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Ethnomethodology at Work

Writing Samples 3: A Simmel Paper
Home | An Ethnomethodologist and S-K Health Care Research | Curriculum Vitae | Writing Samples 1: Ethnomethodological Work | Writing Samples 2: The Illness Trajectory | Writing Samples 3: A Simmel Paper | Russell Kelly




Russell Kelly,

Senior Lecturer,

Department of Health Studies,

University of Central Lancashire,

Preston PR1 2HE


[email: R.S.Kelly@UCLAN.AC.UK]


Biographical Note: Russell Kelly has lectured in Sociology at the University of Central Lancashire since 1968. Sabbatical studies at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham, UK, at the Department of Sociology, University of Lancaster, UK, at the Institut für Medizinische Soziologie, Humboldt University, Berlin, culminated, most recently, with Wes Sharrock, Rod Watson and John Lee at the Department of Sociology, University of Manchester. From early publications in Criminology, the focus of his work has moved to an ethnomethodological approach to the Sociology of Being Ill.




English and American scholars have since the 1950s tended to rely on the translation of Georg Simmels work by Kurt Wolff and Lewis Coser. These translations  vary from the earlier translations by Nicholas Spykman and Albion Small. The argument here is that the later translations and the gloss added to the biographical notes of Spykman by Wolff and Coser created an epistemological obstacle in the development of sociological theorising. The account produced by Coser  and Wolff is represented here as plays or moves in a game initiated by Spykman and Small. Their game, a version of Sociology as not the science of society, called into play a dream team of  contemporary sociologists with a different game plan. The rise of Pitrim Sorokin and Parsons in Harvard Sociology concludes a historiographical account of  associated events which played Small and Spykman out of the game. The Coser-Wolff translation glosses Simmel and his work, renders his theorising as structuralist, indexes Simmels work for the future and wins the game. This is an ethnomethodological account of how members everyday academic practices accomplish sociological work.   




key words:   Simmel ¨ ethnomethodology ¨glossing ¨historiography¨gesellschaft



Russell Kelly

University of Central Lancashire


Paper presented at the American Sociological Association meetings, August 6-10, 1999, Chicago.


This paper is an exercise in ethnomethodological historiography.  It is ethnomethodological in so far that Garfinkel and Sacks note:

Ethnomethodological studies of formal structures are directed to the study of such phenomena, seeking to describe members accounts of formal structures wherever and by whomever they are done, while abstaining from all judgements of their adequacy, value, importance, necessity, practicality, success, or consequentiality. We refer to this procedural policy as ethnomethodological indifference. (Garfinkel and Sacks, 1970: 345).

 By trying to let the text speak, in this case some words and passages from the writings of  and about Georg Simmel, it is hoped to open to sociological-talk-as-natural-sociology (Rose, 1960), other usages of  Simmels concepts than those with which his translators into English have endowed him. The translations and their attendant biographies of Simmel will be treated as members, that is sociologists, accounts of the man and his work. Accounts of Simmels status as a Founding Father of one sociology or another, as the originator of  theories of formal structures, will be treated as moves in a game. The success or failure of these moves, it will be argued,  can depend upon the translation of  a few key words, on the gloss (Garfinkel and Sacks, 1970: 343) applied to a biographical account.

   Translations as gloss, game, index and as an epistemological tackle

 Lewis Coser, with others, has promulgated the translations by Kurt Wolff of  Simmels sociological writings. In doing so, it will be argued here, together these writers have perpetrated a gloss on Simmels biography and writing which claims ownership to add to their authorship. These moves may be seen as misrepresenting those ideas and, in doing so, have raised in Sociology an epistemological obstacle. According to Gutting (1989: 16), Bachelards argument was that a concept or method acts as a barrier or obstacle to wider epistemological discussion. The translation of Simmels work and the uses made of these translations have and are sustaining such an obstacle.

The account is historiographic in that one historical narrative is presented as becoming the story by which a future narrative can be written. It is the story which helps create the epistemological obstacle.  It is possible that this obstacle, had it not been constituted in immediate post-war Sociology, might have led much earlier to an epistemological break. But the task here is not to speculate on what might have been, it is to describe what can be derived by reading the text-as-talk in the translation and in  the biography, to forewarn about future readings.

