What did Georg Simmel seek to demonstrate through his “formal” sociology?

1582 Words Apr 4th, 2014 7 Pages
What did Georg Simmel seek to demonstrate through his “formal” sociology?

Georg Simmel (1858 - 1918) was living in Berlin at a time when Sociology was beginning to form as a science, most notably with the work of Comte setting up the positivist methodology of studying society. In the intellectual world he was an outsider and struggled, becoming a full professor without a chair only in 1901.

Through formal sociology Simmel was proposing an alternative way of thinking to his contemporaries. I found Simmel’s writing very paradoxical. He purposes a more qualitative method of investigation rather then the quantitative method of positivists. Simmel together with Max Weber formed the anti-positivist a movement that opposed positivism.
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He goes further to say that even historical events which are unique, such as the murder of Caesar, the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo may be nonrecurrent events. But one must look at “the underlying uniformities” (Coser, 1977) instead of the uniqueness of the events. Sociologist may look at how the institution of kingship restricted there actions yet Simmel alludes to a further abstraction that kingship is not important but the processes of conflict and cooperation, subordination and superoridination, centralisation and decenratliazion. These are Simmel’s building block of society, the “social forms”. He provides this dialectical geometric structure of society, made of a multiplicity of these processes working in a unidirectional manner. Simmel is providing a different explanation of history as a social interpretation of “societal production” of historical phenomena (Kurt Wolff, 1950) and not in terms of production by individuals or divine interference. With this point it is easy to see that Simmel is trying to create a flexible “sociological viewpoint”, he never tells us what to do but provides us with different approaches to analysis. For Simmel “societal production” is the social explanation of historical phenomena. Which in other words means that historical phenomena are social products. This is one of the most important