A Blend of Contradictions
Georg Simmel in Theory and Practice
Contradiction forms the basis of all social phenomena. Anyone who has read Georg Simmel will perceive his fascination with the essential complexity that characterizes human interaction. Look for contradiction, he seems to say, and you will find something of vital importance. Ann-Mari Sellerberg applies central themes from Simmel—trust, subordination under principle, adventure, and the position of the poor—and applies them to contemporary phenomena. In so doing, she both illuminates Simmel and reveals how empirical analysis can be extended with insights from his work.
Sellerberg describes how Simmel breaks down social phenomena into isolated categories, and within these discerns pairs, or opposites, that work to both hinder and inhibit as well as reinforce and strengthen each other. She describes Simmers method as "methodological interactionism," or a kind of dialectical order, and illustrates how his opposed forces, or pairs, affect each other in three ways. First, she examines how conflicts characterize social phenomena, dealing with such matters as modem motherhood, women in typical women's occupations, trust, and how geriatric patients express their individualism in patient groups. Second, she shows how opposing tendencies become an impetus to continuous change. And third, she shows how it is that interactions of forces in contradiction tend to the ironic and paradoxical.
Simmel has been criticized for over-attention to small-scale social phenomena. As Sellerberg shows, these phenomena may seem insignificant, but they have to do with interactions common to virtually all human beings—among them trust, intimacy, and marginality—that have enormous consequence in human life and society. Simmel reminds us that analysis can and should always be taken one step further. Written in nontechnical language, this book will be of interest to scholars and professionals in a broad range of behavioral sciences. The examples that illustrate it will make the book of particular interest to those concerned with health care, marketing, and consumer behavior, as well as those working in the caring professions.
“Sellerberg focuses on three aspects of Simmel's sociology: the way in which conflicts characterize a social phenomenon, the way in which oppositions become an impetus for continuous change, and the tendency toward the ironic and paradoxical… This book will interest those who investigate social relationships at the micro-level and who resist functionalism.”
—C. T. Loader, Choice