare this task with that of key sociologists around the turn of the century then, at first sight, we seem to confront a similar problem in which the attempt to distil what is new, what is modern in modern society can only be performed in terms of a juxtaposition with its opposite.
With pessimistic hindsight, it has been fashionable in modern sociological discourse to read all these polarities as if they were grounded in a philosophy of history thesis of the inevitable transition from one to the other, in such a way that the source of their dynamic—be it functional differentiation, rationalization, etc. Similar problems arise in a static interpretation of the opposition of the old and the new in other classical sociological theories of modern society.
All fixed, fast-frozen relationships, with their train of venerable ideas and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become obsolete before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned and human beings at last are forced to face with sober senses the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow human beings.
Any society which requires for its dynamic the revolutionizing of production as a permanent or even periodic process requries at the same time the stabilization of some social relations that are necessary for this mode of production. Alongside a need for the permanent adaptability of individual personalities not merely by virtue of work discipline there is a corresponding necessity to maintain crucial relationships between capital and labour. It could also be to seek out the sources of stabilization and integration in such a society.
The capitalist society which Marx analysed was, for him, doomed to be transitory. Is this the case? In my opinion, trade in its development is nothing but the capitalistic system. Initially—and again still following Hobbes—all goods in society exist separately and are enjoyed exclusively by their owners. In this respect value equals possession in a Gesellschaft. It consists of an exchange of words and courtesies in which everyone seems to be present for the good of everyone else and everyone seems to consider everyone else as his equal, whereas in reality everyone is thinking of himself and trying to bring to the fore his importance and advantages in competition with the others.
And since the whole culture is overturned in societal and state civilization, thus culture itself in its changed form is sent to its doom. Already implicit in the development of Gesellschaft and the arbitrary will is another process which heralds a central thesis in modernization theories, namely rationalization. Further, he saw this as a crucial task of his sociology as in the article of Certainly society itself, as Gesellschaft, is seen as a transitory phenomenon.
By implication, contractual relations within a dynamic capitalist society are also fleeting. Their basis is an egoistic calculation of individual gain that reduces human relations to functional ones. His evolutionary perspective and his early commitment to socialism militate against this. It thus presaged its rejection as an historical option two decades later by Weber, since its potential for harmful rationalization of all spheres of life was possibly even greater than that of advanced capitalism.
With this is often connected a fantastic and effeminate mental state, a vague desire for unity and universal brotherhood; in other words…—we might call it parlor socialism—a coquetting with socialistic ideals whose realization would be mostly unendurable to these very dilettanti. Simmel sees the interest in social issues as emanating from another source, in part in the philosophy of Schopenhauer embodying the notion that there is no final end in life, only the human will.
It was particularly attractive to the new youth movement and those who sought a false individuality. Here, at the heart of the modernist experience, Simmel argues that for many people this longing assumes an aesthetic character. They seem to find in the artistic conception of things a release from the fragmentary and painful in real life… Unless I am deceived, however, this sudden increase in fondness for art will not long endure.
The transcendental impulse, disillusioned by a fragmentary science that is silent as to everything final, and by a social-altruistic activity that neglects the inner, self-centred completion of spiritual development, has sought an outlet for itself in the aesthetic; but it will learn that this field also is too limited. None the less, Simmel still maintains as a goal the capacity to experience in the individual phenomenon, with all of its details, the fullness of its reality.
To this end,…a certain retreat from the phenomenon is necessary, a transforming of it which renounces the mere reflection of what is given in nature, in order to regain, from a higher point of view, more fully and more deeply its reality. In the sense given to modernity by Baudelaire, it has been argued that Simmel is the first sociologist of modernity. If everything is in flux and transitory, then social reality no longer exists as an ordered totality. This direction for social theories of modernity is chosen not merely by Simmel but by Bloch, Kracauer, Adorno and, above all, Benjamin.
But if we no longer experience social reality as a coherent whole, what are the implications for the individual? V By way of contrast, and all too briefly, the difficulties involved in extracting a social theory of modernity from the work of Max Weber will be considered. There is little doubt that Weber provides us with one of the most impressive, if incomplete, theories of modernization which centres on his account of the development of modern western rationalism and its consequences, amongst which is modern western capitalism.
Several writers have pointed to the difficulties of clarifying rationality in its variants of the instrumental, substantive, formal and conceptual Levine, Kalberg.
