The Anthem Companion to Georg Simmel [1 ed.] 2016035457, 9781783082780, 178308278X

'The Anthem Companion to Georg Simmel' brings together new interpretations of the work of this sociologist and

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The Anthem Companion to Georg Simmel [1 ed.]
 2016035457, 9781783082780, 178308278X

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  • Online version (2017), should be identical to the print copy

Table of contents :
Editors’ Introduction pp 1-12 By Thomas Kemple & Olli Pyyhtinen
Chapter 1 - Simmel and the Study of Modernity pp 13-28, By David Frisby
Chapter 2 - Sociology as a Sideline: Does It Matter That Georg Simmel (Thought He) Was a Philosopher? pp 29-58 By Elizabeth S. Goodstein, Emory University
Chapter 3 - Modernity as Solid Liquidity: Simmel's Life– Sociology pp 59-80 By Gregor Fitzi
Chapter 4 - On the Special Relation between Proximity and Distance in Simmel's Forms pp 81-100 By Natàlia Cantó
Chapter 5 - The Real as Relation: Simmel as a Pioneer of Relational Sociology pp 101-120 By Olli Pyyhtinen
Chapter 6 - Vires in Numeris: Taking Simmel to Mt Gox pp 121-140 By Nigel Dodd
Chapter 7 - Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism pp 141-160 By Thomas Kemple
Chapter 8 - Frames, Handles and Landscapes: Georg Simmel and the Aesthetic Ecology of Things pp 161-184 By Eduardo de la Fuente
Chapter 9 - Goethe and the Creative Life pp 185-190 By Georg Simmel, none, Austin Harrington, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Appendix - Simmel in English: A Bibliography pp 191-198, By Thomas Kemple

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The Anthem Companion to Georg Simmel

ANTHEM COMPANIONS TO SOCIOLOGY Anthem Companions to Sociology offer authoritative and comprehensive assessments of major figures in the development of sociology from the past two centuries. Covering the major advancements in sociological thought, these companions offer critical evaluations of key figures in the American and European sociological traditions, and will provide students and scholars with an in-​depth assessment of the makers of sociology and chart their relevance to modern society. Series Editor Bryan S. Turner –​City University of New York, USA, and Australian Catholic University, Australia Forthcoming titles in this series include: The Anthem Companion to Hannah Arendt The Anthem Companion to Auguste Comte The Anthem Companion to Everett Hughes The Anthem Companion to Karl Mannheim The Anthem Companion to Robert Park The Anthem Companion to Talcott Parsons The Anthem Companion to Phillip Rieff The Anthem Companion to Gabriel Tarde The Anthem Companion to Ferdinand Tönnies The Anthem Companion to Ernst Troeltsch The Anthem Companion to Thorstein Veblen The Anthem Companion to Max Weber

The Anthem Companion to Georg Simmel Edited by Thomas Kemple and Olli Pyyhtinen

Anthem Press An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company This edition first published in UK and USA 2016 by ANTHEM PRESS 75–​76 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA, UK or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK and 244 Madison Ave #116, New York, NY 10016, USA © 2016 Thomas Kemple and Olli Pyyhtinen editorial matter and selection; individual chapters © individual contributors The moral right of the authors has been asserted. All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. British Library Cataloguing-​in-​Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-​in-​Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested. Names: Kemple, Thomas M., 1962– editor. | Pyyhtinen, Olli, 1976– editor. Title: The Anthem companion to Georg Simmel / edited by Thomas Kemple and Olli Pyyhtinen. Description: London; New York, NY: Anthem Press, [2016] | Series: Anthem companions to sociology | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2016035457 | ISBN 9781783082780 (hardback) Subjects: LCSH: Simmel, Georg, 1858–1918. | Sociology. | Social sciences – Philosophy. Classification: LCC HM479.S55 A58 2016 | DDC 301–dc23 LC record available at ISBN-​13: 978-1-78308-278-0 (Hbk) ISBN-​10: 1-78308-278-X (Hbk) This title is also available as an e-​book.

CONTENTS Editors’ Introduction Thomas Kemple and Olli Pyyhtinen Chapter 1. Simmel and the Study of Modernity David Frisby Chapter 2. Sociology as a Sideline: Does It Matter That Georg Simmel (Thought He) Was a Philosopher? Elizabeth S. Goodstein Chapter 3. Modernity as Solid Liquidity: Simmel’s Life-​Sociology Gregor Fitzi Chapter 4. On the Special Relation between Proximity and Distance in Simmel’s Forms of Association and Beyond Natàlia Cantó-​Milà Chapter 5. The Real as Relation: Simmel as a Pioneer of Relational Sociology Olli Pyyhtinen



29 59



Chapter 6. Vires in Numeris: Taking Simmel to Mt Gox Nigel Dodd


Chapter 7. Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism Thomas Kemple


Chapter 8. Frames, Handles and Landscapes: Georg Simmel and the Aesthetic Ecology of Things Eduardo de la Fuente




Chapter 9. Goethe and the Creative Life Georg Simmel Introduced and translated by Austin Harrington


Appendix Simmel in English: A Bibliography by Thomas Kemple


Notes on Contributors




EDITORS’ INTRODUCTION Thomas Kemple and Olli Pyyhtinen

Thinking with Simmel A ‘Companion to Simmel’ must come to terms with the many ways in which Georg Simmel (1858–​1918) himself can be considered a ‘companion’ for understanding the complexities of modern life. Simmel’s voluminous writings do not so much guide or direct readers on how to examine their experiences of change and continuity as much as they complement and form a counterpart to those experiences. At most, the intellectual distance he exemplifies offers a kind of means for probing and coping with the stresses and stimuli of contemporary existence. In a similar way, this volume does not offer a set of instructions or a comprehensive overview for reading Simmel’s works, but rather, more modestly, it aims to accompany readers in their efforts to think and move through these works. Like a pet, a friend or a fellow traveller, this Companion follows some of the paths Simmel took in his journey to the very core of sociology, which he understood as the study of how the socius, generally speaking, holds together and falls apart. These contributions are therefore made in the spirit of Simmel’s own pieces on ‘The Sociology of Sociability’ ([1917a] 1971)  and ‘The Sociology of the Meal’ ([1910a] 1997), where he describes how the regard each of us has for ourselves is linked with the frequency and felicity we have of being together with others. The chapters that follow are therefore meant to participate in and sustain a conversation in our time that Simmel initiated in his own with friends, listeners and readers through his books, lectures and essays. Compared to the mounting masses of works on other sociological giants like Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber, until recent years the Anglophone secondary literature on Simmel has remained somewhat scarce. While there may be several reasons for this relative neglect, it cannot be explained by his work remaining unfamiliar to an English-​speaking readership. On the contrary, throughout much of the twentieth century Simmel was



the only European classic to exert a lasting influence on North American sociology (Levine, Carter and Gorman 1976, 813). His impact is evident among a variety of North American authors, ranging from the Chicago school sociologists Albion Small, Robert E. Park and Everett C. Hughes to Erving Goffman, Talcott Parsons, Kaspar D. Naegle, Robert K. Merton and Lewis E. Coser, and more recently to postmodernist sociologists such as Deena Weinstein and Michael Weinstein as well as a number of social network analysts like Roland Burt and Barry Wellman. Interestingly, it was from the United States that Simmel was re-​imported after World War II from across the Atlantic even to Germany as a classic of urban studies, role theory, conflict theory and analyses of small groups. Whilst the post-​war North American reception of Simmel’s work focused especially on his studies of small groups and conflict (such as Becker and Useem 1948; Hare 1952; Caplow 1956; Coser 1956; Mills 1958; Bean 1970; and Thompson and Walker 1982), the more recent appreciation of Simmel’s work in the Anglophone world owes much to David Frisby (1944–​2010) and Donald N. Levine (1931–​2015). It was Frisby (1985) who portrayed Simmel as the ‘first theorist of modernity’, and we therefore include here one of Frisby’s last and most comprehensive statements on this theme. In his chapter, Frisby contextualizes Simmel above all in relation to the tradition of aesthetic modernism initiated by the poet Charles Baudelaire. Frisby laments that while the classical sociologists tried to delineate what is novel in modern society, they largely failed to grasp the experiential dimension of modernity. Simmel, however, makes an exception. The modernity that Simmel examines in his texts must, according to Frisby, be understood in the Baudelairean sense of ‘the transient, the fleeting, the contingent’. Simmel treats modernity as a specific mode of experience seated in the mature capitalist money economy and the modern metropolis. Frisby’s work challenged what was until then the predominant one-​sided image of Simmel by introducing to the Anglophone social scientific readership a much more versatile thinker. Both his writings and translations highlight Simmel’s ideas about culture, aesthetics, modernity and individuality, and draw attention to Simmel’s omnivorous analytical tastes for a wide range of phenomena, from money to the metropolis, the alpine journey, the ruin, the problem of style and trade exhibitions. Accordingly, contemporary scholars have emphasized Simmel’s contributions to a remarkably rich variety of themes such as money, value, taste and consumption (Dodd 1994; 2014; Zelizer 1994; Gronow 1997; Sassatelli 2000; Cantó-​Milà 2005); gender (Oakes 1984; Dahme 1988; Kandal 1988; van Vucht Tjissen 1991; Witz 2001); space (Lechner 1991; Frisby 1992; 2001; Ziemann 2000; Löw 2001, 58–​63; Schroer 2006, 60–​81); time (Scaff 2005); secrecy and mendacity (Barbour 2012); material



culture (Miller 1987; Appadurai 1988); nature (Gross 2000; 2001; Giacomoni 2006); and trust (Accarino 1984; Möllering 2001). In spite of this remarkable diversity of themes, many scholars agree with Levine (1985; 2012) in taking issue with the famous idea of Simmel as a sociological flâneur (Frisby 1985) or bricoleur (Weinstein & Weinstein 1991) whose ideas would never add up to a coherent theoretical argument, and hold that Simmel’s writings actually do make up a systematic corpus of work concerned with fundamental questions of human existence and individual freedom in a world of social turbulence. The writers included in this volume have each made recent contributions to an emerging new wave of Simmel scholarship. To some extent they were selected in view of their geographical and institutional location as well, and they were each invited to write on any aspect of Simmel’s work that interests them. We emphasized that we are not attempting to cover the whole of Simmel’s scholarly output, but rather to highlight those issues, themes and concepts that would most concern readers today. We are less interested in the usual summaries and reverential commentaries on topics that have been of perennial concern –​money, the stranger, the metropolis and so on, although these and other familiar issues come up frequently here –​and more in showing how Simmel’s work is relevant, interesting and significant for advancing contemporary discussions and debates. The Companion thus approaches Simmel himself as a companion of sorts –​as someone whom to think with –​rather than attempting to explain what he really meant or to contextualize him in a fixed historical intellectual lineage.

Social Life in Process The chapters that follow fall naturally into two main sections, the first (chapters 1–5) addressing general questions concerning ‘social life in process’ that characterize the whole of Simmel’s work, including the tension between subjective versus objective culture, philosophy versus sociology, solidity versus liquidity and proximity versus distance, followed by a transitional chapter on Simmel’s relational view of reality. The second section (chapters 6–9) considers ‘the limits of individual life’, and includes chapters that focus on more particular issues, such as the material and immaterial nature of money, the sources of (neo)liberalism in the culture of conflict and competition, the aesthetics of things and the creativity of selfhood. The primary concern in each chapter is not just to review Simmel’s ideas or even to provide accurate readings that have not yet received adequate attention in the literature. Rather, what most interests the contributors to this volume is to explore how Simmel offers a kind of model for addressing our various disciplinary concerns, and to examine the degree to which he continues to speak to the experience of our own present.



The salient feature of the latest Simmel scholarship has been to stress the significance of the philosophical or ‘trans-​sociological’ (Harrington & Kemple 2012, 8) aspects of his work and the confluence of his sociological and philosophical concerns (Pyyhtinen 2010). In her contribution to the present volume, Elizabeth Goodstein suggests that we should indeed take Simmel seriously as a philosopher. We cannot understand Simmel’s sociological contributions properly unless we take into consideration his philosophy as well. Goodstein argues that grasping the figure of the ‘stranger’, for example, requires a perspective that pays regard to both its sociological and philosophical aspects. And she suggests that the preoccupation with Simmel’s shifting disciplinary location between sociology and philosophy allows us to come to grips with our own interdisciplinary intellectual culture today. In considering Simmel solely as a sociologist, sociologists, according to Goodstein, risk forgetting how their discipline is rooted in philosophy, and, in neglecting Simmel almost entirely, philosophy easily bypasses what was lost when it became a discipline among others. In his chapter, Gregor Fitzi also stresses the linkage between Simmel’s sociology and philosophy. It has been customary in the secondary literature to treat Simmel’s life-​philosophy as separate from his sociological project. Fitzi corrects this misinterpretation by arguing that Simmel’s mature work presents an extension of his sociological concerns and ideas from 1890–​1908. In his post-​1908 writings Simmel sought to extend the sociological a priori from the societal domain to the domain of culture, art, politics, law and religion, for instance. Fitzi addresses this link by employing the notion of ‘life-​sociology’, and he identifies the dynamics of social life and social forms as its primary preoccupation. Notwithstanding his emphasis on process and dynamic relations, not all that is solid melts into air; for Simmel, modernity also amounts to ‘solid liquidity’ –​in contrast to authors like Henri Bergson or more recently Zygmunt Bauman, who lay emphasis on open-​ended processes of becoming and ‘liquidity’ and thereby tend to disregard the boundary-​forming processes of being and solidity. Natàlia Cantó-​Milà’s chapter focuses on the significance of the notions of proximity and distance in Simmel’s thought –​an issue that, in relation to boundaries and strangers, has become especially topical in light of the current European migrant crisis. We are compelled to think our simultaneous proximity and distance to strangers, as the Mediterranean Sea becomes a mass grave for migrants from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa fleeing the war and turmoil that has taken over their home countries, and countries like Hungary build ‘anti-​migration’ fences to prevent the flow of migration. Cantó-​Milà shows that notions of near and far play a crucial part well beyond Simmel’s sociology of space and even his sociology of forms. Proximity and distance are constitutive components of all our relations; they



structure our relation to others, to the world and to ourselves. Cantó-​Milà also makes an important analytical distinction between those forms of relations  –​such as competition or flirtation  –​in which proximity and distance constitute but one axis among others, and those social types  –​such as the stranger and the lovers –​which are primarily organized in relation to them. While the idea that proximity and distance are among the main axes of social life already suggests that the social can be understood only in relational terms, the chapter by Olli Pyyhtinen looks into Simmel’s relational thought more closely. Pyyhtinen observes how Simmel places relations into the heart of sociology. His work counters the substantialist assumptions still prevalent today in sociological modes of thinking and speaking. Instead of beginning from static, self-​enclosed entities in a state of rest, Simmel turns attention to their emergence, movement and cessation in and through relations of interaction. Pyyhtinen also suggests that we can tease out of Simmel’s work a relational, nonreductionist ontology, which not only acknowledges the fundamental entanglement of entities but also counters the micro–​macro binary. Instead of assuming that processes occur on two levels only, this relational ontology proposes that there is an infinite number of layers to the real –​every entity is made of an infinity of interrelated parts.

Individual Life at the Limits Simmel’s work takes on a certain inner shape from these more general themes, namely, in his efforts to describe the characteristic style of modern life; to develop a sociologically informed philosophy (and vice versa); to account for the cultural dynamics of solidification and liquefaction; to trace the sociological tensions between proximity and distance; and to offer a compelling view of the irreducibly relational character of reality. Throughout his career he was also concerned with finding particular examples of these patterns while exploring the outer limits of existence and the boundaries of experience. In formulating the ‘Problem of Sociology’ as early as 1984 ([1908c] 1994, 2009), he focuses on how the methods and concepts of this emerging scientific view may be employed to frame objects of knowledge, and also how this new cultural sensibility has itself become a subject of broader concern. On a few occasions he radicalizes this problem by suggesting the need to advance a ‘sociological aesthetics’ ([1896d] 1968), a ‘sociological metaphysics’ ([1908c] 2009, 660; GSG 11, 842–​3) and even a ‘sociological ethics’ ([1917a] 1997; [1918e] 2010). At this stratum of his writings he deepens his interrogation of the forms of association, interaction and individuation by addressing experiences of the fragmentation, fragility and fallibility of life in all its dimensions (Kemple 2007; Harrington and Kemple 2012). To paraphrase the expression



he uses in The View of Life (Lebensanschauung), which many contributors reproduce in various ways, the task is to examine how life unfolds, intensifies and effervesces into ‘more life’ (Mehr-​Leben), while ultimately augmenting, overcoming and transcending itself into ‘more-​than-​life’ (Mehr-​als-​Leben). The chapters that take up this theme as a central focus are therefore concerned with the borders of social life and the limits of individual life, and in particular, with how actions and actors are subjected by and shaped within, directed to and taken over by others. Consider Nigel Dodd’s discussion of Simmel’s argument that understanding money as a ‘claim upon society’ ([1900/7] 2004, 177).  may serve as a reminder of its basis within intersubjective relations of mutual trust, rather than merely its function in creating mechanical independencies. Taking the rising and falling prospects of Bitcoin and other alternative currencies that have emerged since the 2007 financial crisis as his test case, Dodd considers how the liquidation of territorialized finance regulated through states can be sustained and consolidated by the reciprocal effects and fluid relationships of value. The collapse of the Bretton-​Woods system since World War II and the deregulation of currencies in recent years have created conditions that promote both the diversification and the homogenization of money forms that drive accelerated turnover, speculation and the general expansion and intensified ‘socialization’ of the financial sector. Also attempting to update Simmel, Thomas Kemple traces a strand of recent debates over neoliberalism to the ways in which Simmel’s early work explores the perforated frontiers of sociology and biology by treating society as a life-​form in which conflict and competition become driving forces for the growth, development, survival and welfare of the species. Kemple shows how this ‘biosocial’ understanding of life emerged among a remarkable range of thinkers in the 1890s, Simmel included, and draws on vitalist and evolutionary discourses about the interdependence or ‘propping’ (Anlehnung) of culture onto nature in ways that prefigure recent neoliberal concerns with the vitality of individuals, the rise of an entrepreneurial ethos and the control of populations in capitalist societies. A similar concern with locating Simmel within current transdisciplinary debates animates Eduardo de la Fuente’s discussion of the shorter occasional and anecdotal pieces on ‘The Philosophy of Landscape’ ([1913a] 2007), ‘Bridge and Door’ ([1909a] 1997), ‘The Picture Frame’ ([1902b] 1997) and ‘The Handle’ ([1911] 1959). The apparent banality of these studies betrays their radical significance as a starting point for conceptualizing the aesthetic agency of things, or in de la Fuente’s terms, for understanding the capacity of objects to form ‘a configuration of elements capable of transformation and reversal’. De la Fuente wants to draw on these shorter writings by Simmel as a resource for reanimating the concept of ‘context’ in cultural sociology and



environmental geography by reframing it in terms of life (including the internal process of the perceiving subject) and form (including the external properties of the ecology of objects). In complementary ways, Austin Harrington’s introductory remarks to his translation of the opening chapter of Simmel’s 1913 monograph Goethe emphasize the inward, expressive dimension of this dynamic in the creation of new forms of selfhood, particularly as this project is threatened by capitalist social transformation (also see [1914a] 2007). As in the studies of Rembrandt ([1916c] 2005), and of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche ([1917e] 1991), Simmel is not interested in writing a standard hagiography, historical biography or literary commentary, but rather in forging a new language of subjectivity in terms of complementarity, difference and wholeness. Goethe’s life-​work is therefore not only a model for the genius striving to shape the self into a work of art, but also a point of reference for anyone labouring to engage the self and others through the detours of division and despair toward synthesis and self-​actualization. The example of individuality that Simmel finds in Goethe involves less the submission to a categorical imperative or the assertion of mere singularity (Einzelheit) and uniqueness (Einzigkeit) than the outward expression of characteristics that are one’s own (Eigenheit) according to the inner workings of a certain ‘individual law’ (Pyyhtinen 2010, 152–​4; Simmel [1917a] 2007; [1918e] 2010; [1916d] 2010). In some ways, these aesthetic studies bring readers to the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem of Simmel’s entire life-​work insofar as they articulate his ultimate conception of the edges of association and the limits of individualization, including his own.

Thinking Beyond Simmel By including the excerpt from Simmel’s monograph on Goethe in this volume, we want to highlight the degree to which significant portions of his work have yet to be made available to a new generation of readers, much less addressed in critical commentaries. The wide circulation of Simmel’s ideas in the English-​speaking world in particular has largely been based on extracts from his larger works published as translations as early as 1893. In fact, by the 1910s no other European sociologist had more texts translated into English than Simmel, the majority published in the American Journal of Sociology. When this stream of translations dried up, it took almost four decades to be replenished, with the publication in 1950 of The Sociology of Georg Simmel edited by Kurt H. Wolff, made up mostly of selections from Simmel’s Sociology ([1908c]) and the monograph Fundamental Problems in Sociology ([1917a]). Until The Problems of the Philosophy of History [1907d] came out in 1977, followed by The Philosophy of Money [1907/​1900] the next year, none of Simmel’s other books had been



available in English in their entirety. Since then, five others have been published  –​ Schopenhauer and Nietzsche ([1907e] 1991), Rembrandt ([1916c] 2005), Kant and Goethe ([1916b] 2007), Sociology ([1908e] 2009) and The View of Life ([1918e] 2010)  –​but the monographs on Kant (GSG 1, 9), social differentiation (GSG 2), the science of morality (GSG 3, 4) and the main questions of philosophy (GSG 14) have yet to be translated, not to mention numerous shorter pieces scattered through his career. (Austin Harrington is currently completing a volume of translations of Simmel’s writings on aesthetics.) The comprehensive list of works by ‘Simmel in English’ included as an appendix to this volume reveals not just what remains to be translated, but also the remarkable variety of translations that have already come out at various times and in a wide range of places. The sporadic and sketchy availability of Simmel’s works in English suggests one of the reasons behind the selective reception of his work, especially when individual texts (on the metropolis, conflict, the stranger, fashion or secrecy, for example) are read as isolated, even fetishized pieces detached from the larger context of his oeuvre. This uneven quality of the early commentaries also helps explain the persistent image of Simmel’s work in the English-​ speaking world as unsystematic, essayistic, impressionistic and fragmentary. But as the contributors to this volume demonstrate, Simmel scholarship has now become broader in scope and more carefully attentive to the systematic and comprehensive character of his thinking. These essays would hardly have been possible without the publication of new translations of his works into English, and above all the recent completion of Simmel’s collected works in German, the 24-​volume Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe (GSG) series edited by Otthein Rammstedt and published by Suhrkamp (see the introductory note to the Appendix, and Rammstedt 2012). And the chapters in this volume would not offer any new insights relevant to today’s discussions if they did not also focus on the subtleties of Simmel’s writing styles, the range of his topics of study and the resonances of his conceptual vocabulary.1 Simmel’s career-​long concern with the dynamics of social and individual life has now earned him a reputation as a classical sociologist who raised 1 The translation of Simmel’s two master terms is an important case in point, and is addressed by all the contributors in one way or another: 1) While Vergesellschaftung has been translated with the neologism ‘sociation’, and can also be rendered with the more narrow term ‘socialization’ or the awkward ‘societalization’, we tend to favour ‘association’ to highlight Simmel’s stress on approaching social life as a dynamic process rather than as a completed substance. 2) Similarly, while Wechselwirkung usually denotes ‘interaction’, Simmel’s peculiar and frequent use of this term also often connotes ‘reciprocal efficacy’, ‘reciprocal causation’ or something like an ‘exchange-​effect’, as well as the many ways in which subjects and objects affect and are affected by one another.



questions about the many-​sided character of sociability and individuality, and about general processes and the particular events they give rise to. And yet he is only rarely referred to in a reverential way as a canonical social thinker or celebrated as a foundational social scientist, if only because he tended to withdraw from the pursuit of professional reputation and to undermine any quest for conceptual foundations (Baehr 2002). Rather than focus on ‘society’ as a state of belonging he emphasizes ‘association’ as a movement of becoming, and instead of stressing how ‘lively interactions’ stabilize and endure in structures such as work and institutions, he usually follows the drift of modern thought in its tendency toward the ‘dissolution of substance into functions, of the solid and the lasting into the flux of restless development’ (GSG 4, 330). In highlighting what is unique about the modern experience, he stresses the need to invent new ways of thinking and describing things, if not also of feeling and explaining existence. But ethical and political questions of justice and welfare are relatively marginal issues in his work, as are those that concern the metaphysical and ontological dilemmas posed by science and technology, except insofar as they are dramatized through the thematics of ‘the tragedy of culture’ ([1911] 1969, 1997). Our task today, then, must be to think with Simmel –​to understand rather than condemn or condone the conditions we live under ([1903] 1971, 339) –​but in ways that accept his invitation to think beyond the problems he posed for us as well.

References N. B.: References to works by Simmel can be found in the Appendix, using both the date of publication in Simmel’s lifetime in square brackets followed by the date of publication of the posthumous edition cited. Accarino, Bruno. 1984. ‘Vertrauen und Versprechen. Kredit, Öffentlichkeit und individuelle Entscheidung bei Simmel’. In Georg Simmel und die Moderne. Neue Interpretationen und Materialien. Heinz-​ Jürgen Dahme and Otthein Rammstedt (eds.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Appadurai, Arjun. 1988. ‘Introduction:  Commodities and the Politics of Value’. In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Arjun Appadurai (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Baehr, Peter. 2002. Founders, Classics, and Canons: Modern Disputes over the Origins and Appraisal of Sociology’s Heritage. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. Barbour, Charles. 2012. ‘The Maker of Lies:  Simmel, Mendacity and the Economy of Faith’. Theory, Culture & Society (Annual Review) 19 (4), 218–​36. Bean, Susan S. 1970. ‘Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd’. American Anthropologist 72 (3), 562–​4. Becker, Howard and Useem, Ruth Hill. 1948. ‘Sociological Analysis of the Dyad’. American Sociological Review 7 (1), 13–​26. Cantó-​Milà, Natàlia. 2005. A Sociological Theory of Value: Georg Simmel’s Sociological Relationism. Livingston, NJ: Transcript & Transaction Publishers.



Caplow, Theodore. 1956. ‘A Theory of Coalitions in the Triad’. American Sociological Review 21 (4), 489–​93. Coser, Lewis A. 1956. The Functions of Social Conflict. New York: The Free Press. Dahme, Heinz-​Jürgen. 1988. ‘On Georg Simmel’s Sociology of the Sexes’. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 1 (3), 412–​30. Dodd, Nigel. 1994. The Sociology of Money. Economics, Reason and Contemporary Society. Cambridge: Polity Press. ——2014. The Social Life of Money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Frisby, David. 1985. ‘Georg Simmel: First Theorist of Modernity’. Theory, Culture & Society 2 (3), 49–​67. ——1992. Simmel and Since. Essays on Georg Simmel’s Social Theory. London and New York: Routledge. ——2001. Cityscapes of Modernity. Critical Explorations. Cambridge: Polity Press. Giacomoni, Paola. 2006. ‘Kontinuität der Formen. Georg Simmels Interpretation einiger Begriffe der Naturforschung Goethes’. Simmel Studies 16 (1), 5–​19. Gronow, Jukka. 1997. The Sociology of Taste. London: Routledge. Gross, Matthias. 2000. ‘Classical Sociology and the Restoration of Nature: The Relevance of Émile Durkheim and Georg Simmel’. Organization & Environment 13 (3), 277–​91. ——2001. ‘Unexpected Interactions. Georg Simmel and the Observation of Nature’. Journal of Classical Sociology 1 (3), 395–​414. Hare, Paul A. 1952. ‘A Study of Interaction and Consensus in Different Sized Groups’. American Sociological Review 17 (3), 261–​7. Harrington, Austin, and Thomas Kemple. 2012. ‘Georg Simmel’s “Sociological Metaphysics”: Money, Sociality, and Precarious Life’. Theory, Culture & Society (Annual Review) 19 (4), 6–​25. Kandal, Terry R. 1988. The Woman Question in Classical Sociological Theory. Miami: Florida International University Press. Kemple, Thomas. 2007. ‘Allosociality: Bridges and Doors to Simmel’s Social Theory of the Limit’. Theory, Culture & Society (Annual Review) 24 (7–​8), 1–​19. Lechner, Frank J. 1991. ‘Simmel on Social Space’. Theory, Culture & Society 8 (3), 195–​201. Levine, Donald N. 1985. The Flight from Ambiguity:  Essays in Social and Cultural Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ——2012. ‘Soziologie and Lebensanschauung:  Two Approaches to Synthesizing “Kant” and “Goethe” in Simmel’s Work’. Theory, Culture & Society (Annual Review) 24 (7–​8), 26–​52. Levine, Donald N., Carter, Ellwood B. & Gorman, Eleanor Miller. 1976. ‘Simmel’s Influence on American Sociology I’. American Journal of Sociology 81 (4), 813–​45. Löw, Martina. 2001. Raumsoziologie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Miller, Daniel. 1987. Material Culture and Mass Consumption. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Mills, Theodore. 1958. ‘Some Hypotheses on Small Groups from Simmel’. American Journal of Sociology 63 (6), 642–​50. Möllering, Guido. 2001. ‘The Nature of Trust:  From Georg Simmel to Theory of Expectation, Interpretation and Suspension’. Sociology 35 (2), 403–​20. Oakes, Guy. 1984. ‘The Problem of Women in Simmel’s Theory of Culture.’ In Georg Simmel: On Women, Sexuality, and Love. Guy Oakes (ed.). New Haven, CT & London: Yale University Press. Rammstedt, Otthein. 2012. ‘On the Genesis of a Collected Edition of Simmel’s Works, 1918–​2012’. Theory, Culture & Society (Annual Review) 24 (7–​8), 302–​16. Pyyhtinen, Olli. 2010. Simmel and ‘the Social’. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.



Sassatelli, Roberta. 2000. ‘From Value to Consumption: A Social-​Theoretical Perspective on Simmel’s Philosophie des Geldes’. Acta Sociologica 43 (3), 207–​218. Scaff, Lawrence A. 2005. ‘The Mind of The Modernist: Simmel on Time’. Time & Society 14 (1), 5–​23. Schroer, Markus. 2006. Räume, Orte, Grenzen. Auf dem Weg zu einer Soziologie des Raumes. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Thompson, Linda and Walker, Alex. 1982. ‘The Dyad as the Unit of Analysis: Conceptual and Methodological Issues’. Journal of Marriage and the Family 44 (4), 889–​900. van Vucht Tjissen, Lieteke. 1991. ‘Women and Objective Culture:  Georg Simmel and Marianne Weber’. Theory, Culture & Society 8 (3), 203–​18. Weinstein, Deena and Weinstein, Michael A. 1991. ‘Georg Simmel: Sociological Flâneur Bricoleur’. Theory, Culture & Society 8 (3), 151–​68. Witz, Anne. 2001. ‘Georg Simmel and the Masculinity of Modernity’. Journal of Classical Sociology 1 (3), 353–​70. Zelizer, Viviana. 1994. The Social Meaning of Money: Pin Money, Paychecks, Poor Relief, & Other Currencies. New York: Basic Books. Ziemann, Andreas. 2000. Die Brücke zur Gesellschaft. Erkenntniskritische und topographische Implikationen der Soziologie Georg Simmels. Konstanz: Universitätsverlag Konstanz.


The superior power of the culture of objects over the culture of individuals is the result of the unity and autonomous self-​sufficiency the objective culture has accomplished in modern times. (The Philosophy of Money 1989, 474) The subjectivism of modern times has the same basic motive as art: to gain a more intimate and truer relationship to objects by dissociating ourselves from them and retreating into ourselves, or by consciously acknowledging the inevitable distance between ourselves and objects. (The Philosophy of Money 1989, 480)

I If it is true that all major social theorists and sociologists since the mid-​ nineteenth century have sought to delineate and sometimes explain the origins of that which is ‘new’ in modern society, then why might we wish to single out the endeavours and contribution of Georg Simmel in delineating the study of modernity? If we turn to classical social theorists and sociologists, then we do indeed find important attempts to investigate modernity. Marx, for instance, highlights three dimensions of modernity: the revolutionary new destruction of the past, the ever-​new destruction of the present and the ever-​same reproduction of the ‘socially necessary illusion’ of the commodity form as a barrier to a qualitatively different future. Marx’s investigation of modernity goes in search of the laws of motion of capitalist society that will explain the phenomenal and illusory forms in which that society appears to us, especially in the sphere of circulation and exchange of commodities. What is largely absent in Marx’s analysis is the detailed investigation of the phenomenal forms, of



‘the daily traffic of bourgeois life’, of ‘the movement which proceeds on the surface of the bourgeois world’, of how individuals experience modernity in everyday life. Indeed, if we define modernity as the modes of experiencing that which is new in modern society (which is broadly how Baudelaire viewed modernity when he introduced the concept of ‘modernité’ in 1859), then we find that the classical sociologists did attempt to delineate that which is new in modern society but largely failed to analyze modernity as modes of experiencing the new. Durkheim approaches this object only in asides and notes in Suicide and elsewhere, where he refers to ‘the different currents of collective sadness’, the ‘collective melancholy’ in modern society, but his putative aversion to psychological explanations left unexamined the experiential dimensions, for example, of the ‘suicideogenic currents’ in modern society. Instead, modernity’s origins are investigated as the transition from mechanical to organic solidarity and, especially, the latter’s ‘abnormal’ forms. Somewhat earlier, Toennies had opted for the transition from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, in order to apply these concepts to ‘the historical and contemporary reality of human collective life’ in such a manner that they can express ‘the facts of experience’. However, despite Toennies’ early illumination of the process of rationalization in modern society –​a theme to be found later in Simmel and, especially, Max Weber –​the examination of the modes of experiencing the new modern society is replaced by a not always clarified theory of will-​formation. The problematic of the process of rationalization and the search for the origins of modern Western rationalism (and its socioeconomic formation, modern Western rational capitalism) is, of course, the site of Weber’s investigation of modernity. Here, as I discuss elsewhere (Frisby 1992, chap. 3), Habermas had argued that this theory of rationalization offers ‘the most promising beginning for the explanation of the social pathologies, which appear as a result of capitalist modernization’. However, it is suggested that Weber’s theory of modernity, focusing on the disjunction of social system and life-​world (ostensibly not dissimilar to Simmel’s separation of objective and subjective culture), also fails to analyze sufficiently the life-​world itself and, in particular, the ‘moral-​ practical and aesthetic-​expressive aspects’ of modernity (Frisby 1986, chaps. 1 and 3; 1992b; Sayer 1990; Whimster and Lash 1987). In Simmel’s case, were we to focus merely on his delineation of the transition to modern society, we could not be anything but less than satisfied with the transition from a simple to a mature money economy (which, as Weber and, later, Mannheim pointed out, conflates a mature money economy with a mature capitalist money economy). However, Simmel’s investigation of the two crucial sites of modernity  –​the mature (and by implication) capitalist money economy and the metropolis –​yields an analysis of the consequences

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of both for individuals’ modes of experiencing the social and natural worlds that, compared to many of his contemporaries, comes closest to a sociological and psychological study of the life-​world of modernity as it is experienced in everyday life. The reasons this is so must now be examined in the course of an outline of the major dimensions of Simmel’s delineation of modernity.

II Let us commence our overview of Simmel’s study of modernity with one of the few definitions of modernity with which he provides us. It occurs in his essay ‘Rodin’, expanded for the volume Philosophische Kultur (1911), in which Simmel –​as one of the very first German critics to have brought out the significance of Rodin’s sculpture to the German public (followed by Rilke, amongst others) –​praises Rodin’s work as both aesthetically heightening the tensions of modern life and, at the same, releasing us from that tension. This is Simmel’s conception of the function of the work of art, which intimates that one of the reasons for the depth of his delineation of modernity is his connection to some of the modernist aesthetic currents of his day. Simmel announces, then, in this context, that the essence of modernity as such is psychologism, the experiencing and interpretation of the world in terms of the reactions of our inner life, and, indeed, as an inner world, the dissolution of fixed contents in the fluid element of the soul, from which all that is substantive is filtered and whose forms are merely forms of motion. (Simmel 1923, 196; emphasis added)

What does this definition of modernity indicate to us? If we connect the somewhat obscure notion of psychologism with that of subjectivism, which Simmel had already seen to be an important tendency in modern society in the 1890s, then we can see that what is implied here is that modernity is identified with the dissolution of our contact with the external world through concrete practice. Indeed, it suggests that modern experience has been transformed, in Benjamin’s terms, from concrete and conscious historical experience (Erfahrung) into individual, lived-​out inner experience (Erlebnis). It implies, further, the dissolution of actual content in the inner psychological and emotional world itself and the preponderance of fluid forms of inner experience. The experience and interpretation of the external world as an inner world points to an important dimension of what has been identified not merely with modernity but also postmodernity: namely, instead of a concrete reality, images of reality; instead of cognition, emotion; instead of an ‘objective’ world of intellectualism, an inner world of neurasthenia. This may seem a



somewhat extreme interpretation, but it is justified if we recall the decisive features of individual experience Simmel highlighted in his analysis of the two sites of modernity –​the mature money economy and the metropolis –​namely, the increase in nervousness and the preponderance of an inner world as a retreat from excessive external stimuli. What are the implications of this conception of modernity for Simmel’s own analysis of it? First, Simmel’s treatment of the symptoms of modernity does focus on inner experience and the dissolution of stable forms of experiencing time, space and causality (as a transitory, fleeting and fortuitous or arbitrary experience which accords with Baudelaire’s original definition of modernity). In so doing, he provides us with the beginnings of a sociology of the emotions: love, greed, avarice, trust, gratitude, ennui, the blasé attitude –​ some which, such as ennui, are directly identified with modernity (‘Ennui, the dulling monotony of days and years. It is the absence of the idea of evolution which condemns the world and mankind to being always the same, without solace’ (Simmel 1986b, 89)) and the blasé attitude (‘There is perhaps no psychological phenomenon that is so unreservedly associated with the metropolis as the blasé attitude. The blasé attitude results first from the rapidly changing and closely compressed contrasting stimulations of the nerves’) (Simmel 1903, 193). Second, the whole of Simmel’s sociology focuses on the forms of social interaction (of sociation), however fortuitous and fleeting they might be. He insists that sociology ‘can no longer take to be unimportant the consideration of the delicate, invisible threads that are woven between one person and another’ (Simmel 1907, 1035). His concern with the ‘fortuitous fragments of reality’, with ‘what is apparently most superficial and insubstantial’, is not confined to vignettes of fleeting interactions (such as rendezvous). The whole of his analysis in The Philosophy of Money, investigating the site of modernity, is guided by ‘the possibility […] of finding in each of life’s details the totality of its meaning’ (Simmel 1989, 55). This suggests a further important implication for Simmel’s approach to the study of modernity: that the fractured and dissolved totality of modernity can only be apprehended from the individual element, from the fragment. Such a standpoint presupposes that a perspective exists that is capable of creating unity out of the fragmented world of modernity. In ‘Sociological Aesthetics’ (1896a), for instance, Simmel reveals that perspective to be the aesthetic mode of interpretation since the essence of aesthetic observation and interpretation lies in the fact that the typical is to be found in what is unique, the law-​like in what is fortuitous, the essence and significance of things in the superficial and transitory […] Every point conceals the possibility of being released into absolute aesthetic significance. To the

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adequately trained eye, the total beauty, the total meaning of the world as a whole radiates from every single point. (Simmel 1896a, 206)

If a sociology of modernity commences its analysis with ‘what is fortuitous’, with ‘the superficial and transitory’, then it cannot be either an orthodox project or one which does not rely on other disciplines and perspectives. Simmel insists that ‘the very standpoint of a single science, which is also based on the division of labour, never exhausts the totality of reality.’ Furthermore, if the study of modernity is to commence with modes of experiencing social reality and social relations as transitory and fleeting, then it must confront the problem that social reality is experienced in flux, not merely as the shock of the new or even shock of movement, but as permanent flux: Through the restlessness with which they offer themselves at any moment […] every form immediately dissolves in the very moment when it emerges; it lives, as it were, only by being destroyed; every consolidation of form into lasting objects […] is an incomplete interpretation that is unable to follow the motion of reality at its own pace. (Simmel 1989, 510)

Faced with this, the modernist is tempted to distil the eternal from the transitory, to capture the dialectic of the permanent and the transitory. This might explain the intention behind Simmel’s snapshots sub specie aeternitatis (Frisby 1991, chap. 4). For him, the social phenomenon par excellence which embodies both the labyrinth or movement and the dialectic of flux and permanence is money as the ‘symbol of the completely dynamic character of the world […] It is, as it were, an actus purus’. As symbol of the transitory and fleeting, it is ‘the most ephemeral thing in the external-​practical world’ (Simmel 1989, 511). Methodically, Simmel can confront the fragments that reveal themselves in society in flux since the notion of substance is dissolved to that of threads which hold society together (whose most powerful symbol is money) and conceptually all his crucial concepts are relational ones (interaction (Wechselwirkung), sociation (Vergesellschaftung)). The emotional and sensory threads are to be dealt with by a ‘psychological microscopy’, in the realm which captures ‘human beings in the stream of their life’. Thus, whatever the judgement that may be passed on Simmel’s delineation of modernity, there can be little doubt that his methodological presuppositions did equip him with an ensemble of means for presenting modes of experiencing that which is new in modern society which his sociological contemporaries often lacked (Frisby 1991, chaps. 2 and 3; 1992, chap. 2; Green 1988, part 2).



III Simmel’s investigation of the two interrelated sites of modernity –​the metropolis and the mature money economy –​focuses on the effects of their development for everyday experience and for our inner life. The two sites of modernity are conceived as complex networks, webs and labyrinths of social interactions. Whereas the metropolis is, as it were, the point of concentration of modernity, the mature money economy (which also has its focal point in the metropolis) is responsible for the diffusion of modernity throughout society. Taken together, the two sites signify respectively the intensification and extensification of modernity. On both sites, the acceleration and accentuation of long-​term developmental tendencies manifest themselves. These are the increase in social differentiation (in part the result of an increased division of labour), the increase in functionalization of social relations and the widening gap between subjective and objective culture (with reduced social space for the former and increased social space for the latter). The latter, to which we must return later, is summarized by Simmel as ‘the atrophy of individual culture and the hypertrophy of objective culture’ (Simmel 1903, 204). A concomitant feature of this process is the growing tendency for both the objective and the subjective culture to be autonomous spheres, the former possessing a ‘unity and autonomous self-​ sufficiency’ and the latter being created out of ‘the subjectivism of modern times’ with its impulse towards ‘dissociation’ and ‘retreat’ from objective culture. The reification of these two spheres can never be complete. Indeed, the interaction between objective and subjective culture is a major source of the fragmentation of individual experience insofar as the process of fragmentation present in objective culture permeates the subjective culture of individuals. We could go further and suggest, as Simmel does, that there is a tendency, never fully completed for the culture of human beings, to become the culture of things. This tendency manifests itself in both the metropolis and the mature money economy. As such, it constitutes an innovative dimension in social theory which examines both the cultural and aesthetic veil of the universe of things and the consequences for human ‘inner life’ of the development of cultural life within the context of a universe of things. Simmel explores in an imaginative manner the interface between human beings and the objects with which they are surrounded. In their often very different ways, the investigation of the culture of things is one of the important features to be found in the works of Lukács, Bloch, Kracauer, Benjamin and Adorno (and, of course, the first three were erstwhile students of Simmel). Let us turn, first, to the objective culture of the metropolis, the showplace of modernity which extends its effects far into its hinterland. Within the ‘the genuine showplace of this culture’ of objectified material entities

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and relationships, within the constantly changing, disintegrating and reconstituting social and cultural space of the metropolis, there are found the possibilities for an increase in ‘the material enjoyment of life’ resulting from ‘the most developed economic division of labour’. The latter, most often located within the metropolis (and in this context we should not forget that Berlin by the turn of the century was the largest source of finished manufactured goods in Germany), ‘has transformed the struggle with nature for livelihood into a struggle with other human beings for gain’ (Simmel, in Wolff 1950, 420; translation amended). This struggle manifests itself not merely within the sphere of production but also within those of circulation, exchange and consumption. Not surprising for a social theorist who asserts that ‘exchange is a sociological phenomenon sui generis’, it is these latter spheres that largely claim Simmel’s attention, such as ‘the motley disorder of metropolitan communication’, the levelling effect of the money economy which ‘dominates the metropolis’, and the consequences of the creation of a ‘mass’ of consumers with its attendant ‘fifty cents bazaar’ and the ‘production of cheap trash’. Similarly, with respect to the sphere of consumption, it should not be forgotten that the world of fashion is firmly located within the metropolis: ‘In contrast to all narrower milieus, metropolitan centres become the nourishing ground of fashion’ (Simmel 1923, 59). The metropolis is thus the focal point of the universe of things or artefacts created by human beings. It is the site at which ‘life is made infinitely easy for the personality in that stimulations, interests, fillings in of time and consciousness are offered to it from all sides. They carry the person, as if in a stream, and one needs hardly to swim for oneself ’ (Simmel, in Wolff 1950, 410; translation amended; my emphasis; also see Frisby 1992, chap. 7). Yet the very passivity Simmel stresses here on the part of the individual consumer of things (commodities, distractions, amusements etc.) already signifies one source of ‘the atrophy of individual culture’. This is not the sphere of concrete action and creativity but rather of passivity and adaptation. The structures which surround the individual in the metropolis are also not conductive to a fruitful interaction between the two. Rather, in buildings and educational institutions, in the wonders and comforts of space-​ conquering technology, in the formations of communal life and in the visible state institutions, there is offered such an overpowering wealth of crystallised, impersonalised mind, as it were, that the personality cannot maintain itself when confronted with it. (Simmel 1903, 410)

This is the reified universe of objectifications of human activity which is matched by an equally estranged world of interaction, by reification in



motion, by the shocks of abstract confrontations. In the latter case, individuals must respond to the shock of ‘the rapid and unbroken change in external and internal stimuli’ experienced ‘with every crossing of the street, with the speed and diversity of economic, professional and social life’, as ‘the rapid crowding of changing images, the sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance, and the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions’ (Simmel, in Wolff 1950, 410). This ‘particularly abstract existence’ of the metropolis has one of its sources, of course, in the very complexity of the labyrinth of interactions themselves which require functionality, precise differentiation, intellectuality, exactitude and calculability –​in fact, the very features Simmel highlighted as essential for the operations of the mature money economy. What appears to the individual as ‘the tumult of the metropolis’ with its myriad criss-​crossing of abstract interactions and impressions and ‘the brevity and infrequency of meetings which are allotted to each individual’, in short what appears as a chaos of impressions and interactions, in fact results from the ‘calculating exactness of practical life’ that is necessary so that ‘the agglomeration of so many persons with such differentiated interests’ can ‘intertwine with one another into a many-​membered organism’ (Simmel 1903, 191–​2; my emphasis). In this context, what is the nature of forms of individuality created in the metropolitan setting? Simmel provides us with a typification of metropolitan individuality that results from ‘the adaptations of the personality’ to the objective culture of the metropolis. Its psychological foundation is ‘the increase in nervous life’ resulting from the bombardment of the senses by changing, dissociated, external stimuli. Protection against this ‘uprootedness’ from a stable relationship to the environment, and against the latter’s ‘discrepancies’, is provided by the intellect, as the highest psychological organ, in the form of a defence mechanism, ‘as a preservative of subjective life against the violent oppression of the metropolis’ (Simmel 1903, 189). The intellect creates a necessary distance, abstraction and inner barrier from ‘the jostling crowdedness and the motley disorder of metropolitan communication’ (Simmel 1896a, 78). Its social counterpart is the predominance of intellectuality (including calculation) in the metropolis. Psychologically, its counterpart is neurasthenia (including nervous tensions unable to be released) and psychological distance. In turn, its pathological forms common to the metropolis are agoraphobia and hyperaesthesia. Socially, this distance takes the form of indifference, dissociation and the blasé attitude. The need for self-​preservation in the metropolis can take the further form of an ‘external reserve’ towards others, producing an ‘aversion’, ‘strangeness’ and ‘repulsion’ which, in more extreme circumstances, can ‘break into hatred and struggle at the moment of closer contact’ (Simmel 1903, 195).

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These are the ‘elementary forms of socialisation’ in the metropolis which are, as it were, the price paid for ‘a kind and measure of personal freedom’ that only exists in this location. But even this freedom has its obverse where, ‘under particular circumstances, one nowhere feels so lonely and lost than in the metropolitan crowd. For here, as elsewhere, it is in no way necessary that human beings’ freedom be reflected in their emotional life as a sense of well-​being’ (Simmel 1903, 199). However, for Simmel, there is no other psychological phenomenon which, above all others, is ‘so unreservedly associated with the metropolis as the blasé attitude’ which ‘results first from the rapidly changing and closely compressed contrasting stimulations of the nerves’, from ‘a life in boundless pursuit of pleasure […] [which] agitates the nerves to their strongest reactivity for such a long time that they finally cease to react at all’, resulting in ‘an incapacity to react to new sensations with the appropriate energy’ (Simmel 1903, 193). But, as Simmel constantly emphasizes, the blasé attitude and those associated with the metropolis have their roots ultimately in the money economy whose focal point is the metropolis. What, then, of the objective culture of the mature money economy? Here too it is the alienated forms of existence that become the objective forms within which we exist. The sphere of production is no longer conducive to ‘the harmonious growth of the self ’; the ‘subjective aura of the product also disappears’ in mass production; ‘subjectivity is destroyed and transposed into cool reserve and anonymous objectivity’ in exchange relations; within the sphere of consumption, ‘objects complete the final state of their separation from people. The slot machine is the ultimate example of the mechanical character of the modern economy’ (Simmel 1989, 459–​61). This objectified, reified world too presents itself to us ‘at an ever increasing distance’. The barriers that we erect to protect ourselves from this world –​the reserve, the indifference and ‘the specifically metropolitan excesses of aloofness, caprice and fastidiousness’ –​are ultimately ineffective against the experience of modernity as the discontinuity and disintegration of the modes of experiencing time, space and causality (including the teleology of means and ends). Yet just as there is a tension in Simmel’s account of modernity in the metropolis between rigid objectified forms on one hand and the dynamic flux of relations within the metropolis on the other, so too in his delineation of the mature money economy, money features as both the reification of social relations of exchange and as the symbol of the dynamic flux of commodity circulation. Money as the universal equivalent is the universal nexus which links everything to everything else and which is the symbol for what holds society together, though in its reified form. The maturation of the money economy and its permeation of all spheres of life produces a seemingly autonomous world since money is



the reification of the pure relationship between things as expressed in their economic motion. Money stands between the individual objects related to it, in a realm organised according to its own norms which is the objectification of the movements balancing and exchange originally accomplished by the objects themselves. (Simmel 1989, 176)

The apparently autonomous realm of circulation and exchange emerges out of the discontinuity of that which has been fragmented. Extreme differentiation produces the fragmentation of individuals; the commodification of everything produces a levelling of value and indifference to value; the destruction of the teleology of means and ends in the money economy results in the domination of the most indifferent means. Of course, these developments constitute an essential dimension of The Philosophy of Money which, in each chapter, deals with a dichotomous aspect of the transformation of basic social relations by the money economy. Thus, the possibility of subjective and objective value is resolved in favour of a subjective theory of value, thereby arguably rendering value valueless and, at all events, relative; the discussion of value as substance is oriented towards its transformation into a relational concept in which substance is rendered insubstantial and money relations appear as the reification of exchange relations; money’s effects on the teleology of ends and means indicates the lengthening and widening of the teleological chain but only through the elevation of money to a pure instrument, to the most indifferent means (and an absolute end) and through the reduction of quality to quantity; individual freedom is enhanced by monetary relations but only at a price of the reduction of individual reactions to functional relations (and thereby acting as a barrier to genuine individuality); personal value as actual and substantive is reduced in the money economy to money value or to labour value (as part of the explicit critique of Marx’s labour theory); the style of life presents itself to us as an objective totality but is in fact composed of a fragmentary, fleeting universe of the world of circulation and exchange. The universalization of monetary exchange coincides by implication with the universalization of commodity exchange and circulation, and it is within this broader context that Simmel illuminates the transformation of modern experience and individuality. Also within this wider context –​that is a philosophy of the commodity form and not merely of the universal equivalent –​we can see that Simmel makes important contributions to the investigation of the phenomenal life of the commodity. These are apparent in his works from the mid-​1890s onwards and include not merely his general discussion of money in modern culture (Simmel 1896b, 319–​24) but also his contributions to the discussion of leisure and consumption, exhibitions, style and, of course, fashion.

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Two ­examples –​exhibitions and fashion –​must suffice to indicate the affinity between the commodity form and modernity. Anticipating Walter Benjamin’s later presentation of the phantasmagoria of commodities in world exhibitions, Simmel views such exhibitions in part as compensation for the tedium of one-​sided participation in the production process. As a form of sociation and distraction, the plethora of concentrated exhibits ‘produces a paralysis in the capacity for perception, a true hypnosis […] in its fragmentation of weak impressions there remains in the memory the notion that one should be amused here’, amused and distracted by a ‘wealth and colourfulness of over-​hastened impressions [that] is appropriate to over-​excited and exhausted nerves’ (Simmel 1896c). Furthermore, such exhibitions reveal the fleeting life of the commodity in the transitory nature of the architectural forms that enclose them. There is an important aesthetic dimension to the mode of presentation of commodities in world exhibitions and the like which seeks to give the galaxy of commodities ‘new aesthetic significance through the arrangement of their coming together –​just as the ordinary advertisement has advanced to the art of posters’. The aesthetic veil or aura which surrounds the commodity is an essential stimulus to its circulation and is facilitated by what one might term the shop-​window quality of things that is evoked by exhibitions. Commodity production […] must lead to a situation of giving things an enticing external appearance over and above their usefulness […] one must attempt to excite the interest of the buyer by means of the external attraction of the object. (Simmel 1896c)

As an associated process that also reveals the ‘aesthetic super-​additum’ or the ‘aesthetic productivity’ of commodity presentation is present in the modern phenomenon of fashion which is closely tied to the production process. The circulation and exchange of commodities requires the production of an ever-​ new face of the commodity, an ever-​new fashion that is absolutely present for the moment of appearance. The acceleration of commodity exchange requires the conscious production of ever-​new faces of commodity. The commodity clothed in the latest fashion cries out for its purchase now, in the present. Fashion, Simmel maintains, ‘always stands at the watershed of the past and future and thus […] gives us a strong sense of presentness as do few other phenomena’ (Simmel 1923, 196). This accelerating ever-​new and ever-​transitory present that is a feature of fashion is succinctly summarized by Hauke Brunkhorst: Fashion is the ‘concentration of social consciousness upon the point’, in which ‘the seeds of its own death also lie’. Without an objective reason, a ‘new entity’



is ‘suddenly’ there, only to be instantly destroyed once more. Fashion is ‘an aesthetic form of the drive to destruction’, a totally ‘present’ ‘break with the past’. In it, the ‘fleeting and changeable elements of life’ stand in place of the ‘major, permanent, unquestioned convictions’ that ‘increasingly lose their force’ in modernity. (Braunkhorst 1986, 404–​14, especially 408)

The complement to the ‘feverish change’ of fashion is that ‘each individual fashion to a certain extent emerges as if it wishes to live for eternity’ (Simmel 1923, 60). Even this brief selection and indication of some of Simmel’s illuminations of the modes of experiencing that which is new in modern society should enable us to delineate in a summary form the changes in modes of experience that constitute modernity. With some simplification, it is possible to view the experience of modernity as the discontinuous and fragmentary experience of time, space and causality as, respectively, transitory, fleeting and fortuitous. Such a preliminary delineation is to be found earlier in Baudelaire’s definition of modernity. In Simmel’s work, too, we find time experienced as an eternal present (fashion, the adventure) and emphasis on the fleeting moment. Simmel deals with space in a complex manner involving both boundaries, distance and the removal of boundaries (the money nexus overcoming spatial boundaries). Conceptually, that which is associated with causality is transformed into the absence of historical necessity (Troeltsch argued that Simmel transformed ‘historical into a somewhat free game of fantasy. This was the most basic essence of modernity’ (Troeltsch 1921, 424–​86, especially 430), the inversion of the teleology of means and ends (the universalization of money transactions in the exchange and circulation spheres destroys ends or purposes and creates the centrality of means and technique) and the centrality of the fortuitous on the surface of everyday life. Perhaps less persuasively, we can see as consequences of the mature money economy the disintegration of mass into indeterminacy, the concrete into the abstract and substance into fragments. The implications of these modes of experiencing modernity for the individual are an increasing fragmentation of experience and, faced with the growing significance of the objective culture (with its dialectic of both increased differentiation and levelling), a tendency towards extreme subjectivism. Simmel viewed the currents of modern culture as moving in two contradictory directions:  on one hand, towards a levelling of individuals and values and the production of even more comprehensive social circles and, on the other, the development of the most individual aspects of the human subject. In the latter context, this does not coincide with the creation of greater possibilities for the expression of human individuality in a positive sense. Instead, Simmel refers

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time and time again to the ‘exaggerated subjectivism of the times’, to the fact that ‘subjectivism and individuality have accelerated almost to breaking point’ (Simmel 1908, 314). As such, he is referring to one side of the dialectic of subjective and objective culture, whose increasing separation from one another not only strains that dialectical relationship but also, for Simmel, constitutes, variously, a ‘crisis of culture’, a ‘tragedy of culture’ and even a ‘pathology of culture’ (in which there are some parallels with Durkheim’s investigation of pathological forms of individualism which he terms ‘excessive individualism’). This widening gap between an expanding objective culture and a putatively contracting or at least seriously compromised subjective culture becomes the foundation for a universal cultural theory of alienation in Simmel’s later writings. The social space of development of a genuine individuality is rendered problematic by virtue of the growing autonomy of the objective culture (increasingly viewed as domination by the technology of means and anticipating later cultural critiques of Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse) and the increasing subjectivism that dominates subjective culture either in the hope of individuals dissociating themselves from the objective culture (the internal retreat) or by recognizing the inevitability of the distance between the two spheres (the tragic vision). It is a conflict that Simmel does not readily resolve since he has persuasively argued that the objective culture human subjects have created has not merely achieved a form of autonomy and self-​sufficiency, but has thoroughly penetrated the subjective culture itself. Indeed, Simmel at times fails to grasp the consequences of his own argument concerning the internalization of a reified culture in alienated forms of existence. Böhringer has recently summarized this unresolved problem as follows: Money […] objectifies the ‘style of life’, forces metropolitan people into ‘objectivity’ ‘indifference’, ‘intellectuality’, ‘lack of character’, ‘lack of quality’. Money socializes human beings as strangers […] money also transforms human beings into res absolutae, into objects. Simmel’s student, George Lukács, correctly noticed that this objectification (in his words: reification and alienation) did not remain external, cannot as Simmel maintained, be the ‘gatekeeper of the innermost elements’, but rather itself becomes internalized. (Böhringer 1982, 178–​82)

Certainly, on occasion, Simmel maintained that it was possible to erect barriers to the objectified world, as when he suggests that money’s success in ‘imposing a distance between ourselves and our purposes’ creates a situation in which ‘the individual mind can enrich the forms and contents of its own development only by distancing itself still further from that (objective) culture and developing its own at a much slower pace’ (Simmel 1989, 449). Similarly, he speaks of the attempt ‘under favourable circumstance, [to] secure an island



of subjectivity, a secret, closed-​off sphere of privacy’ (Simmel 1989, 469), as an objective possibility. How such an attempt can avoid being seriously compromised by the internalization of the features of the objective culture is unclear. Like many of his successors, Simmel views the aesthetic sphere as one source of reconciliation of these two culture spheres. As early as 1895, Simmel was proclaiming that ‘an essential element of any great art is that it unifies oppositions, undisturbed by the necessity of an either/​or’ (Simmel 1895, 272–​7, especially 273), a feature which he later saw embodied in Rodin’s work as the symbol of modernism. Outside the aesthetic sphere, and perhaps Simmel’s individual law too, we have to recognize that ‘personal development, although it pertains to the subject, can be reached only through the mediation of objects’ (Simmel 1968, 27–​46, especially 38).

