Sociology is an important study in any community. It helps us understand what makes a society work and what can lead to its downfall. It helps individuals investigate events in a society that can profoundly change it. In the field of sociology, there are a selected few that stand out that contributed great information, ideas, and theories that give people a better understanding of why they act a certain way around the people around them and how a society is viewed by other societies. One such contributor is Georg Simmel and his views on the subject of sociology greatly influenced how people looked at there own. But before we get to his view, let's first take a look at his roots.
Georg Simmel is the youngest of seven children. He was born on March 1, 1858, in Berlin. His father was a businessman who supported his entire family. When he died, a friend of the family who owned a music publishing house was appointed to be the boy's guardian His relationship with his mother was rather distant which started at a very young age which has left no clear record of her whatsoever. He went to the University of Berlin where he studied history and philosophy. This is where he bases most of his views and theories on sociology began. He connected much of his work to a society's and view as well as its historical background. This is the basis of his work.
Although his theories were not entirely accepted by his colleagues, he decided that his view on sociology was to be taken from what he studied in college. Everything from family structures, sex, politics, and the economy were to be taken from a reflection of the society's history and how they interpret things philosophically. When he actually turned to sociology instead of history or philosophy, the field was most often characterized by the organicist approach.
The organicist approach viewed society as an organism that needed to be sustained by the actions of its individuals. Its purpose was to support its individuals so that they can help it in its own existence. This was the way most sociologist like Comte, Spencer, and Schaffle approached sociology and how most theories were formed. But Simmel was different. He rejected this view with the belief that society consisted of an intricate web of multiple relations that the individuals constantly interacted with one another. These interactions were constant and that they were done with clear pattern so that a society can function. In fact, he stated in one of his books: “Society is merely the name for the number of a number of individuals, connected by interaction.” (The Sociology of Georg Simmel, p.11) This statement summarizes his side on his approach to sociology. But his view doesn't only consist of a society but its individuals as well. Simmel has classified a society's individuals into separate types which have certain roles to play out. He calls them Social Types.
Simmel's Social types can be classified into six major categories which he has deemed: the stranger, the mediator, the poor, the adventurer, the man in the middle, and the renegade. Each individual that belongs to a specific category has a role to play that contributes to different interactions between social groups. For example, when a person falls under the category of being a stranger, his or her role in society is to not be fully integrated into a group. He acts as the neutral party that other members of the group can approach with no clear position on events. His role, in other words, is something that no other member of the group can have. He acts as the ideal intermediary in the traffic of goods as well as in the traffic of emotions. This type of thinking by Simmel is one of his major contributions to modern sociology. But it was not his only contribution. Another one of one of Simmel's contributions was his view on a society's culture.
Simmel's view on culture is one that taken from a societies cultural history and written history as well. Modern history appears to Simmel as a “progressive liberation of the individual from the bonds of exclusive attachment and personal dependencies.” (Masters of Sociological Thought, p189) This basically means that throughout history, man usually lived in small social circles that helped define who they are. It didn't matter whether you were rich or poor, whether you lived in a city or a town, your society was defining factor in who you are and how other people looked at you. His study on culture in fact was taken from a period in time where society was under intense observation as well as disregard. This period has come to be known as the Medieval Period and it is where Simmel took a lot of his work.
Simmel focused on the Medieval Period because it was a time when society was at a major downfall as well as when clear social groups were present. The poor, for example, was a society group that society greatly disregarded. The rich and the noble class was one that was greatly feared and respected by the poor. But different cultures at the time didn't take this classical view. Simmel believed that this was present mostly in European history because it was the time when Europe was at the height of its power.in both the military and the economy. This was another one of Simmel's greatest contributions to modern sociology which is still considered today.
Simmel died on September 26, 1918 in his home country. His approach to sociology was one that went against most traditional views. His view on sociology was to be taken from a stand point that individuals that were part of society had roles to play out that made a society thrive. Contradicting most views at the time, he took the approach that he learned in his schooling that allowed him to create a whole new kind or insight into modern sociology. This insight is one that can greatly define a society that has a history that and insight much different that other.