A chapter in the Philosophy of Value by Georg Simmel
The new type of purposive-rational organizational form is grounded in the rational calculations of production within capitalist enterprises and in public administration by legally trained officials. The latter is reorganized in the form of the modern state. In turn, this uncoupling of economic and state administration is traced back to a purposive-rational orientation to action.
The central problem then becomes that of social integration into this new orientation which permits the implementation of technical and organizational knowledge to production and, in principle, any other sphere of social life. With the lack of private orientation consequent upon the decline of inner motivation from a generalized work ethic, the private sphere increasingly lacks any focus for orientation. In the public sphere, legitimation of political authority demands increasingly the exclusion of the ethical sphere from the political. What originally gave meaning to the life-world is either fragmented or removed entirely.
The problem of individual orientation, in a similar way, is also acute. The most notable omission is, of course, Durkheim in France. In Germany, one of the most neglected but relevant figures is Werner Sombart, whose social theory of modernity has hardly been examined yet. With respect to the search for a social theory of modernity that addressed changes in modes of experience, it has been argued that only Simmel provides us with the possibility of extracting such a theory from his works without too much reconstruction. Similarly, the fragmentation of social experience implies that novel ways of approaching the study of modernity, that do not subsume modes of experiencing it under an all-embracing modernisation theory, are necessary.
Otherwise, the disjunction between social system and life-world remains unresolved. The Philosophy of Money The subjectivism of modern times has the same basic motive as art: to gain a more intimate and truer relationship to objects by dissociating ourselves from them and retreating into ourselves, or by consciously acknowledging the inevitable distance between ourselves and objects.
If we turn to classical social theorists and sociologists, then we do indeed find important attempts to investigate modernity. Simmel announces, then, in this context, that the essence of modernity as such is psychologism, the experiencing and interpretation of the world in terms of the reactions of our inner life, and indeed as an inner world, the dissolution of fixed contents in the fluid element of the soul, from which all that is substantive is filtered and whose forms are merely forms of motion. It implies, further, the dissolution of actual content in the inner psychological and emotional world itself and the preponderance of fluid forms of inner experience.
This may seem a somewhat extreme interpretation but is justified if we recall the decisive features of individual experience highlighted by Simmel in his analysis of the two sites of modernity—the mature money economy and the metropolis—namely, the increase in nervousness and the preponderance of an inner world as a retreat from excessive external stimuli. Such a standpoint presupposes that there is a perspective capable of creating a unity out of the fragmented world of modernity.
Furthermore, if the study of modernity is to commence with modes of experiencing social reality and social relations as transitory and fleeting, then it must confront the problem that social reality is experienced in flux, not merely as the shock of the new or even the shock of movement, but as permanent flux: Through the restlessness with which they offer themselves at any moment…every form immediately dissolves in the very moment when it emerges; it lives, as it were, only by being destroyed; every consolidation of form into lasting objects…is an incomplete interpretation that is unable to follow the motion of reality at its own pace.
The two sites of modernity are both conceived as complex networks, webs and labyrinths of social interactions. Whereas the metropolis is, as it were, the point of concentration of modernity, the mature money economy which also has its focal point in the metropolis is responsible for the diffusion of modernity throughout society.
Taken together, the two sites signify respectively the intensification and extensification of modernity. These are the increase in social differentiation in part the result of an increased division of labour , the increase in functionalization of social relations, and the widening gap between subjective and objective culture with reduced social space for the former and increased social space for the latter. The reification of these two spheres can never be complete. Indeed, the interaction between objective and subjective culture is a major source of the fragmentation of individual experience in so far as the process of fragmentation present in objective culture permeates the subjective culture of individuals.
We could go further and suggest, as Simmel does, that there is a tendency, never fully completed, for the culture of human beings to become the culture of things. This tendency manifests itself both in the metropolis and the mature money economy. Simmel explores in an imaginative manner the interface between human beings and the objects with which they are surrounded.
Let us turn, first, to the objective culture of the metropolis, the showplace of modernity which extends its effects far into its hinterland. This is not the sphere of concrete action and creativity but rather of passivity and adaptation. The structures which surround the individual in the metropolis are also not conducive to a fruitful interaction betwen the two. Rather, in buildings and educational institutions, in the wonders and comforts of space-conquering technology, in the formations of communal life and in the visible state institutions, there is offered such an overpowering wealth of crystallised, impersonalised mind, as it were, that the personality cannot maintain itself when confronted with it.