I want to extend Garfinkels commentary (Garfinkel, 1967:10) on suicide inquiries and patient coding, to a classification of a sociological theorist, namely Georg Simmel. The treatment of Simmels work through translation and interpretation can be seen as having the properties of indexical expressions and indexical actions, as in :

The properties of indexical expressions and indexical actions are ordered properties. These consist of organizationally demonstrable sense, or facticity, or methodic use, or agreement among cultural colleagues. . . . Those ordered properties are ongoing achievements of the concerted commonplace activities of investigators. The demonstrable rationality of indexical expressions and indexical actions retains over the course of its managed production by members the character of ordinary, familiar, routinized practical circumstances. As process and attainment the produced rationality of indexical expressions consists of  practical tasks subject to every exigency of organizationally situated conduct. (Garfinkel, 1967:11)

The ongoing achievements, in this case, are texts and associated narratives produced in the commonplace activities of translation, biography and indexing the content of the translated text.

The story occurs in three narrative processes. The writing of Narrative One involves the first translations and interpretations by  Albion Small and Nicholas Spykman of Simmels sociological writing. The second involves the translation, compilation and interpretation of the same texts, a second coding by Kurt Wolff and Lewis Coser. The third involves the accomplishment, the available-for-further-use narrative, which encloses as indexical expression(s), the encoded  concepts in the works of Georg Simmel. The future of the narrative is being seen in current versions being produced in the everyday achievements of ordinary members (scholars and students) as they accomplish the practical tasks of everyday academic life. Simmels ideas have become embroiled in a sociological language game (Anderson, Hughes and Sharrock, 1985: 10ff) where the different use of one or more basic terms-in-translation results in a reading from the narrative of one kind of Sociology (the indexical expression) thus barring future readers from following the narrative in other directions. By hopping back a few steps in the game other readings became possible so that the game could move on past the epistemological obstacle to different next steps. Each of the narratives involves a picturing of Simmel, the mind, as fore-texts to reading the Sociology.

Who is Simmel? - the Spykman move.


The potted biographies-as-stories of Simmel attached to various translations of his work can be read as narrative accounts which add to the earliest versions offered in English by Spykman in 1925, barely seven years after Simmels death. Wolff reports that Spykmans source for the biography was Simmels widow. (Wolff, 1950: xiii, fn. 3&4).  A brief example will illustrate.

Spykman (1964: xxiii): Georg Simmel was born in Berlin. His cradle stood in a house on the corner of the Friedrich and Leipziger Strasse in the very heart of the city. As a metropolitan he was born, as a world citizen he lived and died. He grew up a man with great breadth of vision and a consuming interest in all phases of human life......Simmel had great teachers. He studied history under Droysen, Mommsen, von Sybel, von Treitschke, Grimm, and Jordan, psychology under Lazarus and Bastian, and philosophy under Harms and Zeller.

This biography begins Spykmans narrative. The book was a compilation of various translated pieces into an indexing of  Simmels social theory. But Spykmans accounts-as-moves-in-the-game cut across another game in 1920s Sociology which resulted in Spykmans withdrawal, leaving Simmel to be glossed, that is re-represented, and played into the game in other ways.


Playing blind with the dream team: betting Spykmans Simmel


The As a metropolitan.... in the above quote, can be read as an advertisement for Spykmans contribution to the Twentieth Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Society. Spykmans paper was entitled, Simmels Theory of the Great City.(American Journal of Sociology, 1925: 377) This, with the book, is Spykmans first move into the game and is made in the presence of Ellsworth Faris, W. I. Thomas, E. H. Sutherland, Louis Wirth and F. Stuart Chapin. Robert E. Park chaired the proceedings. Spykman was addressing a gathering of individuals who would determine the future for American Sociology for the next fifty years. One might have expected his place on this 1920s dream team to be assured.

Faris would take over the Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Chicago on Albion Smalls retirement (American Journal of Sociology, 1925: 381).

Thomas had, with Florian Znaniecki, written the seminal work, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, and went on to write a number and important sociological works and influence numerous others. Thomas, incidentally, made much in his early career of  going to Berlin in 1888-89 where he studied under and was influenced by most of those who Spykman lists as the major influences on Simmel. While Thomas was in Berlin, Simmel had an established reputation as Privatdozent, a private lecturer collecting attendance fees, although not a tenured professorship, at the University of Berlin. It seems likely that Thomas would have encountered Simmels work. (Coser, 1977: 531-532).

