Tuesday, 27 March 2018


Georg Simmel is regarded as one of the founders of formal sociology, an approach which classifies and analyses patterns of interaction, differentiating between their form and their content. He identified and discussed countless forms of social interaction, or sociation that they have peculiar modes of existence and structural configuration.
Simmel’s contribution to formal sociology may be analyzed under four major headings:
i.   Distribution between form and content: Formal sociology isolates form from the heterogeneity of content of human sociation, and generalizes it at higher level of abstraction. Individual drives, purposes and other motive powers constitute the content of interaction, whereas forms of interaction may be thought of as basic structural configurations or abstract, analytical aspects of social reality and not concrete entities.
Simmel distinguishes between form and content, form is that element in social life that is relatively stable and patterned, predictable and universally present, whereas content is conspicuously variable from time to time and place and place.
For Simmel, the forms of social interaction constituted the peculiar domain for sociological investigation and analysis. Form, therefore, can best be recognized by the task it performs. First, form relates a number of contents to each other in such a way that they constitute a unity. Second, as a number of contents are given form, they are separated from other contents. Third, but not as an operation that is distinct from the others, form imparts a structure to the contents it relates.
ii.   Forms of Sociation: When individuals interact with one another, they establish some type of reciprocal relationship or sociation which may vary from a fleeting encounter of no great significance to a long lasting relationship of deep involvement. Simmel identified three forms of sociation; dyad, triad, and superordination-subordination.
a.   Dyad: In analyzing the dyad (the simplest sociological unit of two), Simmel describes how many general forms of sociation are realized in it in a very pure and characteristic fashion. He emphasizes that the significant difference between the dyad and larger groups consists in the fact that the dyad has a different relation to each of its two elements than have larger groups to their members. The dyad is not an autonomous, superindividual unit in relation to its participants. The social structure here rests immediately on the one and on the other the two, and secession of either would destroy the whole.
The dyad, therefore, does not attain that super-personal life which the individual feels to be independent of himself. As there is a sociation of three, a group continues to exist even in case one of the members drops out.
b.  Triad: The triad which differs from dyad has a potential existence independent of each of its members. The departure of a member does not automatically dissolve the group as it is possible for two members to form a coalition against the third member. In this triadic constellation, there are three basic roles which the third party can take:
a)  Non-partisan mediator who seeks to be objective and not favor either side but help them reconcile their difference,
b) Tertius gaudens or being the third parties and seeks to use it for his or her own advantages and
c)  Divide and rule type of role in which the third party deliberately instigates conflict between the other two parties in order to promote his or her advantages.
Simmel used his mode of analysis of dyad and triad not only to explain patterns of interaction in everyday life but also forms of political alliances, historical constellations and pressure group situations.
c.   Superordination and subordination: The third major form of sociation is a classic which mean power in the form of subordination (implicit obedience) and superordination (absolute domination) is a constitutive force without which society would lose its coherence. Domination of some form is a logical and structural necessity; however, the societal form of super-ordination designates a readiness on the part of the superordinate to be bound by his own dictates. Simmel explain that the ruler and the subject mass do not enter the relationship “with an equal quantum of their personality. The ruler invests his entire personality; the ruled invest only fragment.
iii.   Social types: The social type is a conception abstracted from the structural components of a particular social relationship and involves the essential qualities of the person as well as the awareness and expectation of the status-role involved. In his classical study of “the stranger,” he describe in detail such diverse types as “the mediator, “the poor, “the adventure, “the miser, “the man in the middle, “the modern cynic” and the “renegade. The type becomes what he is, through his relations with others who assign him a particular position and expect him to behave in specific ways. His characteristics are seen as attributes of the social structure, for example, the poor are a social type who emerges only when society recognizes poverty as a “special” status and assigns specific persons requiring assistance to that category. The form found in social reality is never pure – every social phenomenon contains a multiplicity of formal elements.
iv.   The Significance of Numbers: Simmel’s approach to the study of society is reflected in his classic analysis of the effects of sheer numerical size on the forms of sociation. In small groups, members typically have a chance to interact directly with one another. As the size of the group increases, its members become more unlike one another. Beyond a certain size, individualism and structural differentiation develop. Face to face interaction is replaced by formal arrangements consisting of offices, written rules and well defined tasks and responsibilities. Whereas interaction in small groups involves the total personality of individual members, participation in large groups is weak and restricted to a segment of personalities.

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