formal sociologya theoretical approach in sociology which focuses attention on the universal recurring social ‘forms’ which underlie the varying ‘content’ of social interaction (see FORM AND CONTENT, DYAD AND TRIAD). Georg SIMMEL, whose sociology is most identified with this approach, referred to accounts of these forms as amounting to a ‘geometry of social life’. Following KANT, to indicate that these possess an a priori (or ‘necessary’) character as well as an empirical expression, Simmel presented his ‘forms’ as synthetic a priori concepts. Thus, these concepts are different from either conventional a priori concepts (which are purely ‘analytic’), or conventional empirical concepts (which are purely 'S ynthetic’). Among the social forms and other general concepts discussed by Simmel are ‘competition’ and ‘conflict’, SOCIABILITY, and the STRANGER.
While Simmel did not found a 'S chool’ in any strict sense, numerous influences of his formal sociology can be identified, in the work ofVon Weise, the CHICAGO SCHOOL, and GOFFMAN. see also CONFLICT THEORY.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000