E. H. Sutherland would develop the theory of Differential Association and with Donald R. Cressey would write the Principles of Criminology which remained a central text on the Sociology of crime until the 1960s.  Sutherland,  with others, would be a major sponsor in the emergence from Russia of Pitrim Sorokin and in securing his appointment as the first chair of Sociology at Harvard. Sorokin would later recruit Talcott Parsons away from Economics to become a sociology instructor in the department.

Wirth would be a major figure in the development of Urban Sociology (Glass,1962: 484-485, fn.). Wirth would join the other Young Turks encouraged and led by Robert Park and Ernest Burgess,  in winning the election of W.  I. Thomas to the presidency of the American Sociological Society in 1926. (Coser, 1977: 536) This is represented by Coser as some compensation for a popular colleague after his Chicago academic career was ruined by a morals scandal in 1918.

What followed constitutes one of the shameful chapters in the history of American universities. The president of the University of Chicago, Henry Pratt Judson, supported by the trustees, moved immediately to dismiss Thomas. Albion Small, the chairman of his department, offered no public defense, although he made some private moves to protect Thomas and wept in his office over the loss of  his prize student and colleague.(Coser, 1977: 535).

Coser also speculates that the FBI prosecution of  Thomas may have had more to do with the pacifist activities of his wife, Harriet Park.

F. Stuart Chapin, another of the Thomas incident Young Turks and a Russian émigré friend and sponsor of Pitrim Sorokin, wrote Experimental Designs in Sociological Research which remains the sourcebook for many quantitative social researchers in how to design experiments in social science.

Spykman was the representative from Yale, possibly sponsored by Albion Small, who had recently reviewed Spykmans book: We hope that Dr. Spykman will prove to have done for Simmel and for social science what this Journal was unable to do thirty years ago. (Small, 1925: 84)

But Spykmans  player status was probably in question from the beginning for three reasons: his association, because of the Simmel work,  with Albion Small who appears to have been ousted by Park and the Young Turks for his failure to defend W. I. Thomas in the 1918 incident; his foreigner status - Spykman is described in Yale histories as that rolling-gaited, spat-ankled Dutchman (Pierson, 1955: 155) and having taken his degrees in California (Yale University, 1939: 491); and, most of all by his heresy :

The myth of a science of society has been exploded. What remains is a series of social sciences of which sociology is merely one, even if it finds its subject matter through a different abstraction (Spykman, 1964: 273 and see Small, 1925: 84)

With Small retired from Chicago in 1925, Spykman does not reappear as a major player in the American sociological narrative, and Simmel fades with him.(House, 1926: 617-633 and Tenbruck, 1969: 61-99). His bid in this game seems to have failed. So Spykman joins a different game to pursue his ambitions and becomes a key figure in Yales development of political science and international relations having apparently no further interest in Sociology or Simmel. (Pierson, 1955: 664).

It is Smalls translations and Spykmans coding of Simmels argument, the heresy of the reduced status of sociology, which is the declaration of the first major strategy in the game and which Sorokin  and  the Young Turks would need to overturn in order to progress their versions of the game: the expansion of a quantitative Sociology as a major enterprise in American academe. To install his version of Sociology at Harvard, Sorokin launched vitriolic attacks on Simmel, dismissing Parks defence and Spykmans evaluation (Wolff, 1950: xlvi, fn. 32).

But Simmel, along with Durkheim and Weber, had been a major European in Smalls attempts to prevent the withdrawal of American sociology into parochialism.

American methodology will remain provincial unless it maintains vital relations with the two European movements which seem likely to be path-breakers in continental sociology during its next stage of development. The one tendency we have ventured to call post-Simmelism . . . in Germany. The other is the reorganization of the Durkheim following in France. (Small, 1925: 86).

