George Simmel 1858-1918

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George Simmel 1858-1918

The Stanger: 

  • the potential wanderer who has not quite overcome the freedom of coming and going... is an element of the group itself' 
  • why do we need stangers?
  • to be trader ('the classical example is the history of European jews') 
  • to be objective. 
  • 'objectivity may also be definted as freedom'
  • the stranger can say they thinks, they have no stake in the status quo, no investment to protext and this means that what the stranger says 'contains many dangerous possibilites' 
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The Metropolis:

  • fast changing and demanding
  • think of the calculation involved
  • we dull our feelings down otherwise we would be unable to cope
  • we are indifferent, even hostile to those millions who now press so closely around us. 
  • the metropolis is the natural home of objective culture (not just in the art galleries and theater) but everywhere.
  • in this, as in all respects, individuals are given great freedom and choice
  • but what they lose is the emotional spring of thier own creativity and any sense of meaning in their lives.
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  • you can express you individuality and follow the crowd through fashion: makes you feel both different and the same.
  • most fashionable people are able to carry this off with the most panache - exaggerating the fashion of the moment.
  • the most individual are the most dominated by fashion
  • they are the most dependent on group approval.
  • when Simmel write about idea of 'objective culture' he doesnt just have in mind the metropolis or fashion.
  • but simmel wanted sociology to become - the study of the interaction created by objective culture.
  • to understand this you have to understand his sitinction between FORMS and CONTENTS.
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Forms and Contents of Sociology:

  • contents are the = needs, drives, ambitions.
  • Forms are the = social things we create when we pursue these ambitions.
  • these things range from pretty concrete (2 way relationships) to very abstract (like society)
  • Simmel emphasis is on the way the forms affect our relationships with each other.
  • Economic institituions and money operate as forms to relaise ambitions and also to cage them and stultify us with false needs.
  • Subjective expression (e.g art) becomes objectified in the artistic canon. 
  • same thing happens with religion belief or economic system and all are hostile to the individuals need to express themselves, to live out thier uniquenes. 
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The Philosophy of Money:

  • money onliterates differences between people that used to define traditional societies: not just ascribed differences but also personal and subjective qualities of every kind.
  • when you take money from them or give it to them money makes the exchange more impersonal. 
  • as money get more important impersonality becomes apparent of the sort of society it is.
  • bad character and ascribed character matter less, are not handicaps to social esteem and so on.

Money becomes the Universal Measure: 

  • money is the talisman of modern life against which the whole world and everything in it can be measured.
  • everything can be measured against everything else so, in a way, we know baout the whole world.
  • is money is a measure of everything = everything has a price? 
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Everything has a price?

  • we are more dependent on others... and what they are like, and who they are, matters less and less.
  • money intrudes deeper into parts of out lives which no one could have conceived might have anything to do with economic calculation
  • we start to look at all aspects of out lives as exchange and this fundamentally changes how we feel about others. 
  • its like durkheim and a little like Weber on rationalisation.
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  • irrationality gives way to reason because of the spread of money as the medium of exchange.
  • it flattens culture differences between people as everyone related within and between their socieities in this impersonal way
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Money Dis-enchants:

  • money allows us to over-ride cultural differences to make a potentially dangerous/fruitless visit to a foreign culture turn out the way we want it to.
  • being a stanger is not a problem anymore, everybody is at home because they have money.
  • there isnt room for irrationality and mystery becasue everyone has the same transparent and rationalised orientation to money. 
  • not that there are no Hierarchies in modern society, no subordination, but there is a differnece in modernity.
  • in traditional societies the lord reigned over the peasants directly byt now everything is mediated through money. 
  • its becasue the lord has money that they are higher than, or have power over the peasants; and its only becasue the peasants lacks money that they lack power and position in society.
  • relationship between us and money creates which Simmel wants to see as Liberating things.
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Money Continued:

  • with money in charge pursue other ends that their needs.
  • new posibilities are created when money becomes the universal objective standard of personal worth - everyone measures themselves against each other compared to money. 
  • can use signs of money to manipulate how people react to you and treat you: you do this when you choose what to buy, to wear etc.
  • Modern culture makes us most alienated from life but gives us the change to design out own lives to give meaning. 
  • fashion 'furnishes an ideal field for individuals with dependent natures, whose self-consciousness, requires a certain amount of prominence, attention adn singularity. fashion raises even the unimportant individual by making him the representative class" (american journal of sociology, 1957) 
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Money... continued... again:

  • money allows us to design our own lives in this way - completely impossible in the traditional socieities before money became a generalised mode of exchange. 
  • money has taken over so many aspects of our lives (as opposed to traditional societies) and simmel tells us about the effects of this on our inner lives - our aspirations, expectations and fantasies. 
  • this can seem to be liberating
  • living in society where money rules, rather than religion kinship = alot more freedom. 
  • becasue money is neutral: it doesnt make you submit to particular values, live you life in a set way etc.... you have more freedom. 
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impression Management:

  • it can seem a very empty victory with money because we are in danger of becoming just this: the impressions we seek to give to others.
  • we have no relations with others that are quthentic 
  • everything is mediated by money and impression management. 
  • who is genuine ?
  • this may be why we need the money and the clothes etc that money can buy
  • we have lost all things we used to believe in that made money unnecessary
  • we can pay the prices but we dont have any values and dont really know what we want
  • the only value is novelty and nothing we already have is valuable except in the sense that it is worth lots of money.
  • Schopenhauer believe that virtues like compassion are much more irrational than rational and Simmel was following this line of though
  • our reason sets us thirting after novelty
  • we always want more; more sensation, more excitement
  • this constant search for stimularion is what serves instead of the things we once believed in.
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