School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
 
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
 
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
 
Button1
Button1
Button1
Button1
 
Georg Simmel -
Social Types

 


The Person  
Introduction A Virtuoso On The Platform
The Academic Outsider Simmel's Writing Career
   
The Work  
Introduction The Significance Of Numbers For Social Life
Formal Sociology Simmel's Ambivalent View Of Modern Culture
Social Types A Note On The Philosophy Of Money
The Dialectical Method In Simmel's Sociology  

Simmel constructed a gallery of social types to complement his inventory of social forms. Along with "the stranger," he describes in great phenomenological detail such diverse types as "the mediator," "the poor," "the adventurer," "the man in the middle," and "the renegade." Simmel conceives of each particular social type as being cast by the specifiable reactions and expectations of others. 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 stranger," in Simmel's terminology, is not just a wanderer "who comes today and goes tomorrow," having no specific structural position. On the contrary, he is a "person who comes today and stays tomorrow. . . . He is fixed within a particular spatial group . . . but his position . . . is determined . . . by the fact that he does no belong to it from the beginning," and that he may leave again. The stranger is "an element of the group itself" while not being fully part of it. He therefore is assigned a role that no other members of the group can play. By virtue of his partial involvement in group affairs he can attain an objectivity that other members cannot reach. "He is not radically committed to the unique ingredients and peculiar tendencies of the group, and therefore approaches them with the specific attitude of 'objectivity.' " Moreover, being distant and near at the same time, the stranger will often be called on as a confidant. Confidences that must me withheld from more closely related persons can be given to him just because with him they are not likely to have consequences. In similar ways, the stranger may be a better judge between conflicting parties than full members of the group since he is not tied to either of the contenders. Not being "bound by commitments which could prejudice his perception, understanding, and evaluation of the given," he is the ideal intermediary in the traffic of goods as well as in the traffic of emotions.

Similarly, the poor as a social type emerge only when society recognizes poverty as a special status and assigns specific persons requiring assistance to that category. In Simmel's view,

the fact that someone is poor does not mean that he belongs to the specific social category of the 'poor' . . . . It is only from the moment that [the poor] are assisted . . . that they become part of a group characterized by poverty. This group does not remain united by interaction among its members, but by the collective attitude which society as a whole adopts toward it. . . . Poverty cannot be defined in itself as a quantitative state, but only in terms of the social reaction resulting from a specific situation. . . . Poverty is a unique sociological phenomenon: a number of individuals who, out of a purely individual fate, occupy a specific organic position within the whole; but this position is not determined by this fate and condition, but rather by the fact that others . . . attempt to correct this condition.
Once the poor accept assistance, they are removed from the preconditions of their previous status, they are declassified, and their private trouble now becomes a public issue. The poor come to be viewed not by what they do--the criteria ordinarily used in social categorization--but by virtue of what is done to them. Society creates the social type of the poor and assigns them a peculiar status that is marked only by negative attributes, by what the status-holders do not have.

The stranger and the poor, as well as Simmel's other types, are assigned their position by virtue of specific interactive relations. They are societal creations and must act out their assigned roles. They resemble the character in one of Randall Jarrell's academic novels who "had never been what intellectuals consider an intellectual but other people had thought him one, and he had had to suffer the consequences of their mistake."

From Coser, 1977:182-183.



Work By Simmel  
Conflict And Society The Problem Of Sociology (External Link)
How Is Society Possible? (External Link) The Stranger
The Philosophy Of Value (External Link)  



These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010