It is also worth noting that Small had maintained this pro-European position from the beginning of his editorship of the American Journal of Sociology when he had Simmel, Weber, Durkheim and other Europeans appointed to the Editorial Board; by frequently including translations of their work as papers in issues of the Journal; and by including in the Notes reports of events and developments in the various European sociological societies. He, however, paid relatively less attention to the Russians, like Sorokin, than to the French and Germans. In the light of the American intervention in the First World War on the Anglo-Russian side against the Germans and the arrival of the Russian émigré, Sorokin, after the Communist Revolution, this may have proved, for Albion Small, another wrong move in the game.

The Wolff-Coser Gambit

Simmel could not be ignored and had to be accounted for, I propose, by re-coding. (Wolff, 1950: xxiv). He consequently re-enters the narrative in 1950:

Wolff (1950: xviii): Georg Simmel, the youngest of seven children, was born in Berlin on March 1, 1858. His father, a partner in a well-known chocolate factory, died when Georg was a boy. A friend of the family, the founder of an international music publishing house, was appointed his guardian. He left Simmel a considerable fortune which enabled him to lead the life of a scholar. Simmels mother was temperamental and domineering ...Simmel entered the University of Berlin at the age of eighteen to study history. Despite Mommsens impact on him, he soon changed to philosophy. Later, he named Lazarus and Steinthal, the founders of Völkerpsychologie, as his most important teachers; but he also studied with Harms and Zeller (philosophy), with Bastian (psychology), with Droysen, Sybel, Treischke, Grimm, and Jordan (history).

and then again in 1965:

Coser (1 - 1965:1-2): Georg Simmel was born on March 1, 1858, in the very center of Berlin: on the corner of Leipzigerstrasse and Friedrichstrasse. This is a curious birthplace; it would correspond to the corner of New Yorks Broadway and Forty-second Street. It seems most fitting for Simmel: all his life he lived in the intersection of many conflicting currents, intensely affected by a multiplicity of intellectual and moral tendencies. He was an urban man, without roots in traditional folk culture, an alien in his native land. .... Simmel was the youngest of seven children. While still very young, he lost his father, a prosperous Jewish businessman who had been converted to Christianity. A friend of the family, the owner of a music publishing house, was appointed the boys guardian. Simmels relation to his domineering mother was apparently rather distant. The youth seems not to have had roots in any secure family environment. A sense of marginality and insecurity came early to the young Simmel. ... After graduating from Gymnasium, Simmel studied history and philosophy at the university of Berlin with some of the most important academic figures of the day: the historians, Mommsen, Treitschke, Sybel, and Droysen, the philosophers Harms and Zeller, the anthropologists Lazarus and Steinthal (who were the founders of Völkerpsychologie), and the psychologist Bastian.

Simmel returns in 1971:

Levine (Simmel, 1971: x):  Although groups of all persuasions vigorously discussed his writings in the cafés frequented by German university students, no students chose to follow him as an academic master. On close terms with a number of cultural luminaries - his friends and correspondents including Stefan George, Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, Edmund Husserl, Martin Buber, Albert Schweitzer, Ernst Troeltsch, Max and Marianne Weber - he has been described as the loneliest figure of them all. ... This exclusion from the German academic establishment doubtless reinforced the unscholarly aspects of Simmels style, as Lewis Coser has skilfully argued.

And again in 1977:

Coser (1977: 194) - (Coser reproduces most of the above but rephrases lines 4 - 9)

... but it seems symbolically fitting for a man who throughout his life lived in the intersections of many movements, intensely affected by the cross-currents of intellectual traffic and by a multiplicity of moral directions. Simmel was a modern urban man, without roots in traditional folk culture. Upon reading Simmels first book, F. Toennies wrote to a friend: The book is shrewd but it has the flavor of the metropolis.

The earlier Coser (1965) version of the biography can be seen to be something accomplished: some method applied in producing his text.(Sacks, undated: 10) We have also the advantage of knowing that the first and second versions of this text, written by others, were reference material for that text.  What was achieved by the additions to the text which Wolff assured us was the only biographical material available to use? (Wolff, 1950: xiii, fn. 3&4).