IV Simmel’s delineation of modernity focuses on modes of experiencing the immediate present in modern society as differentiated and discontinuous. The two sites of modernity –​the metropolis and the mature money economy –​are both rooted in the exchange and circulation processes (of commodities, individuals, values etc.). By reconstructing Simmel’s social theory of modernity, we can reveal a constellation of themes in many of his writings which provides a new focus, a new interpretation of his work. This is important in at least two respects. First, our traditional conception of Simmel has been that of a formal sociologist who made a surprising number of contributions to a disparate range of themes in sociology. This conception is derived largely from those essays which constitute his major Sociology (1908): on the significance of number, conflict, domination, extension of the group, intersection of social circles and so forth. Some of these have been operationalized and most have been viewed as his important contribution to fields of micro-​sociology. In this respect, Simmel’s sociology was incorporated into the corpus of North American sociology. (As an important aside, here, it should be pointed out that the significance of the fact that more items of his work were translated into Russian between 1893 and 1926 than into English in the same period has hardly been investigated. The Hungarian and Polish reception of Simmel’s works should also be considered of importance.) Second, if Simmel’s theory of modernity was basically completed by the turn of the century and if it is embodied principally in his most systematic work The Philosophy of Money (1900; 1907), then what light does this work, and those surrounding it, throw on this former interpretation? It suggests that Simmel did develop an important theory of modern society that is equally significant for understanding his sociological and social theoretical project. It suggests, further, that we view a substantial body of his

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work in social theory as related to this wider thematic ensemble. This would include contributions to the sociology of experience (including the adventure, leisure experience), the stranger (and social distance), the intersection of social circles, the metropolis (and a wider sociology of space, as well as fashion and exhibitions), emotional life (greed, avarice, gratitude, shame), the sociology of the senses, the aesthetics of modern life and women and modernity (the women’s movement, prostitution, female culture  –​and Simmel’s argument that the objective culture is predominantly male) (Dahme and Köhnke 1985 Oakes 1984; Vromen 1987, 563–​79). But alongside a new interpretation of Simmel’s work (and its historical location), we can also indicate its relevance for contemporary themes in sociology and social theory. As a social theorist, philosopher and aesthete (in a positive sense), Simmel was intimately connected with and theoretically concerned with some of the avant-​garde movements of his day. This makes his discussion of modernity in particular of striking relevance for debate on postmodernity today (in part as a result of common ancestry in Nietzchean themes). Even if it is maintained that postmodernity constitutes such a radical break with modernity that delineations of the latter no longer suffice for understanding postmodernity, we must still concede that Simmel opened up an analysis of modernity that was developed in different ways by his students and successors: by Lukács, Kracauer, Bloch (amongst his students) and Benjamin and, more questionably, Adorno. Within the more restricted confines of sociology as an academic discipline, Simmel opened up specific areas of sociological analysis –​often within the context of his theory of modernity –​that are only now being fully developed. This is true of a sociology of spatial relations, leisure, the emotions and the aesthetics of modern life. Within his delineation of modernity, we should also emphasize his contribution to ‘the culture of things’, indeed to the modes of experiencing that which is new in modern society. In fact, some recent work on ‘the culture of things’ and commodities has taken up a number of Simmel’s insights, particularly in the field of anthropology. Thus, in a stimulating examination of the expansion of material culture and its consequences for the study of mass consumption, Daniel Miller argues that Simmel’s work contains ‘the most convincing analysis of modernity consistent with the concept of objectification’ developed by the author (Miller 1987, 68–​82). As we shall see, the analysis of the relationship between ‘the culture of things’ and the sphere of consumption that Simmel signalled in various places constitutes further grounds for his relevance, not merely to a theory of modernity, but also to postmodernity. Editors’ Note: This chapter was originally published as c­ hapter 4 of Frisby 1992. We are grateful to Springer Publishers for granting permission to reprint this chapter here.



References Böhringer, H. 1984. ‘Die “Philosophie des Geldes” als ästhetische Theorie’. In H. J. Dahme and O. Rammstedt (eds.). Georg Simmel und die Moderne. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. Brunkhorst, H. 1986. ‘So etwas angenehm frisch Geköpftes: Mode und Soziologie’. In Die Listen der Mode. H. Brunkhorst (ed.) Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. Dahme, H.  K. and K.  C. Köhnke (eds.). 1985. Georg Simmel, Schriften zur Philosophie und Soziologie der Geschlechter. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. Frisby, David. 1986. Fragments of Modernity: Theories of Modernity in the Works of Simmel, Krakauer and Benjamin. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. ——1991. Sociological Impressionism. London: Routledge. ——1992. Simmel and Since: Essays on Simmel’s Social Theory. London: Routledge. Green, Bryan S. 1988. Literary Methods and Sociological Theory. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press. Miller, D. 1987. Material Culture and Mass Consumption. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Oakes, Guy (ed.) 1984. Georg Simmel: On Women, Sexuality and Love. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Sayer, Derek. 1990. Capitalism and Modernity. London: Routledge. Simmel, Georg. 1895. ‘Böcklins Landschaften’. Die Zukunft, 12. ——1896a. ‘Soziologische Aesthetik’. Die Zukunft, 17. ——1896b. ‘Das Geld in der modernen Kultur’. Zeitschrift des Obschlessichen Berg-​un Hüttenmännischen Vereins, 35. ——1896c. ‘Berliner Gewerbe-​Ausstellung’. Die Zeit, Vienna, 8. 25 July. ——1903. ‘Die Großstädte und das Geistesleben’. Jahrbuch der Gehe-​Stiftung zu Dresden, 9. ——1907. ‘Soziologie der Sinne’. Die Neue Rundschau, 18. ——1908. ‘Das Problem des Stiles’. Dekorative Kunst, 11, 7. ——1923. Philosophische Kultur, 3rd edn. Potsdam: Kiepenheuer. ——1968. ‘The Concept and Tragedy of Culture’. In G. Simmel, The Conflict of Modern Culture and Other Essays. P. K. Etzkorn (trans., ed.). New York: Teachers Press. ——1986. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. H. Loiskandl, D. Weinstein and M. Weinstein (trans). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. ——1989. The Philosophy of Money. Tom Bottomore and David Frisby (trans). London: Routledge. Troeltsch, Ernst. 1921. ‘Der historische Entwicklungsbegriff in der modernen Geistes-​und Lebensphilosophie’. Historische Zeitschrift, 124. Vromen, S. 1987. ‘Georg Simmel and the Cultural Dilemma of Women’. History of European Ideas, 8, 4/​5: 563–​79. Whimster, Sam and Scott Lash (eds.). 1987. Max Weber, Rationality and Modernity. London: Allen & Unwin. Wolff, Kurt H. (ed.) 1950. The Sociology of Georg Simmel, 2nd edn. New  York and London: Free Press.


When Georg Simmel died in September 1918, he was an internationally renowned philosopher and a best-​selling author. A famously riveting speaker who vividly brought the legacy of the German philosophical tradition into conversation with the phenomena of everyday modern life, he had drawn large and by no means exclusively academic audiences from his earliest days as a Privatdozent in Berlin. Simmel’s frankly modernist mode of philosophizing –​ from his unusual topics and style of thought to unconventional behavior that included publicly engaging in contemporary political controversies and associating with movements striving for social and cultural change –​was hardly conducive to academic success in the rapidly professionalizing academy. Yet he had an impact on contemporaries far greater than his reputation today would suggest, when his name has been all but forgotten in the field in which he was trained and taught throughout his career. Georg Lukács memorably, if ambiguously, eulogized Simmel as ‘without a doubt the most important and interesting transitional phenomenon [Übergangserscheinung] in all of modern philosophy’.1 According to Lukács, virtually no one of ‘genuine philosophical talent in the younger generation of thinkers […] failed to succumb to the enchantment of his thinking’, at least for a time, and many other eyewitnesses attest to this bewitching effect. In the presence of his ‘genuinely cosmopolitan intellect’, as another of his former students put it, his hearers felt that ‘the Zeitgeist itself had come to life’.2

1 ‘Georg Simmel’, Pester Lloyd, October 2, 1918. Cited from Gassen and Landmann, Buch des Dankes (henceforth BdD), 171. All translations from the German are mine. 2 In the words of philosopher Karl Joël (BdD: 166).



Locating Simmel’s modernist approach to philosophizing within the wider ambit of fin-​de-​siècle European culture helps establish a broader perspective on the historical and theoretical significance of an oeuvre whose interdisciplinary contributions merit renewed attention today. It also enables us to foreground Simmel’s own self-​understanding as a philosopher in a fashion that places his achievements, including his foundational work in sociology, in a new light. In this chapter, I critically extend the notion that he was the most significant ‘transitional phenomenon’ in modern philosophy to demonstrate that reflection on the meaning of Simmel’s (shifting) disciplinary location enables a more acute reflection on our own intellectual situation today.3

Sociology as a ‘Sideline’ Like Nietzsche, Georg Simmel was convinced that the upheavals of the nineteenth century had brought new (intellectual, political, cultural) urgency to problems of meaning and value. From his pathbreaking early articulation of what he called ‘The Problem of Sociology’ in 1894 to his mature inquiries into the foundations and status of philosophy –​which among other things raise questions about the gendering of the cultural project of the West –​Simmel developed a multifaceted approach to the phenomenal and experiential complexity of modern life that imaginatively redeployed the resources of the philosophical tradition. Recognizing that his work began the process of creative destruction more often associated with the next generation can help us understand how cultural and critical theory, in the broad, cross-​disciplinary sense we use these terms today, came into being. Both the distinction of Simmel’s own contributions to intellectual traditions within and beyond the social sciences and the importance of his influence on better-​known contemporaries are well documented. Yet a curiously discontinuous reception history gives reason for concern that the current inter-​and transdisciplinary wave of interest may turn out to be the latest in a series of what have ultimately been transient ‘Simmel renaissances’ since his death in 1918. For, despite repeated and compelling efforts by a series of distinguished scholars to draw attention to his significance as a pioneering theorist and sensitive interpreter of social and cultural life, even the discipline Simmel is credited with helping to found has proved remarkably resilient in its resistance to such rebirths. 3 This chapter draws on my forthcoming book, Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017), which develops my claims regarding Simmel’s historical and theoretical significance.

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If the present moment is to be genuinely different –​if Simmel is finally to receive his due as an innovative thinker who significantly influenced the trajectories of twentieth-​century thought –​it is necessary to reexamine the reigning assumption of the secondary literature that Simmel is properly categorized as a sociologist. As he himself wrote to his French colleague Celestin Bouglé in 1899, ‘the Sciences Sociales are not my discipline [Fach],’ adding: ‘It is altogether rather painful for me that abroad I am only known as a sociologist –​while I am a philosopher, see my life’s vocation in philosophy, and only pursue sociology as a sideline [Nebenfach].’4 To be sure, Simmel’s claim must be taken with a grain of salt. He had sought and found recognition in Germany and internationally as a founding figure in the budding field of sociology –​even declaring (just a few years earlier, likewise to Bouglé): ‘I am devoting myself entirely to sociological studies.’5 Beginning with his widely disseminated programmatic paper of 1894, Simmel’s writings helped lay the methodological groundwork for the modern discipline. He had a considerable impact on the first generation of professional sociologists both in Europe and in North America and, through his students and interlocutors, on subsequent generations as well.6 But unlike Durkheim or Weber, Simmel did not really have acolytes, and that influence often took an unrecognized or anonymized form. If he remains a mostly forgotten founding father of sociology today, it is in no small part because Simmel’s achievements as a thinker are in many ways a poor fit with the discipline he helped found. Thanks to the relative foreignness, theoretically and methodologically speaking, of his vision of sociology for the disciplinary mainstream (already becoming apparent to Simmel himself soon after his pathbreaking ‘The Problem of Sociology’ appeared), some of his most influential partisans would declare Simmel’s ideas to be contaminated with metaphysical residues and in need of reframing to be of use for twentieth-​century social science. The consequence was a mode of reception that canonized Simmel’s oeuvre by bits and pieces taken out of both textual and intellectual context and that thereby helped both establish and perpetuate his reputation as an imaginative but ‘unsystematic’ thinker. Particularly in the Anglophone world, where 4 Letter to Bouglé, December 13, 1899 (Georg Simmel Gesamtaugabe 22, 342–​4; henceforth GSG). Simmel had even stronger things to say on this point on other occasions, writing, for instance, in a 1908 letter to Georg Jellinek that it was an ‘idiocy’ to regard him as a sociologist (Letter to Jellinek, March 20, 1908, GSG 22, 617). 5 Letter to Bouglé, February 15, 1894 (GSG 22, 112). 6 According to Levine et al., Simmel ‘stands in the unusual position of being the only European scholar who has had a palpable influence on the development of [U.S.] sociology throughout the 20th century’ (Levine et al. 1976, 813). See also Jaworski 1997.



Simmel’s writings have appeared most often in anthologies ordered thematically to foreground his contributions to areas and subfields defined by their editors, the selective appropriation and framing of his texts in terms of their contributions to a discipline quite different from what he envisioned has significantly inflected both the shape and organization of the body of work available to readers. Remarkably, until the late 1970s, when translations of The Problems of the Philosophy of History (1977) and The Philosophy of Money (1978) appeared, not even one of Simmel’s many monographs was available in its entirety in English. Since then, just four other books have followed: Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (1991), Rembrandt (2005), Sociology: Investigations of Forms of Association (2009)7 and The View of Life (2010).8 Simmel was surely not entirely unjustified to assert that ‘a glance at the title of my lectures and my books (or even better, a look into the latter)’9 should have provided indisputable proof of his philosophical bona fides. Yet his reception as a sociologist has systematically underplayed Simmel’s self-​understanding and obscured the philosophical stakes of his oeuvre as a whole.10 Simmel’s methodological contributions reflect an alternative –​today, a dissident –​perspective on the nature of the disciplines themselves. From the beginning of his career, his interests ranged across diverse areas and fields, reflecting a robust and very public vision of philosophizing as an intellectual and cultural engagement with modern life that could not be contained within the emerging specialized and professionalized academic landscape. His work remains difficult to categorize because Simmel’s understanding of the role of philosophy in particular –​and his conception of Wissenschaft, science or, better, rigorous inquiry, in general –​differed profoundly from the ways we have become accustomed to 7 The foundational collection of translations Kurt Wolff edited and titled Georg Simmel’s Sociology in fact comprised the 1917 Grundfragen der Soziologie (Fundamental Problems of Sociology), selections from the 1908 Soziologie, and the metropolis essay. 8 With the exception of a brief notice (penned by sociologist Richard Swedberg) in Human Studies, the 2010 publication of Simmel’s very significant final Lebensanschauung (The View of Life) seems to have passed entirely unnoticed in philosophical journals. Thanks to Olli Pyyhtinen for pointing out that the appearance, likewise in 2010, of a work Simmel originally published as a monograph, Kant and Goethe, in Theory, Culture & Society might justify a more generous count of seven monographs in English translation. See the list of ‘Simmel in English’ in this volume for references and a complete account. 9 Letter to Georg Jellinek, March 20, 1908 (GSG 22, 617). ‘In reality,’ Simmel added, virtually echoing his words to Bouglé years before, ‘I pursue Sociology only “as a sideline” [im Nebenamt].’ 10 Even Otthein Rammstedt, in a recent essay reflecting on the genesis of the critical edition for which he was both inspiration and general editor, downplays Simmel’s work as seeming ‘to merit only a footnote in the history of philosophy’ (Rammstedt 2012, 307).

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thinking. Keeping this historical distance in mind places these conceptual and institutional differences into relief and enables us to approach his work in a way that facilitates reflection on what tends to go unthought in contemporary theoretical inquiry and (disciplinary) knowledge practices. As a matter of fact, despite a somewhat rocky start institutionally, Simmel’s intellectual distinction was acknowledged early on by his senior colleagues in philosophy. After gaining his venia legendi at Berlin in 1885, Simmel quickly gained a following as a lecturer with a range of introductory classes.11 In 1897, still a Privatdozent, he was asked to step in to take over Dilthey’s lecture course on logic during the latter’s illness. Throughout his career, Simmel continued to teach logic and the history of philosophy, also covering all of the other major areas of the discipline, regularly offering courses on ethics and aesthetics as well as metaphysics and epistemology. From early on, his philosophical approach integrated reflection on natural as well as social scientific and psychological topics.12 Yet with the exception of a brief period in the mid-​1890s when he hoped that what he would soon come to see as his idiosyncratic vision of sociology13 might carry the day, Simmel always identified as a philosopher. It might appear to warrant nothing more than a minor footnote to intellectual history that today, although he is honored as one of the founding fathers of sociology, Simmel’s very name is often unknown to professional philosophers. But as a liminal figure whose work straddled the boundary between (nineteenth-​century) philosophy and (twentieth-​century) social science, Simmel is remembered in ways that reveal significant fault lines in our own intellectual culture. Not only do sociologists forget the deep roots of their discipline in philosophy in remembering the author of The Philosophy of Money as a pioneering sociologist; in forgetting Simmel –​that is to say, in rewriting the moment when it parted ways with what became the social sciences –​philosophy, too, neglects to remember what was lost when it became a discipline among others. The same interplay of memory and forgetfulness that forms the narrative frame for Simmel’s reception as a sociologist also plays a key role in maintaining the disciplinary firewalls that enable and stabilize the bifurcation of ‘humanistic’ from ‘social scientific’ reflection on culture and subjectivity tout 11 These included some of the first courses in Germany on sociology, which was not yet a discipline distinct from philosophy. 12 Köhnke suggests that Simmel may also have done so in 1895–​6 (GSG 22, 169). See also the editorial notes to GSG 21, 1033–​4. Multiple sets of student lecture notes from his courses on logic and epistemology between 1899 and 1913/​14 are also included in that volume. 13 In the 1899 letter to Bouglé cited earlier, Simmel declared: ‘My sociology is an entirely specialized discipline that has no other exponents besides me in Germany’ (GSG 22, 342).



court. Returning to Simmel as a philosopher thus places into relief how much is at stake for contemporary philosophers and sociologists alike in viewing their disciplines and knowledge practices as distinct and independent intellectual traditions –​not least the shared (albeit often tacit) understanding of the professionalized and specialized organization of the modern university as the fruit of intellectual progress over tradition. It is no simple matter to achieve an adequate historical and critical perspective on the limitations of ideas and methods that perpetuate the global and local disciplinary formations in which we ourselves are so deeply imbricated. Simmel’s liminal strategies of thought, which predate and transgress what have become naturalized distinctions between disciplines, can thus provide valuable resources for contemporary theory. With its intertwining of ‘philosophical’ and ‘sociological’ perspectives, Simmel’s work casts new light both on the prehistory of our own paradigms for the study of society, culture and subjectivity and on the challenges that confront ‘interdisciplinary’ efforts to integrate humanistic and social scientific methods and perspectives. What is called for is not an uncritical return to Simmel’s theoretical approach but a renewed encounter with an oeuvre that epitomizes the possibilities of the liminal moment at the previous fin-​de-​siècle when it was not only possible but also necessary for a philosopher to practice sociology as a sideline.

Seeing the Social Paradoxically, the very aspects of Simmel’s writing that have done so much (as Lewis A.  Coser put it) ‘to stimulate the sociological imagination’14 have also fed his undeserved reputation as an unsystematic thinker. According to Simmel himself, he ‘attained a new concept of sociology by dividing the forms of association [Formen der Vergesellschaftung] from the contents [Inhalte] […] which only become social when taken up by the reciprocal interactions [Wechselwirkungen] between individuals’.15 On Friedrich Tenbruck’s lucid reading, Simmel was neither a formalist nor an unsystematic thinker but should be credited with initiating a new way of thinking, or better, of disclosing a new way of seeing: ‘Simmel was the first, or among the first, to uncover for sociology a specific “layer” of reality, its “social dimension” and therewith a “world of new phenomena”.’16 His basic, groundbreaking insight was that ‘objects 14 In Coser and Merton 1977, 151. Subsequent citations to Coser in this text also refer to this entry. 15 GSG 20, 304. 16 Friedrich Tenbruck 1959, 65. Alongside Tenbruck’s ‘Formal Sociology’, Wolff’s volume included an essay titled ‘Form and Content in Simmel’s Philosophy of Life’ (33–​60) by

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and phenomena reveal their full significance only when questioned in respect to their social dimension, a dimension which possesses an order of its own’ (Tenbruck 1959, 66). To translate the point into different philosophical terms, attention to social form –​not abstract structure but the observable regularity that arises in and through trans-​individual human interaction –​became a means of achieving a new, phenomenological perspective for cultural analysis.17 Tenbruck characterized Simmel’s interactive forms as ‘reciprocal orientations which go with typical situations’ (1959, 86). Identifying and distinguishing such ‘forms of association’ helps us to understand social reality as it is lived. Through this emphasis on the ‘social dimension’ of reality, what I call Simmel’s phenomenology of culture18 reveals modes of systematicity inscribed in, ordering, human (transsubjective) existence. Attention to form and formation as emergent properties of reciprocal interaction was the immediate consequence of what Simmel in the first flush of discovery had proclaimed to be ‘the overcoming of the individualistic way of seeing [die Überwindung der individualistischen Anschauungsart]’ in modern, historically self-​conscious inquiry: ‘The science of the human has become the science of human society.’19 Simmel’s views about what constituted theoretically adequate strategies of reflection on human existence continued to evolve, and it would not be long before he would come to view such ambitious claims for the social sciences with considerable skepticism. But Tenbruck’s suggestion that Simmel’s conception of social form should be understood as a way of getting at a freshly disclosed aspect of reality helps clarify what was at stake in the paradigm shift that gave rise to the new knowledge formations in and through which the culturally dominant ways of thinking about human existence changed ineluctably in the ensuing generations. Rudolph Weingartner, whose 1962 Experience and Culture: The Philosophy of Georg Simmel is still the only philosophical monograph on Simmel in English. 17 As Tenbruck emphasized, Simmel did not think of forms as ‘general concepts’, much less as separable in a Platonic sense. What makes possible his ‘pure sociology’ of forms is not ‘abstraction from content-​phenomena, in which the forms inhere and through which alone they can be set forth, but abstraction from a content-​perspective’. On Tenbruck’s understanding, such abstraction resembles what we would label ‘construction’: ‘ “Abstracting” must be understood in the radical sense of extracting or extricating from reality something which is not a directly observable and common element in it’ (Tenbruck 1959, 74–​5). 18 See Goodstein 2002. 19 ‘Die Wissenschaft vom Menschen ist Wissenschaft von der menschlichen Gesellschaft geworden.’ These remarks may be found in the first paragraph of Simmel’s 1894 essay, ‘Das Problem der Soziologie’ (GSG 5, 52).



As Tenbruck pointed out, the ‘originality and novelty’ of Simmel’s idea that reality has a social dimension have been obscured for us by subsequent advances in sociology, psychology, and social psychology. Today, we take Simmel’s basic perspective for granted, no matter how much his particular insights may still impress us. We are used to exploring the social presuppositions and implications of phenomena. (Tenbruck 1959, 66)

Emphasizing that Simmel’s conception of social form has philosophical and not just sociological or social scientific significance places the paradigm shift his thinking helped catalyze in a broader intellectual-​historical context. When reading Simmel’s work  –​and this holds for other texts from the formative period of the modern social sciences –​we must take into account that not just our categories and theories but also our intellectual habits and style of thought hail from a very different knowledge regime, one in which the existence of ‘society’ is taken for granted and ‘culture’ has taken on meanings quite different than in the time when these ideas were being formulated. The figure of Simmel  –​his work, but also his person  –​provides a crucial missing link between the preoccupations of ‘theory’ (in the encompassing sense prevalent in the contemporary ‘interdisciplinary’ humanities and qualitative social sciences) and the leading questions and problems of the previous fin-​de-​siècle  –​that is, of the philosophical and historical moment in which our contemporary disciplinary order was coming into being. To grasp the importance of his contributions, it is necessary to think of his theoretical and methodological liminality in historical and cultural as well as biographical and institutional terms. A famous philosopher with considerable cultural status who spent most of his career as a marginalized semi-​outsider in the professionalizing academy, Simmel was in many senses a different kind of thinker than the institution-​ builders and historians who would in various ways go on to claim his legacy for sociology. Viewed retrospectively, from the vantage point made possible by a disciplinary order that was still taking form in his lifetime, he may, to be sure, be regarded as a ‘transitional phenomenon’. But today, when even the memory of Lukács’ own recognition that everyone with ‘genuine philosophical talent’ in that decisive generation was indebted to Simmel has long since faded into oblivion, the question of the future of the theoretical past he embodied must be posed anew. Thanks to the convergence of biographical and theoretical liminality that characterizes his life and career, Simmel’s work is an exemplary site for a reflective return to the modernist moment that still defines so much of our own theoretical, disciplinary and conceptual horizon.

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And it is time to move beyond Lukács’ metaphor of 1917, with its misleading suggestion that a liminal thinking can ultimately be delimited by its being-​ between two well-​defined theoretical eras and disciplinary paradigms. Simmel did not abandon or recant his vision of sociology as his thinking evolved. Rather, by his own account, the philosophical implications of his conception of form as defined by Wechselwirkung, reciprocal interaction –​that is to say, the consequences of regarding the interpretation of phenomena, both external and internal, as requiring attention to a third, trans-​individual dimension of sociohistorical, cultural, constitution or formation –​led him beyond the point of view he had espoused in the early to mid-​1890s. As Simmel (re) presented it, he was led by the logic of the concept itself through the notion of a ‘pure sociology’ taking interactive ‘forms of association’ as its object back once again to philosophy, but in a new key.20 That is, the internal dynamics of his distinctive concept of the social gave rise to the major shift in his thinking that culminated in his Philosophy of Money. Simmel’s account of his intellectual development points helpfully to the continuity of his thinking on social form(ation) with a much broader philosophical tradition. Drawing on Aristotle and Hegel as well as Darwin and Spencer, his 1900 The Philosophy of Money extended and deepened his conception of form, interpreting what he there calls Gebilde, ‘configurations’, of human interaction as part of a larger ‘cultural process’ in which humanity was evolving. Like other dialectical thinkers, Simmel did not draw a sharp distinction between forms and processes in thinking about life and change. And his mature conception of human being included both subjective individuality and the trans-​individual cultural formations of ‘objective spirit’ such as science, art and technology that are the historical product and present nexus of human activity. However, the philosophical nuance and more generally the theoretical and methodological significance of his conception of form became obscured when his ideas were assimilated to a disciplinary formation that defined itself as having parted ways with philosophy. As a consequence, Simmel’s Philosophy of Money became perhaps the most important, mostly unread theoretical work of

20 Simmel’s remarks in this and the following paragraphs stem from a brief intellectual autobiography of uncertain purview. Angelika Rammstedt discovered evidence that Margarete Susman had provided the text to Michael Landmann for BdD, where it first appeared; it is now in GSG 20, 304–​5 (here, 304). As I argue in Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, the current editors date this text too late; Köhnke’s suggestion is compelling: that it was written at about the time Simmel was completing his Soziologie, for a philosophical reference work (the Ueberweg-​Heinze), for which it proved unsuitable. See Köhnke 1996, esp. 149–​53 and, regarding the rediscovery of the text, 161n. 236.



the twentieth century. It will be helpful to indicate briefly why its approach is worth careful reconsideration today. To pick up Simmel’s autobiographical account, in his Philosophy of Money, the idea of ‘living reciprocity’ (or ‘interactivity’) at the heart of his dialectical conception of form was extended into ‘an entirely comprehensive metaphysical principle’ that became the basis for a relativist re-​visioning of the ‘central concepts’ of philosophy as such. That modernist style of thinking about reality reframed notions of causation and explanation entirely beginning from this new concept of concepts. As Simmel described it: The contemporary dissolution of everything substantial, absolute, eternal into the flux of things, into historical mutability, into merely psychological reality is, it appears to me, only secure against an unstable subjectivism and skepticism if one sets in the place of the substantial fixed values the living reciprocity [lebendige Wechselwirksamkeit] of elements, which themselves are subject to the same dissolution ad infinitum. (GSG 20, 304–5)

Through this extended conception of form as a mode of describing such animated interactivity (as lebendige Wechselwirksamkeit might also be rendered), Simmel continued, the conceptual foundations of philosophy (‘truth, value, objectivity etc.’) were reinterpreted as historically and culturally evolving forms and configurations of human life: ‘as reciprocalities, as contents of a relativism that now no longer signified the skeptical dissipation of all that is solid but precisely protection against this via a new concept of solidity’ (GSG 20, 304–​5). Simmel’s (re)turn to philosophy neither left the empirical-​ sociological dimension behind nor sundered theory from (knowledge) praxis. The Philosophy of Money was a modernist attempt to integrate a renewed engagement with the human world, with everyday experience, into the foundations and practice of philosophy. And through that effort, Simmel’s ‘special concept of metaphysics’ emerged, in which (as he elaborated) ‘relativism as a cosmic and epistemic principle replaces the substantial and abstract unity of the world-​image with the organic unity of reciprocal interaction’ (GSG 20, 305). In the historical-​cultural life of society, relativity becomes concrete. As Simmel put it in The Philosophy of Money itself: This is the philosophical significance of money: within the practical world it is the most decisive visibility, the clearest realization of the formula of being in general, according to which things find their meaning in one another [aneinander] and in the mutuality [Gegenseitigkeit] of relations in which they float, that makes up their being and being thus [Sein und Sosein]. (GSG 6, 136)

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Money is the paradoxical image of reality. Not only does it make phenomenologically accessible the mode of being of interactive forms as such. Its philosophical significance is metaphysical in Simmel’s specific sense. In its constant being-​in-​motion money is the clearest ‘symbol’ for the character of the world as absolute movement […] it is so to speak actus purus; it lives in continuous self-​externalization from every given point and thus forms the antipode and the direct negation of every being for itself. (GSG 6, 714)

As I show in Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Simmel’s opus magnum sets out a performative demonstration of this relativist or perspectivist way of seeing, presenting value as constitutive of human reality and showing that multiple, diverse and often mutually opposed points of view are possible  –​ and indeed necessary –​for understanding the world. Simmel’s philosophical relativism, which should not be confused with his early sociologism, incorporates a dimension of philosophical and methodological self-​reflexivity that also subtends his mature work in sociology. There, too, it is clear that Simmel has decisively parted ways with the reductive epistemological views that had once led him to hope that the sciences of human society could and soon would subsume all systematic reflection on human existence.21 Like The Philosophy of Money, Simmel’s 1908 Sociology: Investigations of Forms of Association attempts to convey a new way of thinking about human –​that is to say, social, cultural, historical  –​reality. As he emphasizes in his brief Preface, the book requires a reader who constantly keeps in mind its central task, providing a ‘methodologically secure conception of the problem’ of what defines the discipline of sociology, lest it ‘appear to be an accumulation of disconnected facts and reflections’ (GSG 11, 9). The Simmelian text cannot be understood if it is approached, as it so often has been, as a collection of loosely related analyses of diverse social phenomena. His Sociology, too, demands an active reader who is thinking along with the argument and reflectively following its unfolding series of examples of social forms –​a reader who is attending to and actively testing the text’s performative methodological strategy. Here too, Simmel makes dialectical demands on his readers, phenomenologically enacting a new way of thinking about human life and culture in order to demonstrate its value. 21 Simmel’s distinctive understanding of ‘relativism’ differs significantly from the quotidian use of the term. Like the Nietzschean perspectivism that inspired it, Simmel’s understanding of truth is historical without being reductively historicist. The links between his method and French historical epistemology perhaps indicate a subterranean connection, rather than just a formal convergence, between his thinking and that of Gilles Deleuze, for whom relativism is ‘the truth of relations’.



Like the social itself, sociology comprises –​must comprise –​multiple, sometimes contradictory, sometimes overlapping perspectives. Not only do social forms exist at different scales and intensities from the micro to the macro and thus entail attending to different, perhaps incommensurable metaphysical and epistemological points of view. The ultimate nature and origin –​and the final meaning and purpose –​of the forms of interaction that constitute social life are and must remain unknown. Thus, unlike disciplines such as economics or psychology that are concerned with particular ‘contents’ and arenas of human social life, sociology makes visible the indeterminacy and multiplicity of society or the social, of the living and changing configurations of human cultural-​historical existence, as such. Simmel’s conception of scientific inquiry itself had evolved. In the programmatic essay from 1894, he had represented the study of social life as capable of being divided in its totality into discrete Arbeitsgebiete, disciplinary domains in which nomothetically secured knowledge was possible. But the revised and extended version of ‘The Problem of Sociology’ that serves as the first chapter of his 1908 Sociology espouses a very different view. Echoing a crucial passage in the introduction to The Philosophy of Money, Simmel declares: It is always one reality, which we cannot encompass scientifically in its immediacy and totality, and which we must take up from a series of distinct standpoints and thereby shape into a multiplicity of mutually independent scientific objects. (GSG 11, 36)

Disciplinary divisions, too, must be regarded relativistically lest we lose sight of their purpose for us as knowers. Sociology, and in particular what we would call the sociology of knowledge, plays a decisive role. Epistemology in a relativistic key cannot be pursued in abstraction from reflection on the cultural, social and historical context of knowing. On the other hand, on Simmel’s mature view, the deepest problems of sociology are not sociological problems. Questions about the meaning and ends of the social, no less than those concerning its foundation and constitution, lack the ‘categorical independence, that unique relation between object and method’, that would enable them to ‘ground sociology as a distinct new science’ (GSG 11, 40–​1). What are properly speaking ‘philosophical questions […] that take society as their object’ simply extend a way of thinking that is structurally speaking already given into a new area. Whether or not one recognizes philosophy as a science [Wissenschaft] at all: The philosophy of society has no justification [Rechtsgrund] for evading the

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advantages or disadvantages of its belonging to philosophy as such by constituting itself as a particular science of sociology. (GSG 11, 41)

Philosophy is different in kind from other sciences (in our terms, disciplines) since its questions and problems precede and transcend particular object domains and perdure, as it were, at a tangent to their knowledge practices. What he calls the ‘philosophy of society’ –​which is neither entirely different from nor equivalent to the contemporary enterprises that go by the names of social or cultural theory or the philosophy of the social sciences –​is not simply distinct from sociology proper. It belongs to a different sphere: if sociology involves a particular way of seeing, the philosophy of society entails reflection on the problems and limits of that perspective. On this view, the disciplines of philosophy and sociology represent distinct, yet mutually entailed challenges in the pursuit of modern  –​that is to say, self-​reflexively secured  –​ways of knowing. The dominant historiography of the disciplines tends to obscure the complexity reflected in these interrelated perspectives. When Simmel is read as sociologist, the relations between his distinctive style of interpretation and his intellectual achievements remain undertheorized even as his contributions to the emergent social sciences are celebrated. Even an admirer such as Tenbruck, who argued forcefully against the notion that Simmel was an unsystematic thinker, begged the question, suggesting that when Simmel was writing, the social sciences did not have available the conceptual tools which he needed to express his thought articulately. He had to work mainly with such non-​specific concepts, illustrations, and images as the ‘cultural’ sciences of his day could offer him. To wrest meaning from his text –​or as Kant, in genuine deference to the achievement of an author, put it, ‘to understand an author better than he understood himself ’ –​is a task that can be met only to the extent that there has been progress in conceptualization and methodology. (1959, 63)

Tenbruck’s point of departure is the assumption that social science had emancipated itself from philosophy and more generally from the imprecision of humanistic approaches to ‘culture’; his interpretation is nourished by a whiggish view of history that tropes disciplinary evolution as conceptual progress. All of this calls for reexamination, especially after the ‘cultural turn’ in the social sciences themselves, for the underlying narrative performs the very operation it purports to describe. The institutional function and theoretical lineaments of this line of argument become even more explicit in Coser’s canonizing account of Simmel



as a ‘Master of Sociology’. He too represents Simmel’s thinking as mired in unscientific prehistory, pointing out that the category of form is ‘freighted with a great deal of philosophical ballast’. Indeed, he speculates, it ‘may have frightened away certain modern sociologists intent on exorcising any metaphysical ghosts that might interfere with the building of a scientific sociology. Had Simmel used the term social structure –​which, in a sense, is quite close to his use of form –​he would probably have encountered less resistance’, for it would have been easier to discern the proximity of his ‘formal conceptualizations’ to the conceptual universe of modern sociology (1977, 181). Coser’s markedly circular logic circumscribes a blind spot surrounding that discipline’s problematic relations to its philosophical origins. To ask how ‘form’ and ‘structure’ relate or differ would disclose the disturbing possibility that the conceptual apparatus of social science might itself harbor metaphysical ghosts.22 But Simmel’s approach to theorizing what he sometimes called the ‘super-​ individual’, das Über-​individuelle,23 suggests that social scientific objects and methods cannot be clearly distinguished from philosophical or more broadly humanistic concepts and approaches. Neither discipline could possibly lay claim to absolute authority: conceiving of forms as inhering in performative interactions between human beings makes analyses of concrete historical and cultural practices philosophically necessary, but it also raises questions (for example about the nature, meaning and value of those forms) that cannot be resolved sociologically. As The Philosophy of Money demonstrates, while value is produced by human beings interacting, phenomena of meaning and value can neither be reduced to nor satisfyingly explained in terms of their sociohistorical and cultural origins. Similarly, understanding the figure of the ‘Stranger’ calls for a doubled (or, from a current point of view, an interdisciplinary) perspective that takes both ‘philosophical’ and ‘sociological’ dimensions into account. Attention to that doubling, through which Simmel’s relativism is performatively conveyed to his reader, provides an important point of entry for reflection on the theoretical and historical significance of Simmel’s own liminality as a thinker. To assess his importance today, it is necessary to attend to the ways contemporary aspirations to come to terms with the prewar past Simmel represents 22 See Kemple and Harrington (2012) for an intriguing suggestion that we address the challenges of contemporary social theory by turning such concerns into a source of theoretical renewal through an embrace of Simmel’s ‘sociological metaphysics’. 23 On November 5, 1894, Simmel sent a copy of ‘The Problem of Sociology’ to his teacher Moritz Lazarus and, in an accompanying letter, thanked his teacher for awakening his interest in ‘the problem of the supra-​individual and its depths [des Überindividuellen u. seine Tiefen], whose investigation will probably fill out the productive time that remains to me’ (GSG 22, 132).

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are both continuous and discontinuous with the efforts of our theoretical and disciplinary predecessors –​those whose practices of canonization (which always also means: of exclusion) remain the (thought or unthought) foundations of contemporary social and cultural theory. If we are to move beyond the disciplinary and theoretical impasses that confine and constrain our thinking today, we must identify and address the limitations that have thereby been built into our own ideas and methods and ways of seeing. Only then can we truly hope to discover, let alone develop, genuinely different potential futures out of the untapped resources of our intellectual and cultural legacy. The difficulties in reading Simmel’s work provide a crucial case in point for the way the unthought epistemic assumptions tacitly inscribed in the disciplinary organization of knowledge interfere with contemporary efforts to discover new ways of approaching the problems –​at once new and old –​of our own modernity. Setting aside the historiographical overconfidence regarding the superiority of present theoretical perspectives embedded in the condescending images of Simmel as ‘unsystematic’ thinker and ‘transitional phenomenon’, let us explore another venerable figure for his distinctive place in modern intellectual and cultural history: the metaphor of Simmel as ‘stranger’. Because this very different figuration of his difference is situated at once inside and outside Simmel’s texts, between historical-​cultural reality and its theorization, attending to its operations allows us to get at the overdetermined site of liminality as such. And because the identification of Simmel as stranger has its origins in the Cold War period, returning to it simultaneously provides an opportunity to address the continuities as well as the differences with our own more immediate theoretical and disciplinary past.

Rereading the Stranger Simmel did not actually publish what has come to be known as his ‘essay’ on ‘The Stranger’ as an independent text. Barely seven pages long, it first appeared in the 1908 Soziologie as the last of three excurses at the end of Chapter IX, ‘Der Raum und die räumliche Ordnungen der Gesellschaft’ [‘Space and the Spatial Orderings of Society’].24 While Simmel’s Soziologie was not translated into English in its entirety for more than a century, the ‘Exkurs über den Fremden’  –​literally, ‘the Foreigner’  –​entered the Anglophone sociological canon via Park and Burgess’s Introduction to the Science of Sociology in 1921 and 24 This bears emphasis because Simmel had already published so much of his Sociology in other forums. The editors of the critical edition list no fewer than 18 distinct essays published between 1905 and 1908 that were eventually integrated into the 1908 volume (GSG 11, 896–​7).



quickly came to be regarded as a sociological classic. Since then, the ‘essay’ known as ‘The Stranger’ has, as it were, led a life of its own, as a fragment disassociated from its original textual and argumentative context. It remains one of Simmel’s best-​known, most frequently anthologized, taught and cited texts in English. But a reception largely focused on the role and social function of strangers and similar figures has obscured important methodological (and meta-​sociological or metaphysical) questions about the theoretical import of Simmel’s analysis, including about the significance of the figure for his larger arguments in Sociology.25 The case of ‘Stranger’ illustrates how much is at stake in the performative mode of (mis)reading through which Simmel’s account of the creation and reproduction of social forms (constellations, configurations) has been abstracted from the dialectical philosophical tradition in which it belongs. It exposes how readings that reframe and appropriate his insights and methods of interpretation serve to assimilate his work to a discipline that assumes precisely what Georg Simmel did not: that the social or society exists outside of its performance by human beings. For as he understood it, that performance is the phenomenon of form: what he elsewhere called human ‘forming productivity’ finds expression in the interactive reciprocity of social life.26 The example of the reception of ‘The Stranger’ illustrates how the appropriative narrowing of his texts and strategies of thought for and by sociology has obscured the philosophical nuance of Simmel’s conception of form and reinforced his being written out of the history of his own discipline of philosophy. Lewis Coser’s account of Georg Simmel as a ‘master of sociological thought’ exemplifies the interpenetration of formal and substantive, historical and methodological dimensions in Simmel’s distinctive canonization. His reading of Simmel as a ‘brilliant’ but ‘unsystematic’ thinker enshrines this text with both theoretical and biographical authority, linking the originality and inventiveness that inspired the ‘sociological imagination’ to Simmel’s foreignness or strangeness from the point of view of the professionalizing academy. 25 In a systematic examination of the ways Simmel’s ‘stimulating ideas’ about strangers ‘had been applied and misapplied’ in the secondary literature, Donald N. Levine presented the essay’s reception history as paradigmatic for the ‘useful confusions’ fostered by the ‘undisciplined way in which classic authors have been incorporated into American sociology’ and offered a typology of strangers synthesizing those appropriations that suggested future lines of research (1985, 88, 73, 84). 26 In the 1907 edition of the Problems of the Philosophy of History, Simmel declared his aspiration to free human beings from historicism just as Kant had liberated them from naturalism, in order to reassert ‘the freedom of the spirit [Geist], which is forming productivity’ (GSG 9, 231).

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Simmel, he argues, had developed his remarkably ‘acute analytic skills’ as a consequence of his status as internal outsider (1977, 215). ‘Simmel, the marginal man, the stranger, presented his academic peers not with a methodical, painstakingly elaborate system but with a series of often disorderly insights, testifying to amazing powers of perception’ (1977, 214). This description is tendentious. Many readers have disagreed that Simmel is unsystematic, pointing to the nondiscursive form of argument in his texts. In any case, a mode of writing that does not aspire to become a ‘system’ need not therefore be but the accumulation of unconnected flashes of insight. Still, Coser is hardly an isolated voice. Such praise (in Gadamer’s subsequent reinscription of the trope) for Simmel’s ‘seismographic delicacy’ in examining modern sensibility and experience has frequently paved the way for more or less subtle marginalization of his accomplishments as a thinker on the grounds that his writing focuses on (merely) ‘aesthetic’ matters.27 Moreover, as Simmel’s friend philosopher Margarete Susman put it, a ‘disinclination for the system’ was ‘grounded for him in the essence of thinking itself ’.28 In my terms, his conception of form and style of thought were modernist: Simmel’s mode of reading and writing about social and cultural phenomena aspired to existential-​theoretical rather than narrowly social scientific significance –​which is not to say that it was on his understanding ‘unscientific’ or ‘aesthetic’. Occupied with purging sociology of metaphysical ghosts, Simmel’s mid-​ century admirers were hardly predisposed to delve into his philosophical views on form, and depicting him as a ‘stranger’ authorized considerable hermeneutic license. Thus Coser quite deliberately set aside questions about how Simmel’s mode of analysis and conceptual vocabulary relate to and engage with the philosophical tradition –​although from an historical as well as conceptual point of view, these are in fact decisive for the constitution of modern social science. Candidly describing his practices as a reader, Coser continued:  ‘Despite the unsystematic and often willfully paradoxical character of Simmel’s work, it is possible to sift and order it in such a way that a consistent approach to the field of sociology emerges’ (1977, 215). Coser was one of Simmel’s most important advocates in twentieth-​century sociology, and his strategy for setting aside the legacy of the dialectical thought and transmuting theoretical writing itself into a form of testimony remains influential; such sifting and ordering of Simmel’s writing into distinct contributions to the 27 Gadamer refers to Simmel’s ‘seismographische Feinheit’ in the context of his discussion of ‘Erlebnis’ in Wahrheit und Methode, p. 69. 28 Susman 1959; all citations pp. 4–​5.



discipline is frequently framed even today by identifying him as ‘the marginal man, the stranger’.29 Coser’s strategy for turning the tables of sociological analysis on the subject he was ushering as ‘master’ into the sociological canon itself took on canonical status. Construed as an act of self-​revelation, the brief excursus would be invoked again and again to represent and define its author as a “stranger” par excellence, often via an under-​theorized link to Simmel’s ‘Jewishness’.30 It was an image perfectly suited to sociology’s ambivalent embrace as a somewhat unknowable founding father: Simmel, the outsider who made a home in sociology without ever entirely belonging to the discipline, whose unscientific yet penetrating utterances resonate in the cultural memory of the scholarly community, whose texts (even if they appear to his disciplinary offspring as formally chaotic ‘series of often disorderly insights’) are recognized as having shaped the sociological imaginary. As the metaphoric vehicle for the discipline’s point of origin, Simmel as (institutional) stranger symbolizes the prescientific, philosophical past that must continually be overcome to establish and maintain sociology’s scientific bona fides. Representing Simmel as a stranger –​as an outsider to, rather than a famous and cosmopolitan participant in a vibrant and, in many ways, very modern cultural and intellectual world –​is less a way of remembering than of forgetting him as a thinker. It is enabled by hermeneutically questionable reading practices31 that ground sociology’s claim to disciplinarity by placing beyond the realm of critical reflection not only foundational or ontological ideas concerning the nature and operations of the social but also methodological or epistemic assumptions concerning the sorts of arguments, evidence and so forth admissible in discussing it. Via selective reading, the complex philosophical legacy embedded in Simmel’s conception of form is retooled to undergird inquiry into hypostasized social ‘roles’ and ‘structures’. The theoretical and methodological blind spots this way of reading creates are further occluded by the sociological way of seeing it enables. Like his pathbreaking analysis of reification in The Philosophy of Money, the historical and conceptual resonance (and influence) of Simmel’s analysis has gone largely unremarked within the broader intellectual and cultural history of modern thought. And just as reading the final chapter of his 1900 29 See, for example, Jeffrey C.  Alexander’s proposed return to Simmel’s ‘Stranger’ for a new era in The Dark Side of Modernity, ­chapter  5, ‘Despising Others:  Simmel’s Stranger’. See also the December 2012 issue of The Journal of Intercultural Studies devoted to ‘Strangers’, especially Mervyn Horgan, ‘Strangers and Strangership’ and Vince Marotta, ‘Georg Simmel, the Stranger and the Sociology of Knowledge’. 30 See Köhnke’s excursus on ‘Georg Simmel als Jude’ (122–​48). 31 Coser even suggested that the title The Philosophy of Money was misleading (1977, 193).

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masterwork in isolation has helped foster an aestheticizing reading of Simmel’s nuanced account of ‘styles of life’, decontextualizing his account of strangers and strangeness from its context, both local and global, in his Sociology has obscured the theoretical (and philosophical) stakes of his interpretation in a sea of appropriations at best loosely grounded in the text. That its author has been represented as embodying the category he analyzed makes the text’s reception a valuable lens for exploring how ‘Simmel’ has come to function as a name for the constitutive blind spot that enables a certain, specifically sociological (or more accurately, a reductively sociologistic) way of seeing to cohere both practically and symbolically. Placing what Simmel had to say about strangers and strangeness back into its textual context reveals how much is at stake not just for sociology but for contemporary cultural theory more generally in reading Simmel differently. Such a return to ‘The Stranger’ helps to expose the specificity of his philosophical modernism and to illuminate the indeterminate space between and before the boundaries of the modern disciplinary order –​that is to say, to disclose the conceptual and textual space of Simmel’s liminal way of seeing. By focusing attention on the significance of his theoretical situation as a thinker between what we have come to think of as ‘the social sciences’ and ‘the humanities’, it may help enable the renewed and genuinely interdisciplinary interest in Simmel’s writings to foster new forms of reflection on the disciplinary fragmentation that constrains our modes of thinking the (social, cultural, historical) world as a whole. Significantly, the topic of the excursus is not a social ‘role’ or ‘identity’ but an analytic construct: ‘the sociological form of the “stranger” ’, which Simmel defines in terms of two extremes of the human relation to space: the ‘detachment’ of those who wander and the ‘fixity’ of those who remain in the same social space all their lives (GSG 11, 764). Having anchored his interpretation in phenomenological observations about human social-​cultural life as such, Simmel invokes explicitly philosophical terminology, introducing the form as ‘representing in a certain sense the unity of the two determinations’ –​that is, the poles of detachment and fixity that constitute human spatiality as a social phenomenon –​and thereby ‘revealing [offenbarend]’ an even more basic theoretical principle or perspective: ‘that the relation to space is on one hand the condition, on the other hand the symbol of relations to human beings’ (GSG 11, 764).32 Unlike the wanderer, who ‘comes today and goes tomorrow’, the stranger is ‘the one who comes today and stays tomorrow –​the so to speak potential 32 This analysis illustrates the highly influential turn of thought through which Simmel reframed Kantian forms of perception as historical products of collective cultural-​spiritual life.



wanderer who […] has not entirely overcome the dissolution of coming and going’ (GSG 11, 764). The figure of the stranger qua stranger is not simply other or different but a being in and for whom a particular ‘constellation’ [Konstellation] of transpersonal interaction, the ‘unity of intimacy and distance’ featured in every human relation, takes on the symbolic form of otherness. Strangeness is a philosophically significant social form, a figure at once symbolic and concrete, ideal and material. The sociocultural position of the stranger, the potential wanderer, cannot be understood in privative terms: being-​strange [das Fremdsein] is of course an entirely positive relation, a specific form of reciprocal interaction [Wechselwirkungsform] […] The stranger is an element of the group itself, not unlike the poor and the manifold ‘inner enemies’  –​an element whose immanent position as member simultaneously encloses something external and juxtaposed. (GSG 11, 765)

This subject position has a very distinctive topology: strangeness is a relationship of reciprocal interaction, a form of social life that implicates both subject and other. The ‘stranger’ exists in and through a trans-​and inter-​personal configuration; the form names a position in an interactive field of human (sociohistorical, cultural, symbolic) practice. While the chapter on spatiality also explores the social function of very concrete relations to space, which condition and enable class-​differentiated forms of mobility, Simmel’s analysis of strangeness emphasizes the importance of dimensions of existence that cannot be understood in straightforwardly materialist terms and that indicate the constitutive impact of (trans-​and supra-​individual) sociality  –​that is to say, the historical temporality of culture  –​on the socio-​spatial organization of human life. Traversing the tensions between strangeness as a timeless social role and the historically specific context of modern subjectivation, resonating with much older, philosophical paradigms even as it anticipates new ways of thinking, Simmel’s mode of analysis is entirely in keeping with the relativist ‘praxis of cognition [Praxis des Erkennens]’ glossed in the Introduction to The Philosophy of Money as ‘building a story beneath historical materialism’ through a (modernist, dialectical) pursuit of an ‘infinite reciprocity’ of explanations. As he puts it there, through the ‘alternation and intertwining of conceptually opposed epistemic principles [Erkenntnisprinzipien], the unity of things, which appears ungraspable for our cognition [Erkennen] and nevertheless grounds its cohesion [Zusammenhang], becomes practical and animated for us’ (GSG 6, 13). In its mixture of philosophical universality and sociological and historical particularity as well as its preoccupation with the ways being-​strange

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(Fremdsein) constitutes both self and other, Simmel’s discussion of the figure anticipates the discourse on alienation (Entfremdung), with its central trope of geistige Obdachlosigkeit, ‘spiritual homelessness’, in the next generation. Not only, through the form of immanent (partial) belonging called being-​strange, is the stranger ‘an element of the group itself ’ (GSG 11, 765). In this social formation, ‘the repelling and distancing moments […] constitute a form of being-​ together [Miteinander] and of reciprocally interacting unity [wechselwirkende Einheit]’ (GSG 11, 765). The co-​constitutive relation between stranger and other Simmel is describing only resembles an Aristotelian or Hegelian dialectical whole. Conflict, in his understanding, is not eliminated within the social totality, nor is difference subordinated to identity, which remains radically external to itself. In fact, the sociological form represented by the stranger, who belongs to the group in the mode of not entirely belonging, whose being-​social ‘simultaneously encloses something external and juxtaposed’, makes visible –​is a figure for –​something quite intimate and fundamental about human existence. Strangeness turns out, as it were, to be all too familiar; it is a configuration of the social internal to subjectivity itself.

Figuring Strangeness Simmel’s analysis of being-​strange extends and turns to account the basic dialectical insight that the relation to the other reflects and is partly constituted by a relation to self. As he puts it earlier in Sociology: That with certain sides of his being the individual is not an element of society forms the positive condition for his being so with other sides of his being [Wesen]:  the mode [Art] of being-​ social [or being-​ in-​ society:  Vergesellschaftet-​ Seins] is determined or codetermined by the mode of not-​being-​social [Nicht-​ Vergesellschaftet-​Seins]. (GSG 11, 51)

The ‘stranger’ is both a constitutive element of the group and a figure in whom the intermingling of symbolic and material dimensions in human sociality becomes uniquely apparent. The (inter-​and trans-​subjectively constituted) social form of ‘strangeness’ epitomizes a key ‘constellation’ not only within social groups but also within the intimacy of subjectivity itself: what we might call the thirdness of human (social) being.33 33 I also explore these issues in ‘Simmel’s Stranger and the Third as Imaginative Form’ (Goodstein 2015), where I expand on my discussion of the troping of Simmel’s strangeness and its philosophical significance.



Simmel’s analysis can help us parse a variety of social, cultural and subjective phenomena as consequences or effects of what he calls one of the ‘sociological a priori’ features of human existence. Like his dialectical predecessors, he saw human identity as in itself external to itself, being-​social as internally fractured, wrought with difference and constituted in and by relations that reveal the subject’s own otherness to itself. But there is no promise of ultimate resolution: human being is, in one of Simmel’s recurrent metaphors, itself a being-​fragmentary:  ‘we are all fragments’ (as he puts it a few pages earlier) ‘not only of human being in general, but also of ourselves’ (GSG 11, 49). The stranger’s condition of existence is exemplary, not exceptional: a complex, internally conflicted mode of belonging to the community or society that comprises both ‘distance and intimacy, indifference and engagement’. Here as elsewhere, Simmel is articulating a post-​Hegelian vision of subjectivity and objectivity as intricated with social (that is to say, inter-​and trans-​subjective, spatiotemporal) process. The figure of the stranger should help catalyze the reader’s self-​reflexive recognition that internal difference constitutes both human identity and sociality. Just as the subject’s incomplete being-​social conditions his or her ways of being-​social, so too in the inter-​and trans-​subjectively constituted world: ‘The a priori of empirical social life is that life is not entirely social’ (GSG 11, 53). We are all strangers in the strange land of the social. Significantly, the figure of ‘der Fremde’ makes its initial appearance in Sociology not in the famous text near the end of the book, but rather in the pages I have just been citing:  in the ‘Excursus on the Problem:  How Is Society Possible’ that supplements the new version of ‘The Problem of Sociology’ that is the book’s introductory chapter. That stranger [or foreigner:  der Fremde] enters in the company of ‘the enemy’, ‘the criminal’ and ‘the pauper’ –​all ‘types’ [Typen] whose ‘sociological significance is fixed in its very core and essence by their being somehow excluded from the society for which their existence is significant’ (GSG 11, 51). That is, Simmel’s ‘stranger’ figures a way of meaning that exists in and through a generic sort of interactive social configuration, and exemplifies a form of existence of quite general significance in and for the understanding of the social. Like the people who bear such labels, these culturally and institutionally mediated ‘forms of association’ cannot be understood in isolation:  they are cases of a type or form, exemplify a particular modus of interaction and mutual relations, of Wechselwirkung, between subjects and society tout court. In Simmel’s Sociology, ‘the stranger’ functions, then, as a figure in the technical, rhetorical sense. This is not to say that the philosophical significance of the configuration should be underestimated. Thus Simmel introduces these ‘types’ in a discussion explicitly aimed at discerning the parameters of the

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‘sociological a priori’, the categories ‘under which subjects understand themselves and view one another such that they, so formed, can give rise to empirical society’ (GSG 11, 50–​1). Unlike Weber’s Idealtypen, Simmel’s Typen are idealized but not abstract: metaphors grounded in historical and cultural reality.34 This emphasis on the ordinariness of the process of abstraction involved is significant: such figures or forms cannot be understood as formalized theoretical constructs; they exemplify and embody the internal difference that is at once a constitutive feature of human subjectivity and one of the a prioris of society as such. Since the interpenetration of movement and fixity, nearness and remoteness, inclusion and exclusion that defines strangeness as social form is constitutive for the social or society as such, this figure is of particular sociological and philosophical significance. The stranger at once represents the decentered quality of human identity and provides a microcosm of the configuration that defines the essence of the (modern, internally differentiated and fragmented) social totality. ‘Being-​strange’, as ‘an entirely positive relation, a specific form of interaction’ enables the stranger qua ‘element of the group itself ’ to both exemplify and represent the entire social constellation in which immanent membership and otherness are conjoined. Strangeness thereby manifests a positive characteristic of the social as such: its being constituted by beings who are in but not entirely of it. But the constellation is also significant for the way it makes visible a fundamental feature of subjectivity as such. Strangeness is, then, a synecdoche of becoming-​social –​Ver-​Gesellschaftung –​of the living reciprocity of the socialization process as a whole. In introducing the figure of the stranger in ‘How Is Society Possible?’, Simmel is underlining that ‘types’ defined by exclusion from the social exemplify and make visible the lineaments of the generation or formation of meaning through human interactivity as such. What holds for strangers holds for us all: ‘Every element of a group is not only part of society [Gesellschaftsteil] but also in addition something else.’ This noch etwas, the non-​or incompletely social aspect of individuality, is ‘not merely a [being] outside of society [ein Außerhalb der Gesellschaft]’. Simmel belongs to the dialectical tradition: since subjectivity is constituted by intersubjectivity, the notion of a non-​social form of identity is incoherent. This principle, which has crucial philosophical consequences for understanding the social and society, finds admirably straightforward expression in the passage already cited, according to which the individual’s 34 Tenbruck emphasizes the closeness of his conception of form to Weber’s ideal types; my point is simply that, whatever Simmel’s influence on Weber’s thinking, his breakthrough conception of or perspective on social form is part of a longer philosophical tradition.