Psychologically, its counterpart is neurasthenia including nervous tensions unable to be released and psychological distance. In turn, its pathological forms common to the metropolis are agoraphobia and hyperaesthesia. What, then, of the objective culture of the mature money economy? Here too it is the alienated forms of existence that become the objective forms within which we exist.
The slot machine is the ultimate example of the mechanical character of the modern economy. Money as the universal equivalent is the universal nexus which links everything to everything else and which is the symbol for what holds society together, though in its reified form. The maturation of the money economy and its permeation of all spheres of life produces a seemingly autonomous world since money is the reification of the pure relationship between things as expressed in their economic motion. Money stands between the individual objects related to it, in a realm organised according to its own norms which is the objectification of the movements of balancing and exchange originally accomplished by the objects themselves.
Extreme differentiation produces the fragmentation of individuals; the commodification of everything produces a levelling of value and indifference to value; the destruction of the teleology of means and ends in the money economy results in the domination of the most indifferent means. The universalization of monetary exchange coincides by implication with the universalization of commodity exchange and circulation and it is within this broader context that Simmel iluminates the transformation of modern experience and individuality.
Also within this wider context—i. These are apparent in his works from the mids onwards and include not merely his general discussion of money in modern culture 26 but also his contributions to the discussion of leisure and consumption, exhibitions, style and, of course, fashion. Two examples must suffice—exhibitions and fashion—to indicate the affinity between the commodity form and modernity. The aesthetic veil or aura which surrounds the commodity is an essential stimulus to its circulation and is facilitated by what one might term the shop-window quality of things that is evoked by exhibitions.
Commodity production…must lead to a situation of giving things an enticing external appearance over and above their usefulness…one must attempt to excite the interest of the buyer by means of the external attraction of the object. The circulation and exchange of commodities requires the production of an ever-new face of the commodity, an ever-new fashion that is absolutely present for the moment of appearance. The acceleration of commodity exchange requires the conscious production of ever-new faces for the commodity.
The commodity clothed in the latest fashion cries out for its purchase now, in the present. With some simplification, it is possible to view the experience of modernity as the discontinuous and fragmentary experience of time, space and causality as, respectively, transitory, fleeting and fortuitous. Space is dealt with by Simmel in a complex manner involving both boundaries, distance and the removal of boundaries the money nexus overcoming spatial boundaries.
Start reading Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary | Elizabeth S. Goodstein
Perhaps less persuasively, we can see as consequences of the mature money economy the disintegration of mass into indeterminacy, the concrete into the abstract and substance into fragments. The implications of these modes of experiencing modernity for the individual are an increasing fragmentation of experience and, faced with the growing significance of the objective culture with its dialectic of both increased differentiation and levelling , a tendency towards extreme subjectivism.
Simmel viewed the currents of modern culture as moving in two contradictory directions: on the one hand, towards a levelling of individuals and values and the production of even more comprehensive social circles and, on the other, the development of the most individual aspects of the human subject. In the latter context, this does not coincide with the creation of greater possibilities for the expression of human individuality in a positive sense. The social space for the development of a genuine individuality is rendered problematic by virtue of the growing autonomy of the objective culture increasingly viewed as domination by the technology of means and anticipating later cultural critiques of Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse and the increasing subjectivism that dominates subjective culture either in the hope of individuals dissociating themselves from the objective culture the internal retreat or by recognizing the inevitability of the distance between the two spheres the tragic vision.
It is a conflict that is not readily resolved by Simmel since he has persuasively argued that the objective culture created by human subjects has not merely achieved a form of autonomy and self-sufficiency but has thoroughly penetrated the subjective culture itself. Indeed, Simmel at times failed to grasp the consequences of his own argument concerning the internalization of a reified culture in alienated forms of existence.
Money socializes human beings as strangers…money also transforms human beings into res absolutae, into objects. How such an attempt can avoid being seriously compromised by the internalization of the features of the objective culture is unclear. Like many of his successors, Simmel views the aesthetic sphere as one source of reconciliation of these two cultural spheres. The two sites of modernity—the metropolis and the mature money economy—are both rooted in the exchange and circulation processes of commodities, individuals, values, etc. This is important in at least two respects.
First, our traditional conception of Simmel has been that of a formal sociologist who made a surprising number of contributions to a disparate range of themes in sociology. This conception is derived largely from those essays which constitute his major Sociology : on the significance of number, conflict, domination, extension of the group, intersection of social circles, etc. Some of these have been operationalized and most have been viewed as his important contribution to fields of micro-sociology.