This fore-text can be seen to be a lead-in to later text, setting a game-play which is  framed as the focus of the reading-to-come, (Sacks, 1961: 4)  namely the reading of Simmels childhood and upbringing, his urbanity, his lack of  roots in traditional culture and his having lived at the cross-roads of many intellectual currents. This fore-text already has a fore-text, Cosers 1958 article, Georg Simmels Style of Work: A Contribution to the Sociology of the Sociologist(Coser, 1958: 635-641). Because, for Coser, this is the key text to be read, the fore-text prepares the ground, it is ready framed for the reading-to-come. And it duly appears, now re-titled, as The Stranger in the Academy. The fore-text can now be seen as playing its appropriate part in setting up the play when we read:

Those who attempt to create ab oro are likely to be considered unreliable, outsiders, and hence to be mistrusted.(Coser, 1965: 31)

Thus we have the decision-to-be-reached for which the fore-text as frame was set up. (Sacks, 1961: 4)


The fore-text as a reconstructed biography sets the frame for reading three arguments which make up  The Stranger in the Academy so that we fall in with the consensual construction that Coser is seeking to apply.  He prepared the reader to consensually appreciate three features of  his reconstruction of Simmel:

·  Because Simmel (1908: 685-691) had written a chapter in Soziologie entitled Der Fremde which  Wolff, Coser and Levine, translate as The Stranger, Coser seems from his text determined to read that piece as autobiographical. We might equally accept a translation as the Foreigner, or, using Howard Beckers Hughes-Simmelian translation, the Outsider (Becker, 1963: 123). Coser presents Simmel as an unhappy Jewish youth who matures into an isolated, academic exile although there is no warrant for this in the Spykman biographical piece. Levine, then, corroborates this reconstruction with as Lewis Coser has skilfully argued., although this contradicts his prior listing of  Simmels internationally recognised correspondents, like the artist Auguste Rodin, Albert Schweitzer, Edmund Husserl and his best friend, Max Weber. (Simmel, 1971: x-xi)

· Cosers analysis now offers Robert K. Mertons important Social Structure and Anomie (Merton, 1957: 131-160) paper to explain Simmels role behaviour as a Mode of Adaptation (Innovation) to the status discrepancy of  The Stranger.(Coser, 1965: 37).

· The gloss - by superimposing this Functionalist Analysis over the Personality Profile, Coser seeks to re-incorporate Simmel into the Structural Functionalist fold after he was dismissed or overlooked in Parsons coded listing of major sociological figures in The Structure of Social Action. (Parsons: 1949). Parsons had devoted chapters to Durkheim and Weber, and others, where Simmel only warrants two footnotes and one brief reference (Parsons, 1949: 716, 748 and 772-773). There are rumours that Parsons had written a chapter on Simmel but dismissed it before publication. In 1957, Coser had tried to rediscover Simmel as one of the three European theorists. (Coser and Rosenberg, 1964: xii), the gloss appears a necessary move to advance the game.


Why? The disappointment with Sorokin? Academic imperialism? Post-war guilt of the ex-patriate European scholars to their Jewish European fellows? The tendency to exaggeration and enlargement among American academics and literary figures? To speculate is fruitless, it would be, as Coser has done, just a gloss on Cosers gloss.

The key point, well-known to Coser as his collaborator, is Wolffs definitive statement that the only biographical sketch was produced by Spykman using Simmels widow as his source. The only extra evidence, relating directly to Simmel, that is offered is a report quoted at length at the end of The Stranger from a Dietrich Schaefer addressed to the Kulturministerium on the proposal to appoint Simmel professor in Heidelberg.(Schaefer, 1965: 37-39) Schaefer is clearly anti-Semitic espousing the dangers to the German Christian-classical education of appointing Simmel and is opposed to the introduction of Sociology/society in the place of state and church as the decisive organ of human existence. The frame of reference Coser sets up to achieve the possible (desired) outcome in ,first,  the introduction and, later, in the text of the article itself is to create a reading of this report - to focus on the anti-Semitic and Anti-Sociology sentences. It is equally possible to read the main argument of the report as reporting on Simmel as a light-weight, populist speaker appealing to fashionable Berlin society but hardly worthy of the higher academic standards at Heidelberg. Coser could equally have taken Schaefers, The ladies constitute a very large proportion - even for extraordinarily numerous contingent of the oriental world... His whole manner is in tune with their orientation and taste. One does not come away from his lectures with too much of positive value....I do not imagine that the University of Heidelberg would be especially advanced by attracting that kind to its lecture halls. (Schaefer, 1965: 38). This account-as-fore-text would not, of course, have been a successful move in the game Coser was playing.

