Attending to Both Fluidity and Stability By Way of Relations: Simmel’s Relationalism

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
Olli PYYHTINEN, University of Tampere, Finland
While relationalism has the purchase of challenging the still largely dominant reifying substantialist assumptions, which conceive the world in terms of categories and more or less discrete and static entities, the emphasis on process and dynamic relations easily has the downside of easily neglecting permanence and stability. In the presentation I argue that Georg Simmel’s relational take on sociology helps us to avoid simply embracing becoming, fluency, and variation at the expense of being, stability, and permanence. His work is original in that it allows us to simultaneously meet two opposite aims: to attend both to how entities are produced in and by relations and how they may appear as enduring, relatively stable things. It gives us conceptual tools to consider entities as bundles of relations without disregarding their possible endurance. And it also gives us means to acknowledge their endurance without resorting to substance or an essence that sustains. While some of the features of an entity may endure even though many of its relations are eliminated, this is so, Simmel suggests, only because and insofar as there are a sufficiently large number of others that remain intact. So, in a sense, Simmel takes substance out of substantialism: there is indeed something in things that cannot be subtracted from them without them ceasing to exist, but this something is no essence or substance, but their relations. His work is suggestive of relations being one with the essence or the substance of a thing.