Transforming the Landscape of Sociological Thought: On Simmel’s Relationalism

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Olli PYYHTINEN, University of Tampere, Finland
In the presentation, I suggest that Simmel’s legacy consists not so much in formulating answers to well-established sociological questions as in transforming the whole landscape of sociological problems by offering altogether different abstractions. I argue that Simmel transforms sociological enquiry in at least three ways: First, instead of explaining concrete phenomena by categories and abstract principles, his work is explanatory of abstraction. What sociologists usually take for granted as a cause Simmel tries to explain as an effect. His conception of society will be used as an example. The second move has to do with exactly how it is that his work comes to explain the emergence of the more abstract things from the concrete ones. Simmel cultivates a relational mode of thought by examining phenomena in and through relations, suggesting thereby the priority of relations against the overly substantialist perspectives that still populate many strands of sociology today. Third, while Simmel typically explores the objects that he treats as if sub specie aeternitatis, he also makes sociology (and philosophy) responsive to the situation and crisis of modernity. He analyses in detail what it is like to live in the modern world. All in all, the three points suggest that what we can take from Simmel is above all a certain mode of thought, a form of questioning. The untypical, strange, and transgressive aspects of his work provide lines of flight that present resistance not only against the dominant systems and modes of sociological thought but also current social conditions.