See his On Individuality and Social Forms: Selected Writings, ed. and with an introd. by D. N. Levine (1971); biography by D. Frisby (1984); essays by and about Simmel, edited by K. H. Wolff (1965); studies by N. J. Spykman (1925, repr. 1964), L. A. Coser (1965), and D. Frisby (1981).
(born March 1, 1858, Berlin, Ger.—died Sept. 26, 1918, Strassburg) German sociologist and philosopher. From teaching posts at the universities of Berlin (1885–1914) and Strassburg (1914–18), Simmel did much to establish sociology as a basic social science in Germany. He sought to isolate the general forms or recurrent regularities of social interaction from the specific content of definite kinds of activity, such as political, economic, or aesthetic. He gave special attention to the problem of authority and obedience. His ideas became influential in the U.S. through the works of Robert E. Park, Albion Small, and Ernest Burgess. Seealso interactionism.
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Georg Simmel (March 1, 1858 – September 28, 1918) was one of the first generation of German sociologists. His studies pioneered the concept of social structure, and he was a key precursor of social network analysis. His most famous works today are "The Philosophy of Money", "The Stranger", "The Web of Group Affiliation, and "The Metropolis and Mental Life".
His religious background was complicated but germane to his marginal status in German academia. He was born to a prosperous Jewish business family, but his father became a Roman Catholic. His mother's family was originally Jewish, but she was a Lutheran. Georg Simmel, himself, was baptized as a Protestant when he was a child.
Simmel studied philosophy and history (but he also studied social psychology and Medieval Italian) at the University of Berlin. In 1881 he received his doctorate for his thesis "The Nature of Matter According to Kant's Physical Monadology". He became a Privatdozent at the University of Berlin in 1885, officially lecturing in philosophy but also in ethics, logic, pessimism, art, psychology and sociology. His lectures were not only popular inside the university, but attracted the intellectual elite of Berlin as well.
Although his applications for vacant chairs at German universities were supported by Max Weber, Simmel remained an academic outsider. Only in 1901 was he elevated to the rank of extraordinary professor (full professor but without a chair; see the German section at Professor). At that time he was well-known throughout Europe and America and was seen as a man of great eminence.
Simmel nevertheless continued his intellectual and academic work, taking part in artistic circles as well as being a cofounder of the German Society for Sociology, together with Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber. This life at the meeting point of university and society, arts and philosophy was possible because Simmel had been the heir to a fortune from his appointed guardian.
In 1890 he married Gertrud Kinel. A philosopher in her own right, she published under the pseudonym Marie-Luise Enckendorf. They lived a sheltered and bourgeois life, their home becoming a venue for cultivated gatherings in the tradition of the salon. They bore one son, Hans Eugen.
Only in 1914 did Simmel receive an ordinary professorship with chair, at the then German University of Strassburg. Because of the outbreak of World War I, all academic activities and lectures were halted as lecture halls were converted to military hospitals. In 1915 he applied - without success - for a chair at the University of Heidelberg.
Prior to the outbreak of World War I, Simmel had not been very interested in contemporary history, but rather in looking at the interactions, art and philosophy of his time. However, after its start, he was interested in its unfolding. Yet, he seems to give conflicting opinions of events, being a supporter in "Germany's inner transformation", more objective in "the idea of Europe" and a critic in "The crisis of culture".
Eventually, Simmel appears to have grown tired of the war, especially in the year of his death. He stopped reading the paper and withdrew to the Black Forest to finish his book. Shortly before the end of the war in 1918, he died from liver cancer in Strassburg.
One of Simmel's most widely read essays is "The Metropolis and Mental Life (Die Großstadt und das Geistesleben)" from 1903, which was originally given as one of a series of lectures on all aspects of city life by experts in various fields, ranging from science and religion to art. The series was conducted alongside the Dresden cities exhibition of 1903. Simmel was originally asked to lecture on the role of intellectual (or scholarly) life in the big city, but he effectively reversed the topic in order to analyze the effects of the big city on the mind of the individual. As a result, when the lectures were published as essays in a book, to fill the gap, the series editor had to supply an essay on the original topic himself.
Unfortunately for Simmel, "The Metropolis and Mental Life" was not particularly well received during his time. The organizers of the exhibition were appalled due to its negativity toward city life. However, during the twenties the essay was influential on the thinking of Robert E. Park and other American sociologists at the University of Chicago who collectively became known as the "Chicago School". It gained wider circulation in the 1950s when it was translated into English and published as part of Kurt Wolff's edited collection, The Sociology of Georg Simmel, and now appears regularly on the reading lists of courses in urban studies and architecture history. However, it is important to note that the notion of the blasé is actually not the central or final point of the essay, but is part of a description of a sequence of states in an irreversible transformation of the mind. In other words, Simmel does not quite say that the big city has an overall negative effect on the mind or the self, even as he suggests that it undergoes permanent changes. It is perhaps this ambiguity that gave the essay a lasting place in the discourse on the metropolis.
This essay requires a much closer, more careful reading, not only in order to properly understand Simmel's argument, but also because, over a century since its publication, it still captures the imagination. It is fascinating to ponder how Simmel, writing about cities at a time when the populations of only a few European cities topped one million and the automobile was still a rarely-sighted, slow-moving object, so accurately described the intense effects that mechanized, brightly-lit cities like New York or Tokyo would eventually have on people's perception many decades after his death.
He defines sociability as, "the play-form of association," driven by, "amicability, breeding, cordiality and attractiveness of all kinds." In order for this free association to occur, he says, "the personalities must not emphasize themselves too individually...with too much abandon and aggressiveness." 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. As so many social interactions are no 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.
The same can be said of Simmel when he says that, "the vitality of real individuals, in their sensitivities and attractions, in the fullness of their impulses and convictions...is but a symbol of life, as it shows itself in the flow of a lightly amusing play, or when he adds: "a symbolic play, in whose aesthetic charm all the finest and most highly sublimated dynamics of social existence and its riches are gathered. Again, one has to conclude that he is describing human interactions at their idealised best and not the more typical ones, which tend to fall a long way short of his descriptions.
All above quotes are from Simmel's The Sociology of Sociability.