Simmel on Metropolis Mental Life
“ Man is a differential creature.”
* In city, there is more nerve stimulating. We notice difference, instead of
similarities. Sharp discontinuity, and lot of changing caught people’s attention.
* Psychological condition.
* The city have sharp difference than rural and countryside.
* Man is a discriminating creature, (we pick on difference).
* People are paying attention to differences; and, the sense will be more
bombarded 质问 in the city.
- Contrasting life in city and country side: in city our nerves are more stimulating,
we notice there is a difference, but not similarity. We don’t pay attention to things
that are conformed. We are more alert to differences. Given the way we are put
together, our senses are more bombarded in cities than in countryside.
“The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903)
1. Source of identity in “The Web of Group Affiliations” (Networks)
* Social structure and traditional society. Connectedness of people.
* Simmel looks at traditional society (village) and modern society (City)
* In the traditional society: dense relationships: everybody in the community
knows each other. Consistency of identity. ---> The idea is people that we
know, they are collecting information about us, they are consistently monitor
and surveillance us, watching everything and every word we do.
* But in today’s society: loss linkage between people: our family with family next
door. Modern society. Galaxy in the distance, instead of knowing everyone.
* In modern city, pressure to consistency is weaker because we are exposed to
different kinds of people and groups.
* Consequences of the shift from Traditional to Modern society. i.e. the
monitoring function is weakened.
* I.e. humor, some jokes can tell in a social circle, but you cannot tell in other
social circle, probably shame, or dare.
* Connecting difference social roles.
* Given we are not the same in each social circle, who are we as an individual?
Simmel is asking the question of integrity (complete, unified), if our personality
is disintegrating in terms of consistency of personality, and also asking moral
integrity as well.
* Challenge of retaining certain integrity.
* The question: WHO AM I? in different situation, lack of consistency, we are always changing.
* Integrity? Personality inconsistency.
* Connection between social integration (fulfilling different social roles) and lack
* Modern Life: more diversity. But also challenges.
* Connection between social network and identity.
1. Sources of identity in “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (networks and
tempo of stimuli) (reading for tonight)
* Concerned about identity in modern society again
* Simmel is talking about interaction between people. Frequent. Nature of
interaction. Social distance.
* Simmel talking about interaction and nature of interactions.
* City dwellers are less emotional than country side people, especially on market
transaction in the city.
* Talked about hardness of people in economic exchanges, the indifference to
others because who you are and who your clients are shouldn’t matter in
1. An added twist: Human are differentiating creatures.
* Not only sounds, feeling, but also the exposure of different people.
1. The identity of the big-city dweller:
* market transaction in the cities. Trade things with people.
* Exchange of things and its quality.
* Calculations of people. Hardness.
* Indifference to others. Who you are is not matter in terms of the price of your
* Hardness, how close to the people you charge from.
* Most Simmel’s discuss is about...
* Being bombarded in the city, more stimulated.
* Simmel says, in the city, lack of rest, new sensations, a lot of new is happening.
* Loss of the differences.
* We are so over-stimulated eventually we are tired, and we don’t respond
* Too much happening, resulting in capacity to react to new stimuli.
* We are overloaded so we fail to discriminate, meaning we fail to tell things
apart. -- Reserve
* City people are More cool, more distance.
* Difference of city and small town. In small town, be sure that people are not
alone. But in city like Toronto, too many people, too many contact. People are
* Over-stimulated, too many contacts too many people.
* We close up, and self-protected when there are more people and getting
* We are trained as reserve and self-protection.
* Simmel says another reason is self-protection because we are doing this to
each other too. If we are being treated with reserved, makes no sense for use
to not be.
* The city is a place, people are cool to each other. reserve. We are treat people
back, people to us is cool, we cannot be war.
* The cultivation of refined differences.
* We feel inherently entitled to personal space in city.
* In one hand, reserve. on the other hand, we feel that we need to be treat as
* We still wish to draw attention to our own circles.
* We cultivate superficial peculiarity of taste -- goal is to stand out in the city.
* Manner and dress, and taste. --> the goal is to stand out in the city.
* individuality --> city life treat them as interchangeable to each one of other.
* Individual preserve preciousness in order to protect their core identity that sets
them apart to others according to Simmel.
- Simmel’s bitter sweet way of talking.
- He did not that which is better, from before and now.
- He did not make his political value obvious. Different from Marx and others. I.e.
- Durkheim’s value, the value of solidarity.
- Simmel’s value is hard to judge. He gave a fair evaluation of tradition and
1. Simmel; vs. Tocqueville: a disagreement? (Modernity and Freedom)
To Tocqueville: the modernity is more democracy, it is more conformity. Modern
society is less good for produce the individuality.
- Simmel does not have that explicit of a stand point as other thinkers like Marx. - Tocqueville believe the regime before French Revolution is better at producing