‘mode of being-​social is determined or codetermined by his mode [Art] of not-​being-​social’. Modes or (to emphasize the evolutionary sense of ‘Art’) kinds or species of ‘being social’, that is to say, of interactive practices or forms of life, are constituted by such doubling and internal difference. Since we must ask about the implications of representation as such and recognize the importance of our existence as beings who represent ourselves to ourselves, who are others for ourselves, for the social, figures of otherness such as the stranger are of deep philosophical importance. As Simmel emphasizes, his guiding question ‘how is society possible?’ has ‘an entirely different methodological meaning’ than its Kantian counterpart for the natural sciences (GSG 11, 45). Nothing corresponds to the ‘forms of cognition [Erkenntnisformen]’ that enable the synthesis of the manifold into a causally comprehensible phenomenal world. Establishing ‘a new and independent task’ for sociology and determining its place in the system of the sciences’ entails seeking ‘conditions that lie a priori in the elements themselves, through which they really connect themselves into the synthesis ‘society’. Thus, Simmel continues, ‘in a certain sense the entire content of this book’ is an attempt to answer this question. For it seeks out the processes, ultimately realized in individuals, that condition their being-​society –​not as the temporally prior causes for this result, but as the partial processes of the synthesis, that we, subsuming, call society [or the social: die Gesellschaft]. (GSG 11, 45–​6)

Sociology is the study of the forms of becoming-​social, Vergesellschaftung:  of the configurations and constellations of association and interaction through which these syntheses come into being and persist. Simmel’s ‘forms of association’ are, then, very far from being formalistic, abstract structures. While expressible in general terms, they actually exist in and through particular, historically, socially and culturally realized locations and activities. There is no society independent of human actions and passions, no transcendent formal structure manifesting itself in diverse realities. There are, of course, institutions, structures and objective realities of all sorts that impinge on individual existence. But these are cultural products, configurations ultimately created and sustained in and by human interaction over time. ‘Society’ is a process of historical flux, an institutionally configured and culturally mediated instantiation of the very generative process of trans-​ individual collective life that sociological concepts attempt to grasp. That historical-​cultural life process cannot be exhaustively explained; the appeal to types, figures, forms is a crucial strategy for capturing the role of metaphor, of valuation, of semiosis, in the process of reciprocal interaction Simmel

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called Vergesellschaftung, the coming into being of society as a whole, whose most essential feature is symbolic exchange. Just as, after Kant, we must recognize that we cannot understand nature independently of critical reflection on our own practices of thought, we can only secure our knowledge of the human world if we remain reflective about the difficulties of thinking our own role in its symbolic constitution. Unlike in the case of the natural world, the unity of the social cannot be understood as imposed by an ‘observing subject’. Rather, Simmel emphasizes, ‘since they are conscious and synthetically active, the social unity is realized directly by its elements and requires no observer […] Here the consciousness of forming a unity with the others is in fact the whole unity in question’ (GSG 11, 43). Knowledge of the social is differently and much more intimately structured than knowledge of nature:  as an experiential, lived awareness of ‘countless singular relations, the feeling and knowledge with respect to the other of this determining and being determined’ (GSG 11, 43–​4), it is constitutive for the subject whose very being is constituted in and through interactions with others. The social form called strangeness illuminates the lived complexity of sociality tout court. Simmel expands on this point at the end of the eponymous excursus, where he returns to his initial observation that das Fremdsein, ‘being-​ strange’, must be regarded as ‘an entirely positive relation’. As a specific form of reciprocal interaction –​and this point exemplifies the intertwining of psychological and philosophical dimensions in his sociology –​it names one pole of the ‘unity of intimacy [Nähe] and distantiation [Entferntheit] contained in every relation between human beings’. Strangeness inheres in the dialectical ‘constellation’ of experience in which human subjects encounter the paradox of their sociality, a point Simmel sums up in one of his characteristic bons mots: ‘The distance [Distanz] internal to the relationship signifies that the one who is close [der Nahe] is distant, strangeness [or being a stranger, das Fremdsein] that the one who is distant [der Ferne] is close’ (GSG 11, 765). Simmel is no idealist:  on his account, both society and subjectivity are external to their own concepts, their being constituted in part by their non-​ being. As his emphasis on the experience of singular relations indicates, the differentiation of these differences is probably not entirely graspable in concepts. Nor is the distinction between society and the subjects that constitute it a psychological distinction even though it arises through the acting and thinking of the ‘elements’ of society. Human being is constituted by the social and cultural world that comes into existence through the ‘forming productivity’ of a self-​differentiating way of being: we ourselves give rise to the world we then experience as an inherently opposed and even alien force over and against our subjective individuality and will to freedom and autonomy. Strangeness figures something very basic about the social as such. ‘Die Gesellschaft aber ist die



objektive, des in ihr nicht mitbegriffenen Beschauers unbedürftige Einheit’: ‘But society is the objective, independent unity of the observer who is not included in [mitbegriffenen: literally, thought along with] it’ (GSG 11, 44).35 This performative, experiential, internally divided knowledge of being-​ social is enacted with concrete others in interactive social forms, in the lived configurations and constellations of inter-​and trans-​subjective ‘supra-​ individual’ existence where meaning resides. There is no human subjectivity without a relation to this third dimension, which depends on the historical objectifications (institutions, practices, forms of life) that constitute human culture. Human subjectivity is constituted through intersubjectivity, but this intersubjectivity is not the same thing as the social. One of Simmel’s greatest theoretical contributions, itself a reflection of the liminal place of his thought between the post-​Kantian philosophical tradition and the emerging modern social or cultural sciences, is to have so clearly articulated a way of seeing that exposes the constitutive tensions between subjects and the social that, in very pragmatic yet quasi-‘transcendental’ ways, make subjectivity possible. Human beings are not simply (socially formed) subjects. This fact and the (lived, if not necessarily conscious) awareness of the limits to one’s belonging to society are crucial both for the experience and the reality of society: ‘Societies are configurations [Gebilde] out of beings [Wesen] that stand simultaneously inside and outside of them’ (GSG 11, 53). Beings, that is, capable of reflection on the limits of their belonging to the social world that constitutes them and hence on that process of constitution itself. If we assume the standpoint of Simmel’s metaphysical relativism, the apparent opposition between our individual and social being is revealed as an illusion: Between individual and society the inside and the outside are not two determinations that persist alongside one another […] they refer to the entire unified position of the human being living socially. His existence is not only, in a dividing up of its contents, partially social and partially individual; it stands under the fundamental, formative [gestaltenden], category of a unity that we cannot express in any other way than through the synthesis or simultaneity [Gleichzeitigkeit] of the two logically opposed determinations of membership and being-​for-​oneself. (GSG 11, 56)

Here, at the beginning of Simmel’s Sociology, the argument takes a somewhat surprising turn, anticipating developments in twentieth-​century thought well beyond that discipline –​developments, often associated with Simmel’s students 35 Wolff’s translation, ‘society, by contrast, is the objective unit which needs no outside observer’ (in Levine 1971, 8), illustrates the convergence of hermeneutic and theoretical difficulties in Simmel’s reception.

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and readers, that have wrongly been seen as entirely unrelated to his thinking. He continues: Society consists not only of beings [Wesen] that are partially not socialized but out of those that feel themselves to be on the one hand fully social existences, on the other, while preserving the same contents, fully personal. And these are not two standpoints that lie without any relation alongside one another. […]The two form a unity that we call the social being. (GSG 11, 56)

Simmel can doubtless be criticized from an anachronistic point of view that lays claim to certainty concerning which interpretive perspective should have theoretical priority. But he is not simply failing to distinguish between the internal and the externalized Other, the pre-​and the post-​social, the sub-​ and super-​individual. His theoretical and methodological framework precedes the bifurcations that have become our commonplaces –​between reflection on subjectivity and intersubjectivity and theories of the social, between philosophy and sociology, between humanistic and social scientific thought practices. What Simmel figures, paradigmatically, as being-​strange cannot be understood as doubled or ambiguous and in need of differentiation; it is a third, liminal sort of category. In closing, I would like to suggest that it should be placed in dialogue with Freud’s 1919 meditations on that particular species of the anxiety-​provoking (des Ängstlichen) known as das Unheimliche, the uncanny –​literally, the unhomelike. Not only, like Simmel’s Stranger, does the uncanny owe its singularity to its strange familiarity. As in Simmel’s thinking, from a psychoanalytic perspective, the boundary between subjects’ unconscious and the (linguistic, cultural, historical) context cannot really be clearly demarcated –​nor, for that matter, can the line between description and interpretation, phenomenology and theory. In reading Simmel, this lack of differentiation can be just as aggravating, though for different reasons, for his descendants in the contemporary social sciences as in the humanities. This reinforces the pervasive tendency to pick and choose from his texts and to celebrate isolated insights while consigning Simmel’s theoretical ambitions to the dustbin of history. Yet given the very considerable theoretical and methodological aporias within and between the contemporary disciplines as well as the noteworthy circumstance that our most basic categories –​the human, the social, culture, identity –​remain radically indeterminate, his work might also remind us that it is worth revisiting with open minds the uncanny, liminal moment before the false certainties of our bifurcated theoretical paradigms. I am not suggesting that we can or should attempt to abandon our distinctions and return to that space, any more than that we can read Simmel or his



contemporaries in a way that sets aside the intervening history of interpretation. Rather, to put a twist on Lukács’ notion, my hope is that embracing Simmel’s strangeness as the most important transitional phenomenon in all of modern philosophy can open a new perspective on the cultural-​intellectual situation of contemporary theory. Returning to his underappreciated oeuvre with an awareness of Simmel’s significance in and for the transition that gave rise to what came to be understood as self-​evident distinctions –​not just between the individual and society, the unconscious and the historical, but also between philosophy and sociology, humanistic and social scientific understandings of knowledge, of culture, and of inquiry –​serves to help us understand the origins of some of our most unquestioned assumptions and habits of thought. It may also allow us to recognize and reaccess the untapped resources of the moment –​historical, cultural, social, theoretical –​when the modern disciplinary order was just beginning to take on its modern contours. In a period when the methodological differences that would develop into an abyss between the humanities and social sciences were still fluid and contested, Simmel both embraced and attempted to theorize that very fluidity and conflict through a modernist approach to philosophizing that directly addressed fundamental questions about the relationship between disciplines and modes of interpretation. If we can find ways to take both his conception of form and the formal qualities of his texts seriously, we may find that tracing the path of Simmel’s way of thinking discloses resources we need today, when our bifurcated categories and disciplinary formations seem to have lost both their stability and their plausibility as adequate frameworks for reflection on human (cultural, social, individual) life.

References Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2013. The Dark Side of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Camic, Charles (ed.). 1997. Reclaiming the Sociological Classics:  The State of the Scholarship. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. Coser, Lewis A. 1965. ‘The Stranger in the Academy’. In Lewis A. Coser (ed.) Makers of Modern Social Science: Georg Simmel. Pp. 29–​39. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-​Hall. Coser, Lewis A., and Robert King Merton (eds.). 1977. Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Gadamer, Hans-​Georg. 2007. Wahreit und Methode. Berlin: Akadamie Verlag. Gassen, Kurt, and Michael Landmann (eds.). 1958. Buch des Dankes an Georg Simmel: Briefe, Erinnerungen, Bibliographie: Zu seinem 100. Geburtstag am 1. März 1958. Berlin: Duncker & Humboldt. Goodstein, Elizabeth S. 2002. ‘Georg Simmels Phänomenologie der Kultur und der Paradigmenwechsel in den Geisteswissenschaften’. In Aspekte der Geldkultur. Neue Studien zu Georg Simmels Philosophie. des Geldes Willfried Geßner and Rüdiger Kramme (eds.). Pp. 29–​62. Berlin: Edition Humboldt.

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——2015. ‘Simmel’s Stranger and the Third as Imaginative Form’, Colloquia Germanica, 45 (3/​4) 2012: 239–​63. ——2017. Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary. Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 2017. Harrington, Austin, and Thomas M. Kemple. 2012. ‘Introduction:  Georg Simmel’s “Sociological Metaphysics”:  Money, Sociality, and Precarious Life’. Theory, Culture & Society 29 (7–​8), 7–​25. Horgan, Mervyn. 2012. ‘Strangers and Strangership’. Journal of Intercultural Studies 33 (6), 607–​22. Jaworski, Gary D. 1997. Georg Simmel and the American Prospect. Albany: State University of New York Press. Köhnke, Klaus-​Christian. 1996. Der junge Simmel in Theoriebeziehungen und sozialen Bewegungen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Levine, Donald N. ed. 1971. Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ——1985. ‘Useful Confusions:  Simmel’s Stranger and His Followers’. The Flight from Ambiguity:  Essays in Social and Cultural Theory. Pp.  73–​ 88. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press. ——1988. The Flight from Ambiguity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ——1997. ‘Simmel Reappraised:  Old Images, New Scholarship’. In Reclaiming the Sociological Classics: The State of the Scholarship. Charles Camic (ed.). Pp. 173–​207. Malden, MA: Wiley-​Blackwell. Levine, Donald N., Ellwood B. Carter and Eleanor Miller Gorman. 1976. ‘Simmel’s Influence on American Sociology. I’. American Journal of Sociology 81 (4), 813–​45. Lukács, Georg. 1958. ‘Georg Simmel’ [1918]. In Gassen and Landmann. Buch des Dankes. Pp. 171–​6. Marotta, Vince. 2012. ‘Georg Simmel, the Stranger and the Sociology of Knowledge’. Journal of Intercultural Studies 33 (6): 675–​89. Park, Robert E, and Ernst W. Burgess (eds.). 1921. Introduction to the Science of Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Rammstedt, Otthein. 2012. ‘On the Genesis of a Collected Edition of Simmel’s Works, 1918–​2012’. Theory, Culture and Society 29 (7–​8), 302–​16. Simmel, Georg. 1989–2015​. Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe. 24 Bände. Otthein Rammstedt et al. (eds.). Frankfurt-​am-​Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. Susman, Margarete. 1959. Der Geistige Gestalt Georg Simmels. Schriftenreihe Wissenschaftlicher Abhandlungen des Leo Baeck Instituts 3. Tübingen: Mohr-​Siebeck, Tenbruck, Friedrich H. 1959. ‘Formal Sociology.’ In Georg Simmel, 1858-​1918. K. H. Wolff, ed., 77–​96. Columbus: Ohio University Press. Weingartner, Rudolph. 1962. Experience and Culture:  The Philosophy of Georg Simmel. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. Wolff, Kurt H. (ed.). 1959. Georg Simmel: 1858–​1918: A Collection of Essays, with Translations and a Bibliography. Columbus: Ohio University Press.


Introduction Today, it is still customary in the secondary literature to interpret Simmel’s life-​ philosophy as denouncing his sociology and to regard his mature cultural project as distinct from the sociological one. The challenge for the present chapter consists in assessing Simmel’s mature work as an extension of his concerns and ideas from 1890 to 1908. The research that developed thanks to the impetus from the edition of Simmel’s collected works (Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe, hereafter GSG) already offered significant contributions to overcome the classical prejudices about the ‘development phases’ of Simmel’s reflection (Frischeisen-​ Köhler 1919).1 What is lacking, however, is still a compact presentation of the relation of the reciprocal integration between Simmel’s ‘early’ and ‘late’ work as successive contributions to sociological theory. The notion of ‘solid liquidity’ should capture and present the core of Simmel’s thought on the dynamics of social life and social forms starting from his crucial contribution to the sociological theory of modernity, that is, the theory of money in the Philosophie des Geldes. In contrast to Bergson –​or currently to Bauman –​who claim ‘liquidity’ as the central category for the understanding of modernity and disregard solidity, Simmel founds his sociological theory of complex societies on the need to inquire into the open-​ended dialectics between societal liquefaction and solidification. Complex societies cannot be regarded, as Parsons suggests, as ‘social buildings’, because social structure is produced as a living framework 1 On the issue of Simmel’s contribution to religion-​sociology cf. Krech 1998. My contribution in this respect is based on the critical assessment of Simmel’s attitude to Bergson’s life-​philosophy and its importance for the development of his so-​called late work in Fitzi 2002.



of relationships in an everyday process of establishing and dissolving the action-​frames of reference. The solidity of the social fabric thereby draws on its liquidity. Sociology has to inquire into the tension-​fraught relationship between social action and social structure to assess how the former grants the validity of the latter, that is, how social creativity develops, institutionalizes and destroys social forms. To show the steps Simmel takes to develop his theoretical construction, this chapter is divided in sections devoted to the following topics: 1. The concept of complex societies as ‘solid liquidity’. 2. The theoretical approach of life-​sociology. 3. The ‘solid liquidity’ of social structure. 4. The ‘liquid solidity’ or creativity of social action. 5. The ‘culture conflict’ as the crucial integrating institution of complex societies. The notion of life-​sociology addresses the link to societal life that characterizes Simmel’s classical sociological contributions: Über sociale Differenzierung of 1890, the Philosophie des Geldes of 1900 and the Soziologie of 1908, as well as his late contributions: the Konflikt der modernen Kultur and the Lebensanschauung of 1918. It is differentiated from the concept of Lebenssoziologie proposed by Scott Lash, who devotes his attention to the analogies in the appreciation of the philosophical-​historical labels that can be used to classify Simmel’s work in comparison with that of Kant and Leibnitz (Lash 2005). Lash’s suggestions cannot be maintained, if a deeper analysis is required of Simmel’s texts and especially of his theory of the ‘sociological a priori’. In the present context, the notion of life-​sociology relates to the fact that Simmel’s analytical approach deals with the continuous developmental tension of complex societies. Simmel appreciates societal life as a conflict between social creativity, that is, the production of new social relationships on one hand, and the institutionalization and reproduction processes of existing social forms on the other. This issue stays at the heart of Simmel’s research program and its theoretical assessment does not draw on a mere ‘sociological vitalism’. In contrast to Bergson’s and Nietzsche’s life-​concepts, Simmel’s life-​sociology not only considers social creativity (Mehr-​Leben) but also the necessary coagulation of societal life in institutions (Mehr-​als-​Leben), as he extensively explains in the Lebensanschauung (Simmel [1918a] GSG 16, 232f). The aim of Simmel’s research since 1908 was to find a way of extending the sociological epistemology that he developed in the theory of the sociological a priori (Simmel [1908b] GSG 11, 42‒61) from the domain of complex societies called ‘social interaction’ to the remaining societal domains:  art, politics, law, religion, literature, erotic and so forth. In the Lebensanschauung Simmel gives the grounding of an overlapping life-​sociological ‘action and structure theory’ in order to comprehend the development of the different functional differentiated domains in complex societies. In this regard, ‘society’ as the classical socio-​political concept defines it, has to be seen as one functional domain among others. Thus, for

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


Simmel the superordinate concept of sociology becomes ‘culture’. However, culture is characterized as a conflict between its creative forces (Mehr-​Leben) and its institutionalized forms (Mehr-​als-​Leben), as Marx first pointed out for the economic domain (Marx 1969, 9). The conclusion of this chapter draws on this analytical result of Simmel’s life-​sociology. The integration of complex societies depends on the process of culture, that is, on the conflict between societal life and societal forms. The culture conflict, however, can take on very different shapes. Simmel’s life-​sociology delivers the analytical framework to understand in what kind of conflict between social liquidity and societal solidity an historical age is situated (Simmel [1918b]). This aspect constitutes the actuality of Simmel’s sociological paradigm.

Solid Liquidity In the language of finance, ‘liquidity’ is a measure of the ability and ease with which assets can be converted into ready money. A financial institution must have enough ‘liquid assets’ to remain viable, that is, to meet its short-​term obligations, even if it comes to a run on the bank. Otherwise, its existence is in jeopardy. ‘Solidity’, in turn, is synonymous with dependability, reliability and, to a certain extent, responsibility. The solidity of a person’s word implies, for example, that no written contract is needed to make a deal with him or her. The individual is trustworthy. The keyword ‘solid liquidity’ suggests that accumulated monetary value is secure, can resist erosion, and therefore facilitates a certain volume of economic undertakings. What remains is to explain the nature of the societal requirements that permit the existence of solid liquidity. This is the task of economic sociology. The subsistence of the monetary economy is largely grounded on the social fact that money has the function of a medium of exchange and stores value in an enduring way. To understand which kind of social relationships grant the conversion of the symbolic medium ‘money’ into social action and vice versa is therefore to address the issue of what makes the persistence of solid liquidity possible over time. In his Philosophie des Geldes, the study of the sociology of money, that is, the social preconditions as well as societal function and impact of the monetary economy, Georg Simmel analyzed how the symbolic medium ‘money’ (Geld) arose historically from its substantial early forms (Gold) (Simmel [1900/​ 7] GSG 6, 199 ff). At the end of a longer time-​period, in complex societies the political authority of the state grants the existence of money as a fiat currency, namely, as a means of exchange which is ‘payable to the holder at sight’. Sight, thus the symbolic function, which associates the current holder of the money with the anonymous third parties who will accept the medium in payment for material goods in the future, or in other spatial locations beyond



the familiarity of face-​to-​face interaction, remains the focus of sociological research. In Weber’s terminology, this kind of intermittent social relationship is grounded on the ‘consensual action’ (Einverständnishandeln)2 that takes place in order to ensure the consistency of money on the temporal and spatial axis, that is, in the future and in social interaction ‘beyond familiarity’ (Weber 1988 [1913], 453). Ego agrees to pay at sight the value of the symbolic medium alter holds because he can expect that tomorrow anonymous third parties will accept and do the same for him. Only the enduring consolidation (Verdichtung) of manifold consensual relationships on the temporal axis and beyond face-​to-​ face interaction makes the existence of money possible as the central integrating institution of complex societies. Owing to sight, the value concentrated in the symbolic medium ‘money’ can be converted into social action and vice versa. The (inter-​)mediation through the sensory perception represents the final fragment of the substantial character of money:  coins, banknotes, papers must glint somewhere to point out their function as a value bearer. This effect, however, is not so much due to the necessity of simulating a substantial value for the material carrier of the money, but of exerting its present and future attraction for its potential holders, as gold and silver once did. Shininess captivates. Wearing jewels and ornaments extends the ascendancy of the personality, binding other individuals in the aura of the social actor (Simmel [1908a]). Historically, the social function of jewellery belongs to the basic requirements of social relationship and represents a crucial factor for the development of metallic money (Fitzi 2003). Money’s glittering aspect serves as a signal which the symbolic medium sends out to secure the future persistence of the intermittent social institution ‘money’. The flickering of banknotes appeals and serves to resume consensual action. Equally, tomorrow, so the medium claims, it will be able to attract enough anonymous third parties willing to pay ‘at sight’ its value to the holder. The sparkling appearance of money is a promise of happiness within our context of ‘solid liquidity’. The social performance of the eye, which connects individuals, leading them to engage in reciprocal action by looking at each other, according to Simmel in his ‘Sociology of the Senses’ (Simmel [1908b] GSG 11, 723), becomes institutionalized within money. Thus, reciprocal action can remain steadfast beyond the space and time limits of face-​to-​face interaction. The construction of the social relationship through reciprocal sight is then carried by a social institution and can be maintained even if the actors never get to see each other. The sight of the symbolic medium ‘money’ stays vicarious for 2 To the complex meaning of Weber’s sociological concept of consent cf. Fitzi 2015, 267−79.

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


the reciprocal observation of the anonymous members of a social relationship; it takes place beyond the spatial and temporal limits of familiarity. The consistency of the social institution ‘money’ thus allows for the extension of the range of association processes (Vergesellschaftungsprozesse) beyond the sensorial limits of interaction. Banknotes are the mere formal and dematerialized carrier of the intermittent social relationship called ‘money’, but they have to glint, at least a little, to perform their function. The sex appeal of money is necessary to secure its duration as a societal institution grounded on consensual action, in Weber’s sense. That ‘money’ succeeds in delivering its intermittent services is, however, always to strike a bargain:  solid liquidity is no material object, but a societal process, moreover, as such, it is always at risk. Paper or electronic money is unlike ‘commodity money’, which is grounded on a material good –​mostly precious metals like gold or silver –​and has uses other than intermediate economic action. Indeed, paper or electronic money gains acceptance exclusively by relying on the legitimacy of the authorities that grant its stability. Hence, the symbols of political communities have to be recognizable on the coins and banknotes. Nowadays, these are represented by personalities, monuments or events with which members of national states can identify; or else they are ‘bridges and doors’ that suggest the interlocking of different national economies through a transnational currency, as is the case for the Euro (Simmel [1909]; Giacomoni 2002). Symbols evoke a network of social interdependence, a chain of consensual actions, which grants the institutional preconditions for the existence of money as a symbolic medium of exchange. ‘Solid liquidity’ thus requires smooth, intermittent association processes that produce a continuous flow of political legitimation, and ultimately ‘trust’ in the liability of the corresponding social relationships beyond the temporal and spatial constraints of the present face-​to-​face encounter. The issue of ‘solid liquidity’, like a prism, reflects the basic social tensions that characterize modern societies. As the most powerful instrument to establish processes of Vergesellschaftung, on a sort of societal vicious circle, money depends on the consistency of the processes of Vergesellschaftung based on consensual action. The latter processes have to secure trust that creates the expectations that, in future and over and above the sensorial limits of interaction, anonymous third parties will accept money as a symbolic means of exchange that is ‘payable to the holder at sight’. Money is a powerful instrument to bypass the fragmentation of modern social life and thus to integrate complex societies (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 446 f; [1916/​17]). It is of little or no consequence how many roles social actors have to exert, or how different the normative orders are that they have to relate to within their social action. Money can smoothly perform the intermediary function between the different role descriptions and normative codes, thus making it rather easy to address social



interaction without getting too deeply involved in single social relationships. Nevertheless, money or the integrative flow of complex societies is on one hand a very fragile process, while on the other it has a deep impact on modern individuality and the way of life. The progressive extension of causal chains of action, that is, the varying length of teleological series (Zweckreihen), the autonomization of its means versus aims, and the increasing difficulty for the social actors to make sense of the manifold roles they have to exert  –​according to Simmel, these are the symptoms of the crisis of complex societies (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 254‒338). He thus provides a portrait of modern alienation that not only concerns industrial workers, but complex societies as a whole (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 617‒54). If individuals dispose of money, they can easily relate the different domains of life by purchasing the components of a lifestyle, which their milieu requires, as shown in Simmel’s study on fashion (Simmel [1905]). Nonetheless, their life will not automatically become more meaningful. The lack of synthesis between the manifold fragments of life in complex societies represents a grounding aspect of the modern human condition. Only under the premise that the lone individual consciously opts for autonomy and makes his personality a ‘work of art’ can he escape alienation by establishing his particular ‘individual law’ beyond the fragmentation of life (Simmel [1913]). As Marx devises it, the socially necessary labour time contained in the commodity appears within social interaction as an objectified fetish of value; it must therefore be explained by analyzing the relations of production that brought it into being (Marx 1998, 88). Even if Simmel disagrees with Marx’s labour theory of value, he shares the methodological approach of tracing ‘social facts’ back to the processes of reciprocal social action that generated them (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 587 f). Philosophie des Geldes explains money as the central process of social integration in complex societies and scrutinizes its apparent strength and solidity by depicting its development and reproduction mechanisms. Simmel regards the economic object ‘money’ as the symbolic expression of a bundle of social processes that are exposed to a major number of risks. Monetary economy ‘normally’ goes round granting the subsistence of solid liquidity beyond its current space–​time limits; nevertheless, it can suddenly collapse for different reasons, as Simmel knew from his family’s history in the 1870s (Gassen and Landmann 1958, 11). Day in and day out, be it in recession or depression, economic and political crises challenge the persistence of the central integrative institution of complex societies. The trustworthiness of money and related consensual relationships are laid on the line. Inflation and deflation undermine (with inverse effects) the social performance of the general medium of exchange, making it difficult to transform the symbolic value of money into social action and

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


vice versa. Solid liquidity stalls. As the recent financial crisis evidenced, the stagnation of the societal function of money, that is, of the connected trust relationships, leads to a chain reaction with negative economic and social outcomes. It provokes falls in the availability of credit, cutbacks in production and investment, a number of bankruptcies including sovereign debt defaults, significantly reduced amounts of trade and commerce, currency value fluctuations and, last but not least, major increases in unemployment. Without its lubricating fluid ‘money’, the complex machine of modern societies seems to get stuck. ‘It is the economy, stupid!’, some would argue, and the inescapable fate of modernity until the final collapse of capitalism, as Marx would add. However, what modernity is should be clarified. To formulate an answer to the question represents one of the central concerns of Simmel’s sociological research. Modern societies undergo a higher degree of social differentiation, that is, a multiplication of the social relationships that individuals have to entertain (Simmel [1890] GSG 2, 169‒93). They deal with an acceleration of life rhythm (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 696 ff), as well as an intensified social exchange on the basis of merely temporary contacts and collisions in urban life (Simmel [1903]). All these shifts from the relatively unchanging structure of traditional societies give the impression of a progressive liquefaction of modern life. In Germany at the end of the nineteenth century, the Zeitgeist characterized this evolution as a triumph of relativism, moral decadence and neurasthenia (Radkau 1998). Nietzsche’s amorality constituted one of the preferred objects of dispute during the ‘age of nervousness’ which characterized the rapid modernization process of the German Empire in the ‘Gründerzeit’, as Simmel remarks in his assessment of the ‘tendencies in German life and thought since 1870’ (Simmel [1902] GSG 18, 178 ff). Simmel took very seriously the widely held perception of modernity as an increasing liquefying of all established societal contexts, as dissolution of substance into functions, of the solid and the lasting into the flux of restless development (Simmel [1893] GSG 4, 330), as well as related aspirations. ‘Modern times, particularly the most recent, are permeated by a feeling of tension, expectation and unreleased intense desires –​as if in anticipation of what is essential, of the definitive of the specific meaning and central point of life and things’ (Simmel 2004, 486). He could not read Bauman’s (2000) moral sociology of complex societies, but he knew of this typology of diagnostic work because he read Bergson, whom he considered the sharpest brain of his age (Simmel [1914]). In contrast to Baumann, Bergson’s phenomenology of the modern conflict between the ‘mechanic rhythm’ of society and the ‘organic pulse’ of human spirit ends with a positive evaluation of the idea of life-​frames liquefaction (Bergson 1889; 1907). Its central thesis is that of the emergence



of an ‘iron-​cage’ of life due to the performative structure of language; and this has to be seen as a product of the progressive subordination of individuality under the action patterns of modern society. According to Bergson, the liquefaction of societal orders that shines through the nervousness of modernity is the sign of a possible path of emancipation. Individuals should find a way back to the durée, that is, to the independence of their inner life rhythm from all social constraints, and thereby actively contribute to liquefying the societal contexts in which they are caught. Only in the deepest layers of the conscience, in the ‘liquidity of psychic intimacy’, can the human spirit be set free from its captivity in the forms of societal life. Bergson addresses here the central conflict of modernity:  namely, between the logic of individuality and the logic of social systems. His solution to the problem consists, however, in a plea for escape into the safe harbour of intimacy. Thus, he pronounces a judgement without any appeal about the modern forms of association: they do not in any way support the self-​fulfilment of individuality and merely have the negative effect of a constraint. Liquidity without solidity, that is, without the shaping of life cultural and societal forms provide, is the only means to escape the ‘iron-​cage’ of the modern human condition. For all the interest in Bergson’s life-​philosophy, Simmel absolutely disagrees with him on this point. To him, an existential expressionism is no option to overcome the conflict of modernity. Only the reciprocal action of life and forms, of liquefaction and consolidation ‒ and ultimately, of the three ‘a prioris’ of sociology (Simmel [1908b] GSG 11, 42‒61) ‒ make it possible for Simmel to overcome the crisis of complex societies (Fitzi 2002, 257‒324). Bergson’s j’accuse had a major impact on philosophical thought as well as on the literature of the early twentieth century. His cousin par alliance, Marcel Proust, developed a literary universe out of the idea of finding a route back to the lost deposits of memory in past temporality. From an anthropological viewpoint, as Helmuth Plessner later worked out, there are nonetheless major risks of an anti-​modern ideologization in Bergson’s philosophy of intimacy (Plessner 1928, 344f; Fitzi 2007). Playing life off against form, liquidity against solidity, intimacy against publicity and, last but not least, community against society does not take into account the needs of human nature (Plessner 1924, 62‒4). For human beings require both: intimacy and publicity, durée and the forming of contents of conscience, life-​expression and life-​style. According to Simmel, these contradictory needs are due to the temporal structure of the human conscience. The latter is not exclusively constituted by its flow; rather, it requires a threefold movement within a never-​ending process of reciprocal action between liquefaction and consolidation. Firstly, conscience needs to fix its contents into forms in order to manifest expression; secondly, it depends on

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


overcoming given forms in order to develop further and; thirdly, it must create new forms out of its renewed flow (Simmel [1918a] GSG 16, 212‒35). Simmel’s late life-​ sociology, as he presented it in the Lebensanschauung (Simmel [1918a)] is a cultural theory of social creativity under the life conditions of complex societies. Human beings create cultural and societal forms to fulfil themselves within reciprocal social action. They do not isolate themselves in an improbable realm of liquid conscience-​flow intimacy, as long as they do not fall into depressive alienation. Life and forms constitute the prerequisites of each other in modern social reality. The conflict between ‘old societal forms’ and ‘new economic life’, as Marx outlines it in the study of the tension between productive forces and relations of production (Marx 1998, 791), should not be understood as the pathogenesis of modernity but as the principle of its subsistence (Simmel [1918b] GSG 16, 183 f). The related reflection about the grounding of sociological anthropology and cultural theory on the dialectics between societal life-​flow and societal life-​forms has, according to Simmel, to be extended to life-​science at large, as the Lebensanschauung approach suggests with reference to nascent cell biology that emerged at that time (Simmel [1918a] GSG 16, 221 f). Through an inquiry into human conscience, which mutually connects his cultural theory and his sociological anthropology, Simmel thus introduces his late life-​sociology. Its formulation in the metaphorical language of life-​ philosophy is due to his long-​lasting examination of Bergson’s criticism of the developments of the natural sciences around the turn of the century. It would nonetheless be a misunderstanding to interpret these results of Simmel’s late work as distinct from his sociological theory construction between 1890 and 1908. Simmel’s understanding of society as a ‘living body’ made out of the interlocking of different intermittent associational processes is present in his sociological work from its beginnings in Über Sociale Differenzierung of 1890 (Simmel [1890] GSG 2, 126‒38). Its high point is found in the ideal-​typical doctrine of the sociological a priori, which in a synthesis of rare theoretical mastery connects the sociological theories of modern individuality, of modern social structure and modern culture (Simmel [1908b] GSG 11, 42‒61). According to Simmel, the transfiguration of liquidity to the central category for the diagnosis of modernity, yet without understanding the importance of the institutional consolidation processes for the integration of complex societies, means being doomed to fail in grounding sociological theory. To grasp the fluid body of modern society in theoretical terms calls for an innovative understanding of sociology. That was the task Simmel devoted his sociological theory construction to. Accordingly, the central challenge for today’s interpretation is to rediscover the core of Simmel’s sociological theory by removing the numerous interpretative layers that mainstream sociological tradition has



set up by persistently understanding modern societies as consolidated systemic entities. A sociological tradition that had too little interest in inquiring into the intermittent institutionalization and legitimation processes underlying complex societies could, after all, dedicate only a historical footnote to Simmel’s sociology (Parsons 2001).

Simmel’s Life-​Sociology To adopt a fashionable term in a scientific analysis borrowed from contemporary socio-​political debate is perhaps as daring as it is effective. It is daring because one risks amalgamating a fleeting, albeit en vogue discourse with the scientific dimension of the subject at hand. It is effective because the fashionable ‘buzz word’ is a way of addressing social facts that have a particular relevance at a given time. This is especially true of the term ‘life-​sociology’. Perhaps, we should consider whether we need a debate about this idea coming so soon after the lengthy inquiry into issues of bio-​politics.3 Yet the methodological problem of understanding contemporary societies, which increasingly seem to lose their integrative potential through rapidly changing modalities of association, makes it necessary to examine the issue of a renewal within the theoretical architecture of sociology. While the aim is to avoid subordinating social theory to the logic of biologist metaphors, the vital and often short-​lived character of ongoing associational processes has to be grasped in terms of theory. In this respect, Simmel’s sociology can make a substantial contribution to a theory of contemporary complex societies, on the proviso that the varying superimposed elements that are characteristic for its reception can be overcome and the ‘sociological-​epistemological’ dimension can be properly presented. The theoretical orientation of sociology towards biological metaphors may rest on the finding that living systems comprise not static, but dynamic structures. The rhythmic actualization of their structural characteristics grants the autonomy, automorphism, energy regulation and metabolism which are necessary for the survival of living beings. From the mechanical idea that the longevity of social structures is simply granted after their meaning has been institutionalized and internalized during the socialization process, sociology has to advance to a conception of society as a structure, which is continuously re-​established in everyday social interaction. Accordingly, not the ‘normative 3 Cf. Roberto Esposito (2008). Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Developing the concept of life-​sociology in the direction of a concept of bio-​sociology requires a critical analysis of Agamben’s and Foucault’s work and cannot be provided in the present contribution.

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


patterns of social action’ represent the primary object of sociology, but the intermittent forms of association that become transnormative institutionalization processes. On one hand, the latter have to be seen as consistent patterns of social action. On the other, however, their validity is granted only within certain limits of time and space. They constitute the object of life-​sociology.4 A new perspective of sociological theory is required to initiate the switch from an ‘architectural sociology’, which is strongly interested in defining the consolidated normative patterns of social action, to a life-​sociology that investigates its intermittent processes of legitimation as well as the dialectics between the liquefying and the consolidating aspect of social institutions. This implies, among other things, a departure from the paradigmatic systematization of the canon of modern sociology given by Talcott Parsons. Parsons’s conception of action theory in the Structure of Social Action is based on the axiomatic assumption that social interaction has a ‘teleological-​normative structure’ (Parsons 1949 [1937], 44 f). Parsons sees collective action goals as being in a relationship of contradiction with individual interests, so that social action has to be understood as being ‘normatively led’ in order to allow ‘rational and free subjects’ to find an orientation in social action. In the footnote ‘A’ of the Structure of Social Action, Parsons (1949 [1937], 74–​6) gives a fundamental definition of what he understands as ‘normativity’. He regards it as an indicator of the fact that actors consider ‘an aspect, part or element of a system of action’ an ‘end in itself ’ (Parsons 1949 [1937], 75). By defining normativity in this way, Parsons focuses on action patterns that are already institutionalized and therefore only need to be described, yet not to be explained in the (intermittent) modalities of their legitimacy. Sociology thereby becomes the science of the ‘consolidated normative orders’, that is, of the integrated value systems, common to a large number of social actors (Parsons 1949 [1937], 704). According to Parsons, the building processes of normative action patterns, the daily acknowledgement of their validity as well as the processes of their dissolution, do not belong to the field of sociology research. His investigative interest is indeed restricted to the crystallized action patterns of the ‘common value system’. If something is postulated as an ‘end in itself ’, for example in a written statute, sociology has to take its validity for granted without checking out its empirical basis. Parsons’s perspective of inquiry is therefore restricted to the allegedly consolidated contexts of validity. Sociology becomes a science of ‘social solidity’, inquiring into rather static social relationships. This approach may match the reality of certain societal contexts in particular historical ages that have moderate social dynamics. It is, however, hard to believe that it can 4 I developed the basis for the theory of transnormative association in Fitzi 2015.



grant the development of a social science capable of grasping the tensions of complex societies, above all, in times of unsolid liquidity. On the way to building a sociological theory for an age characterized by high social dynamics, three primary principles of Simmel’s life-​sociology have to be taken into account in order to grasp the processes of intermittent legitimation, that is, of transnormative association that sketches out the current development of society. These principles concern the three central issues of every sociological theory: social structure, social action and social legitimacy as the way in which social action and social structure interact with each other. The answer Simmel gives to these issues relates to his conception of modern society as a ‘solid social liquidity’ and is based on a social-​structural concept of individual and collective cultural work as the central integrative function of complex societies. The particular way in which Simmel explains the dynamics, according to which the everyday construction of the living network of society takes place, constitutes the actuality of his life-​sociological paradigm.

The Solid Liquidity of Social Structure According to Simmel, society always consists of a reciprocal action between liquefaction and solidification processes, that is, in the language of life-​sociology a dialectic between life and form (Simmel [1918b]). The most striking example of the vital tension within societal fabric is given by the development of the monetary economy, which establishes money as an autonomous, condensed social structure, yet equally consists in a relativist balance between economic values that can suddenly overturn. If the economic value of objects of exchange lies in the relationship that they reciprocally enter into, then money is the autonomous expression of this relationship. The monetary price of a good expresses the measure of exchangeability existing between that good and all other goods as a whole. Their reciprocal ‘relativity’ is crystallized in the possibility of expressing the respective value in monetary terms. ‘Money is simply “that which is valuable”, and economic value means [to count something,] to be exchangeable for something else’ (Simmel 2004, 119). Money guarantees no specific content; rather, it acquires its content only through introducing the validity of something ‘Other’ (Anderes). ‘It is value turned into a substance, the value of things without the things themselves’ (Simmel 2004, 119). It is form, which can only persist as life, that is, as a dynamic reciprocal action between foreign values. The social relationship among individuals, who encounter each other as bearers of subjective value-​ideals, becomes autonomous as a social institution that instils objective validity into values to the extent that it ‘relativizes’ these values, or places them in a reciprocal relationship with each other. Thus, as

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


an abstract value asset money expresses nothing other than the relativity of things for which it procures value; at the same time, however, it forms the static pole compared with the perpetual fluctuations and counterbalances of its valuations (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 124 f). By performing these services, ultimately, money becomes a concrete value in itself. ‘The dual role of money consists, on the one hand, in measuring the value relations of goods exchanged and, on the other, in being exchanged with these goods and thus itself becoming a quantity subject to measurement’ (Simmel 2004, 120). By virtue of its intrinsic quality of representing the exchangeability of things, money’s abstract and universal side comes to the forefront: its liquid solidity gains expression. Since it is spent in exchange for consumer goods and fills the gaps emerging on account of consumption-​induced value fluctuations, money contributes to the continuity of economic chains of events; in other words, it secures its solid liquidity. Primitive forms of a change of ownership such as theft and gifts do not manifest this intrinsic quality, which can be attained only by exchanging equivalent items, as well as by money in its final form. Empirically, money’s intrinsic quality is expressed as solid liquidity; ‘this significance of money shows itself further, in an empirical way, as stability of value, resulting from its interchangeability and lack of specific qualities. This is regarded as one of the outstanding and most useful characteristics of money’ (Simmel 2004, 123). The length of the economic teleological series (Zweckreihen) that are needed for a thriving economy depends on the stability of money’s value as a social form  –​this alone facilitates long-​term investments and loans. As long as money possesses the intrinsic quality of value stability, it nonetheless owes this to its function of the purely abstract expression of the economic relations of things (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 131). The more volatile the fluctuations of economic values, in short, their liquidity, the more significant the stabilizing function of money, that is, its solidity. The dynamics of complex society can be assessed only as the conflict-​prone reciprocal relationship between the vital principle of the monetary economy, that is, its relentless relativizing of value and its form principle, that is, the state’s legitimation of the institution of money. To borrow Simmel’s language of life-​sociology, it is a ‘conflict between life and forms’ (Konflikt zwischen Leben und Formen) that integrates complex societies. The mature monetary economy, which relies on the reciprocal relativity of economic values, establishes the function of money as a universal equivalent and elevates it to its actual meaning. Here, the monetary price of a good merely represents the expression of its exchange relationship with other goods, and no notion of fairness or equity can fabricate this. It is a morally neutral, fluctuating value. Herein lies the objectivizing function of money. Only the relativity of objects in comparison to each other determines their objective value by



decoupling this objective value from the subjective value-​ideals of the individual actor. ‘The distance, which drove apart the subject and the object from their original unity, [is] embodied so to speak in money’ (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 136; my translation). It not only offers exchangeability its technically matured means, but also establishes itself as independent from the empirical actors and further embodies the validity of the goods that has become a social institution by granting expression to their reciprocal relativity. The relative dimension becomes the absolute and vice versa. Nevertheless, its validity is limited on the space–​time axis, so that sociologically it may be described as solid liquidity, that is, as the transnormative dialectic between life and forms. The accelerated associational rhythm (Vergesellschaftungsrhythmus) of complex societies leads individual value-​ideals (Wertvorstellungen) to be increasingly disposed to each other, so that their objective validity is possible only as an expression of reciprocal relativity. Solidity is only given as liquidity. According to Simmel, this not only applies to the economy, but also tends to be the case for all partial areas of functionally differentiated society, starting from positive law whose dynamic of legal validity (Rechtsgeltungsdynamik) can only be assessed on the basis of a circular interpretive model (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 98). This is precisely the central point of the significance of Simmel’s life-​sociological concept of complex societies as a competing dynamic between different intermittent institutionalization processes of relative value allocation. Parsons’s teleological-​normative action model is suitable to describe statically fixed patterns of action orientation (Handlungsorientierungsmuster). If sociological theory aims to address the dynamics of complex societies, its focus has to shift from the contents of normative orientation to the processes, which develop objective contexts of time-​and space-​limited legal validity starting from the reciprocal relations of subjective interests and value-​ideals. Money offers the institutionalized balancing forms for the reciprocal relationship of subjective value ideals and notions of fairness. The written fixing of norms through statutes and ordinances, as asserted in positive law, here serves the demand for continually accepting their implementation. A comparable dynamic of legitimation can be observed in different functional partial areas of complex societies. For example, political legitimation cannot be justified by the assumption that a ‘minimal common consensus’ about specific content-​related legal and value-​ideals has to be taken for granted. Legitimation is constantly newly created as a result of the processes that grant specific decision-​making authorities with the interpretive power of collective patterns of action orientation. Here, the decisive factors are the modalities of consensus-​based action that trigger independently of the content-​related motivations for action and carry the processes of legitimation. The liquefaction of normative contexts that emerges in the wake of transnormative association confronts theory not merely with the issue of multicultural

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


change, but also with the growing social complexity of contemporary societies. This applies, in particular, to the transformation of the temporal and spatial framework of associational processes. What can be observed as the ‘tempo of life’ (Tempo des Lebens), according to Simmel, arises from the entirety and profoundness of experienced changes provoked by the accumulation of social contacts in complex societies (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 696 ff). With a fully developed monetary economy, the tempo of life accelerates through the accumulation of economically controlled valuations that place in question every consolidated equilibrium between the personality value spheres (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 697). Subjective valuation and objective validity coincide with a frequency that makes it difficult for the actors to endure their complexity without mechanisms to alleviate the strain. This applies for all valuations in different social partial areas, so that disorientation becomes ever greater the more differentiated the way in which the individual participates in it. While the human psyche strives to balance what is unequal, the rhythm of the monetary economy always creates new marks of comparison (Vergleichsbestimmungen) between things that require mental, inner working through. ‘The more the life of society becomes dominated by monetary relationships, the more [clearly] the relativistic character of existence finds its expression in conscious life, since money is nothing other than a special form of the embodied relativity of economic goods that signifies their value’ (Simmel 2004, 518). The conflict-​prone relationship between the level of social action and social structure takes centre stage. The solid liquidity of the complex monetary economy is only possible on the condition that a process of (inter-​)mediation becomes repeatedly possible over time between the market actors and market structures within the overall arrangement of the functionally differentiated society. In his late culture sociology, Simmel formulates this relationship using the terms of his life-​sociology as a conflict between societal life and societal forms (Simmel [1918b]). However, in the context of Simmel’s life-​sociology the societal action level (soziale Handlungsebene) can only be addressed on the condition of putting forward a theory of the anthropological foundations of social action. In this instance, the second a priori of life-​sociology holds sway:  individual conscience is composed of the permanent conflict between the stream of consciousness (Bewusstseinsfluss), or durée in Bergson’s sense on one hand, and the shaping (Formgebung) of the stream of consciousness, which facilitates its expression on the other (Simmel [1918a] GSG 16, 209‒38). The liquid solidity of social action Simmel’s conception of the second a priori of sociology underlines the fact that human beings always live between a condition of privacy and social liaison, so



that they can never be confined to intimacy nor completely socialized (Simmel [1908b] GSG 11, 51). This assumption constitutes a central tenet of Simmel’s sociological epistemology, although in a more generalized form it becomes one of the grounding theses for the anthropological foundation of his life-​ sociology, which he presented in his later writing: the Lebensanschauung (Simmel [1918a]). An individual human life is never completely consumed by the social relationships in which the person participates. Insofar as the individual can combine the socialized and the non-​socialized fields of his personality in a meaningful synthesis, his social acting contributes to the existence of the social fabric. For he acts as a pillar of the social structure by holding together in a particular synthesis a plurality of different social threads, granting the continuous intersection of different social circles (Simmel [1890] GSG 2, 237‒57). From the viewpoint of Simmel’s sociological epistemology, being a part of the social whole and at once a self-​reliant social actor means that the individual is capable of combining the corresponding streams of his conscience. Society is to be seen as the complex result of an endless synthesis of experience contents and performances that do not extend to the wholeness of the personalities involved. Societal life, that is, the social creativity of the individuals, has to match with the social forms, that is, with the institutionalized patterns of social action, by contributing to the everyday production-​process of the social fabric. Thus, the issue arises as to whether the qualities of the objective social order can harbour a multiplicity of subjective nuances that can make individuals the bearers of this order. Only by merging both dimensions of individual conscience life and social conscience forms does a continuous association occur that makes society possible (Simmel [1908b] GSG 11, 41). Thereby the social actor is placed in a particular situation, where his opposing consciousness flows should merge in a social compatible form. The necessity of establishing this connection constitutes Simmel’s ‘third a priori’ of sociology (Simmel [1908b] GSG 11, 59). Individuals must steadily cope with a double flow of consciousness: on one hand the objective contents of culture (the social roles), and on the other hand their subjective creativity (the individual goals). Thus, the social integration process proves an everyday conflict between individual creativity and the societal shaping of the conscience form that constitutes the dynamic foundation for the legitimacy of the social structure (Fitzi 2015, 202‒7). The Lebensanschauung proposes an outline for an anthropology that is to be seen as a deepening of the sociological epistemology and, in particular, of the foundation of the social field on the forms of social experience, which Simmel set out in the first chapter of the Soziologie (Simmel [1908b] GSG 11, 42‒61). In his late writings, Simmel extends his epistemological model from the pilot study on society to the whole complex of the cultural fields

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


starting from the different ‘forms of experience’ that give rise to those fields. The starting point and core of Simmel’s life-​sociology is the definition of the anthropological structure of the experience in terms of the concept of boundary (Grenze) (Simmel [1918a] GSG 11, 212). Human beings are to be seen as ‘beings of the boundary’ (Grenzwesen), because their attitude to the world is determined by the fact that, in every dimension of experience, they find themselves constantly moving between two opposing boundaries. This applies to the perception of time and space, to aesthetic and moral values, but also to the fact of being socialized in the tension between the private and public fields of the personality, as Simmel’s theory of the sociological a priori works it out (Simmel [1908b] GSG 11, 47‒59). Corresponding to the formal structure of human existence, those ‘opposite boundaries of the experience flow’ represent the means whereby human beings locate themselves properly in their potentially infinite domain of experience. The socioculturally intermediated life forms thereby make the life-​process of human beings possible. The single boundaries of sociocultural creativity, however, are steadily overcome in a process that does not abolish its principle but each time establishes a new boundary. This assumption extends the logic of the association process to the whole of human life (Simmel [1918a] GSG 16, 215) because its dynamic element, that is, the continuous re-​establishing and redefining of the social forms that constitute the social fabric, is seen as a variation of the general process facilitating human life. Thus, instead of merely being a category of sociological epistemology, the concept of ‘form giving’ represents an instrument for the analysis of all domains of experience and the related cultural fields. Accordingly, the conflict-​prone relationship between life-​process and life-​forms becomes the central category of Simmel’s life-​sociological culture theory. The decisive related epistemological issue is therefore to explain what makes a ‘sociocultural world’ possible as the sum of the objects produced through the conflict between life and forms in the different fields of functionally differentiated societies. Simmel’s grounding anthropological assumption in this regard is that human beings can only realize their life process within the framework of their cultural and social environment. Human life depends on social and cultural forms, which allow it to exist in its complexity. Humans as ‘beings of the boundary’ otherwise have no means to express themselves and thereby have no access to the concrete building of their own sociocultural world. Consequently, individual human life is always confronted with a multiplicity of objectified worlds of culture and social relationships. Every content of conscience belongs to one of the possible cultural worlds from which life experience is made, and constitutes a fragment of the totality of a specific cultural field:  economy, politics, science, art, religion, sexuality and so on



(Simmel [1918a] GSG 16, 243). The fragmentary character of life depends on the anthropologically determined structuring of the sociocultural world that becomes even stronger with the process of modern social differentiation. The association rhythm of complex societies compels individuals constantly to move from one to the other field of experience, exposing them to the risks of social pathologies. The central conflict between the creativity of social life and the institutionalized forms of association thus demands a deeper-​going analysis of the process that relates them together. This is the task of Simmel’s life-​sociological culture theory. The culture conflict: Integrating social creativity and institutionalization Simmel’s study of the ‘conflict of modern culture’ shifts the focus of analysis concerning the socially integrative function of culture from the level of individual action to that of collective notions (Simmel [1918b]). From the standpoint of life-​sociology, culture implies a tension-​fraught relationship between creative activity, that is, individuals’ social creativity (life) and the institutions (form) in which their realization takes shape (Simmel [1918b] GSG 16, 183). As Simmel’s remarks based on his theory of action in Philosophie des Geldes suggest (Simmel [1900/​7] GSG 6, 617‒54), the development of the modern division of labour leads to the inexorable proliferation of objective culture, thus making it entirely unmanageable for individuals. The drifting apart of objective and subjective culture jeopardizes the integration of complex societies. Social actors are no longer in the position of combining the manifold character of role models, which they have to enact, into a reasonable synthesis; moreover, they are exposed to alienation, as shown by a cultural sociological interpretation of the third a priori (Simmel [1908b], GSG 16, 59). In terms of social structure theory, the modern cultural development implies another danger. In this regard, however, Simmel’s diagnosis of the time is not based on determining a liquefaction of social life, as Baumann and Bergson do with their opposing normative judgement. Instead, during the cultural development of the time of European peace from 1871 to 1914, Simmel identifies a shift in the modality of conflict between societally productive forces and societal production forms. Extending Marx’s diagnosis of the economic field (Marx 1969, 9), according to Simmel, this conflict occurs in all spheres of the functionally differentiated society (Simmel [1918b], GSG 16, 184). The concentration of the most diverse products of the sociocultural life process into institutional contexts leads to the emergence of a casing (Gehäuse), or ‘cage’ in the common English translation, of creative societal life, in which

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


this can no longer freely unfold.5 The cultural forms and institutions that life calls forth develop their own logic, their own legality, which becomes independent of the dynamics of creative societal life. At the moment of their creation, the sociocultural structures still correspond to the needs of their individual and collective creators. Yet they then succumb to rigid alienness and objectivity, exploiting the energies of societal creativity in order to reproduce themselves. According to Simmel, this tension-​fraught relationship fosters the emergence of cultural history. Life continually creates new structures that claim permanence. These are the forms in which social life ‘adorns itself ’. Thus, they are to be regarded life-​sociologically as a necessary act without which life cannot appear. The latter, that is, social action, nonetheless ceaselessly flows on and contradicts the fixed duration of any cultural form and social institution. The reciprocal relationship between the two societal-​forming levels of social action and social structure is therefore also fashioned as a conflict between life and forms, and as such is to be explained in sociological terms. For this reason, in Simmel’s view, it is important to assess the social dynamics of cultural change with reference to life-​sociological metaphors. As a result of Simmel’s diagnosis of the time, however, a distinction is to be drawn between a physiological and pathological development of the sociocultural dynamics between life and forms. If one cultural entity has been formed, the next one is already beginning to take shape below it. Hence, as Hegel had earlier suggested, the change of cultural forms represents the central object of history (Simmel [1916]). Simmel sets great store by underlining that life, that is, social action, cannot in any sense secure its permanent existence without being structured as a form or as an institutionalized context of action. Historically interpreted, as Marx explains, new production forms replace the outdated ones. Yet this does not occur without conflict. The motives of change represent the productive forces, or in sociological terms, the creativity of social action. However, the development of productive forces can appear only in the guise of a new form of production. If one applies Marx’s observation based on economic theory to the entire structure of functionally differentiated societies, the same tension-​fraught relationship, in Simmel’s eyes, applies for all spheres of ‘culture’ (Simmel [1918b] GSG 16, 184). Hence, the sociological concept of culture must override the sociologism of the concept of society in order to record the integration processes of complex societies. Only then can any verification follow about which dynamics characterize the overall ‘conflict between life and forms’ in modernity. 5 The reference is to Mitzman’s (1970) interpretation of Max Weber’s thesis on the Protestant ethic and to its influence on the discourse about modernity, e.g. by Scaff (1989).



