Elias und Simmel

Dear List, is there any work out there comparing the work of Elias and Simmel? I seem to remember something, somewhere, maybe from an edition of Figurations, or was it Elias and Wittgenstein? Any ideas anyone?

John Lever
UWE: Bristol

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5 Responses to Elias und Simmel

  1. Reinhard Blomert says:

    Dear listers,

    Paul is right, that Mannheim was an important mediator for Elias, but Elias did not like to give notice of his influences (without Freud and Max Weber). Mannheim was student of Simmel, as Lukacs, his main teacher. Simmel was very influential for Mannheim’s note of “relationism”, which is the idea, that any view is bound to the perspectice of the viewer. That means, history, culture and social position matters. (And that is something different from “relativism”). Elias was also a follower of that “historicist-relationist philosophy” (as I call it): He knew very well, that culture and history mattered, but it is not really clear, whether he git this insights at school (in the Philosophie Arbeitsgemeinschaft) or at university. It is, of course, anti-Kantian.


  2. Paul Nixon says:

    Dear Listers

    As briefly as possible, uncomprehensively, but perhaps offering a preliminary foothold on the perspectival ladder to colleagues who do not enjoy access to ample libraries:

    I hope it is informative to acknowledge that Simmel (a scholar of comfortable private financial means) died before he was able to develop his projected ‘new social science’, encompassing sociology-of-knowledge epistemological/philosophical questions as well as social-psychological conjunctures; and which he ideally envisaged as a ‘general sociology’ which would attract a wider following–cf. the massive comprehensive project of Berlin-and-Leipzig-and-Paris trained Dimitrie Gusti, another frustrated visionary whose work Elias also knew of. A man of Jewish origins, unorthodox life-style and views, Simmel had the professional support of M.Weber, Rickert and Husserl, yet he was repeatedly refused appointments in Berlin and Heidelberg universities. His sometimes provocative essays, encompassing changing group-and-individual relationships in expanding material as well as ‘hidden’ economies (as observed in hustle-and bustle Berlin) and perhaps his isolated presentation of self are perhaps rewarding to those who share the ambition of participating in consensually secure multi-stranded ruminative human science. Simmel was an established outsider who accomplished most of his committedly sociological work in a ten-year period (before that he was taken up with figurative art, was a pal of Stefan George, and published on Goethe–and he also pondered matters musical).

    His sociological mission has in 1953/4 (in Hungarian/German) inspired the likes of Lukacs (a former student who appreciated the processual emphasis embedded in his teacher’s thinking); and has been addressed and synthesised in English in 1965 by Lewis Coser (a major US figure known to seasoned Eliasians as highly informed on German sociology and sceptical of some of Elias’s presentation of self), Kurt Wolff (1950 and 1959), DN Levine (1971), D. Frisby (1981). Simmel has long been published in US sociology (American Journal of Sociology), in 1897-8, on the persistence of social groups, in 1902, again on groups, in 1904 on sociology of conflict, in 1906 on sociology of secrecy and secret societies. Some Listers know very well his work on the social impact of Money, cash nexuses and the near-and-remote purposive as well as unwitting interdependencies they generate.

    Finally, accepting that we do not find a consistently worked out or coherent theoretical sociology in Simmel, perhaps I may mention that his 1908 essay on the Sociological Significance of the “Stranger” encouraged me to reflect on my position of relative though bounded privilege and responsibility as an anthropological Transylvanian researcher hosted by uneasy Communist Party officials in Ceausescu’s Romania (1979). In the midst of troubled and authoritarian social interdependencies I was secure in the knowledge that I had a Western passport in my back pocket. I could leave Romania, come home and rely on shops having food in them, meet people on city streets and talk and laugh openly rather than exchange no more than furtive glances of fear-haunted complicity. Transylvanian Villagers and townsfolk (and Party bosses) who coped with me could neither change nor leave the country of their birth; and some were not even allowed to leave their village or neighbourhood without their wishes and motives being scrutinised, filed on record and ruled upon. Simmel’s perceptive though generalised insights derived from his own society (he was a Social Democrat at heart) at least encouraged a little more tact and understanding than I would otherwise have had on transactional issues which British Marxist ethnographers never addressed before sending me off in search of praise for their favoured Workers’ Paradise exotica.

    I hope some of the above is useful. If I could have a wish granted, it would be for members of this List, and more besides, to enjoy regular access to a well-stocked library, such as is enjoyed, for example, by some citizens in Amsterdam, Bruxelles, Dublin, Edinburgh, Aberystwyth, Oxford, London, Cambridge, Paris, Berlin, New York, Chicago, in fact by almost everyone in university towns across the U.S.

    Good wishes –
    Paul Nixon

  3. Anke Barzantny says:

    Dear John, Hi List,
    One work I remember which deals with Simmel and Elias (and Beck) is by Nicola Ebers (1995):“Individualisierung”. Georg Simmel – Norbert Elias – Ulrich Beck. Würzburg But I presume it’s only available in German. A review on that book can be found here: Mozetic, Gerald (1997) In: Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 49, 823-824 And another idea: Neckel, Sighard (1997): Etablierte und Außenseiter und das vereinigte Deutschland. Eine rekonstruktive Prozeßanalyse mit Elias und Simmel. In: Berliner Journal für Soziologie, 1997, 7, 2, 205-215
    I hope this is of any help for you.
    Anke Barzantny
    Uni Mannheim und Uni Gießen

  4. Reinhard Blomert says:

    There is a monograph on “Norbert Elias. Un ritratto intellettuale” from the Italian Elias-specialist Simonetta Tabboni, in which she compares Elias and Simmel. Edited at Il Mulino, Bologna 1993,


  5. Pieter Spierenburg says:

    In his book on the Bokkerÿder bands (also available in English, I believe), Anton Blok discusses Simmel in connection with secret societies. Blok also often refers to Elias, but the theoretical comparison between the two would be largely implicit.

    Pieter Spierenburg

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