Simmel’s Contribution to Parsons’ Action Theory and its Fate

  • Gary Dean Jaworski
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 119)


Establishing the place and importance of Simmel’s writings in Talcott Parsons’ work is no easy task. In part, the responsibility for this difficulty lies with Parsons himself. In contrast to the manner in which he established his relationship to other European intellectual figures, Parsons never explicitly identified the role Simmel played in his own intellectual development or the development of his theoretical system (cf. Parsons 1959, 1970, [1978] 1981). This is not to say, however, that this task is impossible. References to Simmel in Parsons’ published and unpublished writings provide the resources to reconstruct Simmel’s role in Parsons’ paradigmatic grounding of sociology.


Social Cohesion Action Theory Sociological Theory Relationship Schema Analytical Social Science 
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  1. 2.
    The above paragraph is based on Martel (1979) and a letter from Talcott Parsons to J. Graham Morgon, 30 November 1970, cited in Buxton (1985, p. 280 n. 2).Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    I am indebted to Donald N. Levine for reminding me of the importance of the year 1936 in the history of sociology and for pointing out the possible connections between those events and the issues that concern us here. Personal correspondence.Google Scholar


  1. This bibliography is divided into two sections: works by Talcott Parsons cited in the text, and other works cited. Both sections include references to sources located in the Parsons Papers of the Harvard University Archives. These sources are referred to by date of the manuscript and by the date and box number of the section of the Parsons Papers in which they appear. Most of the following abbreviations of the archival sections are borrowed from Buxton (1985, p. 299). A few have been added for present purposes.Google Scholar

Works by Talcott Parsons

  1. 1929.
    “Sociology and Social Ethics: Proposed Outline of General Field”. PP, LNA 1929–1978, Box 1.Google Scholar
  2. 1930.
    “Method and Technique of Sociological Research”. PP, CM 1930s–1960s, Box 1.Google Scholar
  3. 1932a.
    “Pareto and the Problems of Positivistic Sociology”. PP, UM 1929–1967, Box 1.Google Scholar
  4. 1932b.
    “[Review of] Ferdinand Toennies, Einfuhrung in die Soziologie”. PP, UM 1929–1967, Box 1.Google Scholar
  5. 1934a.
    “Service”, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 13, New York: The Macmillan Co., pp. 672–74.Google Scholar
  6. 1934b.
    “Some Reflections on ‘The Nature and Significance of Economics’”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 48 (May): 511–45.Google Scholar
  7. 1935a.
    “Prolegomena to a Theory of Institutions”. PP, UM 1929–1967, Box 1.Google Scholar
  8. 1935b.
    “The Place of Ultimate Values in Sociological Theory”, International Journal of Ethics 45:282–316.Google Scholar
  9. 1936.
    Georg Simmel and Ferdinand Toennies: Social Relationships and the Elements of Action”, PP, UM 1929–1967, Box 2.Google Scholar
  10. 1939.
    1954, “The Professions and Social Structure”, in: Essays in Sociological Theory, Revised Edition, New York: Free Press, pp. 34–49.Google Scholar
  11. 1942.
    1954, “Propaganda and Social Control”, in: Essays in Sociological Theory, pp. 142–176.Google Scholar
  12. 1952.
    “Sociology and Social Psychology”, in: Religious Perspectives in College Teaching, Hoxie N. Fairchild, ed. New York: Ronald Press, pp. 286–337.Google Scholar
  13. 1959.
    “A Short Account of My Intellectual Development”, Alpha Kappa Deltan 29 (Winter): 3–12.Google Scholar
  14. 1967.
    “Social Science and Theology”, in: America and the Future of Theology, William A. Beardslee, ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, pp. 136–57.Google Scholar
  15. 1937.
    1968, The Structure of Social Action, New York: Free Press. Google Scholar
  16. 1970.
    “On Building Social Systems Theory: A Personal History”, Daedalus 99: 826–81. Google Scholar
  17. 1979.
    Letter to Jeffrey Alexander, 19 January. PP, CRP 1965–1979, Box 1.Google Scholar
  18. 1978.
    1981, “Revisiting the Classics Throughout a Long Career”, in: The Future of the Sociological Classics, Buford Rhea, ed. London: Allen & Unwin, pp. 183–94. Google Scholar

Other Works Cited

  1. Abel, Th.: Systematic Sociology in Germany, New York: Columbia University Press, 1929.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, J .: Letter to Talcott Parsons, 9 January, PP, CRP 1965–1979, Box 1,1979. Google Scholar
  3. Buxton, W.: Talcott Parsons and the Capitalist Nation State: Political Sociology as a Strategic Vocation, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.Google Scholar
  4. Hamilton, W .: Letter to Talcott Parsons, 15 May. PP, CRP 1923–1940, Box 2,1925. Google Scholar
  5. Konig, R.: “Wiese, Leopold von”. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 16, New York: The Macmillan Co. and the Free Press, New York, pp. 547–49.Google Scholar
  6. Kuhn, Th.: “The History of Science”. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 14, New York: The Macmillan Co. and the Free Press, New York, pp. 74–83. Google Scholar
  7. Lengermann, P. M.: “The Founding of the American Sociological Review: The Anatomy of a Rebellion”, American Sociological Review 44 (1979): 185–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Levine, D. N.: “Simmel and Parsons: Two Approaches to the Study of Society”, Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1957.Google Scholar
  9. Levine, D. N.: “Introduction to the Arno Press Edition”, Simmel and Parsons: Two Approaches to the Study of Society, New York: Arno Press, [1957] 1980. Google Scholar
  10. Levine, D. N.: “Ambivalent Encounters: Disavowals of Simmel by Durkheim, Weber, Lukacs, Park, and Parsons”, The Flight From Ambiguity: Essays in Social and Cultural Theory, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.Google Scholar
  11. Liebersohn, H.: “Leopold von Wiese and the Ambivalence of Functionalist Sociology”, European Journal of Sociology 23 (1982): 123–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Martel, M. U .: “Parsons, Talcott”, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: Biographical Supplement, David Sills, ed., New York: Free Press, pp. 609–30. Google Scholar
  13. Paharik, J. G.: “Park and Simmel: A Study in the Development of Systematic Sociolog¬ical Theory”, Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1983.Google Scholar
  14. Simmel, G.: “On the Nature of Historical Understanding”, in: Georg Simmel: Essays on Interpretation in Social Science. Translated, edited and with an introduction by Guy Oakes, Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, [1918] 1980, pp. 97–126. Google Scholar
  15. Vidich, A. J. and S. M. Lyman: American Sociology: Worldly Rejections of Religion and Their Directions, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. Google Scholar
  16. Vidich, A. J. and S. M. Lyman: “State, Ethics and Public Morality in American Sociological Thought”. Sociological Theory in Transition, Mark L. Wardell and Stephen R. Turner, eds., Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1986, pp. 44–56. Google Scholar
  17. Weber, M.: “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy”, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, Edward A. Shils and Henry A. Finch, trans, and eds., Glencoe, 111: Free Press, [1904] 1949, pp. 49–112. Google Scholar
  18. Weber, M .: The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, trans. New York: Free Press, 1947. Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

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  • Gary Dean Jaworski

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