Sociology Index

Georg Simmel

A German professor of philosophy who wrote extensively on aesthetics, epistemology, the philosophy of history as well as sociology. Among distinguished sociologists, Georg Simmel's solution was to picture society as a web of social interactions between people. Georg Simmel's work on the metropolis was a precursor of urban sociology, symbolic interactionism and social network analysis. Both Simmel and Weber's nonpositivist theory would inform the eclectic critical theory of the Frankfurt School.

Georg Simmel's neo-Kantian approach laid the foundations for sociological antipositivism, asking 'What is society?' in a direct allusion to Kant's question 'What is nature?', a pioneering analyses of social individuality and fragmentation. In his analysis of power, Georg Simmel argued that the powerful could not exercise their power without the complicity of their subordinates; power is an interaction. If there are social structures like the family, they are to be considered as mere crystallizations of interactions between individuals.

Focusing on the relationships between worlds, lives and fragments in these works, David Beer opens up a conceptual toolkit for understanding life as both an individual experience and as a deeply social phenomenon. Taking the reader through artistic and musical forms of inspiration, to the problems of culture and on to the conceptual understanding of lived experience, David Beer's book illuminates the richness of Simmel’s ideas and thinking.

Georg Simmel was also concerned with the study of social development, as characterized by social differentiation and the emergence of a money economy. The translation into English of The Philosophy of Money (1900), which, among other topics presents an alternative to the Marxist labour theory of value, has inspired a new interest in the whole corpus ot Georg Simmel's work.

Georg Simmel's works include The Problems of the Philosophy of History (1892), The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903), Soziologie (1908), The Stranger, The Social Boundary, The Sociology of the Senses, The Sociology of Space, and Fundamental Questions of Sociology (1917). He also wrote extensively on the philosophy of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

Georg Simmel's assumptions about the psychological workings of social life, his interest in the sociological workings of interpersonal relationships, and his work on the structure of and changes in the Zeitgeist, the social and cultural spirit of his times are valued greatly. Simmel's main works available in English include The Problems of the Philosophy of History (1892) and two collections of essays. The Sociology of Georg Simmel, ed. K. Wolff (1950) and Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations (1955).