As an important aside, here, it should be pointed out that the significance of the fact that more items of his work were translated into Russian between and than into English in the same period has hardly been investigated. It suggests that Simmel did develop an important theory of modern society that is equally significant for understanding his sociological and social theoretical project.
It suggests, further, that we view a substantial body of his work in social theory as being related to this wider thematic ensemble. As a social theorist, philosopher and aesthete in a positive sense , Simmel was intimately connected with and theoretically concerned with some of the avant-garde movements of his day.
This makes his discussion of modernity in particular of striking relevance for debate on postmodernity today in part as a result of common ancestry in Nietzchean themes. Within the more restricted confines of sociology as an academic discipline, Simmel opened up specific areas of sociological analysis—often within the context of his theory of modernity—that are only now being fully developed. This is true of a sociology of spatial relations, leisure, the emotions and the aesthetics of modern life. Knapp, 3 August The explanation of social formations is a task that the theory of value is no longer able to achieve with its means.
Economic theory is certainly not capable of completely mastering this, rather only a theory of society which takes into account factors other than the merely economic. Friedrich von Wieser, Der Natuerliche Werth I Anyone attempting to examine the economic foundations of The Philosophy of Money is immediately confronted with a number of difficulties. Such a fact that is, one whose content would be exhausted in the image that economics presents of it—does not exist.
Moreover, and just as legitimately, such an exchange can be treated as a psychological fact, or one that derives from the history of morals, or even as an aesthetic fact. Even when it is considered to be an economic fact, it does not reach the end of a culde-sac; rather, in this guise it becomes the object of philosophical study, which examines its preconditions in non-economic concepts and facts and its consequences for non-economic values and relationships.
Certainly, to take but one of these aspects, there are at least forty places in the text in which he deals with its aesthetic dimension. It is, therefore, with reflection upon theories of value that the text commences. In general terms, Simmel examines the interaction of subjective and objective theories of value. It is these two chapters—and especially the first—which caused Simmel the greatest difficulty, a fact that is indicated by a comparison of the and editions of The Philosophy of Money which reveals the most substantial changes to the text in these chapters.
The concept of value seems to me to contain not merely the same regressus in infinitum as that of causality, but also in addition a circulus vitiosus because, if one follows the connections far enough, one always finds that the value of A is grounded in that of B or that of B only in that of A. I would already be quite satisfied with this and explain it as a basic form of representation, that cannot in fact be removed by logic—if it were not for the fact, just as real, that absolute and objective values lay claim to recognition.
Are there perhaps any clues to be found in the intersection of social and academic circles in which Simmel moved? However, we know that one of his patrons at Berlin University, certainly until the turn of the century, was Gustav Schmoller, a leading member of the Historical School of economics. The critique, and the work in general, is considered by Simmel to be part of his attempt to deepen historical materialism, though the latter is fundamentally criticized in the last chapter of the second, totally revised edition of Problems of the Philosophy of History ; first edition Indeed, Menger sees the work as suffering from a fundamental defect.
In this work, the author only focuses upon historical economics, whose insufficiency with regard to the needs of science and life…he correctly senses and, in part, clearly recognises. In contrast, in the sphere of economic theory, he appears to be insufficiently well orientated. Otherwise he could not overlook the fact that it does indeed belong to the tasks of economic theory and the theory of money to investigate the essence of money and its functions… A special philosophical analysis…is therefore not required.
This is a statement of interest in view of the futile character of the psychological calculations of the utilitarians, on the one hand, and the Austrian school, on the other. III A recent series of investigations of the social-philosophical foundations of economic action37 has drawn attention to four dimensions of economic relations that implicitly or explicitly are contained in theories of economic action, value and exchange.
The four dimensions can be viewed as relationships between, first, human beings and the cosmos including nature ; second, human beings and other human beings; third, human beings and things; and, finally, between things and things. The culmination of neo-classical economic theory is a concern with the thing-thing relationship, which permits rational calculation and mathematic presentation of economic outcomes, and is associated amongst other things with the law of indifference Jevons.
The value of goods is derived from the value of individual needs. To human beings originally only the human dimension was important.