If, like Simmel, one undertakes a parallel analysis on the functional fields of the ‘social constitution’ (sozialen Verfassung) of the economy, politics, law, art, science, religion and eroticism, the outcome is puzzling. This is the novelty referred to in Simmel’s diagnosis of the time in 1918. In the age of European peace, a ‘rebellion of life against the forms’ (Rebellion des Lebens gegen die Formen) can be observed (Simmel [1918b] GSG 16, 185). The creativity of social action refuses to convert to institutionalization processes. According to Simmel, this means accumulating a ‘distress of culture’. What emerges is a straight impulse for the revelation of life (unmittelbarer Offenbarungsdrang des Lebens) that rejects every adornment in a cultural form. There is a surplus of social action creativity, which no longer finds any institutional concentration form. The societal life cycle therefore assumes feverish characteristics, which are not followed by any stabilization, as Simmel’s analysis of the metropolis already exposed (Simmel [1903]). The result is not only a loss of form, a liquefaction in the style of Baumann or a decadence in Nietzsche’s sense, but also an active pathological element:  a virulent rejection of form, that is, an active conflict of sociocultural creative forces against the adoption of new forms through institutionalization. The crisis of culture becomes its ideological principle and the fight against form emerges as its goal, while the anti-​institutional tendency for social creativity becomes the principle of the association process. It is widely known that, according to Simmel, several typical cultural phenomena during the period from 1871 to 1914 contributed the empirical confirmation of his time diagnosis: European life philosophy, Expressionism in art, American pragmatism, the sexual revolution on Monte Verità and the religious dimension of mysticism. It is tantalizing to speculate on the nature of Simmel’s appraisal if he had experienced the cultural, political and aesthetic age of extremes after 1918.

Conclusions From the viewpoint of Simmel’s late life-​sociology, the concept of culture becomes the central category of sociological theory. Only the conflict-​prone process of cultural change guarantees social integration on the level of action, that is, thanks to the sociological a priori of all individual experience of the associational process, as well as on the structural level through the dynamics of the conflict between collective social creativity and institutionalization. This aspect of Simmel’s life-​sociology gives the programmatic intent of his theory-​forming its expression in the immediate period after the publication of Soziologie in 1908. Simmel regards the ‘social constitution’ (soziale Verfassung) as a functional area of complex societies among others. However, what unites all social areas is the conflict between life (social, economic, political, cultural

Modernity as Solid Liquidity


and so forth) and the respective forms, or the institutionalization processes to which life is disposed in order to continue to exist. In the third phase of his sociological theory-​forming, Simmel’s focus was to overcome the sociologism of early sociology dating from the late nineteenth century, and to develop a social theory that takes into account the specific quality of different functional areas of complex societies while examining their entire developmental process in modernity. He summarized the results of the corresponding theory formation in his late life-​sociology (Simmel [1918a], [1918b]). The most comprehensive category of sociology could no longer be the concept of society; rather it had to become the concept of culture, which was granted expression in life-​sociological terms as a conflict between life and forms, that is, between sociocultural creativity and sociocultural institutionalisation. On this basis, in Simmel’s view, it was plausible to give a diagnosis of modernity, in other words, of the time when peace reigned in Europe ahead of the catastrophic events of the twentieth century. Simmel could no longer hold the magnifying glass of his analytical repertoire to that later period. Nevertheless, we can refer to his life-​sociology. This can be usefully applied to a study of the change of sociocultural forms at the time of Europe’s second era of post-​1945 peace, as well as of the dangers to which this (fragile) peace is exposed today.

References Bauman, Zygmunt. 2000. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bergson, Henri. 1997. Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience [1889]. Paris: PUF. ——1907. L’évolution créatrice. Paris: Alcan. Esposito, Roberto. 2008. Bios:  Biopolitics and Philosophy. Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press. Fitzi, Gregor. 2002. Soziale Erfahrung und Lebensphilosophie. Georg Simmels Beziehung zu Henri Bergson. Konstanz: UVK. ——2003. ‘Die Geburt des Geldes aus dem Geiste des Schmuckes. Variation zu einem Simmelschen Thema.’ In: Simmel Studies 13 (1): 59–​72. ——2007. ‘Jenseits des Widerspruchs zwischen Intimität und ‘iron cage’. Plessners Rezeption und Überwindung der Lebensphilosophie Henri Bergsons’. Pp. 139–​49 in: Jahrbuch für philosophische Anthropologie, Berlin: Akademie. ——2015. Grenzen des Konsenses. Rekonstruktion einer Theorie transnormativer Vergesellschaftung. Weilerswist: Velbrück. Frischeisen-​Köhler, Max. 1919. ‘Georg Simmel’. In: Kant Studien, 24: 1‒51. Kurt Gassen and Michael Landmann (eds.). 1958. Buch des Dankes an Georg Simmel. Briefe, Erinnerungen, Bibliographie. Berlin: Dunker & Humblot. Giacomoni, Paola. 2002. ‘Le immagini sull’Euro. Ponti e porte dell’Europa’ In: L’Adige 03 (01): 1. Krech, Volkhard. 1998. Georg Simmels Religionstheorie. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Lash, Scott. 2005. ‘Lebenssoziologie: Georg Simmel in the Information Age’. Theory, Culture & Society 22 (3): 1‒23.



Marx, Karl. 1969. ‘Vorwort’, Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. Pp. 7–​11 in Marx Engels Werke, vol. 13, Berlin: Dietz. ——1998. Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, vol. 1 [1867]. In Marx Engels Werke, vol. 23. Berlin: Dietz. Mitzman, Arthur. 1970. The Iron Cage:  An Historical Interpretation of Max Weber. New York: Knopf. Parsons, Talcott. 1949. The Structure of Social Action. A Study in Social Theory with Special Reference to a Group of Recent European Writers [1937]. Glencoe: The Free Press. ——2001. ‘Georg Simmel and Ferdinand Tönnies: Social Relationships and the Elements of Action’. Pp. 71–​92 in G. Pollini and G. Sciortino (eds.). Parsons’s The Structure of Social Action and Contemporary Debates. Milano: Angeli. Plessner, Helmuth. 1981. Die Grenzen der Gemeinschaft. Eine Kritik des sozialen Radikalismus [1924]. Pp. 7–​133 in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 5: Macht und Menschliche Natur. Günter Dux, Odo Marquard and Elisabeth Ströker (eds.). Frankfurt/​M.: Suhrkamp. ——1975. Die Stufen des Organischen und der Mensch. Einleitung in die philosophische Anthropologie [1928]. 3rd unchanged edition. Berlin/​New York: De Gruyter Radkau, Joachim. 1998. Das Zeitalter der Nervosität:  Deutschland zwischen Bismarck und Hitler. Munich: Hanser. Scaff, Lawrence A. 1989. Fleeing the Iron Cage: Culture, Politics, and Modernity in the Thought of Max Weber. Berkeley: University of California Press. Simmel, Georg. 1989–2015. Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe (hereafter GSG). Frankfurt/​ M.: Suhrkamp. ——[1890]. Über sociale Differenzierung. GSG 2. ——[1893]. Einleitung in die Moralwissenschaft. Vol. 2. GSG 4, 109–295. ——[1900/​7]. Philosophie des Geldes. GSG 6. ——[1902]. ‘Tendencies in German Life and Thought since 1870’. GSG 18, 167–​202. ——[1903]. ‘Die Großstadt und das Geistesleben’. GSG 7, 116–​31. ——[1905]. Philosophie der Mode. GSG 10, 7‒37. ——[1908a]. ‘Psychologie des Schmuckes’. GSG 8, 385–​93. ——[1908b]. Soziologie. Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung. GSG 11. ——[1909]. ‘Brücke und Tür’. GSG 12, 55‒60. ——[1913]. ‘Das individuelle Gesetz. Ein Versuch über das Prinzip der Ethik’. GSG 12, 417–​70. ——[1914]. ‘Bergson und der deutsche “Zynismus” ’. GSG 17, 121–​3. ——[1916]. ‘Wandel der Kulturformen’. GSG 13, 217–23. ——[1916/​ 17]. ‘Der Fragmentcharakter des Lebens. Aus den Vorstudien zu einer Metaphysik’. GSG 13, 202–​16. ——[1918a]. Lebensanschauung. Vier metaphysische Kapitel. GSG 16, 209‒425. ——[1918b]. ‘Der Konflikt der modernen Kultur’. GSG 16, 181–​207. ——2004. The Philosophy of Money. Third enlarged edition. David Frisby (ed.). Tom Bottomore and David Frisby (trans). London and New York: Routledge. Weber, Max. 1920. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, vol. 1. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. ——1988. ‘Über einige Kategorien der Verstehenden Soziologie’ [1913]. Pp. 527–​74 in Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre (1922). 7th edition Johannes Winckelmann (ed.). Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).


Introduction The purpose of this chapter is to focus on Simmel’s conceptualisation of proximity and distance, and to elaborate on the reciprocal relations, forms of association and other crystallisations that emerge from the special relation between proximity and distance, as Simmel proposes in The Philosophy of Money and Sociology (Georg Simmel Gesamtaugabe, hereafter GSG. GSG 11, GSG 6; Simmel 2004; 2009). By doing so I will necessarily touch on other crucial conceptual pairings that play a central role in Simmel’s works: near and far, connectedness and separateness, subject and object, me and you, value and desire. Simmel’s way of dealing with the special relation between proximity and distance is a well-​known aspect of his work, especially due to the widespread attention that his digression on ‘The Stranger’ has received from English-​ speaking scholars. However, as Donald N.  Levine has magisterially shown, the English reception of this brief text (and, through English, its reception in many other languages) has been biased by misleading interpretations when read apart from the wider context in which this digression was originally located, namely, as an excursus within the ninth chapter of Sociology dedicated to the sociology of space (Levine 1973; 1977; 1988, 73–​88). Moreover, the concepts of distance and proximity, or distance and closeness (Distanz and Nähe, in German) play a crucial theoretical role far beyond Simmel’s sociology of space, and even beyond Simmel’s formal sociology. These notions are, for instance, a crucial conceptual pairing (indeed one of the most crucial) in The Philosophy of Money. It is thus the intention of this chapter to elaborate on the



relation between proximity and distance in Simmel’s works within his sociology of space and beyond. I argue that the differentiation between proximity and distance is a crucial differentiation throughout Simmel’s philosophy and sociology (Solies 1998) and not only a motto that appeared when dealing with the well-​known, though widely misunderstood, excursus on ‘The Stranger’.

The Origins of Proximity and Distance: A Necessary Relation In Simmel’s work proximity and distance can be understood only in a relational way. This is of course not a unique case in Simmel’s oeuvre, as his analyses of the processual and relational character of the social (and of living in general) constitute the most important feature of his sociology and his philosophy. Out of the many reasons for our contemporary reading of Simmel, this feature is perhaps the most significant one (Cantó-​Milà 2005; Pyyhtinen 2010). Proximity and distance are crucial, constitutive elements for the human relation with and to the world. They play a crucial part in the perception, evaluation and valuation of what surrounds us, and of ourselves. Proximity and distance necessarily involve each other, and the one can neither be thought of without the other nor experienced without the echo of the other moulding that experience. In fact, without the experience of distance one would not come to think of proximity: the very thought of proximity implies distance, and vice versa (Cantó-​Milà 2005, 161–​3; Simmel 2004, 83). All human relations can be viewed as involving a specific relationship between distance and proximity, and as this chapter will argue, objects and inscriptions form a particularly dense and context-​creating crystallisation of social relations articulated through the axial pillar of power. Proximity and distance are core elements of the relations that we weave with ourselves, each other, the environment, and of the material objects, and objectified practices, discourses and devices that emerge out of their crystallisation. If proximity and distance are thus crucial for human reciprocal relations, they are also crucial for the crystallised products of these relations (in whichever form they may crystallise: as objects, forms, practices and so on). We can conclude that proximity and distance constitute a key relation and element in the constitution of society as we know it. As Simmel asserts, ‘Every human relationship consists of elements of closeness and distance’ (Simmel 2004, 299). From this perspective, the relation of proximity and distance is not only spatial but also temporal. Time relations also imply proximities and distances, as Simmel shows, for instance, in The Philosophy of Money (compare with Scaff 2005). In this monograph Simmel elaborates on the length of means and ends in terms of time, particularly

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regarding the experienced length of the time span that separates us from our ends, and the implications this length has for our experience of distance and proximity. He considers this experience especially in relation to final ends, claiming that in modern times perhaps they are too far away from us actually to play an active role in our lives, consciousness, decisions and choices. But, before going any further into the role Simmel sees proximity and distance playing in modernity, we should ask ourselves a more general question: Where do proximity and distance come from? And in which way do they establish this relation that seems so unbreakable? Proximity and distance are, according to Simmel, simultaneous results of a process of differentiation, in and during which ‘far’ and ‘close,’ ‘subject’ and ‘object’ and ‘desire’ and ‘value’ gain their meaning and come into being. In The Philosophy of Money Simmel argues that the very experience and notion of desire emerge when we cannot immediately fulfil our desires, so that: a) we become aware of them, and begin to apprehend the objects of our desires as ‘objects’ different and distant from ‘us’ (being thus the separation of subject and object a differentiation that needs to be explained, that is it is not taken for granted in Simmel’s works –​see, for instance, Simmel 2004, 60–​3)1; and at the same time: b) we become aware of the existence of that distance (spatial, temporal), and of our wish to overcome it by bringing the object of our desire close to us, by consuming it –​understanding consumption in the widest possible sense. It is also through the experience of this distance, and the desire to overcome it (proximity), that the ‘object’ (which has thus become an ‘object’) becomes valuable as well. In this way the conceptual pairings –​value-​desire, subject-​object and distance-​ closeness –​are all born within the same process of differentiation; a process of innumerable and crucial consequences (Cantó-​Milà 2005, 143–​72), which Simmel summarises as follows: This tension, which disrupts the naive-​practical unity of subject and object and makes us conscious of each in relation to the other, is brought about originally through the mere fact of desire. In desiring what we do not yet own or enjoy, 1 See, for instance, the following passage:  ‘Subject and object are born in the same act: logically, by presenting the conceptual ideal content first as a content of representation, and then as a content of objective reality; psychologically, when the still ego-​less representation, in which person and object are undifferentiated, becomes divided and gives rise to a distance between the self and its object, through which each of them becomes a separate entity’ (Simmel 2004, 62).



we place the content of our desire outside ourselves. In empirical life, I admit, the finished object stands before us and is only then desired –​if only because, in addition to our will, many other theoretical and emotional events contribute to the objectification of mental contents. Within the practical world, however, in relation to its inner order and intelligibility, the origin of the object itself, and its being desired by the subject, are correlative terms –​the two aspects of this process of differentiation which splits the immediate unity of the process of enjoyment. […] We desire objects only if they are not immediately given to us for our use and enjoyment; that is, to the extent that they resist our desire. The content of our desire becomes an object as soon as it is opposed to us, not only in the sense of being impervious to us, but also in terms of its distance as something not-​yet-​enjoyed, the subjective aspect of this condition being desire. As Kant has said: the possibility of experience is the possibility of the objects of experience –​because to have experiences means that our consciousness creates objects from sense impressions. In the same way, the possibility of desire is the possibility of the objects of desire. The object thus formed, which is characterized by its separation from the subject, who at the same time establishes it and seeks to overcome it by his desire, is for us a value. (Simmel 2004, 63)

In this way proximity and distance and their interrelation are at the heart of the conditions of possibility of subject and object, value and desire and even objective and subjective culture.

A ‘Positive’ Relation and Special Form of Association Simmel defines the sociologically significant relation of proximity and distance as a ‘positive’ one. His use of the concept positive is not normative at all. A positive relation in Simmel’s terms is a relation that, through its reality-​ shaping effects, makes actions, apprehensions, relationships and imaginaries feasible, possible. An imaginary object that is only distant (with no proportion of proximity, not even an imagined one) cannot be an object for us, and thus can neither become an object of our desire or valuation nor an object of our apprehension or cognition.2 A  ‘positive relation’ is a relation out of 2 ‘The purpose of establishing a distance is that it should be overcome. The longing, effort and sacrifice that separate us from objects are also supposed to lead us towards them. Withdrawal and approach are in practice complementary notions, each of which presupposes the other; they are two sides of our relationship to objects, which we call subjectively our desire and objectively their value. We have to make the object enjoyed more remote from us in order to desire it again, and in relation to the distant object this desire is the first stage of approaching it, the first ideal relation to it. This dual significance of desire –​that it can arise only at a distance from objects, a distance that it

On the Special Relation between Proximity and Distance 85

which relationships, and subsequent forms of association, objects, practices and devices, may and do emerge. In order to zoom in for a moment on Simmel’s understanding of the process of differentiation between ‘near’ and ‘far’, and of the ‘positive’ character of its result, let us concentrate on what he says about them at the beginning of The Philosophy of Money: If objects, persons and events hundreds or thousands of miles away acquire a vital importance for modern man, they must have been brought much closer to him than to primitive man, for whom they simply do not exist because the positive distinction between close and far has not yet been made. These two notions develop in a reciprocal relation from the original undifferentiated state. (Simmel 2004, 73; my emphasis)

Now compare this statement with his argument in Sociology (at the beginning of his digression on ‘The Stranger’): Since, of course, being a stranger is an entirely positive relationship, a special form of interrelation,3 the inhabitants of the star Sirius are not actually strangers to us –​at least not in the sense of the word that comes into sociological consideration –​but they do not exist at all for us, they stand outside of far and near. (Simmel 2009, 601; translation slightly altered; my emphasis)

By following these passages we can better understand what Simmel means when he speaks of the ‘dual relationship of closeness and distance’ (Simmel 2004, 73), as well as of its positive character. Proximity and distance involve each other in a reality-​creating (positive) way. Considered within a context-​ creating relation, proximity and distance mould our world:  what we apprehend, how we see each other and ourselves, the mechanisms of our desire (a desire which we would not come to experience and conceive without a distance to be overcome between ‘us’ and the ‘objects’ of our desire, and a proximity that makes an overcoming of this distance theoretically possible, and thus these objects thinkable and desirable). Proximity and distance can therefore be viewed as relationally weaving together two poles of a continuum. That is, neither proximity nor distance attempts to overcome, and yet that it presupposes a closeness between the objects and ourselves in order that the distance should be experienced at all –​has been beautifully expressed by Plato in the statement that love is an intermediate state between possession and deprivation’ (Simmel 2004, 73). See also Simmel 2004, 481. 3 ‘Eine besondere Wechselwirkungsform’ in the original German. I  have changed the English translation in opting for ‘interrelation’ instead of using the usual ‘interaction’.



is an absolute term, but only relative to one another. Something can be close or distant only with reference and in comparison to something else. And each human relationship (be it with oneself, with each other, with other living creatures or with the environment) situates itself at a particular point on this continuum, gaining a special character from this particular position. The closer we get to the extremes, the more determined the special relation between proximity and distance will be felt when defining the character of the relationship in terms of its crystallisation in a social position, form of association or material object. However, as pointed out earlier, the relation between both extremes must remain a relation; and thus we can never find a relationship, form of association or dispositif that can completely embody either distance or closeness without ‘disappearing’ into indifference, without ceasing to exist from a sociological viewpoint, like the inhabitants of Sirius in the quote cited earlier or as implied by the total fusion of subject and object in Paradise (Simmel 2004, 72). Simmel qualifies the forms of association that emerge out of a relationship of proximity and distance as ‘special forms of reciprocal relations’ (Simmel 2009, 601). Thus, beyond the ‘regular’ forms of association such as competition, coquetry or subordination, on which he dwelt extensively in his oeuvre, there are forms of association whose most defining characteristic is that they crystallise out of a unique relation between proximity and distance. Hence, the way in which people relate to each other, to themselves, to their environment, to the objectified products of their relations, is mainly shaped by a certain way of experiencing, framing, understanding, constructing and reproducing relations of proximity and distance. We could define ‘regular forms of association’ as forms which shape the motives, events, reciprocal actions and effects that take place within a social context (so that these become understandable, shareable, graspable for all parties, and thus society becomes possible through our shared ‘understanding of the rules of the game’). In contrast, special forms of association that crystallise from a special relationship of proximity and distance, such as the ‘stranger’ and the lovers, crystallise out of a particular balance between proximity and distance. They are thus less the result of the sum of several ‘rules of the game’, as in the case of coquetry for instance, and more the result of this ‘pure’ relation of near and far, of proximity and distance. I have deliberately chosen the example of coquetry so that you may wonder whether proximity and distance are not important as well in the form of association of coquetry. And, of course, they are. In fact, the form of coquetry plays with the creation of brief hints of closeness among a general context of amicable distance. Proximity and distance constitute one of the axes that articulate any form of association, which is only coherent in light of Simmel’s assertion that each human relation implies elements of proximity

On the Special Relation between Proximity and Distance 87

and distance, as I pointed out earlier. Thus, I suggest that we consider those forms of association, among them the stranger, which are mainly articulated through the axis ‘proximity/​distance’ as the closest to the ideal type of ‘special form’. Hence I would analytically make a distinction between those forms for which proximity and distance is one axis among others, and those forms which are primarily articulated in relation to this axis.

The Stranger and the Lovers The stranger and the lovers represent the ideal types of the continuum that has proximity and distance as its two poles: while the stranger represents the relation in which distance predominates over proximity,4 the lovers incarnate that relationship in which the proximity seeks to erase all distance, to transcend the boundaries between selves, merging both individuals into ‘one’ system of interpersonal interpenetration, to put it in Luhmann’s (2010) words. Distance can never be fully suspended as the desire for closeness always reminds us of the actual distance between ‘us’, ‘a closeness that must nevertheless remain a remoteness, and its ultimate, which the soul desires, can never be reached’, as Simmel asserts when speaking of the dyad (Simmel 2009, 87). This Promethean damnation never to reach complete closeness and thus to suspend all distance leads us as much to pain and disappointment as to a pleasure that we know to be incomplete, and to the bestowal of meaning upon our lives. It is certainly not a coincidence that both the lovers and the stranger drew Simmel’s attention. He focuses on the stranger in Sociology’s ninth chapter, the one devoted to spatial relationships, ‘Space and the Social Ordering of Society’, while he examines the lovers in the second chapter on ‘The Quantitative Conditioning of the Group’, and presents them as the ideal type of the form of the dyad.5 Yet Simmel’s intentions in each instance were 4 ‘The union of the near and the far that every relation among people contains is achieved here in a configuration that formulates it most briefly in this way: The distance within the relationship means that the near is far away, but being a stranger means that the distant is near’ (Simmel 2009, 601). 5 ‘Now in general the difference between the bond of two and that of more members is thereby set, in that that relationship, as a unity of two individuals, stands to each of the participants as greater-​numbered formations stand to it. Much as it may appear, say, to a third party as an independent entity above the individual, that is as a rule not the case for its participants, but each sees oneself in relation to the other, and not as one in an overarching collectivity. The social structure rests directly on the one and on the other. The departure of any individual would destroy the whole, so it does not attain the same supra-​personal life that one feels as independent of oneself; whereas already even with a social formation of three a group can yet continue to exist even after the departure of one’ (Simmel 2009, 82–​3). This text dwells on examples of ongoing interest and



not to deliver a specific sociological work on anecdotal figures, but rather to illustrate through the most ‘pure’ relational forms how a certain proportion of proximity and distance, a balance between them, creates social positions and enables social relations that become defined precisely by this balance. We could likewise say that all social relations and resulting social positions imply a certain proportion between inclusion and exclusion. Full inclusion would mean the perfect system of interpersonal interpenetration; full exclusion would mean not being part of the system: not existing from the system’s perspective. Both cases are empirically impossible. The closest we come to the perfect (in the sense of complete) system of interpersonal interpenetration is the love relationship, the intimate love relationship; the closest we get to exclusion and yet being part of the system is the figure of the stranger, who is not necessarily a marginal wo/​man, as Levine has pointed out, but who gains his or her positive (context-​creating) place within society due to the fact of distance, of partial exclusion (from a shared past, from a world of taken-​ for-​granted assumptions, from socially accepted dominant narratives). It is up to each social formation to deal with the figure of the stranger, to damn it to the margins, to reserve for him or her a special place in the economic or judicial system. Discredit, suspicion, admiration, respect, ignorance […] and sometimes all together at the same time come to colour the core of society’s relationship to the stranger.6 In any case, and despite tending to the two opposite poles of the continuum drawn by proximity and distance, lovers as well as strangers (and to a great extent the poor as well) constitute forms of association that are based on, and gain their meaning from, a peculiar relation between proximity and distance, and are thus ‘special forms of association’.

On Subject and Object, Me and You The special and necessary combination of proximity and distance in Simmel’s works plays a crucial part in his sociology and social philosophy. We can find proximity and distance at the centre of his conceptualisation of the emergence of subject and object, in the web of relations that leads to the creation and crystallisation of values and the experience and conceptualisation of desire. reflection by Simmel, as he produced several texts on love. In English we can find them in Simmel 1984. 6 Also the poor person, as Simmel conceived him, comes close to the pole of exclusion, in the sense that the whole person and his or her relation to society becomes monopolised by poverty, thereby disregarding the many other aspects from which and with which this person could become linked to society and establish social interrelations with others.

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Proximity and distance also play an important role in Simmel’s conceptualisation of the way in which human beings become social (as in the digression ‘How Is Society Possible?’). Let me develop these issues a bit further. In The Philosophy of Money Simmel talks about the way in which subject and object relationally emerge and condition each other due to the fact that a distance is interposed between the desiring subject (who is thereby created) and the valued object (which is likewise created). The distinction between subject and object is not as radical as the accepted separation of these categories in practical life and in the scientific world would have us believe. Mental life begins with an undifferentiated state in which the Ego and its objects are not yet distinguished; consciousness is filled with impressions and perceptions while the bearer of these contents has still not detached himself from them. It is as a result of a second-​stage awareness, a later analysis, that a subject in particular real conditions comes to be distinguished from the content of his consciousness in those conditions. This development obviously leads to a situation where a man speaks of himself as ‘I’ and recognizes the existence of other objects external to this ‘I’. (Simmel 2004, 60)

Furthermore, the differentiation between subject and object is intrinsically related to its twin differentiation that we could view as the differentiation between Me and You (that ‘You’ who Simmel asserts we can only experience and acknowledge, but not fully apprehend and ‘know’; Simmel 1964, 6), or even as the difference between I and Myself. Every human being who confronts us is only a sound-​producing and gesticulating automaton for our direct experience. We can only infer that there is a mind behind this appearance, and what processes are going on in it, by analogy with our own mind, which is the only mental entity directly known to us. On the other hand, self-​knowledge develops only through the knowledge of others; and the fundamental cleavage of the self into an observed and an observing part comes about only through the analogy of the relation between the self and other persons. Knowledge of ourselves has therefore to find its way through other beings, whose lives we are able to interpret, however, only from self-​knowledge. Thus, the knowledge of mental phenomena is an interplay between the I and the You. Each refers to the other, in a constant interchange and exchange of elements against each other, through which truth, no less than economic value, is produced. (Simmel 2004, 110)7

7 Compare also with Simmel 2004, 476.



We could argue that the first apriority that Simmel develops in his digression ‘How Is Society Possible?’ addresses one of the most fundamental moments of the crucial role proximity and distance play in our societalisation (and in our socialisation). It is only through the distance that is interposed between ‘us’ and ‘others’ that, when we come closer to one another, we can roughly draw a picture of them, of how they would be if they were complete, that is if they fully were what they are when they encounter us. At the same time we delete from this image all other aspects they may have or be, which we are not aware of. It is the distance within our proximity (even closeness) that allows us to draw and complete these images and gain wholes out of fragmentary impressions and fleeting relational moments. Let me quote a fragment of Simmel’s depiction of the first apriority for society to be possible. It is a long passage, but it is worth quoting in order to grasp the crucial importance that Simmel gives to distance and proximity in the constitution of this very apriority: The image of others that a person acquires from personal contact is occasioned by real fluctuations that are not simple illusions in incomplete experience, faulty focus, and sympathetic or hostile biases, but important alterations in the character of real objects. And indeed these principally follow two dimensions. We see others generalized to some extent, perhaps because it is not given to us to be able to represent one fully to ourselves with our varying individuality. Every reproduction of a soul is shaped by the resemblance to it, and although this is by no means the only condition for mental knowledge –​since on the one hand a simultaneous dissimilarity seems necessary for achieving distance and objectivity, and on the other hand there is an intellectual capacity to view oneself beyond the similarity or difference of being –​so complete knowledge would still presuppose a complete similarity. It appears as though each person has a mark of individuality deep down within, that can be copied internally by no one else, for whom this mark is always qualitatively different. And that this contention is still not logically compatible with that distance and objective judgment on which moreover the representation of others rests only plainly proves that the complete knowledge of the individuality of others is denied us; and all relationships among people are limited by the varying degree of this lacuna. Whatever its cause might be, its result is in any case a generalization of the mental picture of others, a blurring of the contours that a relationship to others superimposes on the uniqueness of this picture. We represent all people, with a particular consequence for our practical activity toward them, as the type ‘human’, to which their individuality allows them to belong; we think of them, aside all their singularity, under a general category that certainly does not encompass them fully and that they do not completely match –​with that condition the relationship

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between the general idea and the individuality proper to them is discerned. In order to take cognizance of people, we view them not according to their pure individuality but framed, highlighted, or even reduced by means of a general type by which we recognize them. (Simmel 2009, 43–​4)

It is a particular relation of distance and proximity that allows people to typify and create patterns that make sense for their interactions, relationships and ties. Through distance we generalise and typify; through generalisation and typification the distant starts getting closer. When we interact with another person, distance and closeness are fundamental for the relation that we establish with this ‘you’. We fully perceive and acknowledge this ‘you’ through (and thanks to) generalisations and typifications, and we actually complete or create its image as a coherent whole only while apprehending it in fragments. In fact, we complete and typify even our visions of ourselves (Simmel 2004, 44–​5), as our relation to ourselves is also marked by a relation of proximity and distance. This distance is temporal in a way, and points at the fact that even if we are always ourselves, these selves vary with time, so that the person I am right now, if she were complete, would be a different person from the one I was ten years ago, or the one I shall be in the future.8 To be sure, Simmel did not formulate all these ideas, proposals, thoughts and theoretical concepts in isolation from one another. In fact, his apriorities, his forms of association, his views on the processes of objectification and crystallisation that result from human (and non-​human) interactions and relations all stand in dialogue with one another, and together constitute Simmel’s approach to society as a process, not as an entity, and certainly not as one we should take for granted. This theoretical leitmotif runs throughout Simmel’s oeuvre. To illustrate this argument, it is interesting to focus on a particular passage from Sociology’s ninth chapter, where Simmel addresses the first apriority we just mentioned, and relates it to his sociology of space and his conceptualisation of secret societies (as elaborated on in the seventh chapter of Sociology): Every close association thoroughly rests on each one knowing more of the others through psychological hypotheses than is exhibited directly and with conscious intent. For if we were dependent only on that which is revealed, we would have before us, instead of a united people whom we understand and with whom we can deal, only numerous accidental and disconnected fragments of a soul. We must then through inferences, interpretations, and interpolations supplement 8 We could argue, with Lowenthal (1999), that the past is a foreign country, that our past and future selves are strangers to us.



the given fragments until as whole a person emerges as we need, internally and for life’s praxis. (Simmel 2009, 552; my emphasis)

Here Simmel clearly addresses the same issue of constructing wholes out of fragments as he does in his first apriority, however viewed from the perspective of the sociology of (relational) space and boundaries. He argues that the boundaries that separate selves are constructed in reciprocal interrelations, as the boundaries between minds are less easily drawn than between bodies. The perfectly complete and clearly separated and differentiated selves are in fact a product of how our minds construct relations in interaction with the minds of the others, where proximity and distance play a crucial role. In the continuous relational weaving, defining and redefining of boundaries, bonds and limits, it is not always easy to know what the adequate proportion between distance and proximity would be in our daily interactions. In fact, we learn this ability through socialisation. When, as adults, we leave the comfort zone of our taken-​for-​granted-​world and are left alone to decide on the amount of proximity and distance that is desirable and expected for our social relations, we end up experiencing remarkable stress as we know that the consequences of failing can be serious indeed (Simmel 2009, 552).

On Boundaries, Borders and Frames as Crystallised Relationships Beyond Forms of Association Beyond the forms of association, the special relationship between proximity and distance (an unavoidable, necessary relation) may also result in other condensed and crystallised products of relationships:  among humans, with other living creatures and with their environment. Material, physical boundaries, limits and borders are all particular products of relations of proximity and distance. And yet boundaries and limits (physical and experiential) are not the only marks, traces, or objects that result from a relation of proximity and distance: lines drawn on the body, on the ground, in our imaginaries that result from human and non-​human Wechselwirkungen (reciprocal effects or interactions). Tattoos, perfumes and jewellery, clothes (fashion), money, frames, bridges and doors, all gain their significance for us from a particular relation between proximity and distance. They are not forms of association, but result from crystallised relations of proximity and distance that have grown into physical space, into matter entangled into parts of our bodies and relationships. Boundaries and borders are physical results of human and non-​human relations; they are projections and materialisations of social relationships upon space which have a moulding effect upon these same relationships. The

On the Special Relation between Proximity and Distance 93

very special relation between proximity and distance within social relations and beyond –​shaping us, marking and moulding the spaces we inhabit –​is what Simmel calls ‘spatialisation’: [T]‌he incomparable solidity and lucidity that the processes of social boundary-​ making obtain through their spatialization. Every boundary is a mental, more exactly, a sociological occurrence; however, by its investment in a border in space the mutual relationship acquires, from its positive and negative sides, a clarity and security –​indeed also often a rigidity –​that tends to remain denied to it as long as the encountering and partitioning of powers and rights is not yet projected into a physical form, and thus always persists, so to speak, in the status nascens. (Simmel 2009, 552)

However physical, material, a boundary may be (our body even!), the placement of boundaries, their growth and very existence, is intrinsically entangled with and nourished by relations (Simmel 2009, 549–​51). We may be facing a mountain, a river, even the contour of someone’s skin: emptied of all social interrelational contexts, they are boundaries to nothing. Simmel asserts: ‘The boundary is not a spatial fact with sociological effects, but a sociological reality that is formed spatially. The idealistic principle that space is our conception –​ more precisely, that it is realized through our synthesizing activity by which we shape sense material –​is specified here in such a way that the spatial formation that we call a boundary is a sociological function’ (Simmel 2009, 551). Frames play an important role in Simmel’s sociology and philosophy. A frame is a boundary that delineates the contour of an object, setting a clear limit regarding what belongs to or what is this object, and what it does or is not. Simmel’s example of the picture frame (GSG 7, 101–​8) is important aesthetically for his analyses of artworks, as well as metaphorically as a paradigmatic example of the momentary suspension of the continuous flow of life, captured within a form that constitutes a whole on its own, and that self-​sufficiently opposes elements standing in reciprocal actions and effects with it, as an entity on its own, a mini cosmos. The frame helps us to create distance between ‘us’ and what is framed, which we can then apprehend in a different way than we would without the frame. It enhances the aesthetic experience in the case of the work of art, for instance. And, at the same time as it creates distance between us and the framed object, it creates a unity within that framed object (GSG 7, 101). The frame has remarkable reality-​and context-​creating effects in marking the limits of an entity’s perimeter. The frame, as the boundary, has centripetal and centrifugal effects, reinforcing the proximity among the elements that are included within the perimeter it unites, and emphasising the distance with which the framed object becomes separated from the rest of the



continuous flow of elements that coincide in space and time. A framed object becomes an ‘island’. Simmel argues furthermore that these two aspects of the frame –​unity creating within the frame, and distance enhancing beyond it –​ are correlates. They make each other possible (GSG 7, 102). The framework has the function of closing all possible bridges and doors through which the ‘external world’ could burst into the picture. Bridges and doors are just as important as picture frames for the special relation of proximity and distance we are concentrating on, and represent the opposite figure to the picture frame: by emphasising connectivity, they make us aware of the distance that they help us overcome. The framework of a picture is less about overcoming distances and creating proximities than about the creation of ‘islands’, of relational and yet finite universes of meaning. They are, in a way, like individuals within society: parts of a whole and yet, wholes themselves (GSG 7, 107). The picture frame is not the only type of framework Simmel pays attention to. For him it is rather a paradigmatic example of what framing can do, due to its clarity and physical traceability and its aesthetic value. In fact, for Simmel art is also the result of reciprocal actions and effects of distance and proximity in interrelation with subject and object and the momentary, experiential, disappearance of their boundary, desire and value. Simmel argues that art, the experience of aesthetic enjoyment as well as artistic styles, can be traced back to a very particular relation of distance and proximity between the work of art and us: The inner significance of artistic styles can be interpreted as a result of the differences in distance that they produce between ourselves and objects. All art changes the field of vision in which we originally and naturally place ourselves in relation to reality. On the one hand, art brings us closer to reality; it places us in a more immediate relationship to its distinctive and innermost meaning; behind the cold strangeness of the external world it reveals to us the spirituality of existence through which it is related and made intelligible to us. In addition, however, all art brings about a distancing from the immediacy of things; it allows the concreteness of stimuli to recede and stretches a veil between us and them just like the fine bluish haze that envelops distant mountains. There are equally strong attractions on both sides of this duality of effects. […] Indeed, the mere existence of style is in itself one of the most significant instances of distancing. Style, as the manifestation of our inner feelings, indicates that these feelings no longer immediately gush out but take on a disguise the moment they are revealed. Style, as the general form of the particular, is a veil that imposes a barrier and a distance in relation to the recipient of the expression of these feelings. Even naturalism, which specifically aims at overcoming the distance

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between us and reality, conforms to this basic principle of all art: to bring us closer to things by placing them at a distance from us. (Simmel 2004, 478–​9)9

Simmel’s focus on picture frames leads him to think and theorise on the phenomenon of framing within social contexts, as well as the processes of construction of social boundaries within groups. These framings, these boundaries, shape the contours and relational dynamics with and within groups, as they generate centripetal and centrifugal tendencies that bestow upon members of an in-​group a unity that they would not have if they had not been ‘framed together’ (thus emphasising proximity and closeness within insider interrelations). At the same time the same frames bestow the in-​group relation to outsiders with a dimension of distance, with an emphasis on their distance in relation to them (thus building a ‘them’ out of all those who are not part of ‘us’), which would not be there in the same way and measure if the framing and the boundaries ceased to exist. When these frames that shape groups become physical boundaries (like those of territorial states), the reinforcing effects of these in-​and out-​group dynamics are stronger, and we can close the circle: from boundaries to frames, and back to boundaries, having as their golden thread the relation of proximity and distance: The frame, the self-​contained boundary of a structure, has a very similar meaning for the social group as for an artwork. Regarding this, the frame exercises the two functions that are actually only the two sides of a single one: separating the work of art from and associating it with the surrounding world; the frame announces that inside of it there is a world subject to its own norms, a world that is not drawn into the determinants and dynamics of the surrounding world; while it symbolizes the self-​sufficiency of the artwork, at the same time by its very nature it highlights the reality and imprint of the surroundings. So a society, in that its existential space is encompassed by keenly conscious borders,

9 Or: ‘To be sure, the distinctive aesthetic and romantic experience of nature is perhaps possible only through this process. Whoever lives in direct contact with nature and knows no other form of life may enjoy its charm subjectively, but he lacks that distance from nature that is the basis for aesthetic contemplation and the root of that quiet sorrow, that feeling of yearning estrangement and of a lost paradise that characterizes the romantic response to nature’ (Simmel 2004, 484). In contrast to the work of art, which in Simmel’s words is a ‘self-​sufficient world’ (Simmel 1997, 209), body adornment, from the closest to the most distant from one’s skin (from tattoos to jewellery), bestows upon individuals the glow of objects, of material markings that, keeping their distance from (despite the closeness to) those who wear them, decorate and distinguish them, singling them out from the rest.



is thereby characterized as one also internally cohesive; and conversely:  the interacting unity, the functional relationship of each element to each acquires its spatial expression in the framing boundary. There is probably nothing that demonstrates the power particularly of the cohesiveness of the state than that this sociological centripetalism, which however is in the end only a psychological coherence of personalities, grows up into a meaningfully experienced structure of a firmly circumscribing boundary line. (Simmel 2009, 548–​9)

Conclusion: On Money and Modern Times Simmel’s conceptualisation of modernity, of the rapidly changing times that he was witnessing and that we have inherited, is deeply connected to the analytical tools of proximity and distance he elaborated on. Money, intellectuality, technologies of communication and the metropolis, which Simmel views as key elements of modern times, are depicted and analysed from the perspective of proximity and distance in The Philosophy of Money. Indeed, there are objects and institutions (in the case of money, all at the same time) that gain their position within social relations from a particular balance between proximity and distance. Money is the definitive example on which Simmel concentrated the most. Money enters relations between people and objects, between people and people, between people and actions, and experience, as money becomes the mediator of all exchanges that take place within the economic sphere. As Simmel also points out, there is little left to extra-​economic exchange in modern times. As a general means of exchange, money interposes a distance between all those people, objects, actions and experiences by being ‘in between’ them, by mediating their relations as the general token and means of exchange, the expression of their (equivalent) value, and by making the calculation and comparability between these otherwise so incommensurable values, objects, actions and experiences possible. In Simmel’s words: ‘[I]‌t becomes the centre in which the most opposed, the most estranged and the most distant things find their common denominator and come into contact with one another’ (Simmel 2004, 237). At the same time, though, the mediation of money allows us to come closer (i.e. to be able to reach) objects, actions and experiences that would have been out of reach for us, if money were not mediating our exchanges and thus widening the scope of the possible. My life, for instance, would be substantially different if I  delivered my texts, lectures and markings in direct exchange for food, health care or schooling for my children. In fact, Simmel depicts the role of money as ‘the conquest of distance’ (Simmel 2004, 482), and he describes modern times in terms of how ‘the most remote comes closer at the price of increasing the distance to what was originally

On the Special Relation between Proximity and Distance 97

nearer’ (481–​2). He considers how these changes, which had partially been caused, and definitely enhanced, by monetary economies, have parallels in other spheres of life: in intellectuality (Simmel 2004, 140, 150, 434–​46), in the growth of large cities (Simmel 1997, 174–​85), and in the use of (by then new) technologies of communication (Simmel 2004, 487–​8). Regarding intellectuality, Simmel emphasised the objective and equidistant character of money. Money expresses the (economic) values of all/​any objects and services available within the market. Money attaches no preference, no emotions, no valuations or volitions extra to the economic values it expresses and embodies. The same goes for intellectuality, which is equidistant to all positions, committed to objectivities and logics and does not feel or shake with emotion. Supposedly neutral tools in the hands of any human being stop being neutral tools when we neglect the fact that, in light of Simmel’s (and still our own) circumstances, these tools are not neutral in their effects, since they are not given to all human beings, and even less are they accessible in the same proportions. They may disguise inequalities from a certain viewpoint while being the primary means of reproducing them. In Simmel’s words: Here, as elsewhere, it is precisely the basis of equal rights for all that brings individual differences to their full development and utilization. It is because the mere intellectual conception and organization of human relations, which disregards the irrational emphases of volition and emotion, recognizes no a priori difference between individuals that it has just as little grounds for curtailing differences a posteriori. This might be attained subsequently as so often happens through a sense of social duty and the feeling of love and pity. This is why the rationalistic interpretation of the world –​which, as impartial as money, has also come close to the socialist image of life –​has become the advocate of modern egoism and the ruthless assertion of individuality. According to the usual and not exactly profound point of view, the Ego is, in practice no less than in theory, man’s obvious basis and unfailing primary interest. Any selfless motives appear not to be natural and autochthonous but secondary and, as it were, artificially implanted. As a result, only self-​interested action is considered to be genuinely and simply ‘logical’. All devotion and self-​sacrifice seems to flow from the irrational forces of feeling and volition, so that men of pure intellect treat them ironically as a proof of lack of intelligence or denounce them as the disguise of a hidden egoism. (Simmel 2004, 442–​3)

This chapter has sought to focus on Simmel’s reciprocal conceptualisation of proximity and distance, arguing that this conceptual pairing is crucial within his oeuvre, for both his philosophy and his sociology. Proximity and distance are therefore not only key concepts in Simmel’s discussion in ‘The Stranger’,



and they are not only key concepts in his sociology of space. In fact, the concepts of proximity and distance constitute a leitmotif that weaves all his work together, and thus make up one of the axial pillars of Simmel’s relational approach for analysing our interrelations with ourselves, with other human beings, and with all that surrounds us. Everything that stands in a relation of reciprocal actions and effects (Wechselwirkung) is in a relation of proximity and distance with everything else that shares the same here and now. Proximity and distance can be one axis among others in our forms of association, as in the cases of competition, subordination or coquetry, or they can be the main pillar that articulates them, as in the cases of the lovers or the stranger. Proximity and distance are also crucial in our relation to ourselves and to others, allowing generalisation, typification and intimacy, as well as in our relation to other objects, bringing them closer, pulling them away, creating constellations of both more and less reachable worlds in a relational manner: like borders that emerge when there are relationships being woven beyond them which require regulation, that is, regulation is thought to be required by some who have the power to turn these relational threads into lines on the ground, and which may substantially contribute to the further weaving of these relationships. Simmel’s way of dealing with proximity and distance  –​from his understanding of art to his understanding of money, from his essay on the picture frame to his sociology of boundaries –​are still crucial to contemporary sociology. Partly this is because we have not ceased seeking to understand how we relate to each other  –​how we look at each other, write letters to each other, dress up for each other, meet for lunch and so on, to paraphrase one of Sociology’s most well-​known paragraphs in Sociology.10 And partly this is because our ways of doing the social and making society have changed since Simmel wrote his texts, and we face different ways of meeting up, making appointments, looking at each other, talking to each other and writing to each other than we did at the turn of the twentieth century. 10 ‘Here it is, so to speak, a matter of the microscopic-​molecular processes inside human material that are, however, the actual activity that links together or hypostasizes those macroscopic fixed entities and systems. That humans look at one other and that they are jealous of each other, that they exchange letters or eat lunch together, that beyond all tangible interests they elicit sympathy in one another, that the gratitude of altruistic service consistently has an unbreakable bonding effect, that one asks directions from another, and that they dress and adorn themselves for one another –​all the thousands of person-​to-​person performances, momentary or enduring, conscious or not, fleeting or momentous relationships, from which these examples are selected entirely arbitrarily, continuously tie us together. Such threads are woven at every moment, allowed to fall, are taken up again, substituted for others, and interwoven with others’ (Simmel 2009, 33).

On the Special Relation between Proximity and Distance 99

The fundamental questions Simmel asked in his time remain relevant today, but the forms of association and the webs of relations that constitute society have not remained the same. The experiences of proximity and distance in a sociological sense have been loosened from their grounding in geographical proximity and distance throughout the twentieth century, and the tendency has been accelerating in the twenty-​first. By this I do not mean at all that relations of geographical proximity and distance have been erased or overcome. For instance, in moments when we are apart from our dear ones, and enjoy the possibility of having a videoconference with them in real time (something which would have been unthinkable, especially for free! a couple of decades ago), we realise the impossibility of holding them, and thus experience in this closeness the pain of insurmountable distance. To take a more serious example, when thousands of people die every year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in order to reach European coasts, we become painfully aware of the importance of geographical distances, in this case, how a relative geographical proximity can experientially become an undefeatable distance. Distances and proximities are thus crucial categories for understanding how we relate to each other and to the world we inherit and contribute to constructing. The theoretical tools with which Simmel worked, and which allow us to analyse reciprocal actions and effects among and between humans and non-​humans, open doors to question the transformations happening to us now, and which in their depth and context-​creating effects are as relevant and path-​breaking as those which Simmel analysed in his own times.

References Cantó-​Milà, Natàlia. 2005. A Sociological Theory of Value: Georg Simmel’s Sociological Relationism. Livingston, NJ: Transcript & Transaction Publishers. Levine, Donald N. 1973. Simmel’s Influence on American Sociology. University of Chicago, Center for Social Organization Studies. ——1977. ‘Simmel at a Distance: On the History and Systematics of the Sociology of the Stranger’. Sociological Focus 10 (1): 15–​29. ——1988. The Flight from Ambiguity:  Essays in Social and Cultural Theory. 1st edition. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press. Lowenthal, David. 1999. The Past Is a Foreign Country. 1st edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Luhmann, Niklas. 2010. Love: A Sketch. London: Polity Press. Pyyhtinen, Olli. 2010. Simmel and ‘the Social’. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. Scaff, Lawrence A. 2005. ‘The Mind of the Modernist: Simmel on Time’. Time & Society 14 (1): 5–​23. Simmel, Georg. 1964. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Kurt H. Wolff (ed.). London:  The Free Press. ——1984. On Women, Sexuality, and Love. Guy Oakes (ed., trans.) New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press.



——1989–2015. Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe (hereafter GSG). Otthein Rammstedt (ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. ——GSG 6. Philosophie des Geldes 1900/​7. ——GSG 7. Aufsätze und Abhandlungen 1901–​1908, Band I. ——GSG 11. Soziologie. Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung 1908. ——1997. Simmel on Culture. David Frisby and Mike Featherstone (eds.). London: Sage. ——2004. The Philosophy of Money. 3rd edition. David Frisby (ed., trans.), Tom Bottomore (trans.). London: Routledge. ——2009. Sociology: Inquiries into the Construction of Social Forms. Anthony J. Blasi, Anton K. Jacobs and Mathew J. Kanjirathinkal (eds., trans). Leiden: Brill. Solies, Dirk. 1998. Natur in der Distanz: Zur Bedeutung von Georg Simmels Kulturphilosophie für die Landschaftsästhetik. St. Augustin: Gardez.


Introduction The relation between the individual and society has long been one of sociology’s key concerns. It is a widely accepted view among scholars that it is insufficient to limit one’s analysis on either the level of individuals or that of large macro-​scale social forces or structures alone. This idea is the cornerstone of C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination ([1959] 2000), for example. Mills insists that the individual and society cannot be understood apart from each other. On one hand, the individual is an upshot of society and its historical dynamics. And, on the other hand, with their lives and actions individuals also affect –​to a lesser or greater extent –​the making of society and the course of its history. For Mills, the crucial contribution of sociological imagination, then, is to connect biography and history. The sociological imagination amounts to ‘the capacity to shift from one perspective to another’ ([1959] 2000, 7), from the individual to the social and back. Mills maintains that the sociological imagination makes it possible to understand broad historical changes from the perspective of what they mean to the lives, fates and experiences of individuals, and what the individuals could do about the prevailing state of affairs. It is along these lines that Mills stresses the public and moral mission of social scientific studies. For him, the political task of the social scientist is ‘continually to translate personal troubles into public issues, and public issues into the terms of their human meaning for a variety of individuals’ ([1959] 2000, 187). As we know, Simmel, too, was preoccupied with the problem of the individual and society, actually pretty much throughout his career (though in his philosophy of culture the conflict was replaced by that between subjective and objective culture and in his life-​philosophy by the contrast of life and form).



In Grundfragen der Soziologie ([1917], in Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe 16, hereafter GSG), for example, Simmel sketches three different sociological approaches to it: general sociology, pure sociology and philosophical sociology. Whereas general sociology, with its focus especially on the problem of the relation between individuals and the collective behaviour of a group or a mass (what Simmel calls the Niveauproblem), amounts for him to the study of the societally formed historical life, pure sociology takes as its object the forms of interaction or reciprocity between individuals, and philosophical sociology, finally, examines the individual epistemological and metaphysical aspects of the relation between individuality and humanity. While Simmel regards the individual and society as irreconcilable as principles, his sociological work importantly insists that the two are not separate entities but mutually constitutive. They are bound by several relations of Wechselwirkung. Wechselwirkung is the key concept of Simmel’s sociology and translates as ‘reciprocal effect’, ‘reciprocal causation’, ‘reciprocity of effects’ and occasionally also ‘interaction’. With the notion of Wechselwirkung as its basis, Simmel’s sociology places ‘relation’ as the final unit of sociological analysis. In The Philosophy of Money ([1900/​7] 2004, 174; translation altered), for example, he insists that ‘[T]‌he starting point of all social formations can only be interpersonal interaction.’ Further, in Sociology Simmel foregrounds relations even more explicitly, by suggesting that the purely sociological concepts concern relations, more exactly the ‘form of relation’ (Beziehungsform), not their substance. And, following from this, he suggests that the purest sociological concept is that of ‘relationship’ (Verhältnis), for while the term can also be used to refer to a certain kind of relationship (between lovers, most notably), it is not limited to any one single type of relation but can stand for all kinds (Simmel [1908] GSG 11, 710 note 1). In this chapter, I examine how Simmel’s insistence on the primacy of relations of Wechselwirkung makes him a pioneer and eminent predecessor for what has come to be known as relational sociology. Simmel’s work ignites a ‘relational turn’ of sociological theory against the dominating reifying substantialist assumptions, which conceive the world in terms of categories and more or less discrete and static entities.1 The suggested ‘turn’ has of course not been actualized to the full but, as Mustafa Emirbayer (2013, 210) observes, ‘substantialist assumptions are incorporated [so] deeply in our everyday and scholarly discourse alike’ that ‘it is difficult to imagine their being supplanted anytime soon’. Nevertheless, I argue that Simmel’s work provides an important example of how the underlying substantialist presuppositions could possibly be 1 For example, Nick Crossley (2011) and Pierpaolo Donati (2011), too, acknowledge Simmel’s contribution to laying out a relational foundation for sociology.

The Real as Relation


ousted. By building on Simmel we can develop a relational, non​reductionist social ontology, which not only acknowledges the fundamental entanglement and interconnectedness of beings but also helps us escape the long tradition of conceiving the world in terms of the micro–​macro distinction.2 In what follows, I will first discuss the substantialism vs. relationalism debate and outline Simmel’s relationistic mode of thought. In the subsequent section I will narrow down the focus a bit and examine how Simmel dissolves society into dynamic relations and processes. It is only after that that we can flesh out the nonreductionistic social ontology of which I see Simmel’s work as being suggestive. I will conclude this chapter by situating it in relation to contemporary discussions and debates.

Things vs. Relations What does the social world consist of ? The more or less standard answer sociologists give would roughly be:  entities of various sorts, with individuals, groups and society as the three main units. In addition, more often than not these entities are considered as things in a state of rest, closed in upon themselves. They tend to be treated as clear-​cut, isolated and relatively static. Groups are thought to consist of self-​maintained realities and both groups and individuals, in turn, are placed within a society that is pictured as an all-​encompassing container of human actions. It is with good reason, then, that Norbert Elias has accused sociological concepts of being ‘reifying’. As he argues in What Is Sociology?: Our conventional instruments for thinking and speaking are generally constructed as though everything we experience as external to the individual were a thing, an ‘object’, and moreover a stationary object. Concepts like ‘family’ or ‘school’ plainly refer to groupings of interdependent human beings, to specific figurations which people form with each other. But our traditional manner of forming these concepts makes it appear as if groupings formed by interdependent human beings were pieces of matter –​objects of the same kind as rocks, trees or houses. These traditional reifying ways of speaking, and corresponding traditional modes of thinking about groupings of people –​even groupings to which one belongs oneself  –​manifest themselves in many ways, not least the 2 The approach I propose bears affinities with the multi-​scale social ontology developed by philosopher, author and artist Manuel DeLanda (2006), especially as DeLanda understands the constitution of social wholes in a manner that is in many respects reminiscent of Simmel’s idea that any whole or unity emerges from the interaction of its elements. However, the two approaches also have significant differences, as I  will suggest in the concluding section.



term ‘society’ and the way one handles it in one’s thinking. It is customary to say that society is the ‘thing’ which sociologists investigate. But this reifying mode of expression greatly hampers and may even prevent one from understanding the nature of sociological problems. (1978, 13–14)

Emirbayer (1997, 284–​8) has identified three different manifestations of this reifying manner of thought, which he calls ‘substantialistic’:  individualistic, holistic and variable-​based substantialism. First, certain theories of social action, such as rational-​actor and norm-​based models, are ultimately substantialist by nature. In the last instance, they depict individuals in an atomistic way as ‘self-​propelling, self-​subsistent entities’. The only difference between the two perspectives lies in their way of modelling the action of individuals: while the rational-​actor approaches consider individuals as making rational decisions of their own, the norm-​based models see them as acting in conformity with social norms and ideals. Second, various forms of holism and structuralism –​ such as neo-​functionalism, system theories and many historical-​comparative analyses –​offer a quite different version of substantialism. Whereas individualist approaches treat individuals as the bottom-​most level, holistic perspectives posit self-​subsistent wholes, such as structures, social systems or society, as the primary elements of the social world. The third version of substantialism Emirbayer mentions is variable-​based analysis. It ‘detaches elements (substances with variable attributes) from their spatiotemporal contexts, analyzing them apart from their relations with other elements within fields of mutual determination and flux’ (1997, 288). As it treats agents and their variable attributes as primary units of inquiry, variable-​based analysis tends to ignore their entanglement with webs of relationships. So to put it briefly, the problem with substantialist, reifying modes of thinking and forming concepts is that they distort the nature of sociological problems, because they do not acknowledge the fundamental interconnectedness of beings. Rather than existing as separate and self-​maintained entities, entities are sustained only thanks to the interaction of their components and the give-​and-​take with other entities. Living organisms, for example, cannot be understood apart from their outside and surroundings. No living body is a naturally integrated, self-​maintained form, but each can exist only insofar as it takes in, restores and discharges energy, materials and information in their various forms (such as food, oxygen and warmth) (Serres 1982, 74). To borrow a wonderful notion by anthropologist Tim Ingold (2013, 95), beings are sustained only because they ‘leak’. In contrast to the reifying or substantialist tendencies of social sciences, in recent years there has been a rise of a variety of relational approaches, which give primacy to relations and dynamic processes over assumedly discrete, static

The Real as Relation


entities such as isolated individual agents and hypostasized structures external to individuals. In Practical Reason, Pierre Bourdieu ([1994] 1998), for example, calls his method of inquiry ‘relational’ and notes that ‘the real is relational’. However, it was above all with the publication of Mustafa Emirbayer’s article ‘Manifesto for a Relational Sociology’ in The American Journal of Sociology in 1997 that relational sociology began to take shape as an explicit, self-​conscious programme. In the past couple of years it has gained increasing momentum. We can notice it for example in the number of books published recently on relational sociology, including Nick Crossley’s Towards Relational Sociology (2011) and Pierpaolo Donati’s Relational Sociology: A New Paradigm for the Social Sciences (2011), as well as the edited volumes Relational Sociology: Ontological and Theoretical Issues (Powell and Dépelteau, 2013) and Applying Relational Sociology: Relations, Networks, & Society (Dépelteau and Powell, 2013). In addition, such relational notions as ‘network’ (e.g. Castells 2000), ‘actor-​network’ (e.g. Callon 1986; Latour 2005; Law and Hassard 1999) and ‘rhizome’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987) are widely circulated. What is more, scholars have also begun to re-​read their eminent predecessors along relational lines. The reawakened interest in Elias’ ‘figurational sociology’ and the relational re-​readings of Marx serve as examples, but scholars have also drawn on relational ideas found in the work of Auguste Comte, Marchel Mauss, Gabriel Tarde, Michel Foucault and George Herbert Mead, for instance. In the secondary literature, Simmel’s commitment to relational thinking has also been widely recognized.3 For the sake of clarity, we can make an analytical distinction between three different kinds of relationalism in his work:  epistemological, sociological and metaphysical. Simmel’s epistemology attests to a sort of epistemological relationalism, which is to be sharply distinguished from the subjectivism and scepticism commonly associated with ‘relativism’, a notion carrying heavy intellectual baggage.4 Whereas relativism in its conventional form sees the relativity of truth as a diminution of its validity, Simmel, by contrast, regards validity as grounded on relations. In other words, by arguing for their relativity, Simmel does not try to loosen the objectivity of singular truths, but to disclose how truth is founded on relations. As he himself explains it in a letter to Heinrich Rickert in 1916, ‘Truth means a relation between contents none of which possesses truth in and by themselves’ (Simmel 2008, 638). 3 See e.g. Mamelét (1914; 1965); Spykman ([1925] 2004); Dahme (1981); Bevers (1985); Emirbayer (1997); Gangas (2004); Papilloud (2004); Cantó-​Milà (2005); Lash (2005); Pyyhtinen (2010). 4 To avoid possible confusion, I  therefore prefer the use of the term ‘relationalism’, though Simmel himself employs the word ‘relativism’.



