Please explain how Simmel's analysis of the effects of numbers on forms of interaction can be used to explain changes in the social structure and personal relationships of people in small...

Please explain how Simmel's analysis of the effects of numbers on forms of interaction can be used to explain changes in the social structure and personal relationships of people in small village-type communities versus large urban areas.  How would these differences compare to Tonnies analysis of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Georg Simmel argued that the number of people in any given group had an important impact on the interactions among those people.  In general, the smaller the group is, the more intimate the interactions between the people.  As the group gets larger, the interactions become less intimate and are also less frequent.  There are good and bad aspects to this.  On the good side, when the group gets larger, it loses its ability to exert so much control over the individual.  Small groups can put intense pressure on their members, but large groups are much less able to do so.  On the bad side, the individual comes to be much less valuable and less meaningful to the group as a whole.  These differences apply to small towns and cities.  When people move to the city, they gain more freedom, but they lose much of their sense of being valuable to society.

In a sense, this is very similar to Tonnies’ ideas of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.  In the former, groups are based on the idea of similarity.  People within those groups are expected to retain their basic similarity to others in the group.  By contrast, in the larger Gesellschaft, the only point of the group is to provide for the individual desires of its members.  In Gemeinschaft, interactions are more person while in Gesellschaft, they are more transactional and are simply means by which individuals get what they want.

In these ways, the ideas of Simmel and Tonnies are rather similar.

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