Georg Simmel and the Study of Modernity
In contrast, however, things are originally indifferent for us and are only significant in so far as a relationship is observable between them and human interests. Indeed, our natural indifference to things is so great that it requires considerable coercion for us to view them as important. The value of a good, although it has its origin in use, does not reflect that use. Therefore, we need to explain how quantities of utility are transformed into quantities of value. The use value of goods to be acquired will vary according to different amounts of individual need, whereas the exchange value of money will largely vary according to the amount of individual wealth possessed.
Money is always valued subjectively for its exchange value; its exchange value is the anticipated use value of the things that can be acquired for money. But the early marginalists also had a conception of exchange value in an objective sense, a transactional value Verkehrswert in which price is decisive. To subjective value there corresponds a specific feeling dependent upon a satisfaction of needs by possession of goods, a definite level of interests; in contrast, to objective value there corresponds nothing but a definite price, a definite amount of payment.
The measure of the former lies in the levels of desire, in the latter in quantities of money, in the figures of price sums. Price, for von Wieser, is a social fact, but one that does not indicate the social valuation of goods. But, as some reviewers detected, there is also present a critique of neo-classical theory, sometimes in an implicit form that raises a series of issues not dealt with by the marginalists. To be sure, there are present elements of a subjective theory of value but the radical consequences of economic exchange relations, the reification of social relations, the shift in focus from individual social action to social interaction which is exchange and to its reified form, money exchange, are also emphasized by Simmel.
Recalling the first dimension of economic relations, that between human beings and the cosmos, including nature, we find that Simmel commences The Philosophy of Money with an analysis of the universal significance of the value of objects. The distance between that which I desire and my own desire varies according to the amount of resistance and my ability to overcome it, just as desires themselves can be increasingly differentiated. However, once we move away from the solipsistic presuppositions of a single subject and an economic object, we find that other subjects desire the same object, or that another consumer does not desire the object which I have on offer.
This is true for Simmel whether we are referring to a subsistence or a market economy. In both cases one is concerned with receiving goods for the price of other goods in exchange, in such a way that the final situation shows a surplus of satisfaction as compared with the situation before the action. We are unable to create either matter or force; we can only transfer those that are given in such a way that as many as possible rise from the realm of reality into the realm of values. This formal shift within the given material is accomplished by exchange between people as well as by the exchange with nature which we call production.
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There is a further, important respect in which Simmel challenges marginalist economic theory, namely in exploring the preconditions of exchange without making them a logical consequence of utility theory. For Simmel, exchange is a sociological phenomenon sui generis, an original form and function of social life. It is in no way a logical consequence of those qualitative and quantitative aspects of things that are called utility and scarcity, which acquire their significance for the process of valuation only when exchange is presupposed.
If exchange…is precluded, then no degree of scarcity of the desired object can produce an economic value. However, it is not merely these sociological dimensions of exchange which the marginalist economic theorists would have looked askance at. In The Philosophy of Money, Simmel makes the link between exchange relations and money by means of a philosophical justification for a relativistic world view. It is an indication of the projection of a relationship into an object, it is a symbol of a relationship. When Simmel comes to discuss the significance of money in the exchange process, it is as if he moves from an earlier discourse language of marginal economic theory to a discourse that has more in common with Hegel and Marx.
In this discourse, money represents pure interaction in its purest form; it makes comprehensible the most abstract concept; it is an individual thing whose essential significance is to reach beyond individualities. Pure exchangeability is pure relativity. The value of objects in their exchangeability is a fact that Marx formulates as the elimination of use-value in favour of exchange value in a society based upon commodity production—but this development seems unable to reach its consummation. Only money…has attained this final stage; it is nothing but the pure form of exchangeability.
Simmel provides an account of the shift from the intrinsic value of money to its functional and symbolic value that is both philosophical and historical. The continuous subjective balancing precipitates the objective relation between commodity and price. On the other hand, however, money has a special relationship with concrete values, as that which symbolizes them. Furthermore, money is influenced by the broad cultural trends, and it is at the same time an independent cause of these trends.
We are interested in this interrelation here in so far as the form of money is determined by the conditions and needs of human society. Indeed, he wishes to claim that economic phenomena must be examined sociologically.
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Its reified form is money exchange, the replacement of human-human or human-thing relations with thing-thing relations. That contribution is summarized by Schmoller as a concern with the question as to what money and the money economy have made of the thoughts, feelings and intentions of individuals, of societal constellations of social, legal and economic institutions. His theme is the retroactive effect of the most important institution of the modern economy—money—upon all sides of life, of culture.
