Social Forms: Conflict, Hierarchy, Sociability
Social Types: The Stranger
Freedom + the Individual
Intersection of Social Circles
Conflict and integration
Conflict is a major topic of sociology. It’s clear why. There’s obviously a difference between groups who
have more conflicts than another. You want to understand typically why one has conflict. What are the
consequences? Simmel takes a step back and talks about conflict in an interesting way. He doesn’t start
with the assumption that conflict is necessarily, speaking generically, something that will break apart a
group. It might lead to defragmentation or disintegration. He has an interesting approach.
Disassociation or associating function, brings people together. Being in conflict with someone is a way of
being in a relationship with someone. If you are in conflict, you might care about the other person more
than anything. Levels of countries; US vs. Soviet Union, they weren’t tightly connected before the war.
But now they are. The main point is that conflict is neither good or bad. Any group always have
conflictual elements and this thing that pushes it apart; a push-pull tension.
Simmel believes that every social unit has conflictual and harmonious elements. Why is that? Often the
conflicts and competitions are what holds the groups together, gives it an energy or vibrancy. For
example, sports teams; you’re in position with everyone else. If you showed up and there was none of
that, the team would not be as tightly held together or as fun. Another example; marriage; when you
notice people’s weddings, we have an image of no conflict as an ideal. Simmel says no way. You are
basically deciding who you’ll have the most fights with for the rest of your life. Fighting is part of a
healthy marriage, you connect with them in new ways through fighting. Workplace environment; the
best workplace, no fighting, etc. A lot of people, the whole reason for showing up at work is because of
feuds with everyone else there. This gives a kind of drama and excitement to the workplace.
Two Levels of Unity
If you only thing of conflict alone, you might think that that is negative, it actually has a positive affect
towards a group. Unity (peacefulness) vs. Conflict; there’s a higher unity and incorporates both unity
and conflict – that is the most unified group. Simmel uses this example; you could also think about life in
this way. Life in one sense, the other side is death. There is a deeper meaning of life that includes both
life and death and the process of that. These are sort of general, metaphysical ideas in Simmel’s
conception of how unity correlates with the group.
Conflict for itself
The whole purpose of a group is to create opportunities to fight with people. Example; UFC; boxing;
Simmel wrote in our chapter, you can see, martial arts/boxing; it’s an important phenomenon in
sociology. You are excluding everything else. In a pure form, you get people together just for the
pleasure of fighting somebody. Durkheim or integration; or Comte; integration seems to be the obvious
good. The idea that people get into fights is nonsense.
The key thing about forms of association, it occurs in various arenas; church, work, school; that’s a
formal property. Many conflicts have a temporal features, an order.
1) People who start out in a conflict, that could relate to the deepest love in the end. That
sequencing is important in determining the nature of your relationship
2) The opposite way; you start out in a close loving relationship, and then you get into a
conflict; the outcome can be the most hateful relationship; divorced people. They were
once in love with each other. But now they are hateful towards each other. Now that you
have a fight it’s the end of the world. When people have love and solidarity before hand, it
will make the relationships a lot worse. These are formal features not based on ordering
that we are interested in.
We can call it domination if we want to.
People on the top
People on the bottom
Hierarchy is really a form of relationship. You can think of a one way street, the guy on the top tells the
slave what to do. Simmel says no really. When you get to that point, it stops to be a relationship, you
need a two-way street. One person forcing another to do something, there’s always a choice. If
someone says do this or I’ll shoot you, you can say shoot me. You are defined by what that person tells
you to do. You have hierarchies in different arenas. The number of people who are in the superordinate
position; you can have a single ruler, a single person on top, a committee, a group of people who are in
charge, or you can have an idea like the rule of law.
1) Under a single individual
You have one person in charge, and he says a lot of interesting things that typically when you
have one person in charge, the group will have a sense of togetherness and unity. Generally
when you are ruled under a single individual, it’ll be more unified
That can be basically where the ruler, like God, or the King, or the professor, somehow
provides a single point of reference of expressing what the group is all about. That can