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SOCB43H3 (6)


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University of Toronto Scarborough
Dan Silver

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 another • Form/content dichotomy – any social phenomenon is composed of two elements which in reality are inseparable and distinction is only analytical o Content – the interest, purpose, or motive of the phenomenon or interaction o Form – 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: o The same form of sociation is observed in dissimilar contents and in relation to different purposes o Content is expressed through a variety of different forms of sociation as its medium • 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 – 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 interaction • 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 THE NATURE OF ECONOMIC EXCHANGE • 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 EXCHANGE AS CREATIVE PROCESS • 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 THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SACRIFICE • 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 themselves • 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: o Absolute – the sacrifice is the desire for comfort and leisure where work is annoying and troublesome o Relative – 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 THE RELATIVITY OF VALUE • 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) THE SOURCE OF VALUE • 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 THE PROCESS OF VALUE FORMATION: CREATING OBJECTS THROUGH EXCHANGE • 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 contrasts • Indifference (as in the rejection or termination of sociation) is a purely negative phenomenon • 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 • This brings up the issue of the apparent dualisms Georg is always banding around. When he actually addresses the subject he makes the point that he doesn’t promote differentiations. Rather he thinks that we must think of these polar differentiations as of one life • We might construct these conceptual categories to help us understand reality, but the actual reality we seek to comprehend (i.e., life) exists as an integrated, unitary phenomenon o Unity rather than dualism • Some of the confusion around the concept of unity, Simmel believes lies in its two-fold meaning: o Unity as consensus and concord of interacting individuals (as opposed to dissensus and discord) o Unity as total group-synthesis of persons, energies, and forms • In certain cases of interaction, opposition is actually an element in the relationship itself • Conflict may not be only a means of preserving the relation, but also one of the concrete functions which actually constitute the relation itself • This is a case of conflict in its latent form (he cites marriage, the Hindu caste system, and the necessary distance and aversions of urban life as examples) • Simmel notes that conflict must cooperate with unity in generating social structure • His analysis returns to the notion that elements of a relationship (or a social structure) may not actually be experiences as conflictual/unifying but that this tendency to interpret separateness may constitute an artifact of hindsight and post facto perspective • Reality is dynamic and unity, but our interpretations and attempts to comprehend it tend to impose a dualistic/categorical matrix for interpretation • Antagonism does not itself produce sociation, but it is a sociological element almost never present in it • Fighting is in some cases a means determined by a superior purpose, while in other cases there are inner energies which can be satisfied only through conflict (fighting as an end in itself) • Antagonistic game: game carried on without any prize for victory, but which exists only for the fight itself • Antagonists unite under the same set of rules/norms in order to fight • At the highest level of spiritual cultivation it is possible to avoid conflict in intimate relations, for it is characteristic of this level to combine complete mutual devotion with complete mutual differentiation • Cultivation gives relations between harmonious persons the advantage that they become aware, precisely on the occasion of conflict, of its trifling nature in comparison with the magnitude of the forces that unify them • The refined discriminator sense makes attractions and antipathies more passionate if these feelings contrast with those of the past • Sometimes between men and women a fundamental aversion, even a feeling of hatred – not in regard to certain particulars, but the reciprocal repulsion of the total person – is the first stage of a relation whose second phase is passionate love • This particular bitterness which characterizes conflicts within relationships whose nature would seem to entail harmony is a sort of positive intensification of the platitude that relations show their closeness and strength in the absence of differences • This sociological sense of discrimination and the accentuation of conflict on the basis of similarity have a special nuance in cases where the separation of originally homogeneous elements occurs on purpose o Here, separation doesn’t follow from conflict but conflict from separation Chapter 7: Domination (pages 96-100) • Domination may facially appear as a desire to completely determine the actions of another party. This is not really the case since what ego truly seeks is that her/his influence should be reflected and act back upon her/him • Domination is, therefore a case of interaction, rather than a unidirectional dynamic • The notion of society, in fact, dependent on the independent significance of (both) interaction parties • Authority relations actually possess more freedom on the part of the party subjected to the authority than is generally supposed o Individual – a person of superior significance or strength acquires an overwhelming weight of his opinions, a faith, or a confidence which attain a character objective o Institutional – a supra-individual power clothes a person with a reputation, dignity, power of ultimate decision which would never flow from that persons individuality. Simmel suggests that the voluntary faith of the party subjected to authority supports the notion that such relations are not totally determined by the superordinate  As evidence, he cites the very “feeling of oppressiveness” of authority which he supposes would be absent in if the autonomy of the subordinate were eliminated • Prestige (as distinguished from authority) lacks the element of super-subjective significance and lacks the identity of the personality with an objective power or norm • As such, prestige is determined solely by the strength of the individual and often leaves less room for criticism than is possible with the distance inherent between the parties in more object authority relations Chapter 9: Sociability (pages 127-140) • Society must be considered a reality in a double sense. On one hand there are individuals in their directly perceptible existence, the bearers of the process of association, who are united by these processes into the higher unity which is the society. And the other hand, there the interests which, living in the individuals, motivate such a union • It is for the sake of special needs and interest that individuals unite (in economic associations, blood fraternities, and the like). • Above their special content, though, all associations are accompanied by a feeling for, by a satisfaction in, the very fact that one is associated with others and that the solitariness of the individual is resolved into togetherness, a union with others • There is in all effective motives to associate a feeling of worth in, a valuing of the form of association as such, a drive which presses toward this form of existence. • The impulse to sociability distills us of the realities of social life (content), the pure essence of association (form), of the associate process as a value and a satisfaction • Play draws its great essential themes from the realities of life: chase and cunning; proving of physical and mental powers, the contest and reliance on chance • By freeing these themes (forms) from the substance of real life, play gets its cheerfulness but also the symbolic significance that distinguishes it from pure pastime • Similarly, sociability makes up its substance from numerous fundamental forms of serious relationships among individuals, a substance spared the frictional relations of real life • But out of its formal relations to real life, sociability takes on a symbolically playing fullness of life and a significance which superficial rationalism alway
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