Social Types Essay

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Simmel’s discussions of social types can be grouped into two categories: types defined on the basis of (1) their position in some interactional form, like the metropolitan or the stranger, or (2) their cultural orientations to the world, like the artist or the adventurer.

Simmel’s sociology is concerned with the pure forms of interaction (such as urbanism), not with the specific contents of experience (in Berlin, Tokyo, or Chicago). Positions within these forms define social types. For example, in his famous discussion of ”The Stranger” (”Exkurs uber den Fremden,” in Simmel 1908) Simmel argues that the Stranger is defined by a distinct position in spatial relations: simultaneous relations of nearness and distance, such as occur, for example, in the development of commerce when traders came from afar into unfamiliar groups. Strangers are close and far, insiders and outsiders, at once. Such positions are associated with certain general characteristics: strangers tend to become judges and emotional confidants and to be treated abstractly.

Simmel also defines some social types as individual personifications of certain cultural domains. For example, Simmel writes of the artist” as typifying the orientation of the world of art.” All practical life involves some seeing,” where our visual field is constituted by selecting what is relevant to our practical needs. The artist” emerges when seeing as such is taken up for itself and comes to creatively shape life in its own terms. Whereas non-artists see on the basis of all sorts of non-optical needs (e.g., looking for food), the artist’s defining need is to determine the world purely in terms of how it can be seen (e.g., painting food). Articulating this sort of social type means describing in detail from the inside what it is like to inhabit a particular cultural world.


  1. Levine, D. N. (ed.) (1971) On Individuality and Social Forms: Selected Writings of Georg Simmel. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  2. Simmel, G. (1908) Soziologie. Untersuchungen uber die Formen der Vergesellschaftung. Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig.

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