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Simmel on Secrecy. A Legacy and Inheritance for the Sociology of Information.pdf

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Department
Sociology
Course
SOCI 2150
Professor
George Pollard
Semester
Fall

Description
Simmel on Secrecy A Legacy and Inheritance for the Sociology of InformationGary T MarxGlenn W MuschertIntroductionUsing Simmels article The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies as a point of departure Simmel 1906 441498 this chapter examines selected aspects of the social scientific field of secrecy As Simmel conceptualized it the secret is a central means for information control in contemporary society A brief survey of Simmels writing on secrecy leads to a first conclusion that Simmels impact was rather diffuse at best As is consistent with his approach Simmel offers sensitizing principles which a contemporary researcher might take as groundwork for future research Here as elsewhere MarxMuschert 2007 375395 we argue that what is needed is a sociology of information framework for the study of information flows restrictions and blockages in contemporary society We outline the framework and some related concepts connected to secrecy including publicity privacy secrecy the paradoxes of information and the value of information We conclude with a suggestion about how Simmels writing on secrecy might be usefully connected with his more famous piece on money Simmel 1978 1900 By considering information as an object of value subject to principles of exchange we suggest a number of propositions which might serve future research within a sociology of information frameworkSimmels secrecy legacy as perhaps fits the topic is not as apparent as is his impact in other areas such as the study of conflict urbanization and money But there are clues and fragments of an unfinished puzzle whose broad outline can be grasped The central source is his 1906 article The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies published first perhaps surprisingly in English in The American Journal of Sociology in a challenging translation by Albion Small and later in a more readable version in a translation by Kurt H Wolff A fragment on the secret in German appeared the following year in the newspaper Der Tag Simmel 1907 1993 317323 and a year later the longer article Das Geheimnis und die geheime Gesellschaft appeared as the fifth chapter in Soziologie Untersuchungen ber die Formen der Vergesellschaftung Simmel 1908 247336Fundamental to Simmels writings on secrecy was an exploration of the role of information in social interactions Simmel pointed out that it is clearly necessary for an individual to know something about the other parties in an interaction and he noted this as a precondition to interaction However this knowledge of the other always exists somewhere between full knowledge which is unattainable and complete ignorance When faced with a The authors wish to acknowledge the research assistance of Kirsten Younghee SongGary T MarxGlenn W Muschertlack of information about another an individual may compensate by supplying what is imagined to be true Thus all social interactions occur as a reciprocal process in which the actual knowledge of another believed to be correct is supplemented by the assumed facts about the other Incomplete knowledge of others may require some form of confidence In fact the incomplete aspect of information in social relations necessitates trust considered by some sociologists eg Emile Durkheim to be a central element of society Thus confidence serves as the intermediary between complete knowledge and complete ignorance of others This modernization process has expanded greatly in the recent decadesencouraged by societal changes such as increased interaction with strangers or highly circumscribed contact with those we hardly know and the increased significance of distancemediated interactions across cultures and timeIn some ways there is more control over information and more information to be controlled and more space for keeping information from others in modern societies Rules about revelation and concealment are also more developedTrue to form Simmel left a legacy in bits and pieces and such a legacy is often diffi1cult to track as it is found in scraps examining some basic forms of social life While Sim1Simmel on secrecy has received minimal attention in English reference materials The entry in the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences Seligman 1935 on Simmel does not mention his work on secrecy In the same volume a piece on secret societies does reference Simmels chapter of 1908 but unlike several other scholars does not specifically refer to his ideas in the body of the text Secret society does appear almost 50 years ago in A Dictionary of the Social Sciences GouldKolb 1964 however Simmel receives no mention and there is no entry on Simmel The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences Sills 1968 article on Simmel refers to the secret society as an example of a structural principle defining a type of group but offers no consideration of its substance or social processesContemporary reference books offer little on the topic The subjects of secrecy and secret societies are rarely mentioned There are no entries for the terms in the Penguin Dictionary of Sociology Abercrombie HillTurner 1994 Concise Oxford Dictionary of Sociology Marshall 1994 and the Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology Turner 2006 Although each of the dictionaries contains an entry on Simmel the topic of secrecy is not mentioned There are no entries for secrecy or secret societies in the Encyclopedia of Sociology BorgattaMontgomery 2000 Encyclopedia of Social Theory Ritzer 2005 and Blackwell Companion to Major Social Theorists Ritzer 2000 Simmel is considered but the articles make no mention of his work on secrecy A reference to Simmel on secrecy does appear in the International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences SmelserBaltes 2001 137803 Secrecy Anthropology of There are various dictionaries and encyclopedias of secret societies conspiracies or fraternal orders eg SteigerSteiger 2006 Axelrod 1997 but none of these mention Simmel Similarly there are scant references to secrecy in the sections on Simmel in most current undergraduate and graduatelevel social theory texts Even Coser whose sociological theory is closely associated with Simmelian thought does not discuss secrecy in his textbook Coser 1977 An exception is a textbook by RitzerGoodman which examines Simmels writing on secrecy which they characterize as a characteristic type of Simmelian scholarship RitzerGoodman 2004 176 A key point in contemporary texts is that secrecy as a social form is linked to the scale of a society such that a social organization with a highlydifferentiated division of labor will result in relatively more secrecy in social relations than in a homogeneous society ibid177Searching academic databases can help us see the career of a work over decades Because Simmels essay on secrecy appeared in several iterations in a variety of languages and is sprinkled throughout his articles on other topics it is difficult precisely to track its impact The Social Sciences Citation Index only extends back to 1965 thus excluding Simmels publications on secrecy In the database Sociological Index Simmels 1906 American Journal of Sociology article is cited fourteen times six times in the 2000s four times in the 1990s thrice in the 1970s and once in the 1950s While underwhelming given references to Weber or Durkheim references to Simmels article likely far exceeds the number of contemporary references to any other sociology article published in 1906 The gradual increase in references over the last four decades speaks to his increasing relevance
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