Early German sociologist and structural theorist Georg Simmel was concerned with city life and the city’s form. With the creation of social theories in the wake of Darwin’s discoveries about the natural world, he challenged conventional scientific technique for studying society. Simmel was interested in two different kinds of culture: urban objective and rural subjective. A dialectical link existed between objective and subjective culture, in his opinion, in modern civilization. According to Simmel, cities lack objectivity because of the metropolitan way of life, which leads intellectuals down a path of degradation and mediocrity. The essay investigates Georg Simmel’s work in light of the time and place in which it was written.
Many diverse types of content can have the precise same social shape, which attracted Simmel. Families, gangs, and corporations, to name a few, are all places where conflict is common. Contrary to what you might expect from this, Simmel observed that a single social form (such as the need for money) might take on many different meanings depending on the context. Simmel saw the sociologist as developing what he called a “geometry of social life” by investigating the various ways in which we interact socially. When it comes to social roles, Simmel sees the stranger as one that blends the seemingly opposing aspects of proximity and distance.
Even if the stranger has only the most general (and generic) characteristics with the rest of society, enormous numbers of people still rely on him. As a result of the stranger’s dual proximity and separation from others, the stranger is frequently regarded as valuable for his or her objectivity, which allows the stranger to see things objectively and without emotion. Because of their social distance from us, strangers can be a close confidant who we do not have to worry about being judged too harshly. In other words, the concept of the “stranger” implies that being alien is both psycho-cultural and geographical in nature. An unfamiliar person is not just a stray traveler who can show here today and disappear tomorrow. He is here today, and he intends to remain. He is a wanderer in the making as he has not left society, but he also has not given up the option of staying or going. Even though he is still in a particular place, he does not have the attributes that would make him belong there, because he has not always been there. Tradesmen have always been a foreigner to the economy, but this has changed over time. No middlemen are required as long as the economy is restricted to the direct exchange of goods within a closed system. Foreign tradesmen are persons who travel to other locations to buy goods they don’t have at home. Historically, tradespeople have had to be strangers in order to do their jobs.
It also contributes to another phenomenon namely revelations, and confessions that would otherwise be carefully kept from more organically attached people are offered to the stranger. If you remember well, objectivity is not apathy; rather, it is a positive and specific sort of engagement, similar to the objectivity of a theoretical observation, which does not reduce the mind into an inactive tabula rasa on which objects are merely stamped. Objectivity denotes a thinking mind that follows its own rules and functions at maximum capacity. In this way, random fluctuations and accents, which are specific and subjective, are ignored, resulting in vastly varied perceptions of the same object.
The main argument of Simmel is that objectivity can be thought of as a form of liberation. Predispositions do not impede the objective person’s ability to see things objectively, grasp things clearly, or make sound decisions. Such liberation allows the outsider to get a bird’s eye view of intimate connections, but it also comes with risks. Revolting parties frequently claim that outside envoys or agitators incited the rebels, regardless of the type of rebellion. The stranger’s “objectivity” lends credibility to these claims because he can appraise and evaluate situations unbiasedly. His decisions are not constrained by tradition, religious observance, or precedent. A party under attack absolves itself of responsibility and turns a blind eye to the underlying causes of the uprising by inventing the story that the upheaval is the fault of outsiders, not them.
Marx’s theories on commodity fetishism inspired Georg Simmel to establish the tragedy of culture theory. This theory aimed to explain how items and goods become sacred in society. Because of the new division of work created by modernization, people are able to become more creative and imaginative. As a result, they start making a lot of cultural goods to sell. Products eventually become fetishized by society and hence acquire power that they do not have by their own nature. According to Simmel’s “Fashion” work, clothes have evolved from only being a means of covering oneself to serving as a cultural identify for individuals and groups alike. We often acquire mass-produced things in an attempt to distinguish oneself as unique and different by wearing a certain type of bracelet or necklace.
Society, according to Georg Simmel, generates innovations and theories that no single person can comprehend as the division of labor and specialization increases. Many people can grasp a portion of what is being generated, but no one can grasp the entire picture (Fellmann, 2018). For example, in chemistry, where knowledge is extremely specialized, no single scholar can comprehend more than a small fraction of it.
Georg Simmel’s concept of “strangeness” has been criticized by certain sociologists who deny that diverse parties are brought together because of a shared commonality. Sociologists use the Greeks’ relationship with the barbarians as an example to disprove Simmel’s theory. Simmel’s critics point out that such a way of thinking encompasses situations in which the Other is denied the universal features that constitute what is really human in human beings. Only in this context does the term “the stranger” convey a good message. Aside from that, critics claim that Simmel’s description of “The Stranger’s” relationship is a non-relationship because he is not what other sociologists have studied. In spite of this denial, they continue to treat the stranger as an outsider.
Sociologists can improve on Simmel’s limitations by looking at the logic of proximity and distance in Simmel’s theory and comparing how any connections can be based on human commonality in general. Sociologists should be aware of the conflict that exists between the understanding of what is shared by all and the concentration on what is not. Sociologists should use analogies to explain how people from different countries, cities, or races are not unique. Many strangers, whether they are related or not, have a commonality of origin in another country (Gross, 2021). As a result, strangers are not seen as unique individuals, but rather as an example of the Other. Strangers are perceived as far in the same way as they are perceived as close.
Simmel never formed what could be considered “a school of thought,” in comparison to today’s world of the typical outsider. Even after a century, though, Simmel’s theories on modern life’s distinctive social forms and social duties still read like cutting-edge thinking. Simmel’s ideas continue to inspire because he is one of social theory’s most innovative, wide-ranging, and predictive thinkers.
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