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SOCB43H3 Chapter Notes -Polytheism, Georg Simmel, Content Analysis

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Dan Silver

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GEORG SIMMEL ( On Individuality and Social Forms)
Philosophy of the Social Sciences
Chapter 3: The Problem of Sociology (pages 23-35)
Society exists where a number of individuals enter into interaction (interaction is key to
everything), which arises on the basis of certain drives or for the sake of certain
purposes. Unity (or sociation) in the empirical sense constitutes the interaction of
elements (i.e., individuals in the case of society)
Individuals are the loci of all historical reality, but the materials of life are not social
unless they promote interaction. This follows since only this sociation can transform the
mere aggression of isolated individuals into specific forms of being with and for one
Form/content dichotomy – any social phenomenon is composed of two elements which
in reality are inseparable and distinction is only analytical
oContent – the interest, purpose, or motive of the phenomenon or interaction
oForm – the mode of interaction among individuals through/in the shape of which
the specific content achieves social reality
The existence of society requires a reciprocal interaction among its individual elements,
mere spatial or temporal aggregation of parts is not sufficient
The task of sociology is to analytically separate these forms of interaction or sociation
from their contents and to bring these together under a consistent scientific viewpoint
Form/content analysis rests upon two principles:
oThe same form of sociation is observed in dissimilar contents and in relation to
different purposes
oContent is expressed through a variety of different forms of sociation as its
You can have a little or a lot of society. Basically there is no such thing as society “as
such” – the ‘quantity’ of society boils down to the degree or kind of interaction or
sociation that occurs
Simmel conceives sociology as the science of social forms. He makes use of a helpful
analogy of geometry as the study of forms (i.e., shapes) which may exist in an unlimited
variety of physical materials.
Simmel believes that sociology should leave the examination of the content of societal
interaction to other sciences (such as psychology or economy) in the way that geometry
leaves content analysis to the physical sciences
Sociology should concern itself with abstracting generalizable social forms from a cross
sectioin of actual phenomena and identifying specific characteristics, features, and
dynamics of these forms that remain valid across a wide array of forms
He thinks that the dilemma can be resolved by reconceptualizing sciences as specifically
concerned with either formal or content-related aspects of actual phenomena or objects
How are we supposed to study society? Simmel acknowledges that serious problems of
methodology face sociology – a product of the complex nature of the subject matter and
the task of formal analysis that he proposes
In the end, though, he believes that the sociologist must employ intuitive procedures to
express sociological relevance by means of examples. This involves a comparative
analysis of specific occurrences (content) and the deductive analysis – or reconstruction

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– of the relations, connections, and dynamics that can be observed among facially
disparate examples
Forms of Social Interaction
Chapter 5: Exchange (pages 43-58)
Simmel views exchange as the purest and most concentrated form of significant human
Much action that may initially appear to be unilateral actually involves reciprocal effects
(i.e., is a form of exchange) and generally all interactions may more-or-less be
conceived of as exchange
One characteristic of exchange is that the sum of values (of the interacting parties) is
greater afterward than it was before –i.e., each party gives the other more than he had
himself possessed
Economic exchange – regardless of whether it involves material objects, labor, or
embodied labour – entails the sacrifice of some good that has other potential uses. To
some extent value attached to a particular object (i.e., material or in the form of labour)
comes about through the process of exchange itself
The Isolated Individual behaves as if in relations of exchange, but in this case with the
natural order rather than with a second free agent
Sacrifice is a major component of exchange and may in some case take the form of an
“opportunity cost” in the traditional economic sense
In addition, the give-and-take between sacrifice and attainment within the individual
underlies every two-sided exchange
Simmel believes that exchange is just as productive or creative of values as is
“production” in the common sense
Along these lines, exchange constitutes a displacement of materials between
individuals, while production involves an exchange of material with nature
Value and exchange (as an actually inseparable factor) constitute the foundation of our
practical life in the sense that we relate to the objects around us by conferring them with
value in
Sacrifice is not always just an external barrier to our goals; it is rather the inner condition
of the goal and of the way to it
Only through elimination, the resistance that stands between us and our goals do our
powers, abilities, and capacities have an opportunity to be demonstrated and prove
This follows along Simmel’s general principle that (absolute) unity evolves through a
dialectical process of synthesis and contradiction
Exchange (here expressed as labour) can occur in two forms distinguished on the basis
of the sacrifice involved:
oAbsolute – the sacrifice is the desire for comfort and leisure where work is
annoying and troublesome
oRelative – indirect sacrifice (of non-labour) occurs in cases where the work is
performed indifferently or actually carries a positive value – an opportunity cost
dynamic is working here

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Value is not contained within an individual object; but rather is a product of a process of
comparison, the content of which does not lie within these things themselves
We project the concept of determinacy of value back into the thing, which we presumed
the objects to have had before the comparison (i.e., value is relative and exists only
within a dynamic of comparison)
We can conceive of economic activity (a form of exchange) as a sacrifice in return for a
gain where the value of the gain from an object derives from the measure of the sacrifice
demanded in acquiring that object
Value is always situationally determined in such a way that in the moment of the
exchange- of the making of the sacrifice- the value of the exchanged object forms the
limit which is the highest point to which the value of the object being given away can rise
Therefore, an exchange is always “worth it” to the parties involved, at least at the actual
instant the exchange takes place
Simmel suggests that sacrifice itself can produce value. We need only things of the case
of “easy money” and how easily it is spent: the easy-come-easy-go principle
Economic value therefore does not reside in some of the self-existence of an object, but
comes to an object only through the expenditure of another object which is given for it
Simmel quotes Kant: “the conditions of experience are at the same time the conditions of
the objects of experience:
Simmel goes on to say that the possibility of economy is at the same time the possibility
of the objects of economy
The transaction between two possessors of objects which bring them into the
“economic” relation (i.e., reciprocal sacrifice) at the same time elevates each of these
objects to the category of value
Simmel also states that exchange is neither giving or receiving per se, but rather is a
new third process that emerges when those processes are simultaneously the cause
and effect of each other
Exchange is the dynamic interaction between giving and receiving
Chapter 6: Conflict (pages 70-84, 92-95)
Conflict resolves divergent dualisms, in such a way as achieves some kind of unity, even
though one of the conflicting parties may be injured or destroyed
Therefore, conflict has the positive characteristic of resolving the tension between
Indifference (as in the rejection or termination of sociation) is a purely negative
Simmel also contends that conflict is necessary for (societal) change to occur since a
purely harmonious group (a pure “unification”) is not only empirically unreal, but could
not support real life process
Society, then, is actually the result of the positive and negative categories of interaction,
which manifest themselves as completely positive
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