The Propertied and the Poor in the Big City: From Parsons to Park Via Naegele

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Thomas KEMPLE, University of British Columbia, Canada
Simmel’s influence in North American sociology is often traced to the interest and research generated by his 1903 essay ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, along with the short excursus on ‘The Stranger’ and other parts of his 1908 book Sociology. The vicissitudes of his early reception move from celebration in the work of Robert Park (especially the collection he edited with Ernest Burgess in 1921, Introduction to the Science of Sociology) to disappearance in the work of Talcott Parsons (where a discussion of Simmel was excised from his 1937 The Structure of Social Action). This paper retraces the path back to Park’s ideas on urban life, which germinated from the seminar he attended by Simmel in Berlin in the spring of 1900, by way of Kaspar Naegele, who published a seminal paper comparing the cultural theories of Simmel and Durkheim in the American Journal of Sociology on the 50th anniversary of their deaths in 1958. A German émigré who was among Parsons’ favourite students at Harvard before settling in Canada, Naegele convinced his mentor to include selections from Simmel in their monumental edited collection Theories of Society of 1961. Naegele emphasizes Simmel’s unique way of seeing ‘the “severalness” of social arrangements in their vivid or dull, up and down “thereness”’. This paper argues that this perspective on Simmel’s later writings, particularly on the negative dynamics of social life, allows us to highlight features of Park’s approach to urban sociology that were nearly eclipsed by Parsons but are well worth recovering and reflecting on today.