However, it is in Simmel’s sociological relationalism and metaphysical relationalism that I am interested the most in this chapter.5 The key to them both is the notion of Wechselwirkung. As a science of society, sociology should, according to Simmel, take interpersonal forms of interaction or reciprocity as its object of inquiry. While ‘everything which takes place in society’ (Simmel [1908] GSG 11, 23) may pass for a subject matter in various other social sciences, this cannot be the case in sociology, Simmel insists, but sociology must investigate ‘what in society is really “society” ’ ([1908] GSG 11, 25), that is, the constitutive processes of society and the principles on which its unity rests. And according to him, the emergence of society can be grasped only by examining the interaction of its elements (Simmel [1881] GSG 1, 370). As he puts it in Sociology: ‘Should there be a science, whose object of study is society and nothing else, it can examine only […] reciprocal effects, […] ways and forms of association’ (Simmel [1908] GSG 11, 19). Wechselwirkung appears in Simmel’s work not only as a sociological concept, but it broadens up into a general ‘metaphysical principle’ that ultimately concerns the whole of reality (Simmel 2004 GSG 20, 304). Simmel’s metaphysical relationalism is characterized by the idea of the real as relational. In Über sociale Differenzierung, Simmel suggests that it should be held as a ‘regulative world principle’ that ‘everything interacts in some way with everything else’ (Simmel [1890] GSG 2, 130). He maintains that it is only because of the interconnectedness of all things that there can appear something like a world in the first place. As he puts it in Sociology, ‘We could not say that the world is one, unless its every element somehow affected every one else’ ([1908] GSG 11, 18). Thereby, Simmel does not regard the world as ‘a substantial, absolute oneness’ (Simmel 2005 GSG 22, 872), but as a multitude of individual, separate elements woven together by reciprocal relations. Simmel’s sociological and metaphysical relationalism dissolves all things into reciprocal effects and processes. It establishes the ‘interdependence of things’ as ‘their essence’ (Simmel [1900/​7] 2004, 114). Entities are only what they are through the relations that they come to have with others. Any entity involves others as its components; the influences and effects of others do not distort the being of an entity but participate in making it what it is. Simmel’s goal is thus to strip things of their false isolation, self-​sufficiency and absoluteness. For Simmel, as Siegfried Kracauer (1995, 250) has proposed, ‘there is nothing absolute that 5 Even though Simmel occasionally distinguished between sociology and philosophy in principle and on a programmatic level, in practice the two perspectives often mix. Albert Salomon, a student of Simmel’s, for example, observes that Simmel’s ‘sociological studies [...] were never separated from his philosophical concerns. He became a philosopher sociologist, one and indivisible’ (Salomon, 1995, 363). See also Pyyhtinen (2010) and Goodstein’s chapter in this volume.

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exists unconnected to other phenomena and that possesses validity in and for itself.’ On the contrary, Simmel insists that ‘the relativity of things is the only absolute’ (Simmel [1900/​7] 2004, 238). Nothing exists solely in and by itself, but each and every entity is made up of relations. Relatedness has primacy over quality. Indeed, whatever objects Simmel treats in his work he never conceives them as monolithic or isolated substances, but he dissolves them into relations. And he tackles their interconnectedness by way of operating with two different kinds of relations (Kracauer 1995). On the one hand, Simmel attends to how entities are actually bounded, connected and linked to each other in reality. In The Philosophy of Money, for example, Simmel shows how money establishes wide-​ranging relationships of mutual dependence. For instance, due to the mediating role money plays, ‘it is possible for a German capitalist but also for a German worker to take part in the swap of a minister in Spain, in the profits of African goldmines and the outcome of a South American revolution’ (Simmel [1900/​7] 2004, 476). On the other hand, the interconnectedness of phenomena reveals itself to Simmel also through relations of analogy. Simmel’s writings are full of analogies:  for example, he compares money to God in that in modernity it has become the common denominator of most opposed and distant things; he makes an analogy between sociability and art as well as play; and he suggests that boundaries are to social relations what the picture frame is to a work of art. What is more, as is well known, Simmel even predicted the fate of his work by comparing his legacy to money. Several commentators have criticized Simmel’s extensive use of argument by analogy. However, what Simmel undeniably loses in systematic argument he wins in the ability to suggest surprising links between seemingly unconnected and distinct things. Analogies, as we know, are a way of grasping the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. They allow us to comprehend what we do not know by relating it to what we already know. To propose an analogy between sociability and art, for example, is to highlight their similarity and shared properties. Rather than say that there is a perfect equivalence, a homology, between them, the comparison draws attention to similarity between the related terms while at the same time acknowledging and preserving their difference. In a sense, then, one could argue that for Simmel analogies are a way of seeing similarity through difference. And by using analogies Simmel not only succeeds in making graspable something new or less familiar by comparing it to the more familiar, but also discovering new aspects in the familiar. So, by comparing sociability with art and play, for example, Simmel sheds new light on art and play, too. Thanks to the relations of analogy established, we can see both of the related terms from a different perspective and in a new light.



Dissolving Society into Interaction At the latest since the 1920s onwards, the main object of sociological investigation has been ‘society’. While prior sociology had been mainly ‘universalistic’, in the sense that practitioners such as Comte saw it as ‘a science of, and for, humanity, based on timeless principles and verified laws’ (Albrow 1990, 6), the institutionalization of the discipline in universities gave rise to ‘national sociologies’ premised on the notion of ‘society’ as a separate, self-​enclosed territorial unit coextensive with the nation-​state (Inglis and Robertson 2009, 27–​ 8). Ulrich Beck (2000, 24) notes that, past their differences, already Durkheim, Weber and Marx ‘shared a territorial definition of modern society, and thus a model centred on the nation-​state’. While Beck’s claims have been under criticism (e.g. Chernilo 2006; Wagner 2000), we can nevertheless quite safely say that sociological analysis has been largely characterized by a kind of ‘methodological nationalism’ (Martins 1974, 276): most sociological notions of society are at least implicitly equated with territorial nation-​states (Cooper 2009, 9; Inglis and Robertson 2009, 29; Sulkunen 2007, 325). What is more, the predominant view models society as sort of a ‘container’ (see Schroer 2006, 19, 161), within which our actions and social relations are thought to fit. The problem with the container model is not only that it is awfully vague, picturing society as an all-​encompassing and pre-​existing frame or context of all human interactions, but it is also reifying: to assume the container model is to start with the finished product instead of examining the processes that produce it. With regard to this assumption, Simmel insists that only when society is dissolved into complex constitutive relations can sociology hope to gain a solid foundation. Analogous to biology, which did not gain a solid ground until it abjured the approach on life as an ‘undivided phenomenon’ and focused instead on the microscopic processes and interactions between organs and cells, sociology needs to analyze society as a manifold of interactions without assuming a prior or more basic unity encompassing them (Simmel [1908] GSG 11, 24–​5). For Simmel, every entity emerges from the interactions of its components. In Soziologie, he asserts that, ‘in [an] empirical sense, [any] unity is nothing but interaction of elements [Wechselwirkung von Elementen]’. An organic body, for example, is held together by how its organs exchange energies more regularly and intensively with each other rather than with any other entities (Simmel [1908] GSG 11, 18). In an analogous manner, society is for Simmel nothing but ‘reciprocal effects of its elements’ ([1890] GSG 2, 130). It is ‘present’ wherever several of these elements ‘enter interaction [Wechselwirkung]’ ([1894] GSG 5, 54). This means that interpersonal interactions do not presuppose a prior, overarching society in which they would be contained, but society is rather

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produced in and by them. In an important passage in The Philosophy of Money (which can also be found in Sociology in almost identical form; see [1908] GSG 11, 23–​4), Simmel writes: Society is not an absolute entity which must first exist so that all the individual relations of its members […] can develop within its framework or be represented by it: it is only the synthesis or the general term for the totality of these specific interactions. Any one of the interactions may, of course, be eliminated and ‘society’ still exist, but only if a sufficiently large number of others remain intact. If all interaction ceases there is no longer any society. (Simmel [1900/​ 7] 2004, 175)

The difficulty of pursuing such a line of thought lies, of course, in the fact that interactions do not make the world each time anew, as if by beginning from scratch, but they take place in at least partly pre-​given settings. They are often routinized and flow habitually, guided by taken-​for-​granted rules and norms, as Harold Garfinkel (2006) famously stresses. This is to say that when we interact with others, a lot of stuff is already there, conditioning not only what we are capable of saying and doing but also who and what we are. So, as Bruno Latour (2005, 166)  puts it:  ‘Interactions do not resemble a picnic where all the food is gathered on the spot by the participants, but rather a reception by some unknown sponsors who have staged everything down to the last detail.’ But it would be a wrong move to search for the key to our relationships at the macro level of society within which interactions would supposedly be nested. This is precisely what Simmel’s idea of society as emerging from interaction of its parts helps us avoid. It reminds us that society is no natural unity, but its unity is a product of processes and dynamic relations. To quote a formulation from Grundfragen der Soziologie: ‘The reciprocal effects between the elements […] carry the whole persistence and elasticity, the whole diversity and unity of the so palpable and so puzzling life of society’ (Simmel [1917] GSG 16, 69). Thereby, Simmel radically reverses the conventional view: instead of examining how social relations take place in society, he proposes that sociology should study the society in social relations, that is, examine how society is actualized and produced in and by concrete relations between people. Society owes its properties, existence and durability to a multiplicity of relations that have been made stable. To consider society as a process instead of seeing it as a being in a state of rest is to pay attention to society in statu nascendi, in its nascent state. It means to study not so much the historical origin of society, but the underlying dynamics, the relations that account for its coming into being at ‘every day and on every hour’ (Simmel [1907] GSG 8, 277). As Simmel writes in Grundfragen



der Soziologie: ‘The association between people folds, unfolds and refolds itself without rest; it is an eternal flux and pulsation that links individuals to one another also where it does not give rise to actual organizations’ (Simmel [1917] GSG 16, 69). Thus also Simmel’s preference for the verbalization ‘association’ (Vergesellschaftung) over the noun ‘society’ (Gesellschaft), as the former expresses much better the processual and dynamic nature of society. We are not dealing with a ‘substance’, but with a process through which society comes to existence and occurs, an ‘event’ (Geschehen) ([1917] GSG 16, 70).6 Interestingly, it was much along these lines how Simmel conceived matter in his doctoral thesis Das Wesen der Materie nach Kants Physischer Monadologie (‘The Nature of Matter According to Kant’s Physical Monadology’). In it, Simmel criticizes Kant for hypostasizing matter and maintains that matter and the forces that produce it are not separate but significantly fold into each other: ‘Process and result, event and the thing occurred, [are] kept apart only to flow into one another again’ (Simmel [1881] GSG 1, 35). Related to this notion, some pages earlier, he notes that matter is not a finished product, but a ‘molecular process’. It is not a mode of being but of becoming: ‘If matter emerges out of forces, then one should no longer treat it as purely passive stuff upon which other forces can exercise their undisturbed interplay; for the product of these energies is no finished product, but a continuous process, not being […], but becoming’ ([1881] GSG 1, 26). It is easy to see the remarkable resemblance between Simmel’s later conception of society and his early understanding of matter. Just as Simmel does not consider matter in molar terms, he understands society not as a whole that is, but as a molecular process that becomes. In other words, instead of starting from the finished product, he tries to explain society by the processes that have produced it. Accordingly, I see the term ‘realistic-​dynamic’ (realistisch-dynamisch) which Simmel uses to describe his position in his doctoral thesis as an apt label for how he sees society, too. For Simmel, the ancient controversy between realism and nominalism is a badly stated problem. He regards society neither as a self-​subsistent entity with properties of its own, nor as merely a name for an aggregation of individuals. There is without doubt a reality to which the term society refers, but it is not that of an independent entity. Instead, it is the relations of interaction that are the reality the term refers to (Simmel [1908] GSG 11, 17–​19): society comes into being through the synthetic realities of mutual influences between individuals (Levine 1971, xxxiii–​iv). Society is produced and sustained in and by the interactions between its components. Nevertheless, it is important to note that, for all his emphasis on relations and processes, Simmel does not simply dissolve society into constantly 6 I discuss Simmel’s event thinking in more detail in Pyyhtinen (2010).

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changing relations. In the long indented passage from The Philosophy of Money quoted earlier he does not dismiss the stability of society. On the contrary, Simmel’s relational take on society helps us simultaneously meet two opposite aims: to attend both to how society is produced in and by relations and how it emerges and appears as an enduring, relatively stable entity. And what is particularly remarkable about this view is that it is not restricted to society alone, but can be generalized to apply to all entities. It allows us to consider entities as bundles of relations without disregarding their possible endurance. And it gives us means to acknowledge their endurance without resorting to substance or an essence that sustains. While some of the features of an entity may endure even though many of its relations are eliminated, this is so only because and insofar as there are a sufficiently large number of others that remain intact. So, in a sense, Simmel takes substance out of substantialism: there is indeed something in things that cannot be subtracted from them without them ceasing to exist, but this something is no essence or substance, but their relations. Or, another way to put this would be to say that there is no substance to things other than their relations or, more exactly their event, actualization in relations. Relations are one with the essence or the substance of a thing.

Elements of a Relational Nonreductionist Social Ontology Based on what was noted earlier, Simmel’s sociology of association would easily seem to suggest itself as a micro-​reductionist solution to the individual–​ society (or the related micro–​macro) problem mentioned in the very beginning of this chapter. After all, Simmel does suggest that society amounts to nothing but interactions between individuals. This impression is even stronger if we consider Simmel’s epistemological justification of sociology. He commences from the view that the possibility of society is ultimately based on the individual subject’s becoming conscious of himself as part of society. In Sociology, Simmel notes that ‘in reality the consciousness that one forms a unity with others is all there is to that unity’ (Simmel [1908] GSG 11, 43). This statement would seem to imply not only micro-​reductionism, but also methodological individualism. However, Simmel’s sociology of association is ultimately not micro-​reductionist, nor does it commit to methodological individualism. First, Simmel stresses that cultural forms –​society being one of them –​are not reducible to the process of their emergence, but tend to gain a life of their own and affect their constituent elements retroactively. Let us consider the economy, which is an example Simmel himself takes up in The View of Life, along with science, art, religion, justice and morality. On one hand, of all the forms that have become independent of the lives and creativity of individuals, perhaps none has been originally so inseparably tied to the practical concerns



of life as the economy. In the last instance, people exchange goods and services in order to assuage hunger and take care of other basic needs. However, at the same time, Simmel notes, perhaps no other form has truly become ‘a world for itself ’ (eine Welt für sich) to the extent that the economy has. It seems to operate completely without regard for what the subjects need or want. As Simmel phrases this: ‘The violent logic of its development does not depend on the will of the subjects, nor on the meaning and necessities of their life. The economy now goes its necessary way, entirely as though men were there for its sake, but not it for the sake of man.’ In Simmel’s view the economy is thus perhaps the most extreme case of ‘demonic violence’ done to life in the name of ruthless objectivity and matter-​of-​fact logic. In the economy, Simmel ([1918] 2010, 59) claims, the ‘tension between life and that opposite-​of life’ (Gegenübervom-​Leben) or what he also calls ‘more-​than-​life’ (Mehr-​als-​Leben) reaches its culmination. So, this suggests that the products of our own making increasingly follow their own inner logic and, as a result, we become dominated by them. As William Outhwaite (2006, 63) puts it: ‘We set up an organization and make ourselves its puppets; we adopt an innovative artistic convention and find ourselves unacceptably constrained by it.’ Second, Simmel avoids micro-​reductionism also because for him individuals are not the final or bottom-​most layer of reality to which other, supposedly more derivative phenomena could be reduced. As he puts it in his own words, ‘individuals are in no way final elements, atoms of the human realm’ (Simmel [1917] GSG 16, 65). The unit(y) to which the notion of the individual refers is no absolute unity, a final, foundational base of (human) reality nor a self-​ sufficient, permanent substance, but it is socio-​historically produced, a coming together of various forces, relations and forms. Simmel insists that the human individual is a ‘multiplicity’ (Vielheit), and he argues that this insight presents one of the most important preconditions for laying a ‘rational basis’ for the science of society ([1890] GSG 2, 127). Simmel’s position is thus anti-​essentialist. Even if he does have a concept of essence (as the quotations cited earlier attest), he is not crudely ‘essentialist’. Instead of having an inner essence, each individual is for him, literally, an ‘assembled being’ (zusammengesetzte Wesen) ([1905/​ 7] GSG 9, 323), an intersection of social circles ([1890] GSG 2, 244), a ‘point where the social threads woven throughout history interlace’ ([1905/​7] GSG 9, 230; Jalbert 2003, 264). Whilst in Simmel’s sociology the individual admittedly often is the smallest unit of analysis, he nevertheless does not regard the individual as the elementary basis of (social) reality. On the contrary, the process of dissolving beings into relations is in principle endless. Therefore, ‘the individual’, too, as Simmel himself remarks, is a ‘completely arbitrary’ place to end the process of dissolving substances into relations, because for an analysis that reaches further, the individual appears as a ‘combination of qualities

The Real as Relation


and fates, forces and historical consequences’ as well as of, say, flesh, veins, organs, cells, minerals and flows of energy. In this picture, the qualities, fates, forces and consequences are the ‘elementary reality’ vis-​à-​vis the individual, just as the individual may appear as the elementary reality in relation to society (Simmel [1917] GSG 16, 66). Simmel’s idea that the unity of any given entity is ultimately based on interactions among its components has the most significant implications for social theory. First, it undoes the classical distinction (in philosophy) between natural substances and artificial aggregates. It suggests that not only society but individuals, too, are made up of an infinity of parts. Individuals are not natural unities over against the mere aggregate of society, but both are manifolds composed of interactions of parts; any given unity is an achievement, produced by the interactions of its parts. Because of this, there is also not much sense in arguing that individuals would be more real than society or vice versa. Both are as much real as the other. Second, we cannot give individuals any more than society a privileged existence over the other, which also leads to the refutation of both micro-​reductionism and macro-​reductionism. The assumedly macro-​scale phenomena such as society are just as irreducible to the interactions of individuals, as individuals are never dissolved into the larger wholes they are part of. I think this is the important insight of the opposition Simmel makes between the individual and society on a principal level, which in many other respects appears as highly problematic (and with good reason: Bourdieu (1990, 31), for example, regards the opposition as ‘absurd’). The irreducibility of individuals to society is suggested, for example, by one of the a priori conditions of society that Simmel discusses in the excursus ‘How is society possible?’ to the opening chapter of Sociology. For Simmel, society is conditioned by the fact that ‘every element of a group is not only a part of society, but is still something besides it’ ([1908] GSG 11, 51). Individuals belong to society as parts of a greater whole, and yet every individual is also a whole in itself, consisting in interactions of parts of its own. And, as for society, the irreducible, stabilized and durable existence of society vis-​à-​vis the fleeting, fluctuating lives of individuals is proposed by the contrast of life and form, which Simmel ([1918] 2010) considers in terms of the tension between ‘more-​life’ (Mehr-​Leben) and ‘more-​than-​life’ (Mehr-​ als-​Leben). The irreducibly of the individual and society to one another would thus seem to require that the examination of their relation is established on shifting sands, perhaps in a manner analogous to how Simmel treats the relation of historical materialism and idealism in The Philosophy of Money, that is, by basing his analysis on the ‘infinite reciprocity’ of the two levels.7 7 As Simmel puts it in more detail: ‘Every interpretation of an ideal structure by means of economic structure must lead to the demand that the latter in turn be understood



However, on closer inspection (and this leads me to my third point), Simmel’s sociological relationalism is not suggestive of there being only two levels to reality. While he occasionally insists on the dialectical nature of the individual and society, it is possible to tease out of his writings an idea that there is in fact an infinite number of layers. By emphasizing the constitutive role of Wechselwirkung, Simmel’s sociology dissolves not only the individual and society to the interaction of their parts, but the idea also holds in principle for any entity at any given scale: every entity is composed of interactions of pre-​and sub-​entity materials, and every unity is a product of relations of reciprocal effect. This view helps us escape the long tradition in sociology of conceiving the world in terms of just two levels, with the individual or the micro-level on the bottom and the larger-​scale macro phenomena like society on top (or in those of three, if we place the ‘meso-​level’ phenomena in between). The problem with the micro-​macro model is not only that it is reductionist, but also that most often than not it is assumed in advance, as something like a transcendent model. And, once set in place, it offers itself so naturally to us that it is difficult not to conceive the world along its contours (Marston et al., 2005, 422). George Ritzer (2011, 545), for instance, notes that ‘[W]‌e can clearly think of the micro-​macro linkage in terms of some sort of vertical hierarchy, with micro-​level phenomena on the bottom, macro-​level phenomena at the top, and meso-​level entities in between.’ However, by presupposing that phenomena are placed on two (or three) levels only –​or even privileging one of the scales, as is the case with micro-​and macro-​reductionism –​this paradigm remains blind to how processes crisscross various scales and how scales are produced in action. In short, Simmel’s sociological relationalism implies an entirely different scalar imaginary compared to the bi-​(or tri-​)focal micro-​macro model. Instead of modelling the world in accordance with a few discrete levels forming a nested vertical hierarchy, it pictures it in terms of infinite chains of manifolds. The manifolds are wholes composed of interactions between their parts. The relation of whole and part implies a more or less vertical mode of ordering, with each whole being composed of interactions of elements at a sub-​level, which, in turn, are manifolds in themselves consisting in their own sub-​elements and so on infinitely. However, the succession of manifolds is not ordered only vertically, in a bottom-​up manner, with interconnected entities and materials at a sub-​level giving rise to a greater whole. On the contrary, interconnectedness can be also conceived without assuming a vertical hierarchy. Notably in The Philosophy of Money Simmel examines how the circulation from more ideal depths, while for these depths themselves the general economic base has to be sought, and so on indefinitely’ (Simmel [1900/​7] 2004, 56).

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of money weaves the web of modern society (see also Frisby 1984, 51). It links individuals and their divergent interest, needs, valuations and desires, but also different spaces, cultural contexts and actions. Importantly, the refutation of verticality should not, however, be automatically taken as implying reliance on a pre-​determined horizontal scale. The point cannot simply be to replace the vertical imaginary of the micro and the macro with a horizontal one –​that of networks, for instance. This is because such a move would just implant things within another transcendent model that risks yet another form of reductionism. If we are to develop a genuinely non​reductionist ontology we should start from relations, in the middle of things. The analysis should remain immanent to relations and avoid reliance on ‘any transcendent predetermination’ (Marston, Jones and Woodward 2005, 422).

Conclusion In this chapter I have discussed how Simmel’s work places relations into the heart of sociology. Instead of beginning from static, self-​enclosed entities of various kinds  –​such as individuals, groups, communities, social systems or society –​Simmel invites us to think the very processes of their formation and coming into being. For him, social forms are not beings in a state of rest. On the contrary, they have to be considered in their becoming. Simmel’s approach dissolves all things into reciprocal effects and processes. Empirically, any unity is for him nothing but reciprocal effects of its elements. It is also only by starting from a web of interconnected relations that we can hope to link the lives of individuals and large-​scale phenomena such as society. However, in spite of all the emphasis Simmel lays in his sociology on the problem of the relation of the individual and society, I have also argued that by building on his work it is also possible to assert a nonreductionist social ontology which acknowledges that the world entails an infinite number of layers, not only two, as is the case in the individual-​society and micro-​macro model (or three, as in mesosociology).8 It moreover suggests that each of these multiple layers are in principle as real as any other. To be sure, to some extent such an approach to social ontology entails reading Simmel against himself. After all, in some places he clearly privileges the individual level. In the essay 8 Note, however, that not nearly all of the authors who rely on the micro-​macro model think the world itself would be organized in levels. Ritzer, for example, rejects the ontological idea of the labels micro and macro corresponding to distinctive levels in the world. He only subscribes to the idea of distinctive levels of analysis. I find this solution unsatisfying, as it, too, remains trapped in the vertical epistemological frame of ordering and remains thus susceptible to the same problems as the nested binary ontological hierarchy.



‘Soziologie der Sinne’, for example, Simmel suggests that it is only the ‘delicate, invisible threads that are spun from one person to another’, not the ‘final finished pattern’ of society’s ‘uppermost phenomenal stratum’, that constitute ‘the real life of society provided in our experience’ ([1907] GSG 8, 292, 277). However, as I have tried to show in this chapter, there are also tendencies, formulations and seeds of ideas in Simmel’s work that problematize the micro-​reductionist standpoint. First, the idea that cultural forms of our making gain a life of their own, independent of their creators and of the process of their creation, speaks against micro-​reductionism. Second, while indeed occasionally insisting that individuals and their interactions are the basis of society, elsewhere Simmel contends that individuals are nevertheless not the bottom-​most or final layer of reality, but just a layer amongst many others. And, just like any other entities at any given scale, individuals, too, can be dissolved into interactions of their components. This point suggests that we must integrate into social theory entities and materials of various sizes and on various scales, ranging all the way from, say, viruses and the tiny minerals of the smartphones we carry in our pockets to global markets and climate change. Society is not reducible to the level of individuals and their interactions, but designates rather a fabric of interdependent relationships, a relation of relations. Those relations may cross several scales and involve a plenitude of layers. Of the more recent social theorists, it is perhaps most famously Latour who, like Simmel, has questioned the self-​evident durability and stability of social formations. In a manner not dissimilar to Simmel, Latour (2005, 8) insists that the starting point for the study of any social whole should be the movement of association: instead of ‘begin[ning] with society or other social aggregates, […] one should end with them’. However, as I’ve already discussed the similarities and differences between Simmel and Latour elsewhere (see Pyyhtinen 2010, 165–​76), here I will focus on the affinities with another contemporary social theorist, Manuel DeLanda. To me, Simmel’s sociological relationalism in some respects precedes DeLanda’s Deleuzian-​ inspired assemblage theory. Much like how Simmel conceives any unity in terms of the interaction of its elements, for DeLanda (2006, 5) every entity is an ‘assemblage’, which he defines as a whole whose properties emerge from the interactions between its parts. In his book A New Philosophy of Society (2006), DeLanda develops a fascinating multi-​scale social ontology which conceives the world in terms of several successive scales. He argues that instead of there being only two scales, the terms micro and macro should be understood as relative terms so that any given entity may appear as either micro or macro depending on whether it is understood as part or whole. As he writes: ‘The terms “micro” and “macro” should not be associated with two fixed levels of scale but used to denote the concrete

The Real as Relation


parts and the resulting emergent whole at any given spatial scale’ (DeLanda 2006, 32).9 Instead of assuming a pre-​given nested hierarchy, DeLanda works out the succession of micro and macro scales in a ‘bottom-​up’ manner by looking at any assemblage as an emergent property of the interactions producing it. Thereby, micro assemblages may become components of larger macro assemblages which emerge from the interactions of their parts. According to DeLanda, assemblages are emergent in the sense that they are irreducible to the components of which they are composed. Once actualized, assemblages may affect their components. Whilst DeLanda’s assemblage theory bears remarkable resemblance to some of Simmel’s ideas, there are also crucial differences between their viewpoints. Perhaps the most striking of them is the fact that DeLanda refutes the idea that entities would be constituted within a relational field. He defines such relations of interdependence as ‘relations of interiority’, according to which ‘the component parts [of a whole] are constituted by the very relations they have to other parts in the whole. A part detached from such a whole ceases to be what it is, since being this particular part is one of its constitutive properties’ (DeLanda 2006, 9). Against the idea of relations of interiority DeLanda sets what he calls ‘relations of exteriority’. They assume a certain autonomy for the terms that they relate: the components are ‘self-​subsistent’ in the sense that they may leave an assemblage and plug into another one without the part nor the assemblages changing (2006, 10–​11). The problem with such a view is that it closes the components in upon themselves and places them in a strange vacuum. While Simmel, too, assigns some autonomy to entities –​let us remember here the idea that every element of a society is not only a part of it but also something besides it –​he acknowledges the fundamental entanglement of entities. By drawing on Simmel’s realistic-​ dynamic viewpoint we can argue that things have no substance beyond their associations and intermeshed becomings. They are no interconnected discrete points, but dynamic crossroads of relations; I will only recall here, for instance, Simmel’s idea of the individual as an intersection of social circles. Entities are constantly changing confederations of lines or trajectories, which implies that 9 An example by Dean R. Gerstein (1987) that DeLanda references suffices to illustrate this argument. Gerstein asserts that a ‘fundamental distinction such as that between micro and macro must be general and analytical, not tied to a fixed case. By this standard, the individual person, household, or firm cannot be treated as intrinsically micro, and the society, nation, or economy as unalterably macro.’ Instead, Gerstein suggests, ‘The overall status or role of a given family member (ego) may be macro relative to ego’s relation to a certain kin group member, but micro relative to the status or role of ego’s lineage in a marriage exchange system; the marriage system in turn may be micro relative to a mythic cycle’ (Gerstein 1987, 88).



they remain the same, unchanged, only as long as the relations between their parts and the relations that they come to have with other entities hold together. While an entity may break with (some of) the relations that have constituted it and made it to emerge, it is not that entities would become and were made to be only once, for good, and then be considered complete ever since. Let us recall here how Simmel conceptualized society: while any one of the interactions that constitute it may be eliminated and society remain, he suggested that this is so only insofar as a sufficiently large number of others hold and remain intact. The becoming of society, or of any other entity for that matter, is never finished. Entities never stop becoming, and in their becoming they constantly involve new connections and drop others. No whole or component part, either, exists in and by itself, as in a vacuum, but rather to be is to be related: entities become what they are by entering into relations, by affecting and being affected by others. And the greater whole that they possibly come to form is no seamless totality, but in itself a heterogeneous manifold of relations. The relations may be broken at any point and they also do not assume an a priori underlying structure.10

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This chapter explores Simmel’s definition of money as a ‘claim upon society’ in The Philosophy of Money. Specifically, I ask whether this description provides any analytical purchase on money during an era when, first, the relevance of the notion of ‘society’ is being contested across several different areas of sociology, and second, money has assumed a wide range of new forms whose connections with ‘society’ in any conventional sense are increasingly difficult to discern. My discussion will consider these two issues together. In relation to the first, I will examine Simmel’s statement in conjunction with a range of different treatments of ‘society’ and ‘the social’ in his work: from the idea of nation-​state that is sometimes implied in the second chapter of The Philosophy of Money, through the more abstract ideas of society (such as the ‘perfect’ society) found in Sociology to the ‘vitalist’ conceptions of the social that feature in his later works. I will then seek to apply these varying conceptions of the relationship between money and ‘the social’ by asking what insights Simmel’s work offers for investigating the increasingly complex world of disintermediated money:  from social credit, through complementary currencies, to new forms of digital money. Of these, one of most intriguing –​and problematic –​ is Bitcoin, whose motto is ‘Vires in Numeris’ (‘Strength in Numbers’), and whose designers claim to have dispensed with the very feature of money which figures at the heart of Simmel’s own conception, namely, its reliance on mutual trust. I ask whether the apparent success of Bitcoin now means that Simmel’s original description of money must be reconfigured in light of money’s increasing dependence on machines. This chapter has three main sections. First, I  argue that the roots of today’s changing world of money can be traced back to key changes that took place during the 1970s, particularly the collapse of the Bretton Woods system. These changes were ultimately responsible for the decline of monopoly



national currencies, and provide the context for understanding the potential significance of Bitcoin. Second, I discuss Simmel’s conception of money as a ‘claim upon society’, and examine what it potentially means in light of various interpretations of the term ‘society’ in his work. Specifically, I argue that Simmel’s approach to money is not ‘statist’ in the way some commentators suggest, but rests on a more fluid conception of ‘society’ that fits well with today’s monetary landscape. Third, I  explore the ideology behind Bitcoin, and contend it rests on a theory of money that is fundamentally at odds with some of Simmel’s most important insights about money’s relationship with the social world. Rather than placing the continuing relevance of Simmel’s theory of money in doubt, however, I argue that this discrepancy points to a fundamental schism between the theory and practice of Bitcoin itself.

The Changing World of Money Bitcoin is the most prominent example of an alternative currency. It is the wunderkind of the world’s fast-​changing monetary landscape, and as such it has attracted widespread attention, encouraging doubts about the future of state money that are going mainstream perhaps for the first time in the modern era. The period in which the state defined money is almost over. I do not mean that state currencies themselves will no longer exist, but rather that the age in which the state enjoyed a monopoly over the definition of money has come to end. This is the wider context in which we must understand Bitcoin, and in which we must try to assess the continuing relevance –​or irrelevance –​of Simmel. There are various reasons for the decline of state monopoly money. The system of state currency management that originated at Bretton Woods in 1944 and was abandoned in 1971 when Nixon took the US dollar off its formal gold peg was never properly replaced. States and central banks struggled to assert control over global flows of money that were being created by transnational banks and corporations operating in an increasingly global economy. This was the world that Susan Strange described in books such as Casino Capitalism (1986) and Mad Money (1998). Strange focused on the decline of banks’ role in intermediation (between savers and depositors) and their inducement by deregulation to take bigger risks. This is the backdrop for her distinction between the global financial system (i.e. the system of creating, buying and selling credit money developed independently of governments) and the international monetary system (i.e. the relationship between national currencies) (Strange 1994, 49). Strange argued that the emergence of money substitutes such as financial derivatives were taking finance beyond the control of national governments (Strange 1994, 49).



This is the context in which we need to understand two countervailing trends in the world’s monetary landscape (Dodd 2005a; 2005b; 2014). On one hand, large-​scale currencies such as the US dollar have increasingly been circulating outside the borders of their issuing states, in some cases actually replacing smaller (and arguably weaker) currencies. This was a trend towards the homogenization of money. The euro can be understood in this context, because it was –​among other things –​a response by its member-​state governments to a growing sense that only by pooling monetary sovereignty through the creation of a large transnational currency could they maintain any control over their monetary affairs. On the other hand, the range of monetary forms other than state currency in circulation has been increasing, primarily through the development of digital money and complementary currencies. This constitutes a trend towards the diversification of money, and is an important context for the emergence of Bitcoin, alongside other monetary forms such as Time Dollars, local currencies like the Brixton and Bristol pound, P2P lending schemes such as Zopa and transfer services such as M-​Pesa. Both of these trends –​monetary homogenization and monetary diversification –​therefore constitute a threat to the state monopoly currency system. The 2007–​8 ‘credit crunch’ and the ensuing financial crisis arose from the first of these trends. The financial securities that were at the heart of the crisis  –​collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)  –​were part of a growth of financial technologies that had been under way since the 1970s as banks and corporations sought to reduce the monetary risks associated with global trade and floating exchange rates. Money was more difficult for states and international bodies such as the IMF to manage during this era. To take just one indicator of this (for others, see Krippner 2005; 2011), the foreign exchange markets grew from a daily turnover of $15 billion, $80 billion in 1980, $150 billion in 1985, $1.2 trillion in 1995, and $3.2 trillion in 2007 (BIS figures, collated in McNally 2010, 93). By 2013, the turnover had reached $5.3 trillion (BIS Triennial Survey 2014). These markets have no direct connection with trade; they consist of the exchange of currencies for currencies, both for the hedging of risk, and as speculation. Other important changes in the monetary landscape that are important for contextualizing Bitcoin took place in the arena in which money is actually created –​not governed –​in advanced capitalist societies, namely, the banking system. Since the 1980s, particularly, the growth of investment banking, the development of universal banks and the emergence of shadow banking (Johnson and Kwak 2010, chap. 3), dramatically increased the size of finance relative to the real economy. In the United States, for example, the contribution of the financial services industry (including insurance) to GDP in 1947 was 2.35 per cent; by 1987 the figure had risen to 5.8 per cent, and by 2009,



8.4 per cent (US Bureau of Economic Analysis). Market concentration also grew, reflecting an industry increasingly dominated by large, complex firms. This growth is closely related to ‘financialization,’ a broad term which refers to increasing leverage, rapid innovation in structured finance and growing volumes of trading in financial instruments. Krippner defines financialization as a pattern of accumulation in which the profits of financial and non-​financial corporations alike are accrued increasingly through financial channels (2005, 181). In Strange’s view, casino capitalism paradoxically originated in attempts to minimize the risks of globalization. For example, modern derivatives are rooted in the 1970s petrodollars surplus and the demise of Bretton Woods. These events led to a riskier exchange rate regime, as did the major program of financial deregulation undertaken at that time. From a low base in the early 1980s, the notional value of the global derivatives market is now around $69 trillion (Bank for International Settlements). Derivatives proved vital for banks and corporations to manage risks associated with increasing global interconnectivity: of doing business in different currencies and in different regions of the world with various economic and monetary conditions. Their role was to hedge risk, not make it worse. According to Strange, however, the apparent aversion to risk that led to the increasing use of derivatives fueled a speculative market that thrives on uncertainty: all it needs is ‘risk-​aversion on the part of others, a speculative fund and a supply of young men eager to work hard for above-​normal gain’ (1986, 111). What results is the ‘vicious circle of uncertainty’ whereby systems devised for managing global risks generate the very uncertainties on which speculators thrive, thus making risk avoidance even more necessary (generating further uncertainty, etc.) (1986, 107). Leverage is a key indicator of the increasing risk exposure that worried Strange, and blew up in 2007–​8. Subprime lending did not expand in a vacuum, but was fueled by surplus funds from outside the United States, using the very architecture of global finance that had once preoccupied Strange. In 2005, as the CDO market was nearing its peak, the US current account deficit approached 6.25 per cent of GDP, or the equivalent of 1.5 per cent of world GDP. China’s current account surplus reached $371.8 billion by 2007 (Chinese Foreign State Administration of Foreign Exchange), as against a US current account deficit of $738.6 billion that year (BEA). In order to finance this, the United States needed to attract 70 per cent of the world’s capital flows (Rajan 2005). Surplus countries –​Asian governments and households, and oil-​ rich countries (Nsouli 2006) –​were providing the shadow banking system with the speculative funds it needed. Against this background, the role of states in the aftermath of the 2007–​8 crisis was ironic, because they had been written off –​not least by Strange –​as



major players in the global financial system. The social costs of the financial crisis were considerable. In the countries affected, the direct costs to taxpayers included various measures to support banks, such as the purchase of preference shares, direct loans to banks, asset purchases, mortgage debt purchases and liquidity guarantee programs. Some of this outlay will be recouped as loans are repaid, shares gain in value and assets sold on. But the remaining, and arguably greater, costs of the crisis are more difficult to estimate, as the monetary system, primarily through its connections with debt, has played a central role in their unraveling. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Eurozone, where a sovereign debt crisis has been unfolding since late 2009, partly as an outcome of the build-​up of unsustainable bank debt, that reflects complex interlinkages between money, public finances, private debt and the global banking system. One could argue, pointing to the bailout, that the private debts built up within the banking system prior to the crisis have been underwritten by money. This is a function of the scale and complexity of banking. The very integrity of the monetary system was under threat by virtue of problems in the financial system:  instruments on the ‘periphery’ of the banking system had closer links to its ‘core’ than had been envisaged. The 2007–​8 crisis therefore provides an important political –​not just monetary and financial  –​context for Bitcoin. This was a crisis of legitimacy as much as economics, provoked by the contrast between the resources that governments spent on bank rescues on one side and their willingness to make public expenditure cuts on the other. Politically, the crisis is closely tied to rising resentment and hostility toward Wall Street. The political rhetoric is not simply about unequal wealth and income distribution, but attacks the financial system responsible for perpetuating it. The argument that the financial system has grown absurdly disproportionate relative to the rest of the economy has gained popular support across the political spectrum. What stands out here –​and this is important to both Bitcoin and Simmel –​ are the connections between money and society that the crisis, and the growth of alternatives to state currency, has brought to the fore. Since the early 1990s, but especially since the 2007–​8 crisis, there has been a surge of political interest in the changing nature of money. Whereas the financial crisis appears to have fueled the enthusiasm of wider publics for new forms of money and credit, it has also underlined the argument that the role of states and banks in money’s social production must undergo a fundamental transformation. At a 2011 protest march in London, one cardboard banner said, ‘We are the true currency.’ The words imply that the system can be transformed, not completely overthrown, by being reconfigured on a human scale. Indeed, a monetary revolution is already under way, although its exact contours remain unclear. The role of states and banks in the creation and governance of money



is being encroached upon from all sides, and we face a future in which money is more pluralistic than it has been throughout the modern era. Monetary pluralism is not new, however. Prior to the modern era (before the late nineteenth century, and even later) it was common for people to encounter many different forms of money –​and to have to navigate the relationships between them –​in their everyday lives. Moreover, in many countries outside of the global north, monetary multiplicity has continued to be a fact of life. If anything, then, our pluralistic monetary future is actually a return to the past. Even so, the changes we are witnessing now are potentially quite radical, not least because of the technology they involve –​Bitcoin being just one example. So we have to respond with fresh thinking about the theory of money. Alternative currencies are growing at an astonishing rate today, and we need a greater range of conceptual tools in order to understand them. Does Simmel have a role to play in such thinking? Or does The Philosophy of Money belong to the nationalistic monetary era that we are rapidly leaving behind?

Money Is a Claim upon Society Although Strange did not examine the concept of money at length, assumptions about the nature of money underpinned her analysis of the decline of state money that offer some important clues to how Simmel’s work might figure in any sociological analysis in these developments. Intriguingly, when she stepped back to consider ‘the more philosophical side of money’ and explore ‘what the use of money does to human relations, and to human behavior in society’ (1986, 103), she turned to Simmel (Dodd 2011). Strange argued that money’s social foundations were being eroded by the growth of international finance, and she drew on Simmel, specifically, to highlight the attributes of trust and confidence money relies on to fulfill its basic functions. Describing money as ‘a secure store of value that people can use to cushion themselves against […] misfortunes or against illness or old age’ (1986, 103), Strange cited Simmel’s description of it as a ‘claim upon society’ (Simmel 2004, 177), noting that he saw money as an ‘expression’ of trust that can only be established by ‘faith and experience,’ not fiat (1986, 106). Strange’s reference to Simmel points to the strains placed on the relationship between money and ‘society’ by virtue of the growth of the international financial system, a development she once described as ‘overbanking’. Strange suggests that money is a claim upon society in the sense that its purchasing power relies on a shared a set of underlying expectations held by a community of payers and payees. This is the ‘nameless drawee’ Simmel mentions, underwriting money and providing its ‘guarantee’. If money’s high liquidity and low degree of risk enable it to provide that ‘cushion’ Strange refers to, these



features of money are being compromised by the development of financial instruments that are proliferating through overbanking and being widely used as monetary substitutes. These compromise states’ ability to manage money. The ultimate danger, for Strange, would be the ‘death of money’ –​or the collapse of the banking system that –​under the fractional reserve system –​has been entrusted to create it. Was Strange justified in using Simmel to make such an argument? More specifically, what is the nature of the ‘society’ she refers to when citing him? The idea that money is a claim upon society is often read as a reference to the connection between money and the state. If this is correct, Simmel’s description of money would represent a call for a return to the old world and a reassertion of the rights of states over the production and governance of money. If so, the author of The Philosophy of Money would have much to offer to reform groups such as Positive Money in the United Kingdom, who call for the imposition of measures such as the Chicago Plan –​inspired by Irving Fisher (Fisher 1935, 1936) –​in which states take over the production of money (and away from banks) tout court. If this is correct, Simmel would have nothing positive to say about Bitcoin. The answer appears to hinge on what we understand by the phrase claim upon society. What is ‘society’, for Simmel? Some important clues about what Simmel might or might not have meant can be gleaned from the interpretation of his work that Geoffrey Ingham proposed. He argues that Section III of Chapter 2 of The Philosophy of Money –​where Simmel’s description of money as a claim upon society is located –​consists of ‘a historical analysis of money’s transformation from substance to pure abstraction’ (Ingham 2004, 65). According to Ingham, Simmel put this analysis forward as an answer to the question raised by his own description of money as a claim upon society: namely, ‘How can myriad individual preferences produce a scale of intersubjective value?’ (2004, 65). Simmel was writing ‘at the apogee of the gold standard’, but anticipating an era when states, not gold, would underpin the value of money. Hence to say that money is a claim upon society was, in effect, to say that money is an abstract value that depends on support and governance by the state. ‘Like Weber,’ Ingham concludes, Simmel ‘saw that the development of the modern state and non-​ metallic, dematerialized money were intimately connected’ (2004, 65). I will pick up on the point about dematerialization in the third section of this chapter, but for now I want to focus on the connection between money and the state. It is tempting to read Simmel’s description of money as a claim upon society as a chartalist declaration, which is in tune with Knapp, who (in 1905) defined money as a ‘creature of the state’. This argument was cited approvingly by Weber (1978, 169), and later by Keynes (1976, 4), and is now a basis for the ‘neo-​Chartalist’ position taken by heterodox economists such as



Randall Wray (2004) and the sociologist referred to just now, Geoffrey Ingham (2004). This reading of Simmel suggests that ‘state’ and ‘society’ are interchangeable terms, but is at odds with what he says about society elsewhere. Specifically, he does not adhere to a Durkheimian concept of society, which would be similar to a nation-​state society and might therefore offer some grounds for conflating ‘society’ and ‘state’ as that on which money constitutes a claim. Rather, Simmel promotes an abstract idea of society that operates on a different level and in a different way. For Simmel, society is a process, sociation or association (Vergesellschaftung), not a bounded entity. Society exists within the myriad of interactions of which social life consists, but it does not contain them. We enact society insofar as we participate in social life, but we are not members of it. This is the idea of society as ‘reciprocal influence’ that Simmel refers to in Sociology: ‘What goes on perpetually in physical and mental contact, in reciprocal excitation of desire and suffering, in conversations and silences, in common and antagonistic interests  –​that is really what determines the wonderful unbearableness of society, the fluctuation of its life, with which its elements constantly achieve, lose, and shift their equilibrium’ (Simmel 2009, 34). We see this processual notion of society and social life underlined and extended in Simmel’s later writings: for example, those collected in The View of Life (Simmel 2011), which features a ‘vitalist’ conception that has drawn a considerable amount of interest among Simmel scholars. Indeed, it is this later body of work that, according to Pyyhtinen, accounts for Simmel’s continuing appeal to sociologists today: One of the reasons why Simmel is still relevant today is the fact that he considers the social in terms of process and relations. On this account, his work resonates well in an era that sees mobilities, flows, and networks as defining characteristics of contemporary societies. […] Mechanistic metaphors […] have largely been challenged by notions that could perhaps be called, in the absence of a better term, ‘vitalistic’. The latter include concepts such as ‘liquid modernity’, ‘mobility’, ‘process’, and ‘becoming’. (Pyyhtinen 2010, 2)

The notion of society itself has become increasingly problematic in general sociology. While Beck accuses sociologists of practicing a form of ‘methodological nationalism’ because they derive their conceptual vocabulary and methodological toolkit from the assumption that ‘society’ and ‘nation-​state’ are synonymous (Beck 2007; Chernilo 2006), others argue that because the topography of social life is increasingly diverse, the notion of ‘society’ generally used in relation to money needs to be more fluid (Faist 2000; Nowicka and Cieslik 2014; Urry 2000).



The relationship between money and society is also a key problem for monetary scholars, and the work of Keith Hart provides a good example of the dilemmas they face when using the term. Echoing Simmel, Hart describes money as a ‘token of society’ (2001, 235) and argues that Simmel’s characterization of money as a claim upon society remains valid today, as long as the meaning of society is never fixed but allowed to flex according to the scale of monetary form in question. More specifically, he suggests that the term expresses three distinct senses in relation to money: as state, nation and community. All three senses imply a critique of the conventional commodity theory of money by suggesting that ‘money is a symbol of something intangible, an aspect of human agency, not just a thing’ (2001, 252; see also Dodd 2014). When society is taken to mean state, we see money as a tool of power that expresses ‘vertical relations between unequals, rulers and rules, like the top and bottom two sides of the coin, heads and tails’ (2001, 252). When society denotes community, by contrast, money’s dependence on trust comes to the fore, and we see how money’s value rests on horizontal relations between the members of that community. Finally, when society stands for nation, attention is drawn to both vertical and horizontal relations in a combination of state and community. Hart argues that new forms of money such as e-​money and local money are tokens of society primarily in the sense of community. As for Simmel, he appears to have preferred the concept of sociality to society as the focal point of sociology. This denotes an intermingling, a process of being social as opposed to a state of belonging to society. So far from serving as an implicit affirmation of the state theory of money, Simmel’s processual approach might shed some light on some of the ways in which money is advancing beyond the state. What I have in mind here is not an transnational currency such as the euro, or a global currency managed by the IMF, but rather forms of money that are actively created by their users ‘from below’. This is exactly where Bitcoin fits in. But this is also why we need to go further than Hart in refining Simmel’s notion of ‘society’ and its application to money. Although Hart rightly accepts that Simmel’s notion of society is never fixed, he nonetheless does fix it, albeit in three distinct ways. As helpful as this is as a typology, it misses important processual elements of Simmel’s position that prove crucial for thinking about money. This is clear, for example, when one thinks of the theory of value from which Simmel’s conception of money is derived. Simmel argues that just as society is made possible by the act of our being social, so is value. Value is not a property that ‘belongs’ to an object like color, taste or smell. It is a third category ‘which stands, so to speak, between us and the objects’ by virtue of a fluid interplay between subjects engaged in mutual sacrifice (Simmel 2004, 65).



Simmel sought to understand how money brings order to a world in which objects and values are in perpetual flux. This was perhaps the main source of his fascination with money, and the reason he wrote a philosophical investigation of its nature. He suggested that as a tool of mutual valuation, money represents ‘the clearest embodiment of the formula of all being’ (2004, 228–​ 9). This formula refers to the principle of relationism, which is the view that things receive their meaning only through each other, while their mutual relations determine their being. In this regard, money is a process that provides Simmel with a means to explore the epistemological implications of relationism. By ‘following the money’ as it comes into contact with a myriad of people and things, he can explore the world just as he believes it is constituted –​as a process. So, with all of this in mind, let us take Simmel to Mt Gox.

