Simmel Discussion Group
Georg Simmel (1858-1918) is widely considered to be one of the founding figures of sociology. With 2018 marking the centenary of his death, the 2018-2019 academic year is an opportune moment for serious reflection about the relevance of his thought today.
However, the fate of Simmel’s reception has not been without its complications. The first generations of North American sociologists were familiar with Simmel’s writings in German and made his ideas central to their work – indeed, many of Simmel’s texts were published in English translation in The American Journal of Sociology before they appeared in German. Yet, in the ensuing century Simmel was only selectively translated. Simmel’s magnum opus Soziologie, for instance, has only recently been completely translated. This piecemeal reception is further complicated by the fact that the only existent translation (by Anthony Blasi, Anton Jacobs, and Mathew Kanjirathinkal and introduced by Horst Helle) is not only exclusively available in hardcover at the price of USD 299.84 but also seriously flawed, as critics like Donald Levine and others have observed.
Parallel to this disciplinary history within the field of Sociology, Simmel has played a major role in philosophy, Critical Theory, and cultural studies. Yet here as well the reception has been selective and spotty, and oblivious to the Simmel reception in sociology.
While this situation poses serious challenges, it is also an opportunity for colleagues in the social sciences and the humanities to work together. This is the goal of our working group. In particular, we are inspired by the strikingly innovative and original impulse of Simmel, which offers an alternative to the thought of Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Talcott Parsons. In contrast, Simmel’s emphasis on social interaction as dynamically linked to what he calls “form” gives the field of social and cultural theory as well as sociology a different outlook, which we wish to articulate and develop.
In the age of information technology and the interest in understanding social networks and media, Simmel is now re-emerging as one of the long-neglected theorists of modernity. Our group’s project is to return to Simmel and see how reading his 1908 Soziologie through the lens of his 1917 classic but brief and concise Grundfragen der Soziologie (comprising only 10% of the length of Soziologie) attunes our eyes to trace the productive tension between his use of “form” and a vitalist impetus already at play in his earlier work. This work will be particularly fruitful, in that it brings together Germanists, Philosophers, cultural theorists, and Sociologists to mutually learn from one another.
The plan for the academic year 2018-19 is to read and discuss Simmel’s Soziologie with an eye on his later Grundfragen. We will read this text in a group in which a critical mass of the participants have native or near-native command of German. Reading the German and English translation side by side, the group’s project will also be to discuss possibilities for an alternative, long overdue new English translation. We have 10 meetings planned during the terms to parse the book and one additional initial meeting to discuss in advance of this the Grundfragen der Soziologie.
Willi Goetschel, FAS German and Philosophy
Dan Silver, UTSC Sociology
Faculty, University of Toronto
Bonnie Erickson FAS Sociology
Steve Hoffman, UTM Sociology
Mark Kingwell, FAS Philosophy
Michael Lambek, UTSC Anthropology
Vanina Leschziner, FAS Sociology
Sida Liu, UTM Sociology
Paula Maurutto, UTM Sociology
Erik Schneiderhan, UTM Sociology
Owen Ware, UTM Philosophy
Postdoctoral Fellow outside University of Toronto
Vasuki Shanmuganathan, Health Policy & Management, York University
Graduate Students, University of Toronto
Tyler Bateman, Sociology
Milos Brocic, Sociology
Fernando Calderon Figueroa, Sociology
Yvonne Daoleuxay, Sociology
Natalie Helberg, Philosophy
Rita Laszlo, German
Emily Pascoe, Study of Religion
Taylor Price, Sociology
Andrea Roman, Sociology
Ioana Sendriou, Sociology
Tobias Wilczek, German