Georg Simmel, circa 1901 © Julius Cornelius Schaarwächter | sammlungen.hu-berlin.de
EssaysTheory & Practice

Simmel and the Social Condition

Georg Simmel (1858 – 1918) had a very precise and original conception of the subject matter of sociology: the forms, but not the contents, of human interaction. Sociology as a distinct discipline of human inquiry, he maintained, is directly comparable to geometry. As geometry, by studying the forms of “physicochemical” contents “determines what the spatiality of things in space really is,” sociology studies the forms of human interaction of all sorts, what he called “sociation.” The study of sociation, Simmel maintained, is the specific subject matter of sociology, the way to understand what society really is.

Following this path he studied a diverse range of formal subjects: domination, conflict, exchange and “sociability” (sociation as an end in itself, as in a cocktail party) built around considerations of the spacing and timing of social relations. Yet his most extraordinary work combined this formal sociology with the study of the forms and contents of culture: …

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