But the concept of this uniform standard of value does not answer the question of how labour power itself became a value. Simmel calls for greater precision in the examination of what constitutes labour. More specifically, he argues that the value created by mental labour cannot be reduced to units of simple labour power or to money wages rent for scarce skills is one marginalist alternative , and therefore suggests a search for a more comprehensive unit of labour.
This problem is examined today in many debates on the nature of complex labour, and the distinction between abstract and concrete labour. At a more general level, it is possible to argue that what Simmel focuses his attention upon in major sections of his work is the sphere of circulation and exchange of money and other commodities. Yet there is an important shift in marginal utility theory from its subjective, personal presuppositions to the measure of utility in exchange through a law of indifference. Every such act of indifferent choice gives rise to an equation of degrees of utility, so that in this principle of indifference we have one of the central pivots of the theory.
Despite commencing from marginalist assumptions, Simmel highlights different dimensions of the law of indifference, the state of equilibrium and differential coefficients. Finally, it is a presupposition of calculability that personal qualities are reduced to quantities; indeed, the reification of exchange relations as manifested in mature capitalist money exchange relations is a presupposition for calculation itself. There is another way of looking at how Simmel goes beyond his initial marginalist assumptions.
The concept of interaction or reciprocal effect Wechselwirkung lies at the centre of his social theory. It enables Simmel to develop a conception of society as a constellation of interactions, as dynamic, individual and supraindividual, as a system of internal relations. In this and other respects his work contains a sociological and philosophical critique of its own economic presuppositions. Hans Simmel It is hardly possible to treat of the mental life of the metropolis in a sparser and more biased way than he [Simmel] did in his lecture of that title at the Gehe Foundation in Dresden.
At the same time, other essays treating similar themes are often either not dealt with at all or are examined in completely different constellations. The present investigation seeks to bring together three complexes of work that are usually seen in isolation from one another. In some cases, they have hardly begun to be examined at all. The autonomous existence of the metropolis essay and the fact that Simmel spent most of his life in Berlin has also led to its obvious thematic identification with Berlin—and the only metropolis mentioned by Simmel in the essay is indeed Berlin, in the imaginary context of all its clocks telling different times.
At all events, he remained in Berlin until, at the age of fifty-six, he finally secured in a chair of philosophy at Strasbourg University, a move which he always regretted. Simmel spent the majority of his life in one of the fastest growing cities in Germany after He experienced the elevation of Berlin from a city to a metropolis—symbolically identified with the Berlin Exhibition of It was then and continued to be one of the centres of migration from Eastern Europe and later from Russia.
The University of Berlin was already attracting large numbers of students from both Central Europe and Russia, as well as from North America. Simmel himself became a significant figure in intellectual and cultural circles, certainly after Earlier, he went without question to its university where, from until he taught philosophy, sociology, aesthetics and social psychology.
By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, his lectures were attracting hundreds of students, often to the chagrin of many of his colleagues.
Simmel and Since : Essays on Georg Simmel's Social Theory
At the same time, Simmel was himself at the intersection of a variety of intellectual circles in Berlin in which philosophers, artists, poets, economists and students might interact. It is not yet known whether he was ever a member of a political party, but in the early s at least he also moved in socialist circles, publishing in their journals and attending their social gatherings. And in contrast to many of his contemporaries, he displayed little interest in attempts to escape metropolitan existence permanently, to artistic and other communal retreats in the countryside; Worpswede or Sils Maria were not for Simmel.
Instead, he was thoroughly at one with a cosmopolitan, metropolitan, intellectual existence. What is largely absent from the image of the metropolis, viewed from its West end is its industrial dimension. What Simmel describes in his essay on the metropolis and elsewhere is the capital city, the focal point of the money economy, not the industrial city, which would have produced a very different conception of the metropolis.
The capital city is the city of metropolitan culture, state bureaucracy and, in the case of Prussia, a substantial military presence, as well as its commercial interactions and social distractions. The Berlin of an expanding industrial economy, with often advanced industries, and with its industrial suburbs of Moabit and the like, is absent. It follows from this that what is also absent is a social class analysis of the metropolis, at least in the essay on the metropolis. Industrial conflict and the development of trades unions is present in other essays. In turn, what is also largely absent is the heavily contested public political space of the metropolis, which only receives occasional attention, for instance, in the essays on social space.
