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History of sociology


Leo Semashko




In this brief paper I will describe the general characteristics of the web approach to the scientific method as well as Simmel's sociology, comparing them with o­ne another and also with "tetrasociology," developed by the author (2003).I will try to assess their basic theoretical meanings along with the relationships among them.


The web approach to the scientific method


The web approach was originated by the American sociologist Bernard Phillips (2001), and it was developed further in an edited volume (Phillips, Kincaid and Scheff, 2002).Some 26 socIologIcal concepts were presented along with relationships among them--including social structures, situations and individual structures--to help illustrate the approach (Phillips, 2001: 24).Individual structures also take into account biological and physical structures. This system of concepts was put forward in order to achieve a very wide range of coverage of human behavior as the basis for a reconstructed scientific method for the social sciences.


Some potential advantages of the web approachare:


First, it aims to develop and concretize C. Wright Mills' idea of "the sociological imagination" (1959), as outlined in Phillips (2001: 3-39).


Second, it points toward developing and concretizing Alvin Gouldner's idea of "reflexive sociology" (1970).


Third, it gives us a very wide view of human behavior, overcoming the narrowness of the specialized and bureaucratic worldview (Phillips, 2001: 41-72; Phillips, Kincaid and Scheff, eds., 2002:37-40).


Fourth, it opens up to the complexity of human behavior, taking into account history, social structures, the situation and individual structures (Phillips, Kincaid and Scheff, eds., 2002:26-33).


Fifth, it connects the sociological concepts of a high and low level of abstraction at research of concrete problems of complex human behavior (Phillips, 2001:21-30; Phillips, Kincaid and Scheff, eds., 2002:26-35).


The "web approach to the scientific method has five components: 1. Definition of the problem, 2. High level of abstraction, 3. Low level of abstraction, 4. A web of knowledge, and 5. Reflexive analysis within an interactive worldview. This approach follows sociological ideals for the scientific method that call for defining research problems o­n the basis of existing knowledge, openness to all relevant knowledge, testing abstract ideas or theory empirically and integrating knowledge systematically" (Phillips, Kincaid and Scheff, eds., 2002: 23).


Now we shall consider Simmel's formal sociology.



Simmel's sociological theory


Simmel's sociology is constructed in Kant's tradition of centering o­n the human being's construction of the world, by contrast with a fruitless effort to grasp external reality.Simmel is concerned with two fundamental theoretical problems: the substantiation of sociology as a separate discipline, and the allocation of "social forms" as its special subject. These two problems are inseparable, making two sides of a single philosophical problem of the integral nature of social knowledge and social reality. Therefore Simmel's sociology is first of all social philosophy, which is developed by him o­n a basis not of empirical research but by numerous social illustrations from different areas of public life: cultures, art, politics, the economy, social psychology, etc. This dualism of Simmel's sociology--as emphasizing both philosophy and social life--has caused its inconsistent assessments. Some, such as Talcott Parsons and Pitirim Sorokin, have ignored his sociology, accusing Simmel of being unsystematic and formalistic. Others, such as Robert Merton and his followers, saw Simmel as developing "theories of the middle range."Still others saw Simmel as a thin yet observant social thinker. We shall attempt to understand his positive theoretical contributions.


The basic advantage of Simmel's theoretical model from our point of view consists (1) in the integrity of its aspiration to find the unity of a society in the unity of its people, (2) in its synthesis of knowledge and reality, and (3) in its dialectic between form and content. These contributions to theoretical sociology and social philosophy belong to Simmel.


The initial question of Simmel's sociology is "How is society possible?" He sees this as analogous to Kant's question, "How is nature possible? " (Simmel, 1996: 509). But for Simmel this analogy does not cover the "decisive difference between the unity of society and the unity of nature." He writes: " Kant states that "things" are individual souls (Simmel, 1996: 510).But social connections or relationships can never be inherent in things, for they are developed o­nly by subjects.The social connections, relationships and interaction among people are seen by Simmel as the initial factor inducing and producing society. Interactions among people unite them in a society or "sociate" them. Society is actually the constant process of interaction among people, continuously produced and is reproduced by interaction. Society derives from the processes the consciousness of individuals, but that consciousness is constantly interacting with the consciousness of other individuals even if the individual is alone (Simmel, 1996: 513, etc.).


The major quality of individual interaction and social connections or relationships is their "sociation" (vergesellschaftung). Sociation is a constant process of transformation of individuals from natural to social beings during their external or internal interaction with other individuals. Individuals are simultaneously inside and outside of sociation, or inside and outside of society. Just as "I" is included in nature and nature is included in "I," so is "I" included in society and society is included in "I". The sociation process is dual: it makes the individual social and makes society individual:. "On the o­ne hand, we know, that we are the products of a society, o­n the other hand, we know, that we are the members of a society" (Simmel, 1996: 520). To be a product of a society also means to be a member of society and, thus,to reproduce society.The sociation process includes both.


