Simmel Georg(1858-1918) German sociologist and philosopher whose extensive and stylish writings and brilliant lectures have ensured his place as one of the influential classical sociologists within the discipline, although not having the extent of influence of MARX, WEBER or DURKHEIM. Simmel presented society as a ‘web of interactions’ (see SOCIATION). He is particularly remembered as the founder of FORMAL SOCIOLOGY, based on drawing a distinction between FORM AND CONTENT in social analysis, in which formal sociology deals with the universal recurring (abstract and a priori) ‘forms’ of social interaction examining the specifics of social interaction, i.e. its ‘content’, only in the light of these forms (see DYAD AND TRIAD, STRANGER, SOCIABILITY). For all this, there remain strong functionalist and evolutionary overtones in his work, e.g. he regarded social differentiation as bringing ‘adaptation’ (although also sometimes disorganization). For the most part, how ever, Simmel regarded claims for a fully unified sociological theory as, at the very least, premature.
Simmel's Jewish background meant that he never achieved the high academic positions his work undoubtedly merited. However, his work was highly influential. After his death, it was promoted in the US by the Chicago sociologists PARK and Burgess, where it influenced the tenor of the work of the CHICAGO SCHOOL Simmel's influence is also strongly in evidence in the work of GOFFMAN, with whom there are similarities of presentational style as well as method, and in the CONFLICT THEORY of L. Coser (Coser, 1956,1965). Coser's work on the ‘functions of social conflict’, also underlines an abiding feature of Simmel's sociology, an emphasis on the duality involved in many social forms.
Simmel wrote more than 30 books. As well as the several collections of his numerous essays and fragments from his work, especially The Sociology of Georg Simmel (Wolff, 1950) and Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations (Simmel, 1955), the most important in recent discussions of his work have been his extended discussion of MONEY, The Philosophy of Money (1978) and his writings on leisure forms and urban life, which have been seen as anticipating many of the features of contemporary social life -e.g. flux and fragmentation – also emphasized in theories of POSTMODERNITY. A recent general discussion of Simmel's work is provided by Frisby, Sociological Impressionism: a Reassessment of Georg Simmel's Social Theory (1981).