This sphere of circulation and exchange is, however, a sphere in which value differences are often obscured, in which class divisions are rendered opaque and do not always immediately manifest themselves. It should be emphasized here that under circulation should be subsumed not merely commodities but also individuals. Perhaps not untypically, Simmel himself circulated in Berlin as far as his residence was concerned. Later, most summers and sometimes in the spring Simmel went to Switzerland or Italy.
On at least one occasion, in , he visited St Petersburg, and he made a number of trips to Paris where he met Rodin , Prague, Vienna, and so on. Around the turn of the century, according to his son Hans, Simmel accepted ever more frequent invitations to give lectures in the most varied cities—single lectures or a series—sometimes in student circles, more often before a general audience. He found it exciting; on the return journey he sometimes already worked on his next lecture. Still within the context of circulation, we find that one of the house removals was to the newer part of Berlin, Westend.
We had an extensive view from the balcony of the apartment and, in addition, a better connection to the city, since the subway was only two minutes away. Here it occurs to me that my father once related a dream that is so absolutely typical of him that it is worth writing down. At first, one could only produce it by the minute, just as one can also only produce artificial diamonds in very small crystals.
On a number of occasions, Simmel draws attention to the social distance that is preserved on public transport systems, a largely absent interaction—apart from glances—with adjacent passengers, perhaps made more striking by the rapidity and confined space of underground carriages.
In his essays on social space, rather than the more famous essay on the metropolis, Simmel mentions the social space between social classes, the boundaries of social interaction. All three analyse various spatial dimensions of social interaction, and, more specifically, forms of social distance, all involving forms of social, physical and psychological differentiation.
The two original essays on the sociology of space do not deal exclusively with social space in the metropolis. Rather, only occasionally is the metropolis touched upon. None the less, it is possible to draw out their relevance for the metropolis. The same is also true of the three appendices on the social boundary, the senses and the stranger.
In none of these cases is the metropolis a central focus of attention. The interaction of human beings is experienced as different ways of filling in space. However, in order to examine the social preconditions for sociation more closely, Simmel concentrates attention upon some basic qualities—five in all—of spatial forms that are confronted in social interaction. These comprise the exclusiveness or uniqueness of space, the boundaries of space, the fixing of social forms in space, spatial proximity and distance and the movement of space.
Hence, what Simmel wishes to demonstrate is that it is social interaction which makes what was previously empty and negative into something meaningful for us. Sociation fills in space. Every part of space possesses an exclusiveness or uniqueness. Particular social formations may be identified with particular spaces, such as states or districts of cities, although in different ways. Indeed, within the city there has often been a functional rather than a quantitative filling out of space, as in the medieval city with its differentiated guilds or corporations.
In other words, it can be framed in by boundaries. Here Simmel specifically draws upon the analogy with the picture frame in so far as framing has a similar significance for social groups as for works of art. Spatial framing has a wider importance that Simmel does not draw out, namely in our constitution of social experience. None the less, he does indicate that a society, and forms of sociation, possess a sharply demarcated existential space in which the extensiveness of space coincides with the intensity of social relationships. This is in contrast to nature where the setting of boundaries appears arbitrary.
The social boundary, however, constitutes a unique interaction in so far as each element affects the other by setting a boundary but without wishing to extend the effects to the other element. Therefore, the sociological boundary signifies a quite unique interaction, in which what is significant is the interactions woven on either side of the boundary. In contrast to forms of boundary maintenance, both political and social, Simmel draws out the relationship in the city between the impulsiveness of crowds in open spaces that gives them a sense of freedom and the tension of a crowd in an enclosed space.
The indeterminacy of boundaries may also be seen in the spatial framework of darkness, in which the narrowness and breadth of the framework merge together to provide scope for fantasy—a not insignificant theme in the literary genres of the thriller and detective novel. A third spatial feature in social formations is the capacity for fixing or localizing of social interaction in space. Here Simmel indicates four possibilities. First, the existence of a continuum from the completely local binding together of individuals as in the medieval town to a situation of complete freedom.
Second, the fixing of a social form at a focal point, as in economic transactions though Simmel points out that this derives not from the substantive immobility of a particular place but from the functions connected with the place. The rendezvous also indicates that human memory is stronger on space than on time. Finally, the individualizing of place is a significant urban development from the earlier naming of houses to their numbering and, in the Enlightenment period, occasionally the numbering and lettering of streets.
The relationships between proximity and distance constitute the fourth dimension of social space. It would be possible to grade all social interactions on a scale of proximity or distance. In the metropolis it is distance, abstraction and indifference to those who are spatially adjacent, as well as close relationships to the spatially distant that are typical. The final dimension of space that Simmel examines is the possibility of changing locations. What Simmel does not draw attention to, but which was a marked feature of Berlin, is the substantial migration of groups to the metropolitan centre from the east.
