Georg Simmel’s Theory of Culture

  • Lawrence A. Scaff
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 119)


Among the classical sociologists Georg Simmel is the major figure who can be said not only to have contributed to particular aspects of a new sociology and philosophy of culture, but to have self-consciously developed an explicit, general theory of culture and modern life. The theory consisted of an interconnected conceptual language and a perspective for ordering, understanding, explaining and judging our experience of culture. Simmel’s achievement was recognized by some of his colleagues in the universities and the new German Sociological Association, among students who flocked to his popular Berlin lectures, and by those who participated in his private seminar. In the words of one member of these audiences, the young Georg LukFács, “a sociology of culture, as it was taken over by Max Weber, Troeltsch, Sombart and others [including Lukács himself] surely became possible only on the basis established by Simmel”.1 Today the originality, comprehensive¬ness and deep attraction of Simmels theoretical purpose still recom¬mend him as one of the truly significant primary thinkers on questions of culture.


Subjective Culture Modern Culture Objective Culture Subjective Life Protestant Ethic 
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  1. Georg Simmer (1918), in Buck des Dankes an Georg Simmel, ed. K. Gassen and M. Landmann, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1958, p. 175. Google Scholar
  2. Jürgen Habermas, “Simmel als Zeitdiagnostiker”, in Simmel, Philosophische Kultur, Berlin: Wagenbach, 1983, pp. 243–53; and Andrew Arato, as quoted in Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, p. 78. Google Scholar
  3. Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982, p. 28n, and the critical comments in David Frisby, Fragments of Modernity: Theories of Modernity in the Work of Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985, pp. 38–9. Google Scholar
  4. The Philosophy of Money, tr. T. Bottomore and D. Frisby, Boston: Routledge, 1978, p. 54. Google Scholar
  5. “Rodins Plastik und die Geistesrichtung der Gegenwart” (1902), in Ästhetik und Soziologie um die Jahrhundertwende: Georg Simmel, ed. H. Böhringer and K. Gründer, Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1976, pp. 234–5. Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

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  • Lawrence A. Scaff

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