Taking Simmel to Mt Gox Bitcoin was launched in January 2009, using open-​source software, as a peer-​ to-​peer payments network. Bitcoins are created from inside the network, and their creation is strictly controlled without being governed by a central issuing authority. Crucial for my argument here, the software is designed to ensure that the total number of Bitcoins in existence will never exceed 21 million: half of that total supply was generated by 2013, and the maximum will not be reached until 2140. Bitcoins are created through dedicated rigs (PCs), which mine for new coins through a series of tasks that require considerable computational power. The network is designed to produce a fixed number of Bitcoins per unit of time: 25 new Bitcoins will be generated every 10 minutes until 2017, and that number will subsequently be halved every four years after that. The more people (or rigs) there are mining for coins, the harder they will be to produce: now, only the most powerful rigs, that is several computers working together, can create new coins. Since its launch, the Bitcoin network has grown rapidly to become the most widely used alternative money system. Various retailers of material goods, music download websites, game providers, gambling sites, software providers and high-​profile online businesses such as WordPress, Reddit, Namecheap and Mega accept Bitcoins. Perhaps to an even greater degree, the currency has also performed as a financial asset. The value of Bitcoins grew dramatically during late 2012 and early 2013, rising from $12 and topping out at $266 in April before falling back to $130 in the face of apparent difficulties at Mt Gox (as the Bitcoin exchange in Tokyo was known). The currency’s value rose dramatically again during late 2013, reaching a trading high of $1,242 by the end of November before wildly fluctuating again, falling from $1,200 to $600 between December 6 and 7, 2013. Security breaches are among the



major reasons most often cited for periodic crashes in Bitcoin’s value. But another cause, surely, is that the very feature meant to ensure that Bitcoins were sound money (just like gold) in the first place –​their finite supply –​has become a source of speculation in its own right, and a Bitcoin bubble. During 2014, however, the price of Bitcoin saw a steady decline, falling from $1,147 in January to $346 by the end of October. During the first half of 2015 the price hovered around the $220 mark, rising to around $400 by the end of the year. During 2016, Bitcoin reached a high of around $750 in June. So what makes Bitcoin different? Whereas it is usually up to institutions like central banks and the IMF to protect the value of money, Bitcoin appears to delegate the task to machines. This makes it sociologically interesting and problematic, and is where a gulf opens up between the ideology behind Bitcoin and the practical reality of its operation. According to Satoshi Nakamoto, the individual (or collective) who designed Bitcoin, the root problem with most conventional forms of money is the trust required to make them work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, for example. ‘Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve. We have to trust them with our privacy, trust them not to let identity thieves drain our accounts. Their massive overhead costs make micropayments impossible,’ he argued when proposing Bitcoin (Nakamoto 2008). Nakamoto’s plan was to get rid of this central authority by using a block chain (shared by all computers or nodes within the network) through which the transaction history of each coin could be publicly known. Privacy would be maintained, meanwhile, by encrypting the public keys. Public discourse about Bitcoin often focuses on the idea that this is money created out of nothing –​virtual rather than real money. This resonates with Simmel’s claim, which he makes in a passage I cited earlier on in this chapter, that money will undergo a process of progressive dematerialization. Here is that claim in full: It is not technically feasible to accomplish what is conceptually correct, namely to transform the money function into a pure token money, and to detach it completely from every substantial value that limits the quantity of money, even though the actual development of money suggests that this will be the final outcome. (2004, 165)

As I have argued elsewhere (Dodd 2012; 2007), this passage has an important bearing on what Simmel sometimes calls ‘conceptually correct’ or ‘perfect’ money. But what I want to focus on here is the specific claim he makes about money’s dematerialization. Significant for my analysis here, Simmel suggests



that money will never be completely detached from ‘substantial value’, even though it appears to be developing in this way. This is ‘not a contradiction’, he argues, because as with several other trends in which something appears to be approaching a state of its own perfect realization –​he gives examples from politics and love –​a phenomenon ‘may perhaps turn into its opposite when the goal is reached’ (2004, 164). The Bitcoin phenomenon suggests that he might well have had a point. On the face of it, Bitcoin represents exactly the form of pure token money Simmel suggested would be ‘conceptually correct’ money. Curiously, however, one of the most interesting things about Bitcoin is the material paraphernalia that supports it, and the materialistic language that justifies it. Bill Maurer and his colleagues (Maurer et al. 2013) characterize the philosophy behind Bitcoin as a form of ‘digital metallism’ that relies on the semiotics of metallic money, with its language of mining and rigs. It does indeed seem that Bitcoins are being dug up from the ground. It is the ‘natural’ limits of supply that underpins the argument that gold should be money of course –​ because its supply cannot be artificially increased by governments or banks. As Maurer and his colleagues point out, it was this philosophy that led Locke to associate sound money with liberty, because it emancipated money from government control. In this sense, one could argue that Simmel got it exactly right:  if even as thoroughly a dematerialized monetary form as Bitcoin depended on a materialistic discourse, then in ideological terms at least, this ‘pure token money’ has indeed turned into something close to its opposite, namely, money as a thing. Nakamoto’s idea has been extraordinarily powerful, capturing the imagination of a wide range of people. At the heart of the Bitcoin project are four key principles: first, the Bitcoin network is decentered and flat,​with no hierarchy and no single point of authority; second, Bitcoin offers failsafe technological solutions to age-​old problems of monetary governance, such as inflation; third, Bitcoin dispenses with the need to trust others, whether they are experts, politicians or ordinary people; and fourth, Bitcoin is debt-​free money, just like gold. In these four senses, one could describe Bitcoin as utopian. There is a utopian strain in many forms of money, linked to ideals such as individual freedom, community, national unity and social and economic justice (see Dodd 2014, chap. 8). What makes Bitcoin unusual, however, is that it relies on technology to achieve these aims. In this sense, Bitcoin is a ‘techno utopia’, because while most monetary utopias are connected with social life in some way (Dodd 2012, 2014), the source of Bitcoin’s attraction to its advocates seems to be that it by-​ passes social life. It is, quite literally, a technology of mistrust, and the ultimate symbol of a stateless existence: a form of money no government can control. And Bitcoin can achieve this, its designers believed, because to all intents and



purposes it is a digitalized form of gold. Contra Simmel, Bitcoin is sustained by the view that money is a thing, not a social process. But we need to scrutinize this image of Bitcoin as a flat network that replaces trust and society with technology more closely. Is it actually true? Politically, Bitcoin certainly seems to be in tune with the times: specifically, with the political reaction to the 2007–​8 crisis and Western governments’ response to it. For example, Bitcoin resonates with the post-​2008 Occupy Movement, not just because it challenges the role of banks in creating money, but also due to its horizontalism. In this context, it is as a means, more than an end, that horizontalism matters. In his book on Occupy and the Arab Spring, English journalist Paul Mason (2012) describes this in terms of the distinction between network and hierarchy. Social media such as Twitter epitomize a brave new world of the network, governed not by central sources of authority but by the wisdom of crowds. Likewise, David Graeber (2013) has drawn attention to horizontalism as one of the defining features of Occupy’s strategy. He also finds evidence of it in Argentina after its 2001 crisis –​in which, as he points out, alternative currencies played a key role. Perhaps the ultimate financial expression of the wisdom of crowds is P2P lending, while the fast-​growing sharing economy –​ couch surfing, for ­example –​has taken the principle into the consumer world. Bitcoin seems to belong to this world –​the only caveat being that it automates the crowd. London-​based financial activist Brett Scott (2013) has argued that Bitcoin’s underlying theory embodies a Rousseauean approach to finance that can be contrasted to the old, Hobbesian world of central banks. In short, Bitcoin has replaced the sovereign with the general will: ‘In place of a centralised, hierarchical group of banks keeping score of the money, a decentralised network of individuals records every transaction on a virtual ledger called the blockchain […] my “account balance” is less like the ruling of a sovereign and more like the result of a popular democratic vote, mediated via a computer network’ (see http://​​magazine/​living-​together/​so-​you-​want-​to-​invent-​your-​ own-​currency/​). If it is true that Bitcoin has replaced Hobbes with Rousseau, it must follow that this general will has been abstracted from social networks and embedded in computer code. And this, essentially, seems to be the view taken by Maurer and colleagues, who argue that the sociality we would normally associate with trust has been embedded in computer code: Bitcoin provides a useful reflection on the sociality of money, despite its embedding of that sociality of trust in its code itself. In this world, there is no final settlement –​as with a state demanding payment in the form of taxes or tribute –​ and trust in the code substitutes for the (socially and politically constituted) credibility of persons, institutions, and governments. It is this –​not the anonymity



or the cryptography or the economics –​that makes Bitcoin novel in the long conversation about the nature of money. (2013, 263)

If this argument is right, it would be as if Simmel’s entire philosophy of social life had been automated. But I want to argue that this reading of Bitcoin –​as a horizontal network that embeds trust into computer code –​replicates the ideology behind it but does not reflect the reality of Bitcoin’s actual operation. As with all complex technical systems, social practices are crucial. Let me take two of the main arguments about Bitcoin: the first is about its horizontalism; the second is about its social reality. While the analogy between money’s sociality and the computer code elegantly captures some of the most important theoretical nuances of the ideology behind Bitcoin, the reality of Bitcoin’s subsequent development is starkly at odds with its earliest political aspirations. Indeed, according to Scott himself, Bitcoin now resembles a Hobbesian ‘techno-​Leviathan’ much more closely than anything Rousseau might have dreamed about (see www.e-​​2014/​06/​01/​visions-​of-​a-​techno-​leviathan-​the-​politics-​of-​the-​bitcoin-​ blockchain/​). The developments alluded to here might be described as the shift to ‘Bitcoin 2.0’ that has been brought about through projects such as DarkWallet, Mastercoin and Ethereum, which seek to bring the block-​chain technology to areas such as contract and intellectual property law. Their aims go beyond money, because their designers envisage a world in which technology does not simply offer alternatives to centralized intermediaries such as states and banks but replaces them tout court. The vision underlying this idea borders on the dystopian: our reliance on machines is no longer to challenge and provide alternatives to an existing hierarchy, but to mechanize social life itself –​an ambition seemingly premised on the idea that we cannot be trusted to reach mutual agreements, and indeed that collective life itself has no useful purpose. From the perspective of monetary theory, perhaps the most problematic aspect of Bitcoin is its depiction of money as a thing. Arguably the greatest barrier to Bitcoin’s success as money is the hoarding this image of money encourages. Speculation has focused attention mainly on the value of Bitcoin, suggesting that its rising price against the US dollar is an indicator of its success qua money. This is nonsense, of course: nothing that experiences this kind of price increase –​even without the volatility –​is going to work well as money. This mentality underwrites the logic of storing money as if it were an asset, not a medium of exchange. Bitcoin was meant to be a form of money that will not lose its value: it was meant to be inflation proof. Technically speaking, as a form of money the danger of Bitcoin, if anything, is not hyperinflation, but hyperdeflation. One of the most eloquent statements of the hoarding problem came



from Sylvio Gesell, who argued that money is ‘an instrument of exchange and nothing else’, whose sole test of usefulness was the ‘degree of security, rapidity and cheapness with which goods are exchanged’. Good money as Gesell understood it should secure, accelerate and cheapen the exchange of goods. By contrast, the introduction of the gold standard to Germany had been a ‘disaster’ because it had ‘over improved’ money, considering it only from the point of view of its holder. Gesell’s proposal was disarmingly simple: make money less attractive to hold on to. Money, he argued, should age, just like commodities. It must go out of date like a newspaper, rot like potatoes, rust like iron and evaporate like ether. Bitcoin fits Gesell’s description of a form of money that has been over-​improved. When it comes to evaluating its potential as money, Bitcoin’s ‘digital metallism’ –​its similarity to gold –​is a huge disadvantage. In other words, the very feature of Bitcoin that renders it attractive as an open and democratic monetary system that is free from asymmetrical power structures –​the software that controls exactly how many Bitcoins will be produced –​undermines its operation as a form of money. Reflecting such concerns, a new variant of Bitcoin is under development which exploits its perceived virtue of disintermediation while specifically seeking to avoid hoarding. This is Freicoin, which is essentially Bitcoin plus demurrage. The new currency is being promoted through the Freicoin Foundation, which is linked to Occupy Wall Street. In any case, the reality of Bitcoin is somewhat different from the ideology which appears to have fueled interest in the new currency. Take the argument about its horizontal structure. Bitcoin has a strong flavor of punk DIY-​ism about it: the idea of rigging up your own machine and creating your own currency. But the argument for its horizontalism is undermined by the way the system incentivizes the most powerful producers of the currency to become even more powerful. Most of Bitcoin mining is carried out through mining pools, which pull together multiple rigs in order to generate a block. Where you might wait years to generate Bitcoin if you operate alone, by joining a pool you stand a good chance of receiving fractions of Bitcoin on a regular basis. Reinforcing the incentives, rewards are scaled:  the rewarded block is split according to processing power. Indeed, it is mathematically possible for one miner (or mining pool) with enormous processing power to monopolize the creation of new coins. If this were to happen, Bitcoin would resemble the most hierarchical monetary system imaginable, indeed it would make most existing monetary systems (wherein money is created through commercial bank lending) look ‘flat’ by comparison. Unsurprising, then, the Bitcoin network has a discernible social structure, which is not altogether different from that which characterizes the mainstream financial system. Bitcoin has its ‘1 per cent’; around 70 people own 30 per cent of all Bitcoins (there are



something like 1 million owners of Bitcoins altogether). This is a fairly high degree of concentration, although admittedly not as great as one finds with, say, ownership of gold. Intriguingly, these asymmetries are openly discussed and debated amongst Bitcoiners themselves. So much for horizontalism, then, but Bitcoin is also characterized by an increasingly sophisticated degree of social organization. Take the case of Emmanuel Abiodun, who has built a massive Bitcoin installation in Iceland –​ where geothermal and hydroelectric energy are plentiful and cheap –​through which he generated more than $4 million worth of Bitcoins between October and December 2013. Abiodun runs a company called Cloud Hashing, which rents out computing power to people who want to mine without buying computers themselves: it costs $999 to rent a very small percentage portion of the company’s computing power for one year. In response to such dynamics, more egalitarian Bitcoin enthusiasts have developed Bitcoin Scrypt (http://​​), which is committed to ‘Mining Decentralization’. This contrast between the dynamics of mining pools (where relative size is rewarded proportionately) versus mining decentralization is ideologically charged. What looks like an apolitical technological network from a distance becomes socially nuanced and politically loaded once one starts looking at who is mining, where, with whom and with what. Calling Bitcoin horizontalist renders it sociologically anaemic, buying into the ideology that it is essentially a machine. On the contrary, there is a strong sense of community around Bitcoin, as reflected in discussion groups, Internet forums and the organizations associated with it. In monetary terms, one could argue that the community around Bitcoin is still an important source of the disembedded trust that characterizes the currency itself. If anything, Bitcoin is not one techno utopia but a myriad of social utopias, because it appeals to a vast range of interests and concerns about the nature of money and, more broadly, its role in society. These, I would suggest, are a crucial factor in what nurtures and sustains Bitcoin, which in this particular sense is a social movement as much as it is a currency. But if Bitcoin is a social movement, what are its aims? Bitcoin could be seen as something of a protest currency. As suggested earlier, Bitcoin attracts many supporters because of dual disintermediation –​it separates money from both banks and states. This resonates with two major axes of political debate about the relationship between finance and the state: one is quite obvious, the other somewhat less so. First, it seems obvious that much of Bitcoin’s impact is due to the 2008 financial crisis. Public interest in Bitcoin resonates with debates about the nature of money and banking triggered by the 2008 crisis. For all their political diversity, Bitcoiners seem to unite around the common view that there are major problems with our existing



monetary system, which require radical solutions, not piecemeal reform. This is the political conversation that sustains Bitcoin. Bitcoin therefore feeds on the same vein of discontentment as Positive Money in the United Kingdom, which argues that banks should be deprived of their right to create money through lending. Much of this is related to the problematization of debt, too. Like supporters of Positive Money –​and like goldbugs –​Bitcoin appeals to those who regard debt as problematic (morally, economically and politically). Bitcoiners are not simply opposed to banks, though –​many of them have major issues with the state, too. Arguably, this is Bitcoin’s biggest source of public notoriety, fueled by Silk Road, the website through which one could buy drugs and pornography free from state regulation. This, I think, explains Bitcoin’s appeal in a post-​2001 world. Bitcoin could almost be a mirror image of the state’s increasing post-​9/​11 use of the mainstream financial system for security purposes. Bitcoin has attracted a barrage of criticism from a sometimes hysterical media. This criticism is usually advanced on two fronts. The first concerns Bitcoin’s connections with crime. For example, the Financial Times  –​which has regularly published articles critical of Bitcoin  –​characterizes Bitcoin as ‘the perfect monetary instrument for an anonymous community which had a mutual interest in maintaining anonymity as well as an alternative underground store of value’, while Wired magazine describes Bitcoin as ‘an alarming haven for money laundering and other criminal activity’. Likewise, the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper depicts Bitcoin as ‘a shadow economy that connects students, drug dealers, gamblers, dictators and anyone else who wants to pay for something without being traced’. Such comments are typical of the politics that have grown up around Bitcoin. Technological artifacts cannot simply enact organizational forms on their own. Human, social and political factors inevitably emerge as those who interact with and use these artifacts both shape and are shaped by their practical use. In Bitcoin’s case, there is a close analogy between the underlying view of money as a ‘thing’ and the notion that technology is capable of shaping a social system –​in this instance, money –​all by itself, free from human intervention. Arguably, it was faith in technological solutions to information problems in the economy that enabled people to believe that credit risk could be managed through securitization. This was blind trust. Collateralized debt obligations, like Bitcoin, were underpinned by a trust in numbers that few people who used them actually understood. The idea behind Bitcoin is premised on denying what I believe is Simmel’s most important insight into the social life of money: by treating money as a thing, not a process. Alternative monies typically involve two kinds of monetary disintermediation of money: from banks, and from the state. While some aim only for one of these, Bitcoin aims at both. But as I have argued here, there is a fundamental



and widespread confusion in relation to Bitcoin concerning its relationship to a third form of the mediation of money, namely, society or social life. This is because Bitcoin’s ideology is about severing the relationship between money and trust. This is the paradox at the heart of the Bitcoin phenomenon: it will succeed as money to the extent that it fails as an ideology. The currency relies on that which the ideology underpinning it seeks to deny, namely, the dependence of money on social relations and on trust. Insofar as Bitcoin has been ‘successful’, it is because of the community that has grown up around it. Ironically, however, this community is sustained by the commonly held belief that Bitcoin has replaced social relations –​the trust on which all forms of money depend –​ with machine code. This belief is a fiction. Bitcoin has thrived despite, not because of, its reliance on machines. If ever there was a form of money that validates Simmel’s description of money as a claim upon society, it is Bitcoin, the very currency that was set up in denial of that conception.

Conclusion Where does my analysis leave Bitcoin, and where does it leave Simmel? I have suggested that Bitcoin is currently being sustained by sociological features that are directly at odds with the political ideology and the theory of money that underpin it. These include leadership, social organization, social structure, sociality, utopianism and trust. None of these necessarily means that it will work as money:  hard-​headed analysis suggests that the Bitcoin has far less chance of succeeding as money than the block-​chain technology, which will be (and is being) adapted for other purposes, such as Mastercoin and Ethereum, which are essentially smart contracts. Bitcoin is not an asocial monetary form, but a utopia that is sustained by social practices, and which possesses a social structure. For these reasons, this seems as good a time as any for reading The Philosophy of Money. Simmel captures the energy of the social life that necessarily underwrites money, and here I  think it is worth emphasizing that the sociological literature has not always done him justice. While we are used to reading accounts of Simmel arguing that money is a socially corrosive force, what we see much less of in the secondary literature is an appreciation of his more positive descriptions of money as what he calls a ‘flower of culture’. This points to something in Simmel’s treatment of money that is perhaps more valuable now, as we re-​enter the age of monetary pluralism, than it was throughout the era of state monopoly on currency. That is to say, he grasped better than many theorists the contradictory sides of money. One of the most remarkable things about money is that it is capable of arousing contrasting thoughts and feelings –​fear and excitement, loathing and desire, disgust and awe –​just as



it is capable of bringing about contradictory effects in the social world. But these are not contradictions in our understanding of money that need to be ironed out by ‘good theory’. They are different sides of money that co-​exist simultaneously, enabling us to enjoy a relationship with it that is as rich and rewarding as it is damaging and problematic. Simmel captured the contradictory sides of money rather well, for example when he understood that even the most advanced form of ‘virtual’ money  –​such as Bitcoin  –​will retain important traces of substantivism in its underlying value structure, as subjective and mistaken as these might be. Likewise, he sought to capture different sides of money’s utopianism  –​for example, its ability both to corrode and nurture social relations –​much as we are seeing in the case of Bitcoin. For these reasons, perhaps Simmel would have been less surprised than most to discover that Bitcoin manifests forms of sociality and creativity that are crucial to money’s nature as a process.

References Bank for International Settlements (2014) Triennial Bank Survey:  Global Foreign Exchange Market Turnover in 2013 (Basel: BIS –​available at​publ/​rpfxf13fxt.pdf). See historical data at​statistics/​about_​derivatives_​stats.htm. Beck, U. 2007. ‘Beyond Class and Nation: Reframing Social Inequalities in a Globalizing World’. British Journal of Sociology 58(4): 679–​705. Chernilo, D. 2006. ‘Social Theory’s Methodological Nationalism:  Myth and Reality’. European Journal of Social Theory, 9(1): 5–​22. Chinese Foreign State Administration of Foreign Exchange. See historical balance of payments data for China at​wps/​portal/​english/​Data/​Payments. Dodd, N. 2005a. ‘Laundering “Money”: On the Need for Conceptual Clarity within the Sociology of Money’. European Journal of Sociology 46(3): 387–​411. ——2005b. ‘Reinventing Monies in Europe’. Economy and Society 34(4): 558–​83. ——2007. ‘On Simmel’s Pure Concept of Money: A Response to Ingham’. European Journal of Sociology 48(2): 273–​94. ——2011. ‘ “Strange Money”: Risk, Finance and Socialized Debt’. The British Journal of Sociology 62(1): 175–​94. ——2012. ‘Simmel’s Perfect Money:  Fiction, Socialism and Utopia in The Philosophy of Money’. Theory, Culture & Society 29(7/​8): 146–​76. ——2014. The Social Life of Money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Faist, T. 2000. The Volume and Dynamics of International Migration and Transnational Social Spaces. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fisher, I. 1935. 100% Money: Designed to Keep Checking Banks 100% Liquid; to Prevent Inflation and Deflation; Largely to Cure or Prevent Depressions; and to Wipe Out Much of the National Debt. New York: The Adelphi Company. ——1936. ‘100% Money and the Public Debt’. Economic Forum, April–​June: 406–​20. Gesell, S. 2007. The Natural Economic Order. Frankston, TX: TGS Publishers. Graeber, D. 2013. The Democracy Project: A History. A Crisis. A Movement, London, Penguin. Hart, K. 2001. Money in an Unequal World, New York/​London: Texere.



Ingham, G. 2004. The Nature of Money. Cambridge: Polity Press. Johnson, S. and J. Kwak. 2010. 13 Bankers:  The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown. New York: Pantheon. Keynes J. M. 1976. A Treatise on Money. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Knapp, G. F. 1924. The State Theory of Money. London: Macmillan. Krippner, G.  R. 2005. ‘The Financialization of the American Economy’. Socio-​economic Review 3: 173–​208. ——2011. Capitalizing on Crisis:  The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press. Mason, P. 2012. Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions. London: Verso. Maurer, B., Nelms, T. C. and Swartz, L. 2013. ‘ “When Perhaps the Real Problem Is Money Itself !”: The Practical Materiality of Bitcoin’. Social Semiotics 23(2): 261–​77. McNally, D. 2010. Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance. Oakland, CA: PM Press. Nakamoto, S. 2008. ‘Bitcoin: A Peer-​to-​Peer Electronic Cash System’.​bitcoin. pdf, accessed March 29, 2014. Nowicka, M. and Cieslik, A. 2014. ‘Beyond Methodological Nationalism in Insider Research with Migrants’. Migration Studies 2(1): 1–​15. Nsouli, S. M. 2006. ‘Petrodollar Recycling and Global Imbalances’, IMF Speech, CESifo International Spring Conference, Berlin, March 23–​4, 2006,​external/​ np/​speeches/​2006/​032306a.htm (last accessed July 26, 2010). Pyyhtinen, O. 2010. Simmel and ‘the Social’. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. Rajan, R. 2005. ‘Remarks on Global Current Account Imbalances and Financial Sector Reform with Examples from China’, Speech at Cato Institute, Washington, DC, November 3, 2005,​external/​np/​speeches/​2005/​110305b.htm (last accessed July 27, 2010). Scott, B. 2013. The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance:  Hacking the Future of Money. London: Pluto Press. Simmel, G. 2004. The Philosophy of Money: Third Enlarged Edition. London, Routledge. ——2009. Sociology: Inquiries into the Construction of Social Forms. Leiden, Germany, Brill. ——2011. The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Strange, S. 1986. Casino Capitalism. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ——1994. States and Markets. London/​New York: Continuum. ——1998. Mad Money. Manchester: Manchester University Press. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. See historical data at​iTable/​index_​ industry_​gdpIndy.cfm. Urry, J. 2000. Sociology Beyond Societies: Motilities for the Twenty-​First Century. London: Routledge. Weber M. 1978. Economy and Society. Berkeley/​Los Angeles: University of California Press. Wray, R. 2004. ‘Conclusion: The Credit Money and State Money Approaches.” Credit and State Theories of Money: The Contributions of A. Mitchell Innes, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing: 223–​62.


Introduction: Simmel in the Shadow of Darwin In the second half of the nineteenth century, the natural and social sciences seemed to be on the verge of finding a new relationship to one another. Charles Darwin would famously signal this shifting accommodation in terms of the intimate affinity of evolution and economics in his Introduction to the first edition of On the Origin of Species (1859): ‘[T]‌he Struggle for Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the world, which inevitably follows from their high geometrical powers of increase […] is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms’ (Darwin 2003, 97). Darwin’s inspiration from Thomas Malthus’ Essay on Population (1798) suggests that evolutionary biology can largely be conceived in economic, historical and sociological terms, insofar as both nature and society are treated as processes of conservation, growth, conflict and survival. Economic thought had already defined itself in terms of natural processes, such as the concern for how circular rhythms of the seasons, the physical needs of humans or the organic composition of the land may determine the circulation of goods or the value of profits, wages and rents. As Margaret Schabas points out, up to the nineteenth century ‘not only were economic phenomena understood mostly by drawing analogies with natural phenomena, but they were also viewed as contiguous with physical nature. Economic discourse was […] considered to be part of natural philosophy and not, as we would now deem it, a social or human An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the ‘Neoliberalism, Crisis and the World System Conference’ in July 2012 at the University of York. I  am especially grateful to Nicholas Gane for his perceptive comments on this chapter, and especially for his suggestions in developing the ideas I discuss in the second part. I also want to thank Misagh (Mo) Ismailzai for his intellectual and computer skills in helping me get Figure 7.1 into shape.



science’ (Schabas 2006, 2). J. S. Mill’s Principles of Political Economy (published in multiple editions between 1848 and 1871) appears to mark the turning point in which economic science, understood as the moral and psychological knowledge of social and institutional relations, is separated from the physical knowledge of the biological and climatological conditions of nations. Henceforth, natural philosophy (including evolutionary biology) would advance by adopting the vocabulary of economics while economics (including classical political economy) would become increasingly ‘denaturalized’ by developing its own methods of sociological analysis. In this chapter, I situate Georg Simmel’s career-​long concern with the forms of association (Vergesellschaftung) and the life of interaction (Wechselwirkung) within the shift from classical economic science to its sociological and philosophical successors. Simmel’s ideas emerged in a period when sociology began to distinguish itself as a social science from political economy and philosophy, but in the shadow of biology and the physical sciences. Following Nikolas Rose, we can locate Simmel’s attempt to come to terms first with Darwinism and later with vitalism within the general theoretical and methodological currents of the turn of the century, in which ‘life itself ’ becomes an empirical, political and philosophical problem: From birth, sociology has been haunted by biology. Across the 19th century there was a double move –​on the one hand, attempts to differentiate the sciences of the moral or social order from the strictly biological –​to argue that the laws of association among human beings were ‘sui generis’. And, on the other, to model sociology on biology, to think of the social order as in some way or other analogous to the biological realm, which structures, functions, organic connections between parts, subject to laws of development that could be described in the language of evolution, and having a potential only possible for living entities: to be normal or pathological, healthy or sick. (Rose 2013, 8)

Writing towards the end of this early phase, Simmel would take up the diagnostic aim of sociology in detecting the symptoms and tracing the sources of what ails social life as a whole, or any of its parts. Nevertheless, he insisted that sociology cannot provide prescriptions for intervening in, criteria for condemning or condoning, or plans for engineering any aspect of the social world. In a book review written in 1897 on the new science of social medicine, he notes that human cultural development is analogous to a history of floods. But where technical knowledge of dykes, dams, fortifications and defences may assist individuals in defending themselves against future disasters, social science can only treat the link between public measures and personal protection analytically in terms of how a system relates to its parts or environment

Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism


(Simmel 1969, 332). Generally speaking, Simmel stresses social and cultural dynamics not as a way of disregarding their natural and physical dimensions; rather, his concern is to understand the biosocial flux and flow of human existence. Where Simmel (1991, 15) once stated that ‘between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche lies Darwin’, we might locate Simmel himself between Nietzsche and Weber, or more generally at the intersection of a philosophical concern with the conditions of knowledge and a sociological focus on relations of power. In short, Simmel’s ideas are expressed not just as a life-​philosophy (Lebensphilosophie), but also as a sociology of life (Lebenssoziologie) (Lash 2005). Characterizing Simmel’s larger project in this way raises the question of whether he takes up the liberalism of the preceding generation of social thinkers in a new direction or even anticipates the neoliberal premises of later social scientists. Nicholas Gane (2014) has recently examined the general features of this question by exposing the gap in Michel Foucault’s 1978–​9 lectures at the Collège de France, The Birth of Biopolitics, which focus on the rise of neoliberalism in the middle of the twentieth century with respect to the ordoliberalism of the Freiberg intellectuals and the new liberalism of the Chicago economists. Noting that Foucault largely skips over the social sciences and state policies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Gane considers how the early work of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek opened up a new ‘fracture line’ in the discourses of classical liberalism. The essays collected in Hayek’s Individualism and the Social Order (1948), for example, criticize the emerging consensus that centralized planning would be able to coordinate complex economic transactions, despite the need for some governmental controls to sustain growth and prosperity through competition:  ‘Liberalism [is] a policy which deliberately adopts competition, the market, and prices as its ordering principle and uses the legal framework by the state in order to make competition as beneficial as possible’ (Hayek 1948, 110). Writing in an earlier period, Simmel considers money and competition as the driving mechanisms of a modern society, the former as a medium for channelling the fluctuation of prices and values on the market, and the latter as a means for moderating the conflict between capital and labour. Rather than examine whether the legal framework of the state might serve as an inhibiting or stimulating force, Simmel emphasizes the vitality and volatility of modern life, but in a way that undermines the assumption that money and competition are natural facts rather than unpredictable cultural factors that we can at least partially control.

Association and Differentiation in the Money Economy Simmel’s first major work, Über soziale Differenzierung: soziologische und psychologische Untersuchungen (On Social Differentiation: Sociological and Psychological Inquiries) (1890),



sketches out some of the major concerns that would occupy him throughout his career: the epistemology of the social sciences, the intersection of social spheres and the relationship between expansion of groups and the development of individuality (­chapters  1, 3 and 5 respectively). ‘Differentiation’ is thus a framework for understanding the dynamics of struggle and stability, conformity and distinction, as well as a slogan expressing the need for the social sciences to demarcate their own methods of investigation and objects of research. Somewhat vaguely, he defines ‘society’ simply as ‘the synthesis or the general term for the sum of […] specific interactions [Wechselwirkungen]’, and further as a series of interactions of groups and as a set of collectives and constellations of individuals that recur with a certain frequency, durability and typicality (GSG 2, 131–​2; see also Philosophy of Money, Simmel 1990, 175). More precisely, the centripetal tendency for an individual member to go beyond the spatial, economic or intellectual boundaries of the group by turning inward may emerge in combination with the centrifugal tendency among individuals to turn outward by building bridges to other groups (GSG 2, 128; Helle 2008, 46). From either perspective, the flux and flow of the components of social and individual life tend to find some degree of stability and structure in forms that outlast them: One can perhaps perceive the limit of social being as such to be at the point where the interaction of individuals amongst themselves does not only manifest itself in a subjective state, but creates an objective form which possesses a certain independence from the individuals partaking in it; in other words, where there has been a unification or integration of which the form remains even when individual members leave and new members join. (GSG 2, 128; Helle 2008, 16)

To adopt a musical metaphor that recalls his doctoral research on yodelling (Simmel 1968), ‘differentiation’ is the keynote that shapes the melodies, harmonies and dissonances that make up the lasting leitmotifs of association (Vergesellschaftung) and interaction (Wechselwirkung), as well as the enduring overtones that resonate beyond them. In contrast to his concern with these classic sociological questions, the discussions in On Social Differentiation that address collective responsibility, the social level of groups and individuals and the conservation of energy (­chapters 2, 4 and 6 respectively) are more markedly rooted in ideological and intellectual debates of the late nineteenth century: over status versus contract, individualism versus collectivism and socialism versus free markets. The last chapter in particular, ‘Differentiation and the Principle of Saving Energy’, discusses the evolutionary advantage of social differentiation through the economization of means and ends, the reduction of friction and the functional specialization of

Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism


the division of labour: ‘All culture aspires not only to harness more and more natural energy to our ends, but also to achieve all such ends in ways that save more and more energy’ (Simmel 1976, 111). Saving energy thus produces contradictory consequences for the one-​sided expansion of the group on one hand, and the many-​sided development of the individual on the other. Among the examples from the economic realm that he considers is the division of labour that emerges when the quantitative increase in physical work is differentiated and integrated into mental work at a higher level. Another set of examples concerns the phenomenon of competition, which may be resolved either by the outward differentiation of the whole (through the specialization of the individual) or the inward differentiation of the parts (the refashioning of a multidimensional self) (Simmel 1976, 116, 119). Understood in general terms as an expression for how either equilibrium or change is attained through the interactions between latent and manifest differentiations between individuals acting simultaneously and in succession, the principle of saving energy is epitomized in the exchange of money: ‘The differentiation of economic life in general is the origin of money, and for the individual its ownership is the opportunity for any economic differentiation’ (1976, 136). Even the conflict between capital and labour must initially be understood as the manifestation of a certain combination or stage in the process of differentiation, since it designates both an objective structure of productive relationships and the subjective experience of contrasting class positions. Simmel’s emphasis throughout on natural energy indicates how this principle should be understood to account for both sociological and physiological processes. Despite their idiosyncratic character, Simmel’s writings in the 1890s can be read in part as a response to the challenge of Darwin’s influence on the subsequent generation of social scientists. Darwin himself seemed to invite sociological ruminations on his work by opening the Origin not with an investigation of natural selection in the plant and animal kingdoms, but rather with a chapter on the analogous case of artificial selection by human means, with a focus on the ‘variation under domestication’ produced by intensive breeding over generations of the rock-​pigeon (Columba livia). By considering human intervention into biological processes, Darwin seems to suggest that evolution may be biosocially induced as well. These concerns with human culture as an agent in natural evolution may be detected in a number of social scientific works published in the 1890s, beginning with Alfred Marshall’s influential Principles of Economics (1890), which envisions supply and demand as tied to yet relatively independent of the development of natural needs (Schabas 2006, 143–​ 8). In a similar vein, Gabriel Tarde’s Laws of Imitation (1890) and Monadology and Sociology (1893) present evolutionary patterns of invention, imitation and opposition as aspects of both physical and social reality, including the unruly



vitalism of individuals and the impulsive dynamism of crowds (Borch 2010). Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Women and Economics (1898) draws elaborate analogies between natural facts, such as horse-​training, and social arrangements, such as household production and consumption, in order to emphasize the unnatural, pathological and counter-​ evolutionary character of women’s dependence on men. Emile Durkheim’s book On the Division of Social Labour (1893) likewise famously characterizes the development of modern economic, legal and moral order in naturalistic terms as ‘organic solidarity’. In The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) Thorstein Veblen speculates that predatory impulses and industrial instincts vie for supremacy through a process of ‘natural selection’ of institutions in an attempt to establish economics as an ‘evolutionary science’ of developmental processes and unfolding sequences (Veblen 1948 [1898]). Finally, even Max Weber’s lesser known Börsenschriften (Writings on the Stock and Commodity Exchanges) (1894–​7) present the bourse as a kind of spider’s web or beehive, partly as a way of emphasizing through naturalistic rhetoric that markets cannot easily be manipulated or simply eradicated (Weber 2000, 321, 341). Weber’s expert advice to a government committee on the new laws regulating the stock exchange thus steers away from both moral-​ethical arguments to eliminate the bourse entirely and ideological-​dogmatic arguments to reform them in the interests of banks and clients, instead stressing the political-​pragmatic need for governmental regulation of national economic life (Meyer-​Stoll and Kemple 2003, 191–​3). To varying degrees, each of these early texts of classical sociology leaves open the question whether social life is itself a natural process that may nevertheless be susceptible to some form of human and political intervention. Perhaps the classic writer who can be credited most with conveying the influence of evolutionary biology on the social sciences, and on Simmel in particular (Frisby 1992, 7–​8, 26–​7) is Herbert Spencer, whose Principles of Sociology was published in several volumes from 1876 to 1896. Ironically, Darwin made more extensive use of Spencer’s characterization of the Origin in terms of ‘the survival of the fittest’ than Spencer did of Darwin’s ideas on species change or natural selection, and so it is more accurate to call Darwin a ‘biological Spencerian’ than Spencer a ‘social Darwinist’ (Francis 2007, 2; Shapin 2007, 76). In any case, Spencer views sociology as a natural science insofar ‘society is a growth, not a manufacture’, indeed, a ‘superorganic’ life-​ form that evolves from ‘incoherent homogeneity to coherent heterogeneity’ as it increases in mass, complexity, interdependency and longevity (Spencer 1972, 71). His emphasis on form and symmetry in plants and animals suggests an evolutionary scheme consisting of clusters of organisms, rather than in the form of branching trees and the struggle for survival. For Spencer, development is explained by an unstable and ‘moving equilibrium’ by which species

Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism


respond to energy and motion in the environment (Francis 2007, 252). By adapting the concept-​metaphors of organization and development from the biological sciences, Spencer works out a procedure for classifying societies into types of social cohesion (Turner 1993, 28). Where mechanisms of defence and immunity characterize ‘militant societies’ at the primitive end of the evolutionary spectrum, the regulation and control of life define ‘industrial societies’ at the modern end (Spencer 1972, 165). These types and tendencies may nevertheless exist in combination and to varying degrees in any given case: just as war can be a progressive force in the development of industry, science and the arts, so can industry (or even today’s military-​industrial state) induce a regressive movement towards stagnation, compulsive self-​preservation and wasteful conflict. Despite the persistence of these competing forces, Spencer holds on to a certain ‘relative optimism’ that the outcome of social evolution will be the attainment of an ideal social state, where each individual works in order to live rather than lives in order to work (Spencer 1972, 165). Although Simmel rejected Spencer’s tendency to naturalize society as a hypostatic reality existing and evolving apart from its individual parts, he generalized and radicalized what might be called Spencer’s principle of differentiation as the foundation of modern social science. Where Spencer hesitated before the Unknown beyond the social organism and its individual parts, as W. E. B. Du Bois (2000) would remark in an essay from 1905, Simmel takes individuals and their relationships as both his end and starting points. And where Simmel would not have shared the anti-​individualist and corporatist strains of Spencer’s Victorian liberalism (Francis 2007, 8, 13, 258), like Spencer he veered away from both individualism and collectivism while viewing ‘individuation’ as an expression of singularity and authenticity, rather than simply as a form of aggression and domination. As Spencer argued to an astonished audience of industrialists and merchants who invited him to give a lecture tour in the United States in 1882, rather than defending laissez-​faire in all spheres, ‘governmental action should be extended and elaborated […] in the maintenance of equitable relations among citizens’ (in Francis 2007, 103, 105). To be sure, his notorious pamphlet The Man versus the State published two years later and his 1891 essay ‘From Freedom to Bondage’ stress that socialism represents a regression from a state of free association and contract to a barbaric state of status privilege, self-​assertion and disciplinary social control: For as fast as the regime of contract is discarded the regime of status is necessarily adopted. As fast as voluntary cooperation is abandoned compulsory cooperation must be substituted. Some kind of organization labour must have; and if it is not that which arises by agreement under free competition, it must be that which is imposed by authority. (Spencer 1981, 498)



Even as Spencer campaigns against poverty relief, worker education and other social welfare programs on the grounds that they corrupt morals, compromise fitness and lead to the militarization of social life, he also advocates for a progressive death tax, the nationalization of land and free legal aid. An end to the predatory and destructive activities of violence and war cannot be brought about through democratic reform; rather, only the promotion of individual expression and happiness through collaborative efforts of pacification and self-​cultivation can put an end to the gospel of perpetual labour and learning and announce the beginning of the age of cooperation and relaxation. To a significant degree, these practical and theoretical preoccupations define the milieu and the motivation for Simmel’s Philosophy of Money, first published in 1900 then revised and augmented in 1907. This masterpiece radicalizes and broadens his concern with the sociological and psychological dynamics of differentiation while elaborating on the metaphysical and material foundations of the money economy. As he argues on the opening pages, insofar as we are not satisfied with the place of equality and uniformity that things occupy under ‘the law of nature’, we arrange them in ‘the order of value’, that is, in a hierarchical series where the higher qualities of a lower level are adjacent to the lower qualities in a higher level: ‘The value of objects, thoughts, and events can never be inferred from their mere natural existence and content, and their ranking according to value diverges widely from their natural ordering’ (Simmel 1990, 59). For example, the natural impulses that propel economic life  –​utility and scarcity, desire and demand, greed and extravagance, and so on –​must to some extent be released from physiological conditions in order to circulate in the cultural spheres mediated by money. Likewise, the metabolic process of work may be broken down into its subjective and objective, material and metaphysical components insofar as they are absorbed by the logic of the market: ‘The process by which labour becomes a commodity is thus only one side of the far-​reaching process of differentiation by which specific contents of the personality are detached […] as objects with an independent character and dynamic’ (1990, 456). In the money economy, all things and actions in principle can be converted into (exchange-​) value, that is, integrated into the cash nexus. From this perspective, they tend to be viewed as mere means to an end and subsumed into a ‘teleological nexus’ that comes to resemble the coherence and causal connections of the natural cosmos: ‘This web is heated together by the all-​pervasive money value, just as nature is held together by the energy that gives life to everything’ (Simmel 1990, 431). Through this process of coinage and combination, of exchange and valuation, the market itself takes on the appearance of a natural fact, infinite and unalterable, dynamic and all-​embracing: ‘Money is the symbol in the

Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism


empirical world of the inconceivable unity of being, out of which the world, in all its breadth, diversity, energy and reality flows’ (Simmel 1990, 497). As a way of summarizing and simplifying these perspectives on the natural and social forces that drive the modern world, in Figure 1 I juxtapose the core arguments of Spencer’s Principles of Sociology and Simmel’s Philosophy of Money in the form of a couple pages from what might be fancifully called the ‘dream-​book of (neo)liberal thought’. Where Spencer tends to stress the evolutionary process by which the social and individual organism develops through its interaction with the environment, Simmel transposes these bio-​ physical dynamics onto the sociocultural plane where collective and individual life undergoes a process of differentiation and association. The difference between these thinkers is less epistemological or ontological than a matter of perspective and emphasis. By presenting these complementary viewpoints as pages in a book, I want to highlight how their relationship can be understood in terms of folding and doubling, binding and propping (Bindung und Anlehnung), rather than as a mere spatial juxtaposition or temporal sequence (Laplanche 1976, 95). In this respect I borrow playfully from the economic model of the psyche that Sigmund Freud was experimenting with during this period, from his unpublished Project for a Scientific Psychology (1895) to his masterpiece The Interpretation of Dreams (1900, with additions and revisions up to 1930). Considered as a metaphorical model of writing and reading rather than simply as a naturalistic description of the psychology of consciousness and memory, the Project is Freud’s attempt to provide a neurological foundation for psychology. His aim is to account for how the fraying (Bahnung) of nerves sets the scene for a psychic economy of deferral and retention, repetition and reserve, above all through ‘an incessant and increasingly radical invocation of the principle of difference’ (Derrida 1981, 84). In The Interpretation of Dreams these spatial and temporal processes are refined and specified with a focus on the dreamwork (Traumarbeit), which Freud understands largely in textual terms as the interplay of elucidation and inscription (Freud 1985, 416). Taking Freud’s scientific breakthrough of 1900 as our standpoint, we might say that ‘the denaturalization of the social sciences’, or the shift from biology to sociology (and psychology) initiated by Spencer and accelerated through Simmel, is taken up through a movement of displacement and condensation (Verschiebung und Verdichtung). The figure of the ‘dreambook’ is thus intended to depict the aspirational character of these intellectual movements, or rather, the extent to which they centre on figures of wish-​fulfilment. For example, where the cover image of Spencer’s System of Philosophy (the larger project that includes the Principles) envisions the flight of a butterfly from a plant, itself rooted in inorganic crystals, Simmel’s Philosophy of Money imagines how even the mineral properties of money take on the dynamic characteristics of a living organism.


THE ANTHEM COMPANION TO GEORG SIMMEL Nature (bio-physical plane)

Culture (socio-cultural plane)

organism + environment = evoluon (cohesion)



‘The contrast between the indus trial type and the type [of s ocial cohesion] likely to be evolved from it, is indicated by t he inversion of the belief that life is for work into the belief that work is for life.’ Spencer , Principles of Sociology (1876–1896/ 1972: 165)

(n e e ds

a nd



i nsti n c ts ) ( b i n d i n g

interacon = associaon (differenaon)

‘Since money measures all objects with merciless objectivity, and since its standard of va lue so measured determines their relationship, a web of obj ective and pe rsonal aspects of life emerges which […] i s held together by t he all-pervasive money value, just as nature is held together by the energy that gives life to everything.’ Simme l, Philosophy of Mone y (1900–1907/ 1990: 431).

(d e sir e s a n d

an d

d r iv es )

p r o p p i n g )

‘In the dream-work a psychical force is opera ng which, on the one hand, strips the elements which have a high psychical value of their intensity, and on the other hand, by means of overdeterminaon, creates from elements of low psychical value new values, which aerwards find their way into the dream-content. […] Dream-displacement and dream-condensaon are the two governing factors [in] the form assumed by dreams.’ Freud, The Interpretaon of Dreams (1900–1930/1985: 416)

Figure 7.1  The Dreambook of (Neo)liberalism ca. 1900

In each case, the shuffling back and forth between the natural order and the social order advances through the consolidation of objects of study on one side, and the transposition of methods and theories between fields of scientific investigation on the other.

The Sociology of Competition and Conflict Revisited Before returning to consider the implications of this imagery for later thinkers writing in this tradition, I  want to trace the ‘vitalist’ direction Simmel’s work assumes after the The Philosophy of Money, especially from Sociology (1908) to The View of Life (1918). In the opening lines of Sociology, Simmel takes up Darwin’s theme of ‘the struggle for existence against nature and in competition between people’ at a higher level, noting that knowledge in modern societies is no longer simply a weapon of defence and protection, but also a goal in itself (Simmel 2009, 19). The ‘problem of sociology’ –​in the double sense of an object of investigation and a subject of concern –​is to understand how drives, impulses, purposes, interests, predispositions and motivations become ‘the content, the stuff, so to speak, of social interaction’ (2009, 23). Taking this problem as his starting point, he is suspicious of the vagueness and uncertainty of the concept of ‘society’, especially when it is hypostasized as a pure abstraction, an independent historical reality or a unitary phenomenon. Sociology must focus instead on the flux of events (Geschehen), reciprocal effects

Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism


(Wechselwirkungen) and forms of association (Vergesellschaftungsformen), just as biology advances by investigating the organization of life in specific activities and processes between organs and cells: ‘Only inasmuch as the discrete processes inside organisms, whose summation or interweaving life is, were analyzed […] did the life sciences acquire a firm foundation’ (2009, 27). Likewise, the social sciences can only progress when they move beyond the reifying abstractions and grand narratives of their founders (Comte and Spencer) and inquire into the microdynamics of social life in all its fluctuation and fixity, its ‘wonderful unbearableness’ (2009, 34). Already in an earlier version the introductory chapter of Sociology from 1895, Simmel highlights the phenomenon of competition (Konkurrenz) as a primordial form of association that can be analytically separated from its contents. Although political economy and the historical sciences have treated various cases of competition, they have not made ‘the formation and importance of competition, treated purely as a reciprocal action among people, a special subject of investigation’ (Simmel 1994, 33). By contrast, the new science of sociology is in a position to address this larger phenomenon by showing how the form of competition is observable in any number of its empirical contents, including industry, commerce, politics, love, families, sports and intellectual life. In an essay on ‘The Sociology of Competition’ from 1903 (2008), later incorporated into and expanded on in Chapter 4 of Sociology on ‘Conflict’, Simmel (1990, 258–​79) defines competition more precisely as a form of struggle between opponents, often to the benefit of or by excluding a third, and thus as a force of socialization and evolution. Insofar as competition can be understood as an indirect form of conflict in which opponents strive for the same goal, it is productive of both objective values and subjective satisfactions (Simmel 2008, 960; 2009, 260). At an advanced stage of social evolution, competitive rivalries may tend towards either individualism or collectivism when the particularistic aspect of fighting increasingly takes on an impersonal character in modern societies (2008, 977–​8; 2009, 278–​279n23): ‘It is a matter here of stages of development in which the absolute competition of the animalistic struggle for existence turns into relative competition, i.e. in which all those frictions and paralyzing of forces alike that are not needed for the purposes of competition are gradually eliminated’ (2009, 272). To the extent that a modern society is ruled by legal and monetary systems, its competitive ethos becomes increasingly indifferent to subjective considerations and aloof from personal concerns. At the same time, the field of competition provides individuals with a forum in which to perform harsh deeds or even violent acts, but with the conviction that they have no evil intentions. In the expanded version of the 1903 essay later included in Sociology, these reflections on the specific form and nature of modern competition are placed



within the broader framework of conflict or antagonism (Streit) more generally: ‘As the cosmos needs “love and hate”, attractive and repulsive forces, in order to have a form, so society also needs some quantitative ratio of harmony and disharmony, association and competition, good will and ill will, in order to arrive at a specific formation’ (Simmel 2009, 228). Simmel (2009, 262) treats competition in modern societies as a relatively pacified or civilized form of rivalry and war, while violent divisions and animosities, or disputes and disagreements, may stem from primitive impulses of greed, envy, ambition and resentment. And yet these drives may find more civilized expression as ‘a conflict of all for all’, and thus provide a basis for compromise, reconciliation, concession or solidarity. This argument is given its most sublimated expression in ‘The Conflict in Modern Culture’, a lecture Simmel delivered in 1918 at the height of the First World War. Here the displacement of the struggle of nature onto the conflict of culture is described as a gradual process of maturation and development: ‘As soon as life progresses beyond the purely biological level to the level of mind, and mind in turn progresses to the level of culture, an inner conflict appears. The entire evolution of culture consists in the growth, reemergence, and resolution of this conflict’ (Simmel 1997, 75). At the turn of twentieth century, he argues, a certain concept of life became the focal point of the sciences, and of culture in its moral, artistic, psychological and even metaphysical dimensions: ‘For the essence of life is intensification, increase, growth of plenitude and power, strength and beauty from within itself  –​in relation not to any definable goal but purely to its own development’ (Simmel 1997, 77). As Olli Pyyhtinen (2010, 54–​60) points out, in Fundamental Problems of Sociology (1917) and The View of Life (1918) Simmel develops his own dual concept of life both as pre-​individual flux, dynamic becoming or process of actualization (Mehr-​Leben) and as a form of interacting forces exhibiting varying degrees of stability, fixity or objectivity (Mehr-​als-​Leben). From the historical perspective of the late eighteenth century, the tension between these aspects of life was typically expressed in political terms as the antinomy between individual freedom and social inequality, and in philosophical terms in the debate between philosophical idealism and natural law. In the nineteenth century, this conflict took the social and intellectual form of a mutual antagonism between the incomparable uniqueness of the individual law based on the doctrine of free competition and the equalizing force of general welfare and its division of labour. Thus, just as in the eighteenth century the quantitative individualism of singleness (Einzelheit) was succeeded in the nineteenth century by the qualitative individualism of uniqueness (Einzigkeit), so is each potentially superseded by the twentieth-​century individualism of singularity (Einzigartigkeit) and even a sense of what is irreplaceably one’s own (Eigenheit), each a sublimation

Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism


of the concrete forms of economic production and exchange of the period (Pyyhtinen 2010, 152–​4; Simmel 1950, 81–​3). Without fully elaborating on this point, Simmel implies that singularities emerge from a process of differentiation and from the flux of vital becoming, each following its own ‘individual law’ rather than simply the laws of the market, society or nature. Simmel’s focus on life as the central concept of modern thought in the early decades of the twentieth century is arguably reflected in the development of the social sciences out of their early preoccupations with evolutionary biology, as I have discussed earlier, as a kind of revisiting or redux of these debates. Veblen’s Theory of Business Enterprise (1904), for example, expands on and qualifies the evolutionary scheme presented in his earlier work by drawing attention to the institutional and commercial aspects of economic growth and efficiency, while his Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts (1914) stresses the impulse to work and produce over the primitive drives of predation and emulation. Gilman also takes a cultural turn in The Home: Its Work and Influence (1903) and The Man-​Made World:  Our Androcentric Culture (1914), where she expands her repertoire of zoological analogies in contrasting the cooperative and peaceful instincts of what she calls the ‘mother power’ of domestic industry with the aggressive and competitive ethos of the masculine spheres of commerce, government, health, education and the arts. After taking a post at the Sorbonne in 1902, Durkheim’s lecture courses on Professional Ethics and Civic Morals would emphasize the role of the democratic state and occupational groups in regulating the anomic ‘desire for the infinite’ which is rooted in human nature and given free rein in a market economy, while The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912) focuses on the social origins of natural and cosmological categories. Even Freud’s meta-​psychological writings, such as ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (1917) and Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), would stress the importance of culturally inflected drives that propel a psycho-​ social economy rooted in the dynamics of ambivalence. To varying degrees, each of these works explicitly adopts a sceptical perspective on both individualism and collectivism, often at least implicitly with respect to how they take shape in capitalism and socialism, by questioning the connection between destructive psychological instincts or competitive drives and their sociocultural transformation. Weber’s discussion of ‘Struggle, Competition, and Selection’ in paragraph 8 of the canonical Chapter 1 of Economy and Society (1918–​20) on ‘Basic Sociological Concepts’ can serve as a fitting postscript to the shift from the late nineteenth-​century concern with the struggle for survival to the early twentieth-​century focus on the economic and cultural dimensions of competition. Weber inaugurated this monumental project in the wake of his argument concerning the role of ideas in shaping material processes in The



Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), and then in the course of planning a series of studies concerning the adaptation and selection of professions in terms of cultural, psychological and physiological criteria titled On the Psychophysics of Industrial Work (1908–​12). In Economy and Society, he places the ideal type of ‘competition’ (Konkurrenz), which he defines as ‘a formally peaceful attempt to gain control of opportunities which are also desired by others’, within a broader consideration of struggle (Kampf), defined as a social relationship where an actor attempts to impose his or her own will on an unwilling partner or partners. ‘Struggle’ may entail either an unconscious ‘social selection’ (Auslese) of opportunities that arise in the lifespan of an individual, or the ‘biological selection’ of characteristics affecting the chances that certain inherited characteristics of a species will survive over others (Weber 2004, 241–​3). Between the extremes of ‘total annihilation’ through warfare or extermination on one hand, and ‘regulated competition’ through traditional, affective, value-​rational or instrumentally rational orders on the other, certain ‘personal qualities’ may be selected that either increase the prospect of an individual’s or group’s survival, or diminish the possibility of establishing and maintaining a certain social relationship. In any case, struggle, competition and the resulting process of selection are inherent in the human condition, and cannot be wished away or simply removed by new social arrangements. Utopian pacifist schemes for eliminating conflict, for instance, can only make these processes of selection and survival more latent or manifest, since ‘the abolition of conflict is limited empirically by social selection, and limited in principle by biological selection’ (2004, 242). As Weber is careful to note at this point, ‘there is always a danger in importing evaluations unchecked into empirical research’ (2004, 243), especially when the success, fitness or adaptability of a certain form of social action or relationship can be considered necessary, normal or desirable from a particular standpoint. In an earlier essay on the principle of ‘value-​ freedom’ in social scientific research, he argues that in the last resort a given social order must be examined with respect to ‘the type of human being that it gives the best chances of becoming dominant, by way of external selection or inner selection of motives’ (Weber 2012, 321). Like Simmel, he highlights the importance of understanding and analysing the conditions and consequences of biosocial phenomena, such as competition and conflict, rather than of providing a standard for condoning or condemning them.

Conclusion: Simmel between Liberalism and Neoliberalism My concern in this chapter has been to explore the historical problem-​space where fractures in classical liberalism first became evident, particularly in the

Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism


period from 1890 to 1920. In the 1890s Simmel was among a number of founding social scientists –​including Spencer, Weber, Gilman, Durkheim, Veblen and Tarde –​who were attempting to ‘denaturalize’ the study of economic, cultural and social life in the wake of the Darwinian revolution of the previous generation. In some ways, they went further than their contemporaries in political economy by advancing the terms of the discussion from the survival of the fittest and the facts of natural selection to the dynamics of differentiation and the complex heterogeneity of biological and social relationships (Schabas 2006, 142–​58). Spencer imagines sociology as a way of deploying the biosciences for human improvement and happiness, anticipating a society that thrives through the regulation of growth and production rather than one that merely survives through the destructive strategies of defence and attack. Simmel’s sociological and philosophical studies of differentiation through the conservation of energy, the money economy and competition advance this cultural turn by shifting the focus on bioeconomic and ecological struggles to their place in larger social and political conflicts. Viewed as a civilized form of conflict, competitive struggles in modern societies penetrate deeply into the fundamental problems of existence. Money in particular becomes the proto-​ metaphor and primary model for understanding the flux and plenitude of contemporary life, as well as its atrophy and reification (Blumenberg 2012). Among the scholars of the generation after Simmel who attended his popular seminars at the University of Berlin, Karl Mannheim stands out for his attempt to chart a decisively cultural path of investigation beyond the bioeconomic concerns of his predecessors. Mannheim’s lecture at the German Sociological Meetings in Zurich in 1928 on ‘Competition as a Cultural Phenomenon’, for example, tries to treat the economic understanding of competition as a moment within a larger social field (Kemple 2014). Taking as his starting point the Marxist thesis of his friend and colleague Georg Lukács in History and Class Consciousness (1922) concerning the relationship between ruling ideas and ruling classes, Mannheim (1954, 191–​4) argues that ‘ultimate values and universal categories’ are existentially bound to intellectual rivalries, cultural conflicts and generational tensions. He thus anticipates later culturalist studies that view competition sociologically as a means of social differentiation and self-​affirmation, at least in the American context (Duina 2011). In subsequent work, especially Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (published in German in 1935, then revised and republished in English in 1940), Mannheim is concerned with finding a third way between conservatism and communism, above all by envisioning strategies for moderating unfettered economic competition through cultural and political means. His argument thus echoes those of the ‘ordoliberals’ of the Freiburg School in the following decades by suggesting a middle path between market anarchy and socialist or fascist authoritarianism



through the establishment of economic freedom as a basis for political sovereignty (Foucault 2008, 75–​158). For both Mannheim and the ordoliberals, a liberal parliamentary state should be equipped to absorb and regulate the institutions of civil society while adapting to the fluctuating orders of the free market and free enterprise, in the hopes of pacifying class conflicts or even postponing world war. From the 1920s to the post-​war era, liberal-​minded German intellectuals like Mannheim were concerned to formulate organizational theories that deemphasize national sovereignty while empowering governments to enhance the vitality and longevity of populations (Esposito 2008, 16–​24). The problem they inherited from Simmel was how modern societies can liberate individual personalities, but often by subjecting them more profoundly to cultural and technological forces, which for his successors increasingly involve the deployment of governmental mechanisms of social control. In a certain sense, the reconciliation of the ‘conflict of modern culture’ as projected through the writings of Simmel and social scientists writing in the first half of the twentieth century both anticipates and challenges later ‘dreambooks of neoliberalism’, among which Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty (1960) and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962) are the most notorious. For these economists, the dispersion, contingency and partiality of economic knowledge requires a form of decentralized planning that can account for and adapt to the practical knowledge, local conditions and special circumstances of free individuals, but ultimately in ways that enhance rather than inhibit competition. As Jamie Peck has argued, neoliberal reasoning has never been able to maintain a pure ethic of entrepreneurialism and free competition. Rather, it has advanced over the past several decades pragmatically and unevenly by ‘rolling back and rolling out’ the state and civil society with the aim of retooling and retraining its members by placing them under the supervision of the market: Neoliberalism […] has only ever existed in ‘impure’ form, indeed can only exist in messy hybrids. Its utopian vision of a free society and free economy is ultimately unrealizable. Yet the pristine clarity of its ideological apparition, the free market, coupled with the endless frustrations borne of the inevitable failure to arrive at this elusive destination, nevertheless confer a significant degree of forward momentum on the neoliberal project. Ironically, neoliberalism possesses a progressive, forward-​leaning dynamic by virtue of the very unattainability of its idealized destination. In practice, neoliberalism has never been about a once-​ and-​for-​all liberalization, an evacuation of the state. Instead, it has been associated with rolling programs of market-​oriented reform, a kind of permanent revolution which cannot simply be judged according to its own fantasies of free-​ market liberation. (Peck 2010, 7)

Simmel and the Sources of Neoliberalism


Viewed from this neoliberal perspective, social science and economic policy can only ever project a regulative ideal for liberating entrepreneurial initiative while moderating the regressive effects of competition. Following Gane (2014), I have tried to expose a link in the genealogical chain of (neo)liberalism that is otherwise glossed over in Foucault’s emphasis on the late eighteenth-​and mid-​ twentieth-​century sciences of state control and governmental policy, in which ‘the disciplines of the body and the regulations of the population constituted the two poles around which the organization of power over life was deployed’ (Foucault 1978, 139). Simmel’s focus on the centrality of life at the turn of the twentieth century highlights a significant historical moment in which culture is not just conceived according the metaphor of nature (as in sociobiology), but nature is also modelled on cultural techniques and practices (Rabinow 1996, 99). This biosocial conception is inaugurated in Simmel’s approach to social life as a process of differentiation and association, competition and conflict. His work thus both anticipates and exceeds the neoliberal notion of how ‘biological identity becomes bound up with more general norms of enterprising, self-​actualizing, responsible personhood’ (Rose 2001, 18). As he might have understood, rather accepting exclusion or stigma on the basis of biological imperfection or abnormality, individuals and communities in this regime may appeal to the natural facts of race, age, sex, illness and ability in demanding their civil and human rights to personal dignity and social worth. The mix of philosophical insight and empirical precision in Simmel’s work may offer not just a glimpse into this forgotten or foreclosed episode in the history of thought, but also a perspective for seeing beyond the biosocial sources of neoliberalism. Following Peck and Wendy Brown (2006, 690–​1, 710), we might consider how neoliberal ideals of government deregulation upset the dream of liberal democracy, that is, the notion that political autonomy, popular rights and secular freedoms necessarily foster market growth, streamline state bureaucracy and enhance the health of the economy. According to this ‘dream’, neoliberalism re-​naturalizes the market by treating competition, free trade, entrepreneurial initiative and consumer sovereignty as the organizing principles for the vitality and growth of the state and society (Brown 2003, 27). Treating the ideal of neoliberal democracy as a dream suggests that we can (psycho-​) analyze its forms and ‘residues’ according the logic of dreamwork, that is, in terms of how desires are disavowed, energies condensed and ideals displaced. Its symptoms –​cultural anomie, political extremism, social radicalism and so on –​might be diagnosed as a process of mourning over what was never wholly loved but only projected or partially realized as wish-​fulfilment, a kind of ‘love that does not know or want to avow its hostility’, or as a feeling of ‘loss amidst ambivalent attachment and dependency’ (Brown 2003, 34). Where at this point Freud (1985, 339)  would invite us to embark on a ‘pathology of



cultural communities’ if not on a plan for their therapy and cure, Simmel asks us to dwell a while longer on the interpretive work of detection and diagnosis.