Here he highlights four typical spatial formations arising out of social forms themselves. These are, first, the structuring of space according to the principles of political and economic organization; second, local structure arising out of relationships of domination; third, fixed localities as the expression of social bonds i. Communication techniques e. Where this has become a more generalized thesis in social theory, it may account for the neglect of social space as a central issue. Social distance is a phenomenon of particular significance for Simmel. As Donald Levine has commented, nearly all of the social processes and social types treated by Simmel may be readily understood in terms of social distance.
Secrecy, arbitration, the poor person, and the stranger are some of the topics related to the insideoutside dimension. This is probably nowhere more true than in metropolitan existence. However, we can also create a distance between ourselves and the metropolis in a number of ways. The camera gave the moment a posthumous shock, as it were. The impressionist image may be more appropriate. This suggests that Simmel seeks to preserve what is unique and transitory whilst simultaneously extracting from it its essential form, its typicality.
We can create a distance between ourselves and the metropolis by travelling to distant landscapes. The aesthetic distance implicit in the framed landscapes of experience in mass tourism are themselves aesthetic, even if merely sublime. We can return later to the possibilities for Berlin as an aesthetic landscape as far as Simmel was concerned. In the essay on Rome a prominent theme is how beauty can emerge out of the coming together of seemingly diverse and perhaps indifferent elements. However, Simmel argues, in addition to nature and works of art as aesthetic objects, very seldom we confront a third: that works of human beings, created for whatever diverse purposes of life, are, over and above this to be found together in the form of beauty, so fortuitously in their combination as little directed by a will to beauty as are natural forms that know nothing of any purposes.
It is almost always only old cities, that have developed without a preconceived plan. What we are confronted with here and this is also true for the analyses of Florence and Venice is the aestheticization of a feature of modernity—fortuitousness—that transcends the contradictions of modernity. Rome exists in the aesthetic frame of antiquity and classical forms. Florence is the city which most successfuly unifies the opposition between nature and intellect, a reconciliation of human artistic design with nature.
The city in this resolution is a renaissance work of art, an aesthetic totality of these two elements. It is a city of two-dimensional surfaces in which everything moves at the same speed and rhythm. Can the metropolis be a landscape, an aesthetic cityscape? If we take his distinction between the work of art and the applied arts, in which the former is something for itself and the latter something for us, then the metropolis is something for us.
It is our creation, however much it may appear to us as an endless labyrinth whose elements are always in motion. But if the metropolis is not a landscape—or as Benjamin put it, a cityscape—it may still possess aesthetic attraction. Webs and labyrinths are themselves both spatial and aesthetic forms. There is also another aesthetic dimension in the metropolis. The aesthetic experiences of interaction, symmetry, frames, etc.
It may be that we do not notice them. It is hardly possible to treat the mental life of the metropolis in a sparser and more biased way than he did in his lecture of that title at the Gehe Foundation in Dresden. The Dresden exhibition on the modern metropolis was significant in that it gave a positive impetus to further examination of a whole range of dimensions of modern metropolitan existence as well as the physical conditions of major cities in Germany.
As Howard Woodhead informs us, in a detailed four-part survey of the Dresden exhibition published in the American Journal of Sociology40 in the following year, it was the first German municipal exhibition of its kind. It covered metropolitan traffic, streets, railways; metropolitan expansion of worker and suburban housing; metropolitan public charities, welfare institutions and employment offices; metropolitan public health; education; metropolitan cultural facilities; and so on. This positive public exhibition of the problems of metropolitan urban existence is in marked contrast to the long-established traditions of cultural pessimism associated with urban life in Germany.
The development of boundaries and social distance in the metropolis is of fundamental significance in understanding patterns of social interaction and network in the city. Important too is the transcendence of such boundaries and distance in so far as the metropolis is the focal point of the mature money economy whose functional specialization enables it to transcend its own physical location and creates a distinctive kind of trans-spatial community.
And these immense concentrations of social power can be put to work to realize massive but localized transformations of nature, the construction of built environments, and the like. In his essay on the metropolis, the connections between the money economy and the metropolis are developed more fully. In turn this is associated with the creation of ever-new needs: The seller must always seek to call forth new and differentiated needs of the enticed customer.