The Text - Going for Goal

The text is the other area where the game is played through. The fore-text has prepared the reader to read. The translation must now carry the reader to the  reading. Wolffs translation is a major play. The word society is presented here as a demonstration of how the commonplace, everyday activities of sociologists play-in the indexical expression and we will see the gloss-as-accomplishment. As Edward Rose notes:

The English language is treated here as a body of social facts, as a registry of a vast array of collective representations of sorts of persons, of actions, and of other social features that are indicated in the common meanings of English words. (Rose, 1960: 193)

The play, the accomplishment, is to invoke one word from the English language rather than other alternatives, in the translation. As Rose suggests, the use of the word society plays-in a body of sociological theory, locates Simmel within the Structuralist and quantitative school of American Sociology. This is achieved in the transformation of the common meaning of a German word, gesellschaft. Wolff translates it as society. Coser goes further he imposes on Tönnies Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, the translation, Community and Society. (Coser, 1965: 183)   The question can be addressed to the text. Simmel titles what others (Wolff, 1950, Coser, 1965 and Levine in Simmel, 1971) claim to be part of his major sociological work, Exkurs über das Problem: Wie ist Gesellschaft möglich? (Discourse about the problem: How is Gesellschaft possible? - Simmel, 1908: 1-46). However if we refer to a different source of the word, Gesellschaft, which is often used in Sociology written in English, namely its use by Ferdinand Tönnies, we find a different translation. Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, is nearly always translated as Community and Association.(purposive association in Coser, 1977: 218) Is this subtle difference in meaning so important? Is this the tackle, the placing of the epistemological obstacle? Rose suggests that :

New ideas, although perhaps not as easily proposed in earlier periods, are more readily assimilated into a body of working notions in earlier phases; and recent ideas, once accepted, have a better chance of persistence than old ideas. (Rose, 1960: 208)

So Wolffs translation can be assimilated, can and does persist. (Frisby, 1992 : 13-14). The translation of  gesellschaft as society is one possible translation but like many German words carries a variety of meanings in English. The Tönnies  version is usually translated, association. Maurer (1926: 485-506) makes various references to Simmel, using the translation, partnership. He, also attributes G. H. Mead as a Simmelian referring  to Meads paper The Genesis of Self and Social Control where Mead uses the term gesellschaftlichen which can be translated as associating. Like gemeinschaft (community?), with the noun, gemeinde (community), I propose that gesellschaft can mean all these words but that the addition of  -schaft  adds something to the meaning.  Rose instructs us to look in the everyday commonsense use of words and their origins in everyday speech. In old German, gesellen (Brockhaus, 1989: 414) refers to a status after apprenticeship but before becoming a master craftsman in the medieval guild. Melding together the idea of  associate with the suffix -schaft  could suggest the meaning of being an associate, a more active or processual meaning that the reified society. This is closer to Spykmans translation of:

The individual has once more become of importance in social theory. he is not, as for many sociologists, merely a social product, or merely a social factor. He is at the same time social product and social factor, the result of socialization and the producer of socialization; and it is this double capacity that determines him as a social being. (Spykman, 1964: 264)

But this discussion is about more than the word. The word indexes a text. The indexical expression represents the sociological game in the translation of Simmels offered definitions of the word.  So in Spykman we have:

In that case it stands for the sum of all individuals concurring in reciprocal relations, together with all the interests which unite them. In the more narrow sense, the term designates the process of socialization or association as such, the interaction itself in abstraction from these interests . These two meanings of the term can be distinguished on the basis of a differentiation between the form and the content of socialization.(Spykman, 1925: 32 and Simmel, 1908: 6-7)

Note the concurring in reciprocal relations and compare it with the Wolff version:

Society itself is presently defined as a number of individuals connected by interaction.(Wolff, 1950: xxx)

 The empirical version offered by Wolff co-ordinates with the society translation of Coser, the one has played-in the other in the everyday practice of translation. Simmel is suitability quantified and now sits in accord with the text of  The Stranger... and is available for integration in the game plan of the Structuralists. Wolff and Coser can now shoot for goal in translating Simmels Conflict (Simmel, 1964) and can join Parsons, Merton and others with the status of investing sociology with a new game, Conflict Theory. (Coser, 1956). At the conclusion of  the 1977 book, Coser was able to claim the prize. Simmels conflict  has been taken out of  social interaction  and into structure:

My own work on the functions of social conflict (1956, 1967) while highlighting the central importance of conflict in human societies, eschewed the temptation to see in conflict the preeminent form of social interaction. I argued instead for a view that stressed the need to investigate the roots of consensus as well as the roots of conflicts between individuals and classes of individuals. A critical discussion of my contributions to conflict theory ... (Coser, 1977: 581)



And should there win be applauded or should we follow Roses warning and beware leaving a distorted usage in the vocabulary of Sociology?:

Possibly all professions become committed in time to orders of ideas that are older than the natural semantic developments with which they have become historically involved: the sciences, for instance, because they are committed to subject-matter, may not replace ideas as rapidly as does slang.(Rose, 1960: 207)

Fortunately, there were other players still in the game and the Spykman version which I suggest opened up the root through George Herbert Mead and Everett C. Hughes, (1965: 117-118) and their many students, to another game, Symbolic Interactionism. because they were to focus on Spykmans translation: individuals concurring in reciprocal relations.

Hughes says:

Simmel played his games of analysis of interaction on a great variety of substantive situations and problems, large and small; but it is always a game.

And the game goes on.¹


1. There are other possible games with Simmel worthy of investigation. The German academic  version of Simmel involves different game plays. The hand-written Catalogue of the Humboldt University, Berlin, contains entries for both Max Weber and Georg Simmel. An instructive exercise is to see the pencilled comments beside various catalogue entries, War lost referring to Simmel works that were removed by order of the National Socialists or destroyed by war damage. After the Soviet occupation of  East Germany, the pencilled notes from 1949 changed to Removed. Many of those lost items have been retrieved or replaced since the reunification of Germany. Similarly, in the HU academic book shop, sociologists commentaries on Simmel are shelved under Soziologie whereas Simmels works are classified under Philosophie.   There is a rich vein of   Foucauldian archaeology to be uncovered. For myself, I hope to pursue the Philosophie/Soziologie in a further examination of Simmels Formen and his Kantian influences in relation to Alfred Schutz and thus by a different game plan to Talcott Parsons and Harold Garfinkel.



American Journal of Sociology (1925) Program of Twentieth Annual Meeting at Columbia University, Dec. 28-31, 1925, American Journal of Sociology,  XXXI (3) November, p. 377.

R. J. Anderson, J. A. Hughes, W. W. Sharrock (1985) The Sociology Game, Harlow: Longman.

Howard Becker, ed. (1963) Outsiders,  New York: The Free Press.

Brockhaus (1989) Brockhaus-Enzyklopädie, 8, Mannheim: Brockhaus.

F. Stuart Chapin (1947) Experimental Designs in Sociological Research, New York: Harper Row.

Lewis Coser (1956) The Functions of Social Conflict, New York: The Free Press.

Lewis Coser (1958) Georg Simmels Style of Work: A Contribution to the Sociology of the Sociologist American Journal of Sociology, 63 (May): 635-641.

Lewis A. Coser and Bernard Rosenberg eds. (1964) Sociological Theory: A Book of Readings, 2nd. ed., New York: Macmillan.

Lewis A. Coser, ed. (1965)  Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Lewis Coser (1977) Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context, 2nd ed., New York: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich.

David Frisby (1992) Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmels Social Theory, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Harold Garfinkel (1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Harold Garfinkel and Harvey Sacks (1970) On Formal Structures of Practical Actions in John C. McKinney and Edward A. Tiryakian (eds.) Theoretical Sociology : Perspectives and Developments, New York : Appleton-Century Crofts: 338-366.

Ruth Glass (1962) Urban Sociology in A. T .Welford et al, Society: Problems and Methods of Study, London: Routledge: 484-485.

Gary Gutting (1989) Michel Foucaults Archaeology of Scientific Reason, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Floyd N. House (1926) Social Relations and Social Interaction American Journal of Sociology, XXXI (5) March: 617-633.

Everett C. Hughes (1965) A Note on Georg Simmel  Social Problems,  13 (2)  Fall: 117-118.

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