References Blumenberg, Hans. 2012. ‘Money or Life:  Metaphors of Georg Simmel’s Philosophy’. Theory Culture & Society 29 (7–​8): 249–​62. Borch, Christian. 2010. ‘Between Destructiveness and Vitalism:  Simmel’s Sociology of Crowds’. Conserveries memorielles 8: http://​​744. Brown, Wendy. 2003. ‘Neo-​liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy.’ Theory & Event 7: 1. ——2006. ‘American Nightmare:  Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-​ Democratisation.’ Political Theory 34 (6): 690–​714. Darwin, Charles. 2003. On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection [1957/​1878]. Joseph Carroll (ed.). Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press. Du Bois, W. E. B. 2000. ‘Sociology Hesitant’ [1905]. boundary 2 27 (3): 37–​44. Derrida, Jacques. 1981. ‘Freud and the Scene of Writing.’ Jeffrey Mehlman (trans.). Yale French Studies 48: 73–​117. Duina, Francesco. 2011. Winning: Reflections on an American Obsession. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Esposito, Roberto. 2008. ‘The Enigma of Biopolitics.’ In Bios:  Biopolitics and Philosophy. Timothy Campbell (trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 13–​44. Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality, Volume I:  An Introduction. Robert Hurley (trans.). New York: Vintage Books. ——2008. The Birth of Biopolitics:  Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–​1979. London and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Francis, Mark. 2007. Herbert Spencer and the Invention of Modern Life. Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press. Freud, Sigmund. 1976. The Interpretation of Dreams. James Strachey (trans.). Angela Richards (ed.). London: Penguin Books. ——1985. ‘Civilization and Its Discontents’. In Civilization, Society, and Religion. Angela Richards (trans.). James Strachey (trans.). London: Penguin Books. 251–​340. Frisby, David. 1992. Simmel and Since:  Essays on Georg Simmel’s Social Theory. London and New York: Routledge. Gane, Nicholas. 2014. ‘The Emergence of Neoliberalism: Thinking Through and Beyond Michel Foucault’s Lectures on Biopolitics’. Theory, Culture & Society 31 (4): 3–​27. Hayek, Friedrich. 1948. ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’. In Individualism and the Economic Order. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 77–​91. Helle, Horst J. 2008. ‘Soziologie der Koncurrenz –​Sociology of Competition by Georg Simmel: Introduction’. Canadian Journal of Sociology 33 (4): 945–​56. Kemple, Thomas. 2007. ‘Allosociality: Bridges and Doors to Simmel’s Social Theory of the Limit’. Theory, Culture & Society (Annual Review) 24 (7–​8): 1–​19. ——2014. ‘Mannheim’s Pendulum:  Refiguring Legal Cosmopolitanism’. UC Irvine Law Review 4 (1): 273–​95. Laplanche, Jean. 1976. Life and Death in Psychoanalysis. Jeffrey Mehlman (trans.). Baltimore. MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Lash, Scott. 2005. ‘Lebenssoziologie: Georg Simmel in the Information Age’. Theory, Culture & Society 22(3): 1–​24. Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-​Network Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Mannheim, Karl. 1952. ‘Competition as a Cultural Phenomenon’ [1928]. In Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. Paul Kecsmeti (ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 191–​229. Meyer-​Stoll, Cornelia and Thomas M. Kemple. 2003. ‘The Last Hand: On the Craft of Editing Weber’s “Börsenschriften” ’. Max Weber Studies 3 (2): 169–​98. Peck, Jamie. 2010. Constructions of Neoliberal Reason. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Pyyhtinen, Olli. 2010. Simmel and ‘the Social’. London and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Rabinow, Paul. 1996. ‘Artificiality and Enlightenment: From Sociobiology to Biosociality’. In Essays on the Anthropology of Reason. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 91–​111. Rose, Nikolas. 2001. ‘The Politics of Life Itself ’. Theory, Culture & Society 18 (6): 1–​30. ——2013. ‘The Human Sciences in a Biological Age’. Theory, Culture & Society 30 (1): 3–​34. Schabas, Margaret. 2006. The Natural Origins of Economics. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press. Shapin, Steven. 2007. ‘Man With a Plan: Herbert Spencer’s Theory of Everything’. The New Yorker (August 13): 75–​9. Simmel, Georg. 1950. ‘Fundamental Problems of Sociology’ [1917]. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). New York: The Free Press of Glencoe. ——1968. ‘Psychological and Ethnological Studies on Music’ [1888]. In Peter Etzkorn (ed.). The Conflict in Modern Culture and other Essays. New York: Teachers College Press. 98–​140. ——1969. ‘On Social Medicine’ [1897]. Translated by John Casparis and A. C. Higgins. Social Forces 47 (3): 330–​4. ——1971. On Individuality and Social Forms. Donald N. Levine (ed., intro.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ——1976. ‘Differentiation and the Principle of Saving Energy’ [1890]. P. A. Lawrence (trans.). Georg Simmel Sociologist and European. Middlesex, UK: Nelson. ——1990. The Philosophy of Money [1900/​7]. Tom Bottomore and David Frisby (trans.). London: Routledge. ——1991. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche [1907]. Helmut Loiskandl, Deena Weinstein and Mark Weinstein (trans.). Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. ——1994. ‘The Problem of Sociology’ [1895]. Georg Simmel:  Critical Assessments. Vol. 1. David Frisby (ed.). London: Routledge. ——1997. ‘The Conflict in Modern Culture’ [1918]. Simmel on Culture. David Frisby and Mike Featherstone (eds.). London: Sage Publications. ——2008. ‘Sociology of Competition’ [1903]. Horst J. Helle (trans.). Canadian Journal of Sociology 33(4): 957–​78. ——2009. Sociology:  Inquiries into the Construction of Social Forms [1908]. Anthony J. Blasi, Anton K. Jacobs and Mathew Kanjiranthinkal (trans). Leiden: Brill. Spencer, Herbert. 1972. On Social Evolution. J.  D.  Y. Peel (ed.). Chicago:  University of Chicago Press. ——1981. The Man versus the State, With Six Essays on Government, Society, and Freedom. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics. Taylor, Michael (ed.). 1996. Herbert Spencer and the Limits of the State: The Late Nineteenth-​Century Debate Between Individualism and Collectivism. Bristol, UK: Thoemmies Press.



Turner, Jonathan H. 1993. Classical Sociology: A Positivist’s Perspective. Chicago: Nelson-​Hall Publishers. Veblen, Thorstein. 1948. ‘Why Is Economics not an Evolutionary Science?’ In The Portable Veblen. Max Lerner (ed.). New York: The Viking Press. 215–​40. Weber, Max. 2000. ‘Stock and Commodity Exchanges [Die Börse] (1894)’, and ‘Commerce on the Stock and Commodity Exchanges [Die Börsenverkehr] (1896)’. Steven Listition (trans.). Theory and Society 29: 305–​71. ——2004. ‘Basic Sociological Concepts’ [1918–​20]. Keith Tribe (trans.). The Essential Weber. Sam Whimster (ed.). London: Routlege.   2012. ‘The Meaning of “Value-​Freedom” in the Sociological and Economic Sciences’. In Max Weber: Collected Methodological Writings. H. H. Bruun, S. Whimster (eds.). H. H. Bruun (trans.). London: Routledge. 304–​34.


The debate between so-​called formalists, who are interested in the inner mechanics of visual, literary and sonic objects, and so-​called historicists, who see art through the lens of ideology, discourse and society, has well and truly run out of steam. As I  have argued elsewhere (de la Fuente 2007; 2010a; 2010b; 2015), there has recently been a renewed emphasis on the ‘agencies’ or ‘affordances’ of art (Acord and DeNora 2008; Gell 1998), on the materiality of aesthetic practices (Mukerji 1983), the kinds of passions engendered by art forms (Benzecry 2011; Hennion 2005), and even grudging recognition that social scientists interested in aesthetic matters may have something to learn from art historians and psychologists of art (Tanner 2004). If I had to nominate one prevalent characteristic within these trends in aesthetic thinking, it would be a desire to ‘reanimate’ what we mean by ‘context’. Context itself has become something that we can’t take for granted or assume in some a priori manner. If I can borrow from recent literatures in geography on the dynamic and relational character of place and space, we need a type of thinking that re-​awakens or brings back to life ‘Dead Context’ (Thrift and Dewsbury 2000). Context as a living organism is much more than the ‘lived experience’ of the subject –​that line of inquiry reinforces the assumption of an unbridgeable gap between materiality and sentience. A re-​animated concept of context will need to be relational and dynamic, focused on both possibility and constraint, attentive to ‘Life’ as well as to ‘form’. We have now entered the thought-​universe and preoccupations of one Georg Simmel: sociologist, philosopher, social psychologist, aesthetician, art historian and theorist of everyday life. My desire here is to bring Simmel’s



thought into dialogue with ecological authors such as Gregory Bateson (1973), James Jerome Gibson (1966; 1979)  and Tim Ingold (1993; 2000)  who have sought to move beyond reductionist accounts of context. This is a dialogical rather than co-​opting move on my part. In particular, I will address how in his reflections on topics such as ‘the picture frame’, ‘the handle’ and the ‘philosophy of landscape’, Simmel (1965a; 1994; 2007) show a significant grasp of the aesthetic ecology of things (on the concept of an ‘aesthetic ecology’, see Murphy 2014). The ecological logic of his thought is revealed in the following statement:  ‘Each thing is a mere transitional point for continuously flowing energies and materials, comprehensible only from what has preceded it, significant only as an element of the entire natural process’ (Simmel 1994, 11). My argument is not that Simmel pre-​empted the kind of ecological aesthetic theories I am considering here (although he did directly influence the ‘urban ecologies’ approach of Robert Ezra Park and the Chicago School); nor that a ‘Batesonian’ or ‘Ingoldian’ reading ought to supplant existing interpretations of Simmel’s sociological aesthetics as Neo-​Kantian or Vitalist (Frisby 1991; Lash 2005). My claim rather is that Simmel shares the insights of ecological thinkers regarding how aesthetic perception is not reducible to either the internal mechanisms of the perceiving subject nor to the properties of the external environment but rather the complex interplay of both. But before covering either Simmel’s or ecological approaches to aesthetics, I  think we need to say a few things regarding why aesthetic patterning matters in everyday life and, hence, why such approaches merit close scrutiny. In an essay titled ‘Ornamented Worlds and Textures of Feeling’, cultural psychologist Jan Valsiner (2008, 67)  makes the point that our ‘everyday life contexts […] are saturated with highly repetitive patterns of visual and auditory kinds’. He uses very similar language to Bateson and Gibson, suggesting ‘[A]‌ll encounters of organisms with environments can be viewed as processes of coordinating patterns’ (Valsiner 2008, 67). Valsiner (2008, 67) notes that the encounter between organism and environment takes the form of ‘camouflage of body patterns […] mating based on body display […] textures of surfaces for walking, sucking, swimming, or crawling’. Of particular interest is the phenomenon of ornamentation which seems to predate the notion of ‘beauty for its own –​aesthetic –​sake’ and which therefore suggests some long-​ standing ‘social reasons for creating decorated patterns’ (Valsiner 2008, 69). The grammar of patterns is evident in the way that decoration exaggerates or downplays features within the field of perception; which in turn governs how affective tension grows and escalates within the viewer or user. In this respect, ‘plain’ and ‘fancy’ are relative terms, as are minimalism and Churriguresco. They are relative to the holistic field that the patterns generate. From such

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insights, Valsiner (2008, 77) goes on to hypothesize the following general tale of ornamentation and aesthetic patterning more generally: ‘An ornamented world keeps the experiencing person “within the field” –​not letting him or her escape, while at the same time not particularly demanding attention or goals-​oriented actions in relations to these patterns.’ As we shall see, keeping the social actor ‘within the field’ is one of the central mechanisms of what we are calling the aesthetic ecology of things.

Simmel’s Sociological Aesthetics Situating Simmel’s sociological aesthetics in relationship to traditions of ecological thought runs counter to the dominant image of him as a formalist Kantian who emphasizes the autonomy of the aesthetic or as a defender of the late nineteenth-​century ‘art for art’s sake’ school. These partial readings of his work have arguably held back his reception in fields such as sociology, cultural studies and aesthetic criticism. One doesn’t have to go far to find these kinds of themes even amongst supporters of Simmel’s thought. Thus, the translators of Rembrandt feel obliged to recognize, ‘[F]‌rom the point of view of much current analysis, Simmel’s insistence on the autonomy of the aesthetic sphere and his meticulous avoidance of reference to social, cultural, or autobiographical context may seem hopelessly retrograde, even reactionary’ (Scott and Staubmann 2005, xvii). Likewise, an early advocate of Simmel’s aesthetic writings within American sociology suggests the ‘thesis that art is a reality independent of life places Simmel within late nineteenth-​and early twentieth-​ century French and English “art for art’s sake” schools’ (David 1973, 324). Interestingly, the same commentator notes that, for Simmel, the ‘world [is] composed of multiple conflicting centres of organization’ and that different units of life are often ‘trying to organize the same materials around its own principles’ (Davis 1973, 325). Hence, the separation of the spheres (art, morality and science) and human faculties (aesthetic judgement, ethics and reason) that one finds in Kant’s philosophy are less clear cut in the case of Simmel. Davis (1973, 325) suggests that often in his aesthetic writings’, ‘Simmel’s world […] looks more like Leibniz’s Weltanschauung of self-​actualizing monads or, even, the primitives of animistic world-​view than Kant’s’ (Davis 1973, 325). The animistic sensibility may account for why, despite reservations about modernity and the underlying ‘tragedy’ of all culture, Simmel never buys into the Weberian thesis of disenchantment in any complete sense. What Davis refers to as the animistic or pantheistic side is on full display in the essay ‘Sociological Aesthetics’. It discusses the possibility of seeing everything and anything in the world aesthetically:



Even the lowest, intrinsically ugly phenomenon can be dissolved into contexts of colour and form, of feeling and experience, which provides it with exciting significance. To involve ourselves deeply and lovingly with even the most common product, which, would be banal and repulsive in its isolated appearance, enables us to conceive of it, too, as a ray and image of the final unity of all things from which beauty and meaning flow. […] If we pursue this possibility of aesthetic appreciation to its final point, we find that there are no essential differences among things. Our worldview turns into aesthetic pantheism. (Simmel 1968, 69)

Thus, rather than autonomy being the governing principle of aesthetic phenomena, Simmel (1968, 9) seems to be arguing the opposite, emphasizing that aesthetic sensation stems from the unity of all things: ‘The totality of beauty, the complete meaning of the world […] radiates from every single point’ (Simmel 1968, 69). Furthermore, according to him, various non-​art things can be perceived aesthetically and these include machines, organized production and political systems. Any phenomenon that involves contrast, comparability and the capacity for the transformation of value –​that is, ‘the moulding of the inspired out of the dull and the refined out of the raw’ –​can generate aesthetic apprehension. What unites aesthetic phenomena is that ‘[o]‌ur sensations are tied to differences, those of value no less than our sensations of touch or temperature’ (Simmel 1968, 70). Beauty is a relational concept that can point upwards, downwards or sideward (i.e. it can direct us to appreciate the ‘highest’, ‘lowest’ or most ‘comparable’ case of something), but, in the end, the ‘division of the world into lightness and darkness’ is needed so that aesthetic stimulation and valuation can take place (Simmel 1968, 70). Without meaningful contrast, all the elements of the world would ‘flow into one another formlessly’ and the ‘raw and lower forms’ would not be able to act as the ‘support and background for the refined, bright and exalted’ (Simmel 1968, 70).

Gibson’s Ecology of Aesthetic Perception Like Simmel’s ‘Sociological Aesthetics’, the ecological approach is thoroughly pantheistic in relationship to where aesthetic sensation may be unearthed. It also shares the sense, present in the Simmel essay, that the world would be formless without contrast; and that this contrast exists independently of the observer. Thus, in a proposition that echoes Simmel’s discussion of light and darkness, the exalted and the earthly, Gibson (1979, 130) says: ‘For terrestrial animals like us, the earth and the sky are a basic structure on which all lesser structures depend. […] We all fit into the substructures of the environment in our various ways.’

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The world as the basis of endless aesthetic transformation and manipulation is a central theme in ecological approaches –​only the latter refers to context as ‘environment’ and the possibilities present in it as affordances. Gibson (1979, 127), who is credited with coining the term, refers to the ‘affordances of the environment […] [as] what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill’. These affordances can take the shape of ‘surfaces’, ‘substances’, ‘mediums’ and ‘objects’; and their list includes such things as ‘terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tools, other animals, and human displays’ (Gibson 1979, 127). Surfaces are particularly important for Gibson’s theory of affordances as they are what ‘separate substances from medium’ (e.g. the walls and roof of my house afford comfort by separating me from water or too much air). Substances also guide the kinds of practical actions that the organism senses from elements of the environment. Whether something is flat or vertical, convex or concave, rigid or flexible/​completely unstable, determines whether something ‘affords support’, is ‘stand-​on-​able’ or ‘sink-​into-​able’, ‘climb-​on-​able or fall-​off-​able’ or ‘get-​underneath-​able’ or ‘bump-​into-​able’ (Gibson 1979, 127–​8). Gibson (1979, 137) recognizes that the ‘behavioural complexities’ of affordances grow exponentially as objects such as ‘tools, utensils and weapons’ are developed and as ‘manufactured displays become images, pictures, and writing’. But even technological complexity and more sophisticated media require the affordances of the environment. Vocalization requires ‘air’ for its transmission; there is no writing or painting without ‘light’ making visual perception possible; and furniture, buildings, parks and bridges would not exist nor be conceivable without a range of liquids and solids existing and being open to manipulation. Are our aesthetic sensations, therefore, determined by the environment or do we impose qualities through observation, sensation and perception? For Gibson, as for most ecological authors, this is a nonsensical question. He suggests an affordance ‘points two ways, to the environment and to the observer […] awareness of the world and of one’s complementary relations to the world are not separate’ (Gibson 1979, 139). This line of argument doesn’t merely problematize subject-​object dualisms. It also throws into doubt the notion that the primary role of aesthetic communication is to placate needs –​ psychological or symbolic –​already present within a subject who manipulates external reality as he or she wishes.

Art and Aesthetic Patterns in Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind We are so accustomed to thinking of aesthetic phenomena as a discursive or representational construct that we often forget that without arousal of



perception no aesthetic experience is possible. The theme that ecological approaches are not primarily discursive or representational is developed in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, where Bateson (1973, 102) writes: ‘They say that “every picture tells a story,” and this generalization holds for most art. […] But I want precisely to avoid analysing the “story”.’ The alternative, proposed by the author, is the following: I am concerned with what important psychic information is in the art object quite apart from what it may ‘represent’. […] ‘The style is the man himself ’ (Buffon). What is implicit in style, materials, composition, rhythm, skill and so on? […] The lions in Trafalgar Square could have been eagles or bulldogs and still carried the same (or similar) messages. […] And yet how different might their message have been had they been made of wood! […] The code whereby perceived objects or persons (or supernaturals) are transformed into wood or paint is a source of information about the artist and his culture. […] It is the very rules of transformation that are of interest to me –​not the message. (Bateson 1973, 103)

What role then does Steps to an Ecology of Mind attribute to art in human affairs if what an aesthetic object represents may not be art’s decisive dimension? Bateson (1973, 115–​16) credits art with playing the role of confronting the ‘quantitative limit’ built into consciousness, the fundamental fact that ‘all organisms must be content with rather little consciousness’. Because of the limits to perceptual awareness, the human organism resorts to habits and other unconscious reflexes. But these can only ever provide a limited perception of the world. Thus, the role art plays with respect to consciousness is to reveal the ‘systematic nature of mind’ (Bateson 1973, 118). This applies equally to prehistoric depictions of hunting in the Altamira caves or to Van Gogh’s Chair, which are often interpreted as, respectively, ‘sympathetic hunting magic’ or as providing insight into ‘what the artist “sees” ’ (Bateson 1973, 117). Bateson (1973, 117) suggests art assists mind in recognizing that the ‘potentiality’ of heightened consciousness exists, and that it resides ‘in you and in me’ (Bateson 1973, 117). Drugs, alcohol, dreams and even schizophrenia can release us from the selective or limited nature of consciousness; but only art serves as a ‘corrective’ through the application of skill, empathy and creative leaps –​that is, deliberate or purposeful selection, if you like.

A Brief Excursus on Symmetry Interesting, Simmel’s ‘Sociological Aesthetics’ highlights an important theme within ecological approaches to aesthetic perception:  namely the role of

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‘symmetry’ and other patterns in human and natural affairs. He suggests the ‘origin of all aesthetic themes is found in symmetry’ and that ‘[B]‌efore man can bring an idea, meaning, harmony into things, he must first form them symmetrically’ (Simmel 1968, 71–​2). It should be emphasized that recognizing the importance of symmetry is not necessarily the same as seeing it as the sole or highest form of aesthetic ordering. Indeed, symmetry can have a range of sociological and political implications. Simmel (1968, 72)  writes that the ‘tendency to organize all of society symmetrically […] is shared by all despotic regimes’ and that symmetry is also the aesthetic companion to ‘rationalism’. The rational organization of society has its own ‘aesthetic attraction’, which we can see ‘in the aesthetic appeal of machines’ and the ‘factory’ and ‘socialistic state’ which only ‘repeat this beauty on larger scales’ (Simmel 1968, 74). Symmetry appeals because symmetrical patterning ‘provides for the observing mind a maximum of insight […] [with] a minimum of intellectual effort’ (Simmel 1968, 75). By contrast, the attraction of asymmetrical patterns is evident in Romantic notions of beauty, liberal conceptions of ‘individualism’, the worldviews of ‘Rembrandt and Nietzsche’ and modern floral arrangements which ‘are no longer bound into bundles’ and are either displayed ‘individually’ or ‘at most are bound together rather loosely’ (Simmel 1968, 75–​6). It is important to reflect on the fact that aesthetic orderings of the symmetrical and asymmetrical type aren’t simply paradigms or worldviews conjoined by rules of association or mere likeness. As Rudolf Arnheim (1969, 54) proposes in Visual Thinking, ‘To see an object in space means to see it in context’, adding that ‘the relations actually encountered on percepts are not simple.’ His point is that the psychology of visual perception has often erred by seeing relatedness in terms of things like ‘frequency’ of association and ‘resemblance’. Such modes of thinking about perception tend to assume that the things being perceived have discrete properties that remain largely unchanged as they enter new or different contexts. Arnheim proposes that colour is one of those quintessentially relational phenomena in which location, background and density will provide for different types of perceptual relations. In short, relatedness is connected to the ‘place and function’ of things within a field and ‘similarity will exert its unifying power only if the structure of the total pattern suggests the necessary relation’ (Arnheim 1969, 54–​5). Thus, a colour or shape can look as if in harmony with other elements simply because the pairing of the two things suggests some kind of completion. Arnheim (1969, 64–​5) writes: ‘Symmetry is but a special case of fittingness, the mutual completion obtained by the matching of things that add up to a well-​organized whole.’ Ecological approaches to aesthetic perception have followed suit. Bateson (1973, 385) –​who devotes a significant portion of Steps to an Ecology of Mind to the role of symmetry in anthropology, biology and cybernetics –​proposes



that symmetry is a method for making non-​random inferences about seemingly random events. He suggests this is especially important in the field of aesthetics: ‘To the aesthetic eye, the form of a crab with one claw bigger than the other is not simply asymmetrical. It proposes a rule of symmetry and then subtly denies the rule by proposing a more complex combination of rules’ (Bateson 1973, 385–​6). Using the language of post-​war information theory, Bateson explains that a pattern is a method for coping with the ‘redundancies’ of messages emanating from the environment: The message material is said to contain ‘redundancy’ if, when the sequence is received with some items missing, the receiver is able to guess at the missing items with better than random success. It has been pointed out that, in fact, the term ‘redundancy’ so used becomes a synonym for ‘patterning’. It is important to note that this patterning of message material always helps the receiver to differentiate between signal and noise. (Bateson 1973, 389)

Thus, camouflage (which is designed to subvert communication) achieves its aims by ‘breaking up the patterns and regularities in the signal’ or by ‘introducing similar patterns into the noise’ (Bateson 1973, 390). Camouflage takes away the ability to block out the irrelevant things in the environment. At the other end of the spectrum to camouflage and noise lies the ‘logician’s dream that men should communicate by unambiguous digital signals’ (Bateson 1973, 388). But what unambiguous codes gain in noise-​reduction they lose in richness and expressiveness. Somewhere in between is the effective use of redundancy in which the blocking out of redundancies, paradoxically, heightens our attention to what is important. The author’s example, is saying ‘I love you’ where tone and non-​verbal communication become crucial. The effective use of redundancy is present in ‘human kinesic communication, facial expression and vocal intonation’, as well as in elaborations of such everyday patternings in ‘art, music, ballet, poetry and the like’ (Bateson 1973, 388). The consequence of seeing symmetrical patterns as much more than resemblance and homogeneity is that states of harmony and balance, as well as their opposites, come to be seen as a function of how something is framed. This is not without consequence for Simmel’s project of a sociological aesthetics. Arguably, he comes closest to seeing symmetry and asymmetry, less as contrasting paradigms or worldviews, and more as dynamic aesthetic totalities operating along an ecological continuum, in the essay ‘The Aesthetic Significance of the Face’ (Simmel 1965b). While the rest of the human body conveys expression primarily through kinaesthetic movement, and some parts of the body like the hand appear to have their own type of unity (for e.g. the fingers acting in concert), it is only the face where form and substance

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combine such that ‘fate cannot strike any one part without striking every other part at the same time’ (Simmel 1965b, 276). In reflecting on the mutual interdependence of its elements, and the effects that even minor changes in facial expression can convey, Simmel returns to the theme of symmetry. However, in contradistinction to the treatment of symmetry in ‘Sociological Aesthetics’, he suggests here that it is precisely because ‘the face consists of two halves which are similar to one another’ that the face is able to achieve a high degree of individuality and expressiveness (Simmel 1965b, 279). The face is an aesthetic synthesis where the ‘separateness of the individual features are complemented and balanced by the essential comparability of the two halves’ (Simmel 1965b, 279). This, in turn, allows one aspect of human ‘appearance’ –​the surface of the face –​to become the central focal point for the ‘veiling and unveiling of soul’ (Simmel 1965b, 281). Or, as an ecological approach might have put it, the face is a cybernetic circuit designed to reveal the systematic nature of mind.

Bateson and Simmel on Framing No metaphor has perhaps managed to bring psychology and cognitive science closer to art history and philosophical aesthetics (i.e. reunite the so-​called two cultures) and into dialogue with each other than the notion of framing. The chapter of Steps to an Ecology of Mind titled ‘A Theory of Play and Fantasy’ makes the observation, based on a visit to the San Francisco zoo, that mammals such as otters and monkeys are capable of engaging in expressive behaviour that can distinguish ‘play’ from actual ‘combat’ (Bateson 1973, 179). Bateson (1973, 179) infers from this that mammals can engage in the kind of ‘metacommunication’ that carries ‘messages’ about communication. He suggest that the ability to see something as ‘play’ rather than ‘combat’ is a framing procedure and that something similar happens when we distinguish jokes from actual statements, metaphors from literal expressions and dreams from real life. Bateson hypothesizes that schizophrenia is the inability to observe such boundaries. Are ecological theories of framing very different to those of Simmel’s? A  rare synthesis of Bateson and Simmel is provided by Eviatar Zerubavel (1991) in The Fine Line, a book centrally concerned with boundaries and how social actors negotiate them. Zerubavel (1991, 11)  proposes that framing is the activity of ‘surrounding situations, acts, or objects with mental brackets’ and that the significance of the frame is not in the ‘contents’ of what it frames but rather in the ‘distinctive way in which it transforms the contents’ meaning’. Frames allow us to make a ‘mental switch from one “style” or mode of experiencing to another’ as indicated by the ‘bell that signals the end of a boxing match’ or how actors entering the stage are ‘immediately transform[ed]



into fictional characters’ (Zerubavel 1991, 11). Regarding the picture frame, Zerubavel (1991, 11) says it is there to ‘remind viewers that they cannot smell the flowers or eat the apples they see in pictures’. Simmel himself theorized on the significance of the picture frame: The qualities of the picture frame reveal themselves to be those of assisting and giving meaning to [the] inner unity of the picture. […] The eye emphasizes the relationship of the picture to its centre from all sides. […] The fact that the frame is enclosed by two mouldings serves the closing function more than it does the synthetic one […] and it is precisely this which favours that island-​like position which the work of art requires vis-​a-​vis the outer world. […] That is why the frame, through its configuration, must never offer a gap or a bridge through which, as it were, the world could get in or from which the picture could get out. (Simmel 1994, 12)

Given that authors such as Zerubavel (1999) are espousing a ‘cognitive sociology’ we might ask:  is framing entirely cognitive? In the case of Simmel, I would argue it is not. Why? Firstly, the gaze is not an entirely cognitive or disembodied act as evident in Simmel’s (1997, 12) claim that ‘the gaze, like bodily movement, moves more easily from higher to lower’ and that it is because the picture plane replicates aspects of embodiment that the ‘coherence of the picture is subjected to a centrifugal dispersal’. Secondly, the types of affordances the frame evinces are not entirely separate from its design. Simmel (1997, 12) suggests that it is the ‘design of the frame’ which makes possible the ‘continuous flowing of the gaze’ and that this extends to rather banal or ‘fortuitous’ aspects of frames such as: ‘the joints between its sides’; the ‘outer sides of the frame’ being raised ‘compared with the inner sides’; as well as mouldings which, by framing the frame, give the sensation that any ‘ornamentation’ or ‘profiling’ are like a ‘stream’ running ‘between two banks’. Thirdly, the qualitative properties of the frame matter. Simmel suggests that it is no surprise that wood is considered a superior material to cloth, that a large frame looks good on a small picture, and that nature photography often can exist happily without any frame. In Simmel’s framework, then, framing is not an empty metaphor and each thing framed ‘dwells’ in the world differently. The picture frame reminds us that the work of art, ‘while it hangs in our room’, does not ‘disturb’ our day-​ to-​day sentient and perceptual ecologies; it is like an ‘island in the world that waits until one approaches it and which one can as well pass by and overlook’ (Simmel 1994, 14). The comparison is with a ‘piece of furniture’ which, whenever we ‘make contact with it’, constantly and immediately ‘intervenes in our life and thus has no right to exist for itself ’ (Simmel 1994, 14). Furniture,

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despite the craft, skill or design intent that has gone into it, does not possess what Gibson (1966, 235) called that ‘special attitude of perception –​the pictorial attitude’. Both furniture and paintings are ‘modifications of pre-​existing surfaces’ but only a painting is ‘made for the explicit purpose of being looked at’ (Gibson 1966, 224).

However, Pictures Are Much More than Framed Objects But are we so clear as to what paintings, or images more broadly, want from us? W. J. T. Mitchell’s (2005, 31) What Do Pictures Want? treats artworks ‘as if they had an intelligence and purposiveness of their own’. He admits that no ‘modern, rational, secular person’ will readily admit that pictures ‘be treated like persons’ (Mitchell 2005, 31). However, most of us are ‘willing to make exceptions’ when it comes to treating certain objects as having personhood. And, while ‘[e]‌veryone knows that a photograph of their mother is not alive they will still be reluctant to deface or destroy it’ (Mitchell 2005, 31). Mitchell quips that if we could ask pictures questions they might answer that they have the following kinds of aspirations (NB: The book is after all entitled, What do Pictures Want?): [P]‌ictures would want to be worth a lot of money; they would want to be admired and praised as beautiful; they would want to be adored by many lovers. But above all they want a kind of mastery over the beholder. [What] paintings desire, in short, is to change places with the beholder, to transfix or paralyze the beholder in what might be called ‘the Medusa effect’. (Mitchell 2005, 35–​6)

In the work of other authors, the issue of what aesthetic objects might want or aspire to is reconceptualized as one of causality or agency. One such author postulates that the role of such objects is to ‘fascinate, compel, and entrap as well as delight the spectator’ (Gell 1998, 23). This is the argument of anthropologist Alfred Gell’s (1998, 16) Art and Agency, which defines agency as persons and things ‘who/​which are seen as initiating causal consequences’. Agency can therefore inhere ‘in graven images, not to mention motor cars’ as ‘in practice, people attribute intentions and awareness to objects like cars and images of Gods’ (Gell 1998, 17). The author provides with us a fascinating case study that challenges some of the assumptions and norms of the frame-​ology we have been discussing in this section. In 1914, suffragette Mary Richardson, in protest at the death in prison of fellow activist Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, attacked the Velazquez painting Rokeby Venus. Photographs taken at the time show the painting having suffered a series of deep, mostly diagonal wounds of the sort that might have been inflicted on a murdered corpse. Gell ponders



how and why Mary Richardson came to despise the painting so much that she conceived of it as a legitimate object for her anger at the death of a fellow suffragette. He concludes: ‘The frenzied gestures of Richardson defacing the image so that its death corresponds to that of Pankhurst create the space in which the life of images and persons meet and merge together’ (Gell 1998, 64). The attack on the Rokeby Venus is also discussed by art historian David Freedberg (1989, 425), who cites it as a supreme case of ‘iconoclasm’ or art-​ making in reverse: ‘When the iconoclast reacts with violence to the image and vehemently and dramatically attempts to break its hold on him or her, then we begin to sense its potential.’ Contra the arguments of a literal frame-​ology, we might say that the emotional and psychic space between viewer and object of aesthetic contemplation leaves room for both iconophilia and iconophobia. It blurs real and emotional space in a way that produces tangible ‘affects’ in the world. But, as we will see, paintings no more want to be slashed than vases want to be smashed. The latter want to be held and included in human actions. Arriving at an ecological approach to pictures is therefore a complicated affair. Such an approach needs to deal with obvious cases such as the fact that art becomes art by virtue of literal and institutional framing (i.e. the museum as meta-​frame). But it also needs to account for why –​as Gell puts it –​the pictorial space is one in which persons and images intermingle and passions can be aroused. However, intermingling is not the same as unbounded. Simmel (1965a, 267)  writes that ‘[w]‌hile the canvas and pigment’ in a picture are derived from shapes and materials found in reality, the work of art constructed out of these shapes and materials constitutes an ‘ideal space which can no more come into contact with actual space than tones can touch smells’. The analogy is a striking one. In contrast to the well-​worn metaphor of a painting as a window onto reality, Simmel is reminding us that things –​including pictures, tones and smells –​dwell within the world in all sorts of ways. Sometimes there are overlaps in these modes of dwelling but on the whole pictures are to other spatial configurations as tones are to smells.

Thinking about Handles The intermingling of persons and objects in pictorial space could be said to have other aesthetic parallels, such as, for example, the intermingling of function and form in everyday aesthetic objects. In ‘The Handle’, Simmel’s writes that what is most interesting about objects such as a ‘utensil’ or a ‘vase’ is that we have something that ‘stands in two worlds at once’ (1965a, 267). In other words, we need to be able to explain why some types of aesthetic objects are meant to be ‘handled, filled and emptied, proffered, and set down here and there’ (Simmel 1965a, 267). Of particular significance for Simmel’s (1965a,

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267) meditation are those objects which by virtue of being ‘held in the hand […] [are] drawn into the movement of practical life’. So it would seem that despite all the talk of aesthetic autonomy in Simmel’s work phenomena can be unified despite major apparent differences in purpose and design. Indeed, we might say that Simmel’s analogical mode of thinking is designed specifically to deal with the incongruous connections between things (de la Fuente 2008). Thus, the unity between handle and vase is compared to a ‘man’s arms which, having grown as part of the same organizational process as his torso, also mediate the relationship of the whole being to the world outside it’ (Simmel 1965a, 269). ‘The Handle’ notes that the relationship of handle to object is emblematic of the role the hand plays in practical, aesthetic and psychic life generally. It is because of its ability to create and grasp things that the hand could be said to be a ‘tool of the soul’, a symbol of how the energies present within the ‘process of life’ can be unified and manipulated for a higher purpose (Simmel 1965a, 269). To return to Simmel’s overlap with ecological aesthetic thought, ‘The Handle’ often relies on vegetative and –​as seen earlier –​organic metaphors. There are times when the author seems to be relying on the implicit understanding that man-​made and natural things share similar properties. When discussing how a human being holding a bowl reflects how the hand comes to constitute a ‘mediating bridge’ in which creating, holding and grasping are all possible, and transmit ‘the impulse of the soul into the bowl [and] into its manipulation’, Simmel (1965a, 270) opts for the following analogy: ‘It is as if man were here utilizing the channels of natural flow of sap between stem and leaf in order to pour his own impulses into an external object, thereby incorporating it into the order of his own life’ (Simmel 1965a, 270). The notion that making and using are linked, and that the human capacity for intelligence and action more generally may be the thing uniting them, brings Simmel’s exposition in ‘The Handle’ into implicit dialogue with recent writings on the significance of the hand in both creativity and material culture. The overwhelming emphasis of such literatures is that objects are an extension of the human body and practical activities –​including creative ones –​tend to blur the difference between subject and object. For example, architectural theorist Juhani Pallasmaa’s (2009, 47–​8) The Thinking Hand suggests: ‘[W]‌hen an axe or a sheath or a knife is being used, the skilled user does not think of the hand and tool as different and detached entities; the tool has grown to be a part of the hand.’ In short, using an axe or sheath or knife is both a practical and aesthetic action involving the artful manipulation of material by hand. Thus, tools tend to evolve ‘gradually through a process of small improvements, use and rejection’, and their particular beauty springs from the many unintended and ‘absolute causalities instead of being a materialization of an aesthetic



idea’ (Pallasmaa 2009, 48). The beauty of tools emanates from the ‘same pleasure of inevitability as living creatures; indeed, they possess the beauty of the human hand itself, the most perfect of all tools’ (Pallasmaa 2009, 48–​9).

Affordances: Or How to Make Sense of Coffeepots for Masochists Simmel is perhaps too much the Neo-​Kantian to accept the formula that the beauty and spiritual significance of objects lies primarily in their use. But he was clearly interested in the affordances of things and affordances are primarily about usage. In Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman (2002, 9) suggests:  ‘[A]‌ffordances provide strong clues to the operations of things.’ His examples include: A chair affords (‘is for’) support and, therefore affords sitting. […] Glass is for seeing through, and for breaking. Wood is normally used for solidity, opacity, support, and for carving. Flat, porous, smooth surfaces are for writing on. […] Knobs are for turning. Slots are for inserting things into. Balls are for throwing or bouncing. […] A psychology of causality is […] at work as we use everyday things. (Norman 2002, 9)

There are strong echoes here with Simmel’s (1997, 214)  formulation that a ‘chair exists so that one can sit on it, a glass in order that one can fill it with wine and take it in one’s hand’. But an interesting comparison with ‘The Handle’ and Design of Everyday Things arises: if Simmel, on occasion, draws too strong a distinction between aesthetics and practicality, then Norman assumes that good design and utility go hand in hand. For the latter, aesthetics plays a role in why some things work and others don’t, and the successful design of an object is thought to lie in such basic considerations as to whether you need instructions to use an object properly and whether its functions are immediately visible to the user. The overwhelming interest of Design of Everyday Things is thus to determine whether ‘poor design causes unnecessary problems for their users’ and whether common or recurring problems have ‘simple solutions, which properly exploit affordances and natural constraints’ (Norman 2002, 87). A  recurring (negative) exemplar, for the author, is French artist Jacques Carelman’s Coffeepots for Masochists, which is basically unusable as the handle and spout are on the same side. The object appears on the front cover of Design of Everyday Things and then re-​appears in the ‘Prologue’ to Emotional Design (Norman 2002; 2005). The Coffeepot for Masochists seems to exemplify Simmel’s (1965a, 272) claim that the ‘handle and spout [must] correspond to each other visually as the

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extreme points of a vessel’s diameter and that they must maintain a certain balance’ so that the handle and spout can ‘play’ the role assigned to them. The object in question also lends support to Simmel’s proposition that a vessel, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, is different from a work of art, in that it contains a link to the world of practical activity. Interesting, Norman (2002, 2) positions Carelman’s coffeepot within the realm of art, suggesting it provides a ‘delightful example of everyday things that are deliberately unworkable, outrageous, or otherwise ill-​informed’. In Emotional Design, a book that is meant show us how cognition and emotion are intertwined in design, the Coffeepot for Masochists is depicted as an object that is ‘entirely reflective’, as against ‘visceral’ or ‘behavioural’, and that while ‘not useful […] what a wonderful story it tells’ (Norman 2005, 6). However, is Norman’s understanding of affordances sufficiently ecological or interested in the organism–​environment relationship? Books such as Design of Everyday Things speak of the ‘perceived and actual properties of the thing’ in a way that strangely continues to keep the user and context separate (Norman 2002, 9). In some respects, the model is based more on ‘cognitive science’ than on ecology and what becomes ‘invariant’ is human consciousness and its relationship to pre-​existing material properties. In Perception of Environment, Ingold (2000, 19) criticizes those attempts to explain relational situations in which the ‘organism is specified genotypically, prior to its entry into the environment’ and where the ‘environment is specified as a set of physical constraints, in advance of the organisms that arrive to fill it’. We might say that not all discussions of affordances equally manage to deconstruct the subject-​object dualism or to re-​animate context as we would like.

Simmel and Contemporary Theories of Things Thus, although he sometimes seems to regard useful objects as inferior to purely artistic ones, in many respects Simmel is much more convincing than an author such as Norman when it comes to how handles and spouts intersect with the energies and flows of everyday experience. The connection between an object and, say, the hand is not merely a question of perception, categorization or mental bracketing; it is a relationship consisting of energy-​flows mediated by something called a handle. The handle directs the flow of connectivity between the object and the world, much as the ‘spout’ reverses the directionality of that connection: ‘With the handle the world approaches the vessel; with the spout the vessel reaches out to the world. Only in receiving its current through the handle and in yielding it again through the opening is the vessel fully integrated into human teleology’ (Simmel 1965a, 272). Teleology here seems to refer to the shaping of actions by immanent and contrasting forms



of constraint and facilitation of practical activity. Handles and spouts serve to provide a point of contact between the vessel and the external world, including the world of practical activity. Only the handle performs this ecological function ‘centripetally’, while the spout does this ‘centrifugally’ (Simmel 1965a, 272). Objects are organized such that they ‘seize the totality of our energy by means of such particular faculties and enlist [them] into their service’ (Simmel 1965a, 274). This enlisting is both sensory and spiritual, physical and psychic: ‘By means of the sensitivity of the sense organs, the corporeal reaches us to the soul; by means of willed innervations, the soul reaches out into the corporeal world’ (Simmel 1965a, 272). Is this entirely convincing? In his book Simmel and the Social, Olli Pyyhtinen (2010, 38)  notes how Simmel offers a relational model of the social which is ‘constantly uncovering connections between objects’ and which espouses the view that ‘one cannot trace relations by being fixed in one position’. Pyyhtinen praises the way in which the ‘various essays on culture’  –​which presumably include the kinds of reflections covered thus far in this chapter (i.e. ‘Sociological Aesthetics’, ‘The Aesthetic Significance of the Face’, ‘The Picture Frame’ and ‘The Handle’) –​focus on the ‘dynamism between objects and subjects’ instead of framing objects as ‘essentialized, external, and simply imposing their causal laws upon us’ (Pyyhtinen 2010, 112). But he also picks up on some of the themes discussed earlier by suggesting that, from the vantage point of contemporary material culture and Actor-​Network Theory, Simmel takes for granted what we mean by ‘practical’ and his analyses also assume an ‘asymmetry’ between the ‘social’ and the ‘material’: Simmel takes the use of objects as far too self-​evident and given […] he treats uses only to the extent of making a contrast between applied arts (and other utility artifacts) and works of art. […] [Many] passages ignore the specific ways that things inscribe in our everyday lives and the energy, time, skill, and attention that their care and their handling require. […] Much more careful consideration is [also] needed on the specific ways of how things create potentials for our actions and increase our capabilities, affect us and move us both in place and to place, articulate our rationalities, politics, passions, and wills, participate in our world-​ making, and so on. With Simmel, there is always an a priori asymmetry between the capabilities of humans and nonhumans: only the human subject is endowed with the powers to generate and organize the world. (Pyyhtinen 2010, 129–​30)

It is hard to deny that Simmel maintains a dualistic framework when it comes to the human and material world. It is also true that Simmel, while interested in the micrological analysis of everyday objects and experiences, provides no ethnographic or other empirical mapping of their usage. In many respects,

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Simmel is a metaphysician of the micro, who sees what universalistic and transhistorical themes have to do with the nature of human soul, rather than someone who is attempting to micrologize (if I can use such an ugly word) for its own sake. However, in the context of how we re-​animate context, I think it will pay to move on from the discussion of things like frames and handles to Simmel’s meditations on landscape. As the translator of ‘The Philosophy of Landscape’ notes, this ‘essay allows Simmel to bring a hitherto underexposed strand in his work concerning the oneness of humanity and nature within the all-​pervading Life that continuously creates, sustains and reforms them’ (Bleicher 2007, 20).

Landscape as Immersion in Material Context That landscape may force a thinker to move beyond dualisms more fully is not entirely surprising. As John Wylie (2007, 2–​11) has argued, landscape forces us to confront socially mediated ‘tensions’ such as the ones between ‘proximity/​distance’, ‘observation/​inhabitation’, ‘eye/​land’ and, ultimately, ‘culture/​nature’. Or, as an ecologically minded anthropologist we will return to shortly puts it, landscape ‘is not a totality that you or anyone else can look at, it is rather the world in which we stand […] [a]‌context of […] attentive involvement’ (Ingold 2000, 207). I would add that it is precisely this ‘context’ of ‘attentive involvement’ that Simmel is aiming to explain in his essay on landscape; and that the arguments advanced there make Simmel’s thoughts even more explicitly ecological or field/​network oriented than his reflections on other material entities. The starting point for ‘The Philosophy of Landscape’ is that, for something to constitute landscape, ‘our consciousness has to acquire a wholeness, a unity, over and above its component elements, without being tied to their specificity or mechanistically composed of them’ (Simmel 2007, 21). Varying degrees of attention to things like ‘trees and water-​courses, meadows and cornfields, hills and houses, and of the myriad changes in light and clouds’ are not enough; landscape requires a ‘boundary’ or ‘way of being’ that can provide an all-​encompassing ‘field of vision’ (Simmel 2007, 21). But, Simmel adds (2007, 21), field of vision is not meant to be taken literally, as the ‘for-​ itself ’ status and type of ‘unity’ landscape demands ‘may be optical, aesthetic or mood-​centred’. The following striking analogy is offered to explain the type of ‘sense-​perceptual unity’ at work: ‘Whatever it is that we can take in through just one glance is not landscape or within our momentary field of vision is not landscape. […] In the same way a row of books placed next to each other does not by itself add up to a “library” ’ (Simmel 2007, 23). Sense-​perceptual unity is not, however, the imposition of a particular frame of mind or type of gaze



(as some recent landscape theory has termed it). Simmel (2007, 24) criticizes the view of empirical life which holds that landscape is a series of ‘creations of mind’ that are ‘already in place’ and that as our life ‘proceeds’ from segment to segment, ‘on the ‘basis of desire or goal’, the segments are ‘incorporated’ into these pre-​existing creations. Rather, landscape is like art –​of which it is a ‘proto-​form’ –​in that it ‘emerges out of Life […] and the extent to which life already contains [the] necessary formative powers’ (Simmel 2007, 25). But what lies within us embryonically does not necessarily lead to the same outcomes. Simmel proposes, for example, that landscape affords us different types of creativity and imaginings than does the human figure: [W]‌e approach a landscape with a degree of objectivity, which cannot be as easily achieved with respect to another human being. […] In the case of the latter, we are constrained by subjective distractions such as a feeling of sympathy or antipathy […] and, above all, by one still largely unexamined presentiment of what this person could mean to us if he became a factor in our life. […] In our perception of landscape, we can group together its parts in this or that way; the emphasis between them can be shifted in many ways, or the relationship of centre and boundary. The human figuration […] determines all this out of itself. It has accomplished a synthesis around its own centre from within itself, and thereby demarcated itself unambiguously. (Simmel 2007, 26)

But just as there are different ways of capturing life via pictorial depictions of the human figure, there are different ways of apprehending the unity of nature. Thus, the sensory field of landscape differs from the concept of nature in the ‘causally thinking scholar, the religious sentiments of a worshipper of nature, the teleologically oriented tiller of the soil, or a strategist of war’ (Simmel 2007, 26). The uniqueness of the landscape mode of unifying the various elements and strands of nature consists in that most intangible of qualities: the mood of landscape. Indeed, Simmel (2007, 27) proposes that the centrality of mood to landscape (and vice versa) resolves one of the major epistemological problems that confronts discussion of material things:  namely, ‘whether our unitary perception of an object or the feeling arising with it comes first or second’. He asserts that there is ‘no cause-​and-​effect relationship’ between landscape and mood as both qualify equally as ‘cause’ and ‘effect’; nor is there an ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ to the act of landscape perception, as emotional and spiritual ambience of place is a ‘quality inherent in landscapes’ (Simmel 2007, 27). Mood here is much more than whether a landscape is ‘cheerful or serious, heroic or monotone, exciting or melancholic’ (these are all emotional ‘abstractions’). Rather, mood is the type of ‘fusion’ that the ‘unifying powers’ of the Soul can form ‘in and through landscape’ (Simmel 2007, 28).

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Aesthetic Perception of Landscape: Simmel and Ecological Approaches Compared Simmel’s ‘The Philosophy of Landscape’ warrants comparison with ecological theories of the perception and aesthetics of landscape. Gibson’s ecological theory of the kinds of perceptual affordances yielded by the physical environment has justifiably affected the field of landscape studies (Thompson 2013). It must also be said that this ecological approach is very earthy or terrestrial in nature. The landscape appears to Gibson (1979, 127–​8) as ‘surfaces of support’ that offer different kinds of actions such as climbing, falling, hiding, walking, running, swimming and colliding with; and its ‘substances’ also offer the affordances of ‘nutrition’, ‘manufacture’ and ‘manipulation’. The earth also lies ‘beneath the attached and detached objects upon it’ and, in a sense, could be said to possess ‘furniture’ and to be ‘cluttered’ (Gibson 1979,132). Landscape also affords ‘openings’ and ‘obstacles’, such as clearings in the forest or cliff-​faces that offer no possibility of passage; and visual perception works with these surfaces to provide ‘places that afford concealment, a hiding place’ (Gibson 1979, 135). Gibson’s landscapes contain invariants (e.g. if I turn my back to it, the landscape stays the same) but the interaction of surfaces and the way media interact with it (for e.g. the way that convex or concave hills and valleys capture and redirect light) provide for a relational and dynamic sense of landscape as context. Finally, landscape is not static in that place can be seen or ‘scanned’ from different vantage points (for e.g. an aerial photograph of the countryside is fundamentally different to a photo or painting of it from the ground); and as the organism moves the ‘geographical environment’ offers new points of perception which ‘correspond to the set of all paths of locomotion’ (Gibson 1966, 206). In short, perception is mobile as any shift in the eyes, head or overall orientation will produce a new sense of ambience; but also because ambulatory activity produces new vantage points from which to see, hear, touch and smell the environment. Gibson’s ecological approach has been extended in productive ways by Ingold in relationship to both landscape and to the activity of walking within it. The latter suggests that landscape is a ‘qualitative and heterogeneous’ phenomenon: imagine that you are ‘standing outdoors, [landscape] is what you see all around:  a contoured and textured surface replete with diverse objects  –​living and nonliving, natural and artificial’ (Ingold 1993, 154). Echoing Simmel’s (2007, 21)  notion that ‘[f]‌or there to be landscape, our consciousness has to acquire a wholeness […] over and above its component elements’, Ingold (1993, 154)  writes that ‘landscape is a plenum’ in which ‘there are no holes to be filled in’. Parallels between the two authors can also be seen with respect to how landscape is always to some extent bounded



yet also interwoven with a range of other things, and these, in turn, shape our consciousness of it: [A]‌place in the landscape is not ‘cut off’ from the whole, either on the plane of ideas or on that of material substance. Rather, each place embodies the whole at a particular nexus within it, and in this respect is different from every other. A place owes its character to the experiences it affords to those who spend time there –​to the sights, sounds and indeed smells that constitute specific ambience. And these, in turn, depend on the kinds of activities in which its inhabitants engage. It is […] in the business of dwelling, that each place draws its unique significance. (Ingold 1993, 155)

As against the cartographer’s notion of space which is static, and which measure the distances between fixed points, the dwelling perspective starts from the premise that ‘actual journeys are made through a landscape’ and that the meanings of place are ‘gathered from’ rather than ‘attached to’ the world we inhabit (Ingold 1993, 155). A form of dwelling of particular interest to Ingold is that of walking or moving through the landscape on ‘foot’. Gibson’s ecological psychology had already posited that flat and rigid surfaces are what afford walking; whereas, flat, non-​rigid surfaces (a ‘stream or lake’) don’t provide the necessary ‘footing’ and vertical drops are either barriers to locomotion or places that engender collisions and injuries. Again, we confront the simple fact that the surface of the earth is not homogenous. But Ingold is also interested in how landscape and walking are interwoven through the textures, rhythms and temporalities of the environment being perceived and inhabited. The ‘Introduction’ to Ways of Walking describes the co-​determination of landscape and human movement: ‘The surfaces on which inhabitants walk […] are neither flat nor homogeneous […] they are textured’ (Ingold and Vergunst 2008, 7). They suggest materials such as gravel, cobblestone or asphalt tend to look unmarked by human walking but may, over a long period of time, erode or crack due to the elements; whereas, surfaces such as snow, sand and mud, ‘being soft and malleable, are easily impressed’ but such ‘prints tend to be relatively ephemeral’ (Ingold and Vergunst 2008, 8). Thus, the kinds of traces human locomotion leaves on the earth’s surface have ‘a temporal existence, a duration, which is bound to the very dynamics of the landscape to which they belong’ (Ingold and Vergunst 2008, 8). The implications of this kind of thinking for studies of landscape are that places are themselves marked by time and by practical actions. Or, as Christopher Tilley (2004, 25) puts it in The Materiality of Stone, to understand landscape and its shaping powers on agents, a ‘more holistic perspective is required, one that links bodies, movements and places into a whole’.

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Do Simmel’s reflections on landscape meet the requirements of such a holistic understanding? He seems to be heading in this direction when he states that ‘[W]‌e relate to landscape, whether in nature or art, as whole beings’ (Simmel 2007, 29). But, to use the vernacular of Ingold and contemporary landscape studies, Simmel (2007, 29) seems to privilege one mode of dwelling above others, proclaiming that ‘[W]hile the rest of us remain more tied to [the] material [of landscape], and still tend to note only this or that separate part, only the artist really sees and creates “landscape”.’ Not only does this contradict other parts of the essay in question  –​for example, that the inseparability of mood and landscape is a general rather than specifically artistic type of experience –​it advances an argument that the materiality of landscape is merely something to be transformed rather than something that never really relinquishes its structuring effects or affordances. Also, we might ask what would Simmel make of a work of art like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, in which ‘the land itself, in terms of topography, atmosphere, geology, is a powerful, elemental and active agent, co-​constructing the artwork’ (Wylie 2007, 143)? Here we might turn to his essay ‘The Ruin’ to glean an account that takes the materiality of landscape much more seriously. Simmel (1965c, 260)  suggests that a ‘painting from which particles of paint have fallen off’ is of a different order from the ruin of a building, in which a ‘new whole, a characteristic unity’ is produced ‘out of what of art still lives’, and from what of nature is emerging. We might therefore suggest that, in the case of the ruin, what produces the aesthetic effect –​in a manner akin to that of Spiral Jetty –​ is that the ‘same forces which give a mountain its shape through weathering, erosion, faulting, and the growth of vegetation, here do their work on old walls’ (Simmel 1965a, 260). Or, couched in ecological terms, we might say that the very ground which afforded support to the construction and design of the building, and which may have provided the materials for its construction, is now producing a fusion of ruin and landscape: ‘the ruin orders itself into the surrounding landscape without a break, growing together with it like tree and stone –​whereas a palace, a villa, or a peasant house, even when they fit perfectly into the mood of the landscape, always stem from another order of things’ (Simmel 1965c, 263). Simmel (1965c, 263) suggests that a building that has not yet undergone the process of ruination can ‘blend with […] nature only as if in afterthought’.

Conclusion: Simmel and the Future of a Socio-​Aesthetics The governing assumption of this chapter has been that the social sciences badly require a new concept dealing with the phenomenon of context and that aesthetics, in its myriad of manifestations, may be able to lend a hand.



To put it in the language of the ‘new sociology of art’ (de la Fuente 2007), art and society, aesthetics and social life are not discrete and separated entities. They co-​produce each other in ways that render the concept of context problematic. What we therefore need is a type of socio-​aesthetics that can account for the sense of wholeness produced in and through specific aesthetic experiences and processes. My implicit argument has been that Simmel, with his multiple reflections on both everyday and rarefied aesthetic objects, provides a possible framework for thinking about context as the aesthetic ecology of things. The notion of an ecology has been used loosely here, a holding device if you like, for thinking about perception and environment, and how these fuse. We might say that, in Simmel’s case, ecological relations can take the form of frames, handles and landscapes, where each of these represents a different type of unity and relationship between a self-​organizing process and the flux that is Life itself. Frames remind us that we struggle to appreciate things without boundaries; but that boundaries also keep things at bay. Handles ask us to grasp, move, set down and generally use things; but never fully resolve (at least in Simmel’s eyes) the tension between aspiring to be beautiful and needing to be useful. The landscape, by contrast, is a type of context where the dynamic tensions and processes that unite Life are on full display. We leave our marks on landscape but it also shapes us, nurtures us and encourages us to dwell in a range of ways. Landscape also invites us to experience things more holistically than the frame which demarcates and the handle which holds things together but –​as is the case with Coffeepot for Masochists –​is so dependent on design and manufacture for playing its role in the ecology of things. Simmel (2007, 29) contends that landscape reminds us that ‘perception and feeling’ are two sides of the same ‘act’ and aesthetic experience only ‘gets split into these separated constituents through subsequent reflection’. Why does the type of psychic and experiential wholeness provided by the aesthetic ecology of things matter? In Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Bateson (1973, 101)  proposes that art is a type of reconciliation of the competing energies that are life itself: ‘I argue that art is part of man’s quest for grace; sometimes his ecstasy in partial success, sometimes his rage and agony at failure.’ As Efraim Podoksik (2012, 10)  notes, in several of his writings on aesthetic topics Simmel refers to situations which ‘provoke the feeling that the very opposition between nature and mind has become void’ and describes the ‘unexplained feeling of unity’ as a type of ‘grace’ or ‘undeserved gift’. Whether one terms it ‘grace’, ‘undeserved gift’, ‘fusion’, ‘flow’ or ‘transcendence’, that feeling of mysterious unity  –​which is possible, but often less common, in the non-​aesthetic dimensions of existence –​is why the aesthetic ecology of things matters.

