At about the same time that Durkheim was developing the field of sociology in France, the German sociologist Georg Simmel (pronounced
ZIM-mel) (1858-1918) was theorizing about society as a web of patterned interactions among people. The main purpose of sociology, according to Simmel, should be to examine these social interaction processes within groups. In The Sociology of Georg Sinunel (J '1501 I'102-1 '117). he analyzed how social interactions vary depending on the size of the social group. He concluded that interaction p_.Il..,ns dil ke,-d between a dyad, a social group with two members, and a (rind. a ';'cial group with three members. Ill' developed forti/III .",dolog),. an approach Ihal focuses attention 011 the universal recurring ">(H.. i.d lorn IS (hat underlie the varying content of social interaction. Simmel referred to these forms as the "glory of social life." He also distinguished between the fonns of social interaction (such as cooperation or conflict) and the content of social interaction in different contexts (for example. between leaders and followers), Like the other social thinkers of his day, SimmeJ analyzed the impact ofinduslrialization and urbanizalion on people's lives. He concluded that class confl ict was becoming more pronounced in modern industrial societies, He also linked the increase in individualism. as opposed to concern for the group. to the fact that people now had many cross-cutting "social spheres't= membership in a number of organizations and voluntary associations-rather than having the singular community ties of the past. Simmel also assessed the costs of "progress" on the upper-class city dweller. who. he believed. had to develop certain techniques to survive the overwhelming stimulation of the city, Simmel's ultimate concern was to protect the autonomy of the individual in society,
The Philosophy of Motley (1990/1907). one of Simmels most insightful studies. sheds light on the issue of consumerism. According to Simrnel, money takes on a life of its own as people come to see money and the things that it can purchase as an end in themselves. Eventually. everything (and everybody) is seen as having a price. and people become blase, losing the ability to differentiate between what is really of value and what is not. 1£ money increases imprudence in consumption. credit cards afford even greater opportunities for people to spend money they do not have for things they do not need and, in the process. to sink deeper into debt (Ritzer. 1995). An example is Diane Curran. a teacher in Syracuse, New York, who accumulated $27.452 of debt on a dozen credit cards and other loans (Frank, 1999). Even when her monthly credit card payments equaled her take-home pay. she was still acquiring new credit cards. which she used \0 keep up with the other credit card payments, After Curran was forced to file for bankruptcy. she stated that "I wish somebody had cut me off 10 years earlier"(qtd, in Hays. 1996: BI. 86). Simmers perspective on money is only one of many . possible examples of how his writings provide insights into social life, Simmel's contributions to sociology are significant. He wrote more than thirty books and numerous essays on diverse topics. leading some critics to state that his work was fragmentary and piecemeal However, his thinking has influenced a wide array of sociologists, including the members of the "Chicago School" in the United States.