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References Acord, Sophia and Tia Denora. 2008. ‘Culture and the Arts: From Art Worlds to Arts-​in-​ Action’. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 619: 223–​37. Arnheim, Rudolf. 1969. Visual Thinking. Berkeley: University of California Press. Bateson, Gregory. 1973. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. London: Paladin. Benzecry, Claudio. 2011. The Opera Fanatic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Bleicher, Josef. 2007. ‘Introduction’ to Georg Simmel ‘The Philosophy of Landscape’. Theory, Culture & Society, 24(7–​8): 20–​1. Davis, Murray S. 1973. ‘Georg Simmel and the Aesthetics of Social Reality’. Social Forces 51(1): 320–​9. de la Fuente, Eduardo. 2007. ‘The New Sociology of Art:  Putting Art Back into Social Science Approaches to the Arts’. Cultural Sociology 1(3): 409–​25. ——2010a. ‘In Defence of Theoretical and Methodological Pluralism in the Sociology of Art’. Cultural Sociology 4(2): 43–​52. ——2010b. ‘New Directions in the Sociology of Art’. Thesis Eleven 103: 1–​13. ——2015. ‘Thinking Contradictory Thoughts:  On the Convergence of Aesthetic and Social Factors in Recent Sociologies of Art’. In Randy Martin (ed.) Routledge Companion to Art and Politics. London and New York: Routledge, 53–​66. Freedberg, David. 1989. The Power of Images:  Studies in the History and Theory of Response. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Frisby, David. 1991. ‘The Aesthetics of Modern Life:  Simmel’s Interpretation’. Theory, Culture & Society 8(3): 73–​94. Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gibson, James J. 1966. The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin. ——1979. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Hennion, Antoine. 2005. ‘Pragmatics of Taste’. In Mark Jacobs and Nancy Hanrahan (eds.) Blackwell Companion to Cultural Sociology. Oxford: Blackwell, 131–​44. Ingold, Tim. 1993. ‘Temporality of the Landscape’. World Archaeology 25(2): 152–​74. ——2000. Perception of the Environment:  Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge. Ingold, Tim and Jo Lee Vergunst. 2008. ‘Introduction’. In Tim Ingold and Jo Lee Vergunst (eds.) Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot. London: Ashgate, 1–​20. Lash, Scott. 2005. ‘Lebenssoziologie: Georg Simmel in the Information Age’. Theory, Culture & Society 22(3): 1–​23. Mitchell, W. J. T. 2005. What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Mukerji, Chandra. 1983. From Graven Images. New York: Columbia University Press. Murphy, Peter. 2014. ‘Beautiful Minds and Ugly Buildings:  Object Creation, Digital Production, and the Research University  –​Reflections on the Aesthetic Ecology of the Mind’. In Michael A. Peters, Tina A. C. Besley and Daniel Araya (eds.) The New Development Paradigm:  Education, Knowledge Economy, and Digital Futures. New  York:  Peter Lang, 161–​76. Norman, Donald. 2002. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books. ——2005. Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books. Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2009. The Thinking Hand. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.



Podoksik, Efraim. 2012. ‘In Search of Unity: Georg Simmel in Italian Cities as Works of Art’. Theory, Culture & Society. 29(7–​8): 101–​23. Pyyhtinen, Olli. 2010. Simmel and the Social. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Scott, A. and H. Staubmann. 2005. ‘Editors’ Introduction’. In Georg Simmel, Rembrandt: An Essay in the Philosophy of Art. New York: Routledge, xi–​xix. Simmel, Georg. 1965a. ‘The Handle’. In Kurt H. Wolff (ed.) Georg Simmel: Essays on Sociology, Philosophy and Aesthetics. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 267–​75. ——1965b. ‘The Aesthetic Significance of the Face’. In Kurt H. Wolff (ed.) Georg Simmel:  Essays on Sociology, Philosophy and Aesthetics. New  York:  Harper Torchbooks, 276–​81. ——1965c. ‘The Ruin’. In Kurt H. Wolff (ed.) Georg Simmel: Essays on Sociology, Philosophy and Aesthetics. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 259–​66. ——1968. ‘Sociological Aesthetics’. In Peter E. Etzkorn (ed.) Georg Simmel: The Conflict in Modern Culture and other Essays. New York: Teachers College Press, 68–​80. ——1994. ‘The Picture Frame: An Aesthetic Study’. Theory, Culture & Society 11: 11–​17. ——2007. ‘The Philosophy of Landscape’. Theory, Culture & Society 24(7–​8): 20–​9. Tanner, Jeremy. 2004. ‘Introduction: Sociology and Art History’. In Jeremy Tanner (ed.) The Sociology of Art. London and New York: Routledge, 1–​26. Thompson, Catherine Ward. 2013. ‘Landscape Perception and Environmental Psychology’. In Peter Hoard, Ian Thompson and Emma Waverton (eds.) Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies. New York: Routledge, 25–​42. Thrift, Nigel and John-​David Dewsbury. 2000. ‘Dead Geographies –​and How to Make Them Live’. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18: 463–​76. Tilley, Christopher. 2004. The Materiality of Stone:  Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology, London: Bloomsbury Academic. Valsiner, Jan. 2008. ‘Ornamented Worlds and Textures of Feeling:  The Power of Abundance’. Critical Social Studies 1: 67–​78. Wylie, John. 2007. Landscape. New York: Routledge. Zerubavel, Eviatar. 1991. The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life. New York: The Free Press.

Chapter 9 GOETHE AND THE CREATIVE LIFE Georg Simmel Introduced and translated by Austin Harrington

Translator’s Introduction Simmel published numerous pieces on Goethe throughout his years, but the longest and most substantial is his monograph from 1913, titled simply Goethe. Striking in this text is how far Simmel here rises above standard German literary hagiography of the period and propounds a vision of human subjectivity in the poet’s works that merits comparison with some of the most powerful texts in social theory of the age. Far from any simple homage to canonical German normative doctrines of Bildung and Kultur –​of which countless examples abounded from the turn of the century onwards  –​this book by Simmel brings German Goethe commentary to a distinct and novel idiom of engagement. In essence, it presents Simmel’s analysis of the figure of ‘totality’ in human conduct of life and seeks, in Goethe’s spirit, to vindicate ideas of integrity or wholeness of personality in ways that go beyond simple commonplace of the period –​beyond what one might call, following Peter Gay in his book on German manners and mores on the eve of National Socialism, ‘the hunger for wholeness’ (1968, 70). As Simmel explicates again and again in this text, difference and division in Goethe’s symbolism constantly puncture and destroy wholeness, yet constantly must inhabit wholeness to reap their work. Difference for Goethe is not subsumed or ‘sublated’ into totality in any definitive fashion, after the fashion of Hegel  –​or perhaps rather of some crude image of Hegel as the ‘totalizing’ theorist par excellence of modern Western thought. Rather, difference and the whole, for Simmel, are, together, the two twin primal motors of Life in its constant journey of discovery and turmoil. Goethe’s life, and in principle any individual human life, is an unending work of projective self-​reconstruction and re-​formation from division and dispersion, at perpetual moments of intersection in social circles.



The following text by Simmel is an abridged translation of ­chapter 1 from Goethe, titled ‘Leben und Schaffen’ (‘Life and Creation’) (Simmel 2003, 13–​31). Chiefly two themes come to the fore: The first is the figure of ‘genius’ in Goethe understood not solely as a symbol of exceptional creative capacity in one German poet but more especially as a cipher of the more universal condition of unified subjective flow of experience and structured objective form of self-​understanding that every human individual is in principle in a position to strive to attain. Modern contingent social conditions, however  –​industrialized mechanized labour, bureaucratic administration and so on –​inhibit this prospect for the great mass of peoples and populations. In Simmel’s words, the modern worker faces a dilemma: ‘One type of average behaviour conducts a merely subjective life in which each moment’s content is nothing but a bridge between the preceding and succeeding moment of a process to which this behaviour remains in thrall. In the economic domain, this is the fate of people who labour today solely in order to live tomorrow. Another type of behaviour only wants to produce objective things, regardless of whatever cost or benefit to individual life. All value of work for such people is defined by purely objective norms.’ The theme is the familiar one from Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, revisited by Marx, Lukács, Marcuse and many others –​but, in Simmel’s hands, not yet embroidered with any definite political agenda. The second theme is that of ‘expression’ in Goethe, and in principle in any work of a particular poet or artistic agent, which is always more than expression of Goethe’s or the artist’s contingent empirical emotive life. Not only literary texts in general but specifically lyric texts committed to the expression of intense intimate personal feelings and emotions, such as The Sufferings of Young Werther and other pieces from Goethe’s youthful period, find emotive meaning at a level beyond incidental authorial experiences of life. Parallel in many ways to Wilhelm Dilthey’s book on Hölderlin and others, Dichtung und Erlebnis (Poetry and Experience, 1906), and foreshadowing in many other ways subsequent twentieth-​century literary theory and philosophy after the ‘linguistic turn’, Simmel’s thesis is that emotion in literature and art in general is always the structured product of definite systems of linguistic and symbolic elements regnant in particular contexts of communication. As Simmel also explicates at length in other complex writings on Stefan George, Rembrandt, theatre and the concept and genre of portraiture in painting, expression is not a matter of the relay of soul or psyche from person to person but of soul always enacted, played and performed as form. * * *

Goethe and the Creative Life


If mental life differs from the life of the purely corporeal organism in possessing content and not only being pure process, practical action, similarly, at the truly human level, has a result and is not, or is no longer, simply a continuously replete coursing along of life. Consequences of action do not dissolve entirely and immediately into a context of life from which their causes originate but instead subsist to some extent beyond this context, even if they may eventually be drawn back into it. Life in this way surrenders its character of pure subjectivity, for these consequences or emergent products have their own norms and knit together their own meanings and outcomes in purely objective orders. Such a possibility of depositing the results of life’s energies outside of life itself, and assuredly in some way outside of the subject, places cultivated man in a certain dualistic situation of existence that is usually resolved in a fairly one-​ sided manner. One type of average behaviour conducts a merely subjective life in which each moment’s content is nothing but a bridge between the preceding and succeeding moment of a process to which this behaviour remains in thrall. In the economic domain, this is the fate of people who labour today solely in order to live tomorrow. Another type of behaviour only wants to produce objective things, regardless of whatever cost or benefit to individual life. All value of work for such people is defined by purely objective norms. The former type of people never move outside of their subjective intention of life, whereas this latter type never return back to themselves –​never create anything from their own being but only ever from an impersonal order of things. Now it is the essence of genius to display the organic unity of these two somewhat ‘mechanically’ disjoined sides. A  genius’s life unfolds solely from its own innermost unique necessities –​but the contents and results the genius creates have objective significance, as though brought forth by the norms and ideal demands of objective orders of things. The impression of something exceptional that is essential for genius stems from a way in which subjective life and objective values form a singular unity in this individual, while never or only ever accidentally coming together in any other type of person. Thus it is that a genius can appear both as the most autonomous, most world-​forsaking and self-​reliant being and as a pure vessel of objective necessity, of God. Perhaps more than any other human being, Goethe belongs here to that type of genius whose subjective life issues as if by nature in objectively valuable production, in art, in knowledge and practical conduct. […] Precisely this characterizes a man whose life developed outwards from an inner centre, driven by forces and necessities of his own self, and whose finished oeuvre was nothing but a spontaneous product of this development, not a prior goal on which all his action depended. […] That purposiveness of specialized man who can only value life as a process of being drawn along toward a goal, instead of as one growing forth from its roots, was quite alien to Goethe, and this certainly also accounts fundamentally for his rejection of



all teleological conceptions of nature. When he says that nature ‘would be too great to reach goals and would have no need to do so’, this also applies to himself. Not even his work [Werk] was, in any conventional sense, the goal of his labour [Arbeit]. It was, rather, its outcome –​in a most basic and non-​ contingent sense of this word. […] Goethe’s antipathy to professionalism and schooling was not any kind of extreme individualism; for he also greatly stressed a cooperative spirit among scholars and deplored all proclivities to ‘monologue’. His, rather, was an antipathy to the determination of life’s labour by fixed, ideally preexistent contents. Amorous life and play meant for him that life’s energies were to evolve independently of all things external that prescribed directions for life in ways at bottom foreign to it, however worthy these directions might have been in themselves. Indeed, he even regarded life’s every substantive result as inessential to the process from which all results stem and flow. ‘A person is significant’, he tells us, ‘not for what he bequeaths but for what he brings about and enjoys and moves others to bring about and enjoy.’ And even more monumentally, he says: ‘Important in life is clearly life, not results.’ This is in Schiller’s sense that man is only fully man when he plays. In play, individuals slough off all influences of the technical object to give free reign to the energies of their essence. No longer oppressed by objective orders alien to them, their directions in life are shaped exclusively by their own desires and capabilities. […] […] The ‘professionalism’ that Goethe so hated constantly pushes away the tasks facing modern people from the directions of their capabilities. The extent and consequences of the demands of life’s increasing objectification has a logic beyond our mastery and requires of us, as subjects, an arduous and subjectively meaningless expenditure of energies. The upshot for us as modern people is a palpable sense that we have not worked hard enough unless we have worked too much. Subjectively, indeed, we work too much, because we must make extra conscious efforts to fill the gaps in our spontaneous selves in the process of satisfying the demands of this differently oriented structure of objectivity –​ while at the same time having no outlet for the creative possibilities and powers we do want to engage. Such diremption of subjective and objective horizons of action is the ultimate explanation for so many people’s intentions of life today deteriorating into rationalistic, bureaucratic regimentation, on one hand, and anarchic formlessness, on the other –​in contrast to Goethe’s ability to forge, from the unity of these horizons, a ceaseless and most intensive ‘work of play’. […] It is a mistake of the first order to think that anything of the slightest import is gained for our understanding of a poetic work by referring to its ‘model’. At best, a work’s so-​called model is but one of thousands of elements from experience that contribute to it and that in any case, even if one could count them all, would still leave the poetic work, for the sake of which we are in any way

Goethe and the Creative Life


concerned with these elements, untouched even by a single atom. Unearthing the model as a work’s pre-​artistic substrate highlights precisely what has nothing to do with a work as a work of art. That such overvaluation of the model has wide currency in popular and academic notions of art alike is no coincidence. It arises from a mechanistic-​mathematizing worldview that believes it has comprehended all reality when and only when it has reduced it to copies [Gleichungen] of things. In finding something in reality to which the artwork apparently bears likeness or ‘sameness’ [‘Gleichheit’], we are supposed to have ‘explained’ it. And to this deification of likeness is then added the most vulgar notion that between cause and effect some likeness must also exist. Ultimately it is coarse and externalizing theories of milieu that subtend this overestimation of the model as an explanatory ground for the work of art. Inner creativity is here always supposed to be understood –​or rather replaced –​by elements mechanically transferred from outside, whereas in truth all that these elements can hint at is an autonomous life of the work of art, entirely heterogeneous to them. If, as recently, ‘lived experience’ [‘Erlebnis’] is now also invoked as the source of a work of art, this is in no way essentially to break with notions of genesis from milieu and model but only to refine them with a subjectivist twist. For artistic spontaneity does not arise from lived experience in any immediate way either. Though both experience and spontaneity form aspects of the life of the ego, the former here relates merely externally to the latter. The very general concept of lived experience must be much more tightly defined if justice is to be done to it as a basis for comprehending works of art in the manner Goethe envisioned. The possibility of the connection at issue lies in how both lived experience and creativity draw a common presupposition and form-​giving principle from life’s process in all its persistent character, intentions and rhythms. Though different for each individual, perhaps just one very general, not conceptually definable formula exists that describes an ego’s psychic processes in terms of both receptivity to the world through lived experience, on one hand, and creative activity in the world, on the other. That one such law governing all phenomena of an individual life may indeed exist seems to have struck Goethe very early on when he wrote in his diary in 1780: ‘I need to look more closely at the circle turning around in me, from good days to bad days: my passions, my attachment, my impulse to do this or that. Invention, execution, order: everything changes but follows a regular circuit: cheeriness, gloominess, strength, weaknesses, elasticity, serenity, and desire.’ Now to the degree that this basic daily movement of a person’s nature is itself already characterized predominantly by formative artistic spontaneity, to just this degree will lived experience also itself already bear features of creativity and artistic values, from the outset and in the very manner of his life. Where the radical juices [Würzelsäfte] of a personality that first assimilate reality and first fashion it into



lived experience are themselves already artistically tinged, lived experience is already a kind of ‘artistic half-​product’ and its fundamentally alien character is no longer cancelled [aufgehoben] by the artwork. To one extent or another, this is the case with all artists and is the reason so many of the greatest stylists and sovereign redesigners of the real have sincerely believed themselves to be merely faithfully transcribing the impressions of nature and immediate experience. […] To illustrate this with a rather crude example: just as the religious visionary sees ‘God’s handiwork’ everywhere because he or she sees all things as parts and possible proof of a divine plan for the world, so an artist literally sees things of the world from the outset as possible works of art; and these things become lived experience for this artist through the same categories through which they become works of art when these categories function even more actively and autonomously. […] That the relation between lived experience and work of art was so uncompromisingly close for Goethe, leading him to proclaim what seems at first glance an incomprehensibly literalistic descriptive naturalism of poetry, stems simply from the incomparably high degree to which basic artistic forms permeated the fibres of his life. […] To be sure, it is hard to rebut the objection that if one takes any one of his works in isolation, none matches in power and perfection the Oresteia or King Lear, Michelangelo’s Medici tombstones, Rembrandt’s religious paintings, Bach’s B-​minor mass or Beethoven’s ninth symphony. But in no other artist do art’s organizing powers penetrate so formatively and expansively into the unity of a personality that an entire universe of phenomena of experience of the world is transformed into potential works of art –​simply by virtue of being lived and beheld. Thus if Goethe believed his works to be conveying nothing more than given realities, this was but one attempt on his part to describe theoretically the inner dynamic, the artistic apriori, by which ideas and life became his ideas and his life alone. His created works simply made and make visible that which his own vital processes themselves have already been fashioning out of life’s raw contents of experience. And perhaps this is the best and highest example and illustration we have for our only taking from life that which we have invested in it, not only in what we know and enjoy but also in what we create. Creativity for Goethe seemed inseparable from experience for him because experience itself was creative for him.

References (Note that Simmel does not provide references for his quotations from Goethe.) Gay, Peter. 1968. Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Simmel, Georg. 2003. Goethe. Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe. Vol. 15. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Appendix SIMMEL IN ENGLISH: A BIBLIOGRAPHY BY THOMAS KEMPLE Below is a comprehensive list of Simmel’s writings currently available in English translation. They are listed in chronological order according to the date of publication or composition in Simmel’s lifetime, using the best available information provided by the editors of the Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe. Where different versions or editions were published in Simmel’s lifetime, the latest one is used as the primary reference, such as the 1903 version of ‘The Sociology of Space’ that was later revised, expanded and combined with the excurses on ‘the stranger’, ‘the social boundary’ and ‘the sociology of the senses’ as c­ hapter 9 of Sociology, and is therefore listed under 1908c. Where no English edition of a complete work exists, my own or an alternative translation of the German title appears in square brackets, such as the collection of essays in Philosophische Kultur [Philosophical Culture], published in 1911. Note that translations of some works appear in several English-​language sources, in whole or in part, such as The Philosophy of Money (1907c), Sociology (1908c) and The View of Life (1918c). Also worth noting is that of the 24 volumes of the Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe, only volumes 6, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 16 have appeared in English, in whole or in part, leaving a large proportion of Simmel’s writings as yet untranslated. Austin Harrington is preparing a volume of Simmel’s essays on art and aesthetics. The list indicates translations available in issues of Theory, Culture & Society, using the abbreviation TCS (both print and on-​line editions), the American Journal of Sociology using the abbreviation AJS (also print and on-​line), and from the following English editions which contain selections from Simmel’s shorter writings: Etzkorn, K. Peter (ed.). 1968. The Conflict in Modern Culture and Other Essays. New York: Teachers College Press. Frisby, David and Mike Feathersone (eds.). 1997. Simmel on Culture. London:  Sage Publications.



Helle, Horst Jürgen (ed.). 1997. Georg Simmel:  Essays on Religion. New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press. Lawrence, Peter A. (ed.). 1976. Georg Simmel: Sociologist and European. Middlesex, UK: Nelson. Levine, Donald N. (ed.). 1971. Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Oakes, Guy (ed.). 1984. Georg Simmel: On Women, Sexuality, and Love. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Oakes, Guy (ed.). 1980. Georg Simmel:  Essays on Interpretation in Social Science. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Wolff, Kurt H. (ed.). 1959. Georg Simmel, 1858–​1919. Columbus:  Ohio State University Press. Wolff, Kurt H. (ed.). 1950. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. New York: The Free Press.

The corresponding German sources of these translations from the 24 volumes of the Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe (1989–2015​), edited by Otthein Rammstedt et al. (eds.) and published by Suhrkamp Verlag (Frankfurt), are indicated using the abbreviation GSG: GSG 1: Das Wesen der Materie nach Kants Physische Monodologie. Abhandlungen 1882–​ 1884. Rezensionen 1883–​1901 [The Nature of Matter According to Kant’s Physical Monadology. Articles 1882–​1994. Reviews 1883–​1901]. GSG 2:  Aufsätze 1887–​1890. Über sociale Differenzierung 1890. Die Probleme der Geschichtsphilosophie 1892 [Articles 1887–​1890. On Social Differentiation 1890. Problems in the Philosophy of History 1892]. GSG 3: Einleitung in die Moralwissenschaft. Erster Band [Introduction to the Science of Morality. First Volume]. GSG 4: Einleitung in die Moralwissenschaft. Zweiter Band [Introduction to the Science of Morality. Second Volume]. GSG 5: Aufsätze und Abhandlungen 1894–​1900 [Articles and Essays 1894–​1900]. GSG 6: Philosophie des Geldes 1900/​1907 [Philosophy of Money 1900/​1907]. GSG 7: Aufsätze und Abhandlungen 1901–​1908 I [Articles and Essays 1901–​1908 I]. GSG 8: Aufsätze und Abhandlungen 1901–​1908 II [Articles and Essays 1901–​1908 II]. GSG 9: Kant. Die Probleme der Geschichtsphilosophie [Kant. Problems in the Philosophy of History]. GSG 10: Philosophie der Mode 1905. Die Religion 1906/​1912. Kant und Goethe 1906/​ 1916. Schopenhauer und Nietzsche 1907 [Philosophy of Fashion 1905. Religion 1906/​ 1912. Kant and Goethe 1906/​1916. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche 1907]. GSG 11:  Soziologie. Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung 1908 [Sociology: Studies in the Forms of Association 1908]. GSG 12: Aufsätze und Abhandlungen 1909–​1918 I [Articles and Essays 1909–​1918 I].

Simmel in English


GSG 13: Aufsätze und Abhandlungen 1909–​1918 II [Articles and Essays 1919–​1918 II]. GSG 14:  Hauptprobleme der Philosophie. Philosophische Kultur [Main Problems of Philosophy. Philosophical Culture]. GSG 15 Goethe. Deutschlands innere Wandlung. Das Problem der historischen Zeit. Rembrandt [Goethe. Germany’s Inner Transformation. The Problem of Historical Time. Rembrandt]. GSG 16:  Der Krieg und die geistigen Entscheidungen. Grundfragen der Soziologie. Vom Wesen des historischen Verstehens. Der Konflikt der mondernen Kultur. Lebensanschauung [The War and Spiritual Decisions. Basic Problems of Sociology. On the Nature of Historical Understanding. View of Life]. GSG 17: Miszellen, Glossen, Stellungsnahmen, Umfrageantworten, Leserbriefe, Diskussions­ beiträge 1889–​1918. Anonyme und pseudonyme Veröffentlichungen 1888–​1920 [Miscellany, Marginalia, Statements, Survey Responses, Reader’s Letters, Contributions to Scholarly Discussions 1889–​1918. Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications 1888–​1920]. GSG 18: Englischsprachige Publikationen [Publications in English]. GSG 19: Französich-​und italienischsprachige Veröffentlichungen. Mélanges de philosophie relativiste [Publications in French and Italian. Collected Writings on Relativist Philosophy]. GSG 20:  Postume Veröffentlichungen. Ungedrucktes. Schulpädagogik [Posthumous Publications. Unpublished Writings. School Pedagogy]. GSG 21: Kolleghefte und Mitschriften [Lecture Notes and Related Writings]. GSG 22: Briefe 1880–​1911 [Letters 1880–​1911]. GSG 23: Briefe 1912–​1918 [Letters 1912–​1918]. GSG 24:  Indices, Gesamtbibliographie, Biographie, Dokumente, Nachträge [Indexes. Comprehensive Bibliography. Documents. Addenda].

* * * 1882. ‘Psychological and Ethnological Studies on Music’. K.  Peter Ezkorn (trans.). In Etzkorn 1968; GSG 1. 1889. ‘On the Psychology of Money’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997; GSG 2. 1890. [On Social Differentiation [­chapter 5:] ‘The Intersection of Social Circles’; [­chapter 6:] ‘Differentiation and the Principle of Saving Energy’. D.  E. Jenkinson (trans.). In Lawrence 1976. GSG 2. 1891/​1892. ‘Some Remarks on Prostitution in the Present and the Future’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 17. 1892. ‘A Few Words on Spiritualism’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 17. 1892/​93. [From Einleitung in die Moralwissenschaft, volume two:] ‘Moral Deficiencies as Determining Intellectual Functions’. (unknown trans.). In International Journal of Ethics 3 (4) 1893, 490–​507. GSG 4; GSG 18. 1893. ‘Infelices Possidentes! (Unhappy Dwellers)’ [Unhappy Are Those with Possessions]. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 17.



1895. ‘On the Sociology of the Family’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans). In TCS 15 (3–​4) 1998. GSG 5. 1896a. ‘Money in Modern Culture’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. In TCS 8 (3) 1991. GSG 5. 1896b. ‘The Berlin Trade Exhibition’. Sam Whimster (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997 In TCS 8 (3) 1991. GSG 17. 1896c. ‘The Women’s Congress and Social Democracy’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 17. 1896d. ‘Sociological Aesthetics’. K. Peter Etzkorn (trans.). In Etzkorn 1968. GSG 5. 1897a. ‘Beyond Beauty’. Thomas M. Kemple and Austin Harrington (trans.). In TCS 29 (3–​4) 2012. GSG 17. 1897b. ‘On Social Medicine’. John Casparis and A. C. Higgins (trans.). In Social Forces 47 (3) 1969. GSG 1. 1898a. ‘Rome’. Ulrich Teucher and Thomas M.  Kemple (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​ 8) 2007. GSG 5. 1898b. ‘On the Sociology of Religion’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. Horst H. Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. GSG 5. 1901a. ‘The Aesthetic Significance of the Face’. Lore Ferguson (trans.). In Wolff 1959. GSG 7. 1901b. ‘Only a Bridge’. Thomas M. Kemple (trans.). In TCS 29 (3–​4) 2012. GSG 17. 1901–​1902. ‘Snapshots sub specie aeternitatis’. Thomas M. Kemple (trans.). In TCS 29 (3–​4) 2012. GSG 17. 1902a. ‘Contributions to the Epistemology of Religion’. Horst J. Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. GSG 7. 1902b. ‘The Picture Frame:  An Aesthetic Study’. Mark Ritter (trans.). In TCS 11 (1) 1994. GSG 7. 1902c. ‘Tendencies in German Life and Thought Since 1870’. W.  D. Briggs (trans.). In Georg Simmel:  Critical Assessments, Vol. I. David Frisby (ed.). London:  Routledge, 1994; GSG 18; GSG 7. 1903a. ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’. Hans H. Gerth (trans.). In Wolff 1950 and Frisby and Featherstone 1997; Edward Shils (trans.). In Levine 1971; GSG 7. 1903b. ‘On the Salvation of the Soul’. Horst J. Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. GSG 7. 1903c. ‘On Aesthetic Quantities’. K. Peter Etzkorn (trans.). In Etzkorn 1968. GSG 7. 1904a. ‘Religion and the Contradictions of Life’. Horst J.  Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. GSG 7. 1904b. ‘On the History of Philosophy’. Guy Oakes (trans.). In Oakes 1980. GSG 8. 1904c. ‘The Tale of the Color’. Aaron Schuster (trans.). In Cabinet Magazine 36 2009/​2010 http://​​issues/​36/​simmel.php. GSG 8. 1906a. ‘On the Third Dimension in Art’. K. Peter Etzkorn (trans.). In Etzkorn 1968. GSG 8. 1906b. ‘Florence’. Ulrich Teucher and Thomas M.  Kemple (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007. GSG 8. 1907a. ‘Venice’. Ulrich Teucher and Thomas M.  Kemple (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​ 8) 2007. GSG 8. 1907b. ‘Christianity and Art’. Horst J. Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. GSG 8. 1907c. The Philosophy of Money. Tom Bottomore and David Frisby (trans.). London: Routledge, 1990. GSG 6. Also:

Simmel in English


[Analytical Part:] ‘Exchange’ (Donald N. Levine (trans.). In Levine 1971; ‘The Miser and the Spendthrift’. Roberta Ash (trans.). In Levine 1971. [Synthetic Part:] ‘Prostitution’. Roberta Ash (trans.). In Levine 1971. ‘Individual Freedom’ and ‘The Style of Life’. D. E. Jenkinson (trans.). In Lawrence 1976. ‘The Concept of Culture’. David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. 1907d. The Problems of the Philosophy of History: An Epistemological Essay. Guy Oakes (trans.). New York: The Free Press 1977. Also: ‘How Is History Possible?’ Donald N. Levine (trans.). In Levine 1971. GSG 10. 1907e. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Helmut Loiskandl, Deena Weinstein and Mark Weinstein (trans.). Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991. GSG 10. 1908a. ‘On the Essence of Culture’. D. E. Jenkinson (trans.). In Lawrence 1976. Frisby and Featherstone 1997. ‘The Meaning of Culture’. K. Peter Etzkorn (trans.). In Etzkorn 1968. ‘Subjective Culture’. Roberta Ash (trans.). In Levine 1971. GSG 8. 1908b. ‘The Problem of Style’. Mark Ritter (trans.). In TCS 8 (3)  1991; Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 8. 1908c. Sociology:  Inquiries into the Construction of Social Forms (2 Volumes). Anthony J.  Blasi, Anton K. Jacobs, Matthew Kanjiranthinkal (trans). Horst J. Helle (intro.) Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009. GSG 11. Also:

[Chapter  1:] ‘The Problem of Sociology’ 1895. Anonymous (trans.). In Georg Simmel: Critical Assessments I. David Frisby (ed.). London: Routledge, 1994; GSG 18. Albion W. Small (trans.). In AJS 16 (3) 1910; GSG 18. Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1959; Levine 1971. ‘[Excursus on the Problem:] How Is Society Possible?’. Albion W. Small (trans.). In AJS 15 (3) 1909; GSG 18. Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1959; Levine 1971. [Chapter 2:] ‘The Quantitative Conditioning of the Group’. Albion W. Small (trans.). In AJS 8 (1, 2)  1898; GSG 18. ‘Quantitative Aspects of the Group’. Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1950. [Chapter  3:] ‘Domination and Subordination’. Albion Small (trans.). In AJS 2 (2,3) 1896; GSG 18. ‘Superordination and Subordination’. Kurt H.  Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1950; Levine 1971. [Chapter 4:] ‘Competition’ [1903]. Horst J. Helle (trans.). In Canadian Journal of Sociology 33 (4) 2008. GSG 6. ‘Competition’. Albion W. Small (trans.). In AJS 9 (4, 5, 6)  1904; GSG 18. Kurt H.  Wolff (trans). In Conflict and the Web Group Affiliations. New York: The Free Press, 1955; Lawrence 1976; Levine 1971. [Chapter 5:] ‘The Secret and the Secret Society’. Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1950. ‘[Excursus on] Adornment’. Albion W. Small (trans.). In AJS 11 (4) 1906; GSG 18. Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1950; Frisby and Featherstone 1997. [Chapter  6:] ‘The Intersection of Social Circles’ [1890]. D.  E. Jenkinson (trans.). In Lawrence 1976. ‘The Web of Group Affiliations’. Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). In Conflict and the Web Group Affiliations. New  York:  The Free Press, 1955.



[Chapter 7:] ‘The Poor’. Claire Jacobson (trans.). In Levine 1971. ‘[Excursus on] the Negative Character of Collective Behaviour’. Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1950. [Chapter  8]:  ‘The Self-​Preservation of the Group’] ‘The Persistence of Social Groups’ 1898. Albion W. Small (trans.). In AJS 3 (5, 6) and 4 (1) 1898; GSG 18. ‘[Excursus on] Fidelity and Gratitude’. Kurt H.  Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1950. [Chapter 9:] ‘Space and the Spatial Ordering of Society’] ‘The Sociology of Space’ [1903]. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 7. ‘[Excursus on] the Sociology of the Senses’ 1907. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. ‘[Excursus on] the Stranger’. Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1950; Frisby and Featherstone 1997; Levine 1971. ‘[Excursus on] the Social Boundary’. Ulrich Teucher and Thomas Kemple (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007. [Chapter  10:] ‘The Expansion of the Group and the Development of Individuality’. Richard P. Albares (trans.). In Levine 1971. ‘The Categories of Human Experience’. Donald N. Levine. (trans.). In Levine 1971. ‘[Excursus on] the Nobility’. Richard P. Albares (trans.). In Levine 1971. 1909a. ‘Bridge and Door’. Mark Ritter (trans.). In TCS 11 (1)  1991. In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 12. 1909b. ‘The Future of Our Culture’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. D. E. Jenkinson (trans.). In Lawrence 1976. GSG 12. 1909c. ‘Fundamental Religious Ideas and Modern Science:  An Inquiry’. Horst J.  Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. GSG 12. 1910a. ‘Sociology of the Meal’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 12. 1910b. [The Main Questions of Philosophy. ­chapter 1:] ‘On the Nature of Philosophy’. Rudolph H. Weingartner (trans.). In Wolff 1959. GSG 14. 1911. [Philosophical Culture: Collected Essays]. GSG 14.

‘ “Introduction” to Philosophical Culture’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. ‘The Adventure’. David Kettler (trans.). In Wolff 1959; Levine 1971; Frisby and Featherstone 1997. ‘Fashion’ [1904]. Anonymous (trans.). In International Quarterly 10 (1); GSG 18. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997; GSG 10. ‘The Relative and Absolute Problem of the Sexes’. Guy Oakes (trans.). In Oakes 1984. ‘Flirtation’. Guy Oakes (trans.). In Oakes 1984. ‘The Handle’. Rudolph H. Weingartner (trans.). In Wolff 1959.

Simmel in English


‘The Ruin’. David Kettler (trans.). In Wolff 1959. [‘The Alps’]. ‘The Alpine Journey’ [1895]. Sam Whimster (trans.). In TCS 8 (3) 1991; Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 5. ‘The Personality of God’. Horst J. Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. ‘The Problem of Religion Today’. Horst J. Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. ‘The Concept and the Tragedy of Culture’. K. Peter Etzkorn (trans.). In Etzkorn 1969. David Frisby and Mark Ritter (trans). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. ‘Female Culture’. Guy Oakes (trans.). In Oakes 1984; Frisby and Featherstone 1997. 1912a. ‘Religion’. Horst J. Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. GSG 10. 1912b. ‘The Dramatic Actor and Reality’. K.  Peter Etzkorn (trans.). In Etzkorn 1968. GSG 12. 1913a. ‘The Philosophy of Landscape’. Josef Bleicher (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007. GSG 12. 1913b. [Goethe. ­chapter  1:  Life and Creation] ‘Goethe and the Creative Life’. Austin Harrington (trans.). In The Anthem Companion to Simmel. Thomas Kemple and Olli Pyyhtinen (eds). Anthem Press. 2016. 1914a. ‘Goethe and Youth’. Ulrich Teucher and Thomas M. Kemple (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007. GSG 12. 1914b. ‘Rembrandt’s Religious Art’. Horst J. Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. GSG 12. 1915a. ‘ “Become What You Are” ’. Ulrich Teucher and Thomas M. Kemple (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007. GSG 13. 1915b. ‘Europe and America in World History’. Austin Harrington (trans.). In European Journal of Social Theory 8 (1) 2005. GSG 13. 1916a. ‘The Problem of Historical Time’. Guy Oakes (trans.). In Oakes 1980. GSG 13. 1916b. Kant and Goethe: On the History of the Modern Weltanschauung. Josef Bleicher (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007; GSG 10. 1916c. Rembrandt: An Essay on the Philosophy of Art. Alan Scott and Helmut Staubmann (trans., eds.). New York and London: Routledge, 2005. GSG 15. 1916d. ‘The Change in Cultural Forms’. Mark Ritter and David Frisby (trans.). In Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 13. 1917a. Fundamental Problems in Sociology (Individual and Society). Kurt H. Wolff (trans.). In Wolff 1950. GSG 16. Also:

[Chapter 1:] ‘The Field of Sociology’. D. E. Jenkinson (trans.). In Lawrence 1976. [Chapter 2:] The Social and the Individual (An Example of General Sociology)] ‘Individualism’ [1917]. Austin Harrington (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007. GSG 13. [Chapter 3:] ‘The Sociology of Sociability’ [1910]. Everett C. Hughes (trans.). In Levine 1971; Frisby and Featherstone 1997. GSG 12. ‘Sociability’ [(an Example of Pure Sociology)]. D. E. Jenkinson (trans.). In Lawrence 1976. [Chapter 4:] Individual and Society in 18th and 19th Century View of Life (An Example of Philosophical Sociology)] ‘Freedom and the Individual’. Richard P. Albares (trans.). In Levine 1971. 1917b. [The War and Our Spiritual Decisions]. GSG 16.



‘The Dialectic of the German Spirit’. Austin Harrington (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007. ‘The Crisis of Culture’ [1916]. D. E. Jenkinson (trans.). In P. A. Lawrence 1976; Frisby and Featherstone 1997. ‘The Idea of Europe’ [1915]. D. E. Jenkinson (trans.). In P. A. Lawrence 1976; Frisby and Featherstone 1997. 1897–​1918. ‘Journal Aphorisms’. A. Y. Andrews and Donald N. Levine (trans). In The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Chapters with Journal Aphorisms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010; Wendelin Reich and Richard Swedberg (trans.). In TCS (1) 2010. GSG 16; GSG 17; GSG 20. 1917–​1918. ‘The Constitutive Concepts of History’. Guy Oakes (trans.). In Oakes 1980. GSG 18. 1918a. ‘On Love (a Fragment)’. Guy Oakes (trans.). In Oakes 1984; ‘Eros, Platonic and Modern’. Donald N. Levine (trans.). In Levine 1971. GSG 20. 1918b. ‘The Conflict of Modern Culture’. K.  Peter Etzkorn (trans.). In Etzkorn 1968; Levine 1971. D. E. Jenkinson (trans.). In Lawrence 1976; Frisby and Featherstone 1997. Horst J. Helle (trans.). In Helle 1997. GSG 16. 1918c. ‘Germanic and Classical Style’. Austin Harrington (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007. GSG 13. 1918d. ‘On the Nature of Historical Understanding’. Guy Oakes (trans.). In Oakes 1980. GSG 16. 1918e. The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Chapters with Journal Aphorisms. A. Y. Andrews and Donald N. Levine (trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. GSG 16. Also:

[Chapter  1:  Life as Transcendence] ‘The Transcendent Character of Life’. Donald N. Levine (trans.). In Levine 1971. [Chapter  2:  The Turn Toward Ideas] ‘The Fragmentary Character of Life’ [1916]. Austin Harrington (trans.). In TCS 19 (3–​4) 2012. GSG 13. [Chapter 3: Death and Immortality] ‘The Metaphysics of Death’ [1910]; ‘The Problem of Fate’ [1913]. Ulrich Teucher and Thomas M. Kemple (trans.). In TCS 24 (7–​8) 2007. GSG 12. [Chapter 4: The Law of the Individual].

CONTRIBUTORS Natàlia Cantó-​Milà is an associate professor of social sciences at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia; UOC) in Barcelona. She gained her PhD at the University of Bielefeld (Germany) with a work on Simmel’s relational sociology and his theory of value. She then went to Leipzig, where she taught sociological theory, social policies and qualitative methodologies. At the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya she is responsible for social theory and qualitative methods. She is the editor of the journal Digithum, an indexed journal specializing in relational sociology. With her research group (GRECS) she holds a research project granted by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, which focuses on the imaginaries of the future that mould our present society. Her main research interests are emotions as objects of sociological analysis, experience as an object of sociological study (Erlebenssoziologie), the future and future studies and social theory. Eduardo de la Fuente is a senior lecturer in creativity and innovation at James Cook University in North Queensland, Australia. He has previously published a monograph titled Twentieth Century Music and the Question of Modernity (2011); and co-​edited the two following collections: Philosophical and Cultural Theories of Music (2010) and Aesthetic Capitalism (2014). He has published articles and essays on various aspects of classical and contemporary social theory, everyday aesthetics, urban life and landscape. His current research includes the following individual and collaborative projects: the trend towards ultra-​modern or minimalist styles in hotel and resort design; the experiential and digital media aspects of event tourism (with Terry Flew, David Row and Adrian Franklin); and the significance of tropical landscapes and cultural economies to regional development (with Warwick Powell). Eduardo is the treasurer and immediate past president of the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee for the Sociology of the Arts, a faculty fellow at the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology and a member of the editorial board of Thesis Eleven. Nigel Dodd is a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, and editor in chief of the British Journal of Sociology. His main interests are in the sociology of money, economic sociology and classical and contemporary



social thought. He is author of The Sociology of Money and Social Theory and Modernity. His latest book, The Social Life of Money, was published in 2014. The main purpose of the book is to reformulate the sociological theory of money in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, focusing on the question of how money can be wrested from the domination of banks and the mismanagement of states and restored to its fundamental position as the ‘claim upon society’ that Simmel once described in The Philosophy of Money. Nigel is also co-​editor (with Patrik Aspers) of Re-​imagining Economic Sociology (2015). Gregor Fitzi is interim full professor for general sociology and sociological theory at the Faculty of Sociology of the University of Bielefeld, Germany. After his studies in Florence, Italy, he obtained his PhD in sociology from the Faculty of Sociology of the University of Bielefeld, Germany. He edited the sixteenth volume of Georg Simmel’s collected works. From 2000 to 2004 he was an assistant at the Institute of Sociology of the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and from 2005 to 2009 he was a researcher at the University of Florence, Italy. From 2010 to 2014 he was a senior researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Oldenburg, Germany. In February 2013 he obtained his German habilitation at the Institute of Sociology of the University of Potsdam, Germany, and in November 2014 he obtained his Italian habilitation in general, legal and political sociology. His most recent publications include Grenzen des Konsenses. Rekonstruktion einer Theorie transnormativer Vergesellschaftung (2015); Max Weber zur Einführung (2008); Performing the Other: Durkheim in Germany (with Nicola Marcucci, forthcoming); and Réciprocités sociales. Lectures de Simmel. Special Issue of:  Sociologie et Société 44 (2)  2012 (with Denis Thouard). David Frisby (1940–​2010) was emeritus professor at the London School of Economics. From 1975 he was a lecturer and professor of sociology for 30  years at Glasgow, and from 1968 to 1973 he was appointed lecturer at the University of Kent. He published extensively on the sociology of Georg Simmel, social theory and modernity, German social theory and aspects of modern urban experience. Through his extensive archival investigations in Central Europe and the United States, he brought the writings of Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer to the attention of a new generation of social and cultural theorists. With Tom Bottomore he translated Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money (1978), and with Mike Featherstone he co-​ edited the collection Simmel on Culture (1997). His books and essays on Simmel and other German social thinkers include Sociological Impressionism (1981), Fragments of Modernity (1988), Simmel and Since (1994) and Cityscapes of Modernity (2001). A number of his works were translated into several languages.



Elizabeth S. Goodstein is a professor at Emory University. Trained in the interdisciplinary rhetorical tradition, she works at the intersections between critical theory, philosophy, intellectual/​cultural history and literary studies. Her first book, Experience without Qualities: Boredom and Modernity, uses the discourse on boredom to illuminate the relations between European cultural modernization and the epistemological and ethical dilemmas associated with modern subjectivity. Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary (2017) presents Simmel as a modernist philosopher whose style of thought and writing has had a history of effects largely invisible from the perspective of discipline-​ centred historiography. Among her current projects is History in Repose, which combines text and image and draws on archival and observational study of memorial sites at former concentration camps to illuminate Germany’s changing cultures of memory since 1989. Austin Harrington is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. He is the author of German Cosmopolitan Social Thought and the Idea of the West: Voices from Weimar (2016). His publications also include Art and Social Theory: Sociological Arguments in Aesthetics (2004) and Modern Social Theory: An Introduction (2005). He is completing a volume of translations of Simmel’s essays on art and aesthetics. Thomas Kemple is a professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. His research and teaching focus on European and North American traditions of classical and contemporary social theory from the late eighteenth century to the present, with the aim of recovering lost ways of knowing the social world while pursuing the acquisition of new methods of interpretation and analysis in the social sciences. He is the author of Reading Marx Writing: Melodrama, the Market, and the Grundrisse (1995), and his articles have appeared in the Journal of Classical Sociology, Telos and Rethinking Marxism, and in two special issues on the work of Georg Simmel that he co-​edited for Theory, Culture & Society. His latest book Intellectual Work and the Spirit of Capitalism: Weber’s Calling (2015) considers the literary, rhetorical and aesthetic structure of Max Weber’s speeches and essays as an allegorical resource for thinking sociologically. Olli Pyyhtinen is a professor of sociology at the University of Tampere and a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Turku, Finland. He has published several book chapters in edited volumes and articles in journals (e.g. Theory, Culture & Society; Continental Philosopher Review; Anthropological Theory) on social theory and philosophy, and he is the author of three books, Simmel and ‘the Social’ (2010), The Gift and Its Paradoxes (2014) and More-​than-​ Human Sociology: A New Sociological Imagination (2015), and one of the authors of



Disruptive Tourism and Its Untidy Guests: Alternative Ontologies for Future Hospitalities (2014; with S. Veijola, J. Germann Molz, E. Höckert and A. Grit). With his colleagues Olli is currently doing research on the co-​constitution of waste and society, and he is also working towards a textbook on Simmel, The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations.

INDEX action theory 69–​70, 76 Adorno, Theodor 18, 25 aesthetics 25–​26 aesthetic ecology 164–​66, 182 aesthetic ecology of things 162, 163 aesthetic modernism 14 modern aesthetics 15 sociological aesthetics 16, 163–​64, 166 affordances 161, 165, 175 Alexander, Jeffrey C. 46n.29 analogy 173 Aristotle 37 assemblage theory 116–​18 association 8n.1, 9 forms of 5, 34, 35, 37, 50, 52, 69, 76, 81, 85, 86, 87, 88, 91, 92, 98, 99, 106, 142, 151

Brunkhorst, Hauke 23 Burt, Ronald 2

Bateson, Gregory 162 Baudelaire, Charles 2, 14, 16, 24 Bauman, Zygmunt 4, 59, 65, 76 Beck, Ulrich 108, 128 being vs. becoming 51–​52, 110, 115, 117–​18 Benjamin, Walter 15, 18, 23 Bergson, Henri 4, 59, 59n.1, 60, 65, 66, 67, 73, 76 Berlin 19, 29, 33, 79, 80, 118, 140, 155 biosocial 6, 143, 145, 154, 157 Bitcoin 129, 130–​31 Bouglé Celestin 31 boundary 75, 92–​93 Bourdieu Pierre 105 bricoleur 3 bridges and doors 63 Brown Wendy 157

Darwin, Charles 37, 141, 143, 145, 146, 150 DeLanda, Manuel 116 Deleuze, Gilles 39n.21, 116 detachment and fixity 47 difference, differentiation 49–​51, 53, 65, 76, 89, 107, 143–​45, 147, 148–​49, 155, 157, 185 Dilthey Wilhelm 186 disciplinary organization of knowledge 43 modern disciplinary order 34, 55–​56 distance 13, 20, 53, 83–​84, 90–​91 Du Bois W. E. B. 147 durée 66, 73 Durkheim, Èmile 1, 14, 25, 31, 108, 146, 153, 155, 202 dyad 87

calculation 20, 96 canonization 9, 31, 43, 44–​46 companion 1, 3 competition 6, 143, 145, 150–​52, 153–​54, 155–​56 Comte, Auguste 105, 108, 151 conflict 6, 49, 60–​61, 78–​79, 151–​52 consumption 19, 21 coquetry 5, 86, 98 Coser, Lewis 2, 34, 44 culture crisis of 78 objective culture 13, 18, 24–​26 culture conflict, 24–​26, 78



economic sociology 61 Elias, Norbert 103 Emirbayer, Mustafa 102, 104, 105, 105n.3 energy conservation of 144–​45 energy, conservation of 155 Euro 63, 123, 129 European migrant crisis 4 evolution 6, 141, 142, 145–​46 evolution, evolutionary biology 152, 153 evolutionary biology 141 exchange 19, 64, 96–​97 experience 5, 15, 17, 27, 53–​54, 74–​76, 82–​84, 182, 188–​90 eye 62, 168, 170, 179 fashion 19, 23–​24, 64 finance, financialization, financial crisis 6, 65, 123–​24, 133 flâneur 3 form 4, 7, 35–​36, 37–​38, 44, 46, 47, 56, 76, 144, 186, see also life fornm-​content-​divide 34 institutionalized forms 61, 76, 77 forms see also life Foucault, Michel 105, 143 fragmentation 5, 16, 18, 22, 23, 24, 63, 64 frame, framing 91, 93–​94, 168, 169–​71, 172 as a boundary 93, 95–​96 picture frame 93, 107, 162, 170 Freedberg, David 172 Freud, Sigmund 149, 153 Friedman, Milton 156 Gadamer, Hans Georg 45 Gane, Nicholas 141, 143 Garfinkel, Harold 109 Gell, Alfred 171 gender 27, 30 genius 7, 186, 187 Gibson, James Jerome 162 Goffman, Erving 2 Graeber, David 133 Habermas, Jurgen 14 Hayek, Friedrich 156 Hegel, Georg 37, 77, 185 Horkheimer Max 25

Hughes, Everett C., 2 iconoclasm, iconophilia, iconophobia 172 individual 19, 70 and society 20, 22, 49, 51, 52, 53–​54, 56, 76, 94, 101–​2, 113–​14, 115, 143–​44 as a multiplicity 112–​13, 116, 117 individuality 7, 20, 22, 25, 51, 144 Ingham, Geoffrey 128 Ingold, Tim 104, 162, 175, 181, 183 interaction (Wechselwirkung), interactivity 5, 16, 18, 35, 37, 38, 50, 51, 52, 60, 102, 108–​9, 110, 144, 150 interdisciplinarity 17, 30, 32, 54 interdisciplinary 30 intersubjectivity 51, 54 iron-​cage 66 Jewishness 46 Kant, Immanuel 8, 32n.8, 41, 44n.26, 53, 60, 84, 110, 163 Lash, Scott 60 Latour, Bruno 109, 116 Levine, Donald N. 2, 3, 44n.25, 81 liberalism vs. neoliberalism 6, 143, 156–​58 life 48, 152, 185 as more life and more-than-life 6, 112, 113 as not entirely social, 19, 50, 74 tempo of 19, 20, 21, 24, 65, 73 vs. form 71, 72, 73–​74, 78, 101, 113 life-​philosophy 59, 66, 67, 101, 143 life-​process vs-​ life-​forms 74–​76 life-​sociology 4, 60–​61, 67, 70, 73, 75, 143 vs. architectural sociology 69 liquefaction 59, 65–​66, 70, 72, 76, 78 liquid modernity 4, 59 liquid solidity 60, 71, 73–​76 liquidation 6, 125–​26 liquidity 59, 61, 66, 71 vs. solidity 3, 60, 61, 66, 67, 70, 72 love 85n.2, 88, 132, 151, 157 lovers 5, 86, 87–​88, 98, 102 Lukács Georg 18, 56

Index macro-​reductionism 113, 114, 115 Malthus Thomas 141 Mannheim, Karl 14, 155 Marcuse, Herbert 25 Marshall, Alfred 145 Marx, Karl 1, 13, 22, 61, 64, 65, 67, 76, 77, 80, 105, 108, 186, 203 matter 110, 170 realistic-​dynamic conception of 110 Maurer, Bille 132 Mead, George Herbert 105 Merton, Robert K. 2 methodological individualism 104 methodological nationalism 108, 128 metropolis 2, 14, 16, 18–​21, 26, 78 micro and macro 40, 114 micro-​reductionism 111, 113, 114, 115, 116 Mitchell, W. J. T. 171 modern experience 9, 15–​16, 18–​26 modern life 15, 20, 30, 63, 143 style of 22 modernism aesthetic modernism 2 Simmel`s modernism 9, 30, 38, 47 modernity diagnosis of 67, 76–​78 Simmel`s modernity 24 vs. postmodernity 15, 78 money as ‘perfect’ or ‘conceptually pure’ 17, 21–​22, 39, 70, 132, 145, 155 as a claim upon society 6, 121, 122, 126, 127, 129, 138 as digital or virtual 121, 131, 133 as fiat currency 61, 126 money economy 2, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21–​22, 24, 26, 148–​49 state theory of 61, 129 Naegle, Kaspar D. 2 Nakamoto, Satoshi 131 natural substances and artificial aggregates 113 networks 70, 115, 118n.10, 128 Nietzsche, Friedrich 60, 65, 78, 143 Norman Donald 174 normativity 69


objective culture 18–​19 ontology multi-​scale social ontology 116–​17 non​reductionist social ontology 5, 103, 115–​16 Outhwaite, William 112 Pallasmaa, Juhani 173 Pankhurst, Emmeline 171 Park, Robert E. 2 Parsons, Talcott 2, 59, 68, 69, 72 Peck, Jamie 156 Perkins Gilman, Charolette 146 perspectivism 39, 39n.21 phenomenological perspective 35, 39, 47 philosophy 30, 32, 38, 40–​41, 113, 132, 141 Plato 85n.2 Plessner, Helmut 66 process 3, 5, 8n.1, 37, 54, 62–​64, 72, 73, 74, 75, 82, 91, 103, 106, 109–​10, 115, 128, 129, 141, 152, 186 microscopic molecular processes 98n.10, 108 Proust, Marcel 66 proximity and distance 4, 81–​99 psychoanalysis 55 Rammstedt Otthein 8 rationalism, rationalization, 14, 104, 188 reification 21, 46 relationalism epistemological relationalism 105 metaphysical relationalism 106–​7 sociological relationalism 106 relationality 5, 17, 22, 89 relational sociology 17, 104–​5 relations of analogy 107 of exteriority 117 of interiority 117 primacy of 102, 104, 107 relative and absolute 72, 86, 151 relativism 38–​39, 40, 42, 48, 54, 73, 105 Richardson, Mary 171, 172 Ritzer, George 114 Rose, Nikolas 142



Salomon, Albert 106n.5 scale 114, 125 Schabas, Margaret 141 Schopenhauer, Arthur 143 Scott Brett 133 sight 62–​64 Simmel, Georg (works by) ‘Bridge and Door’ 6 Fundamental Problems of Sociology 7, 102, 109, 110, 152 Goethe 7, 185–​90 Kant and Goethe 8 On Social Differentiation (Über soziale Differenzierung) 67, 143, 144 Philosophische Kultur 15 Philosophy of Money 32 Rembrandt 7, 8, 32, 163 ‘Rodin’ 15 Schopenhauer and Nietzsche 7, 8, 32 ‘Snapshots sub-​specie aeteritatis’ 17 ‘Sociological Aesthetics’ 16, 169 Sociology (Soziologie) 7, 8, 11, 26, 32n.7, 35n.19, 37n.20, 39, 43, 44, 47, 49, 50, 60, 74, 78, 81, 87, 91, 100, 102, 108, 111, 113, 128, 151 Sociology: Investigations of Forms of Association 32, 39 ‘Sociology of the Senses’ 62 ‘The Aesthetic Significance of the Face’ 168, 176 ‘The Conflict in Modern Culture’ 60, 152 ‘The Handle’ 6, 172, 173, 176 The Nature of Matter According to Kant`s Physical Monadology 110 ‘The Philosophy of Landscape’ 6, 177, 179 The Philosophy of Money (Philosophie des Geldes) 7, 13, 16, 22, 26, 32, 33, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42, 46, 46n.31, 48, 59, 60, 61, 64, 76, 81, 82, 83, 85, 89, 96, 102, 107, 109, 113, 114, 121, 126, 127, 138, 140, 144, 148, 149, 150, 202 ‘The Picture Frame’ 6, 176 ‘The Problem of Sociology’ 5, 31, 40, 42n.23, 50

The Problems of the Philosophy of History 7, 32 ‘ The Ruin’ 181 ‘The Sociology of Competition’ 151 ‘The Sociology of Sociability’ 1 ‘The Sociology of the Meal’ 1 ‘The Sociology of the Senses’ 116 ‘The Stranger’ 43, 44, 46, 47, 81, 82, 85, 97 The View of Life (Lebensanschauung) 6, 8, 32, 32n.8, 111, 128, 150, 152 Small, Albion 2 Smithson, Robert 181 social action 60, 62, 67, 68–​69, 70, 73, 74, 77–​78, 104 social creativity 60, 67, 74, 76, 78 social structure 42, 59, 68, 70, 73, 74, 87n.5 social validity 60, 73 theory of 105–​7 social, the society a prioris of 113 societal integration 61, 64–​65, 67–​68, 74 society, the social 70 a prioris of 4, 50–​51, 52, 60–​61, 66, 90–​92 as a process 91, 109–​10 as a relation of relations 116 as life-​form 6, 67, 146 container model of 103, 108 dynamics of 4, 59, 71, 72, 74, 75, 77, 78, 103, 108–​10, 149, 151 in social relations 109 nation-​state as a basis of 108, 127–​28 realistic-​dynamic conception of 110, 117 territorial definition of 108 sociological imagination 44, 101 sociological relationalism 114, 116 sociology and biology 6, 67, 108, 141–​42, 145–​47, 150–​51 as a discipline 31, 32, 40, 42 epistemological justification of 111–​13 foundation of 108 founding of 154–​55 general sociology 102, 128

Index grounding of 31 of forms 4, 16, 81 link to philosophy 33, 40–​41, 42 philosophical sociology 102 pure sociology 35n.17, 37, 102 of space 4, 24, 47–​48, 81, 91, 92, 95, 98 of the senses 62 solid liquidity 4, 59, 61–​68, 73 spatiality 47, 48 Spencer, Herbert 37, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 155, 159 Strange Susan 122 stranger 47–​48, 49, 87–​88, 98 Simmel as a stranger 31–​33, 46–​47 strangeness 20, 48, 49–​52 subject and object 72, 83–​84, 83n.1, 86, 89, 173 subjective culture 25 subjectivism 13, 15, 18, 24–​25, 105 subjectivity 7, 21, 51, 53, 185, 187 substance 8n.1, 17, 22, 24, 65, 110, 168 substantialism 5, 104 Susman, Margarete 37n.20, 45 symmetry 146, 166–​69 Tarde, Gabriel 145, 155 technology 19, 25, 37, 134, 137 teleology 22, 24, 64, 69, 72, 148, 175, 187 Tenbruch, Friedrich 34 things 18, 162, 164, 172, 174–​75, 178, 182 agency of 6, 171 vs. relations 103–​07


third, triad 37, 49, 55, 138, 151 Toennies, Ferdinand 14 transnormative association 70, 72 trans-​sociological perspective 4, 47 trust 6, 63, 126, 129, 131, 132, 133–​34, 136, 137–​38 types 5, 50 ideal types 51, 87, 154 typification 20, 91 uncanny 55 Valsiner, Jan 162 value 22, 39, 42, 61–​62, 64–​65, 70–​72, 129, 148 and desire 83, 84, 94 Veblen, Thorstein 146, 153, 155 vitalism 60, 142, 150 von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang 7, 185–​90 von Hayek, Friedrich 143 von Mises, Ludwig 143 Weber, Max 1, 14, 31, 51, 51n.34, 62, 62n.2, 77n.5, 108, 127, 143, 146, 153, 154, 155, 202, 203 Weinstein, Deena 2 Weinstein, Michael 2 Wellman, Barry 2 Wolff, Kurt H. 7 Wray, Randall 128 Wright Mills C. 101 Zerubavel, Eviatar 169