This duality of sociation was well understood by Simmel: As a result of sociation, the individual experiences a dual existence:partly individual and partly social. The individual is a product of society and simultaneously (s)he is society's center, its source and purpose (Simmel, 1996: 521).


The integral nature of the sociation process results from the "predetermined harmony" of the individual and society. The individual human being lives through social life, which gives value to individuality. And society lives through the lives of individuals, who give society its value. Therefore "social life is based o­n the precondition of fundamental harmony (italics added) among individuals and in society as a whole, though this does not prevent sharp discords in life" (Simmel, 1996: 524).Thus, the integral nature and harmony/disharmony of sociation constitute the main subject of Simmel's research. He is the first and apparently the sole sociologist, who has formulated the idea of fundamental or predetermined harmony among the individuals making up society through.His contribution o­n this score has until now never been clear.


What is the nature of interaction? Individual persons are the atoms of a society, and the .complex web of interactions among persons creates society". For the understanding of interactions Simmel a principle of the indefinitely many and infinitesimal interactions which appear as mental motives, feelings, ideas and needs of individuals. They are studied by psychology and sociology but in different aspects. Sociology isolates their social forms, leaving aside their psychological sources. Thus, the facts of sociology are mental processes whose validity is based o­n psychological categories and remain outside of the purposes of sociological study(Simmel, 1913: 132-140).


Thus, the contents of our social interactions are divided among the narrow social sciences, and the subject of sociology cannot include everything about interaction. The distinction between the form and content of interaction is basic for Simmel's definition of the nature of sociology. He drew an analogy between sociology and geometry. Sociology is related to other social sciences as geometry is related to the physical sciences, with both sociology and geometry emphasizing form rather than content. It considers the form of things, owing to which the matter turns to empirical bodies. Sociology thus investigates o­nly the pure forms of interactions and sociation. Both geometry, and sociology leave to other sciences the contents of sociation and interaction (Simmel, 1913: 112-124). Simmel also draws an analogy between sociology and grammar, separating the pure forms of language from the contents in which these forms live. As a result of its emphasis o­n form rather than content, sociology does not address the content that other social sciences emphasize, although all of the social sciences are united by their scientific methods. Thus Simmel sees sociology as an integrative, synthetic science which can overcome the narrowness of the social sciences. That understanding is urgently needed within modern sociology, where specialization with limited communication among specialties dominates the discipline.For example, thereare 60 research divisions within the International Sociological Association and 42 sections within the American Sociological Association, and there are also many subdivisions within those research divisions and sections.


Simmel understood the complexity as well as the dialectical unity of the distinction between the form and contents of interactions, . He emphasized that "in any available social phenomenon the contents and social form create an integral reality.". Therefore, to separate them from o­ne another will distort our understanding of phenomena. Therefore, it is necessary to use an intuitive method for to distinguish between them. He used many examples, such as poverty (Simmel, 1913: 116, 129). Hegave us many other concrete illustrations of the distinction between form and contents from highly diverse areas of life in society, and he saw the future accumulation of such examples as important for sociology.


This restriction of the subject of sociology to "the pure forms" of sociation is the basis for Simmel's definition of sociology as "formal" or "pure.". He saw this definition as the main way to substantiate sociology as a science. In this way, the sociologist investigates the forms of interaction, abstracting out from the specific contents of human phenomena--which are the carriers of these forms--the reasons, purposes and results that are involved.Simmel does not give a strict definition of form, describing it as the "unification" of a phenomenon, as its "integral nature", which overcomes the isolation of its parts. The pure forms are repeatedly reproduced, being filled with contents. The complexity and dialectical nature of the interaction betweenform and contents is suggested by the idea that the same form can be filled by different contents, and same contents can be associated with different forms.


Simmel did not develop any classification or system of the pure forms of sociation but has left numerous examples. His analyses of such forms as the formation of parties, imitation, fashion, the formation of classes, the occurrence of hierarchies, submission, the division of labor, solidarity, animosities, poverty, freedom, alienation, space, time, rationality, moneyand quantity all help us to understand the subject of sociology as the forms of sociation.Such forms can be studied within the context of examining the relationships among small groups of individuals, such as groups of two or three.For example, the sociologist might study the Spartanselection of two kings, the Roman selection of two consuls, or the Irokeses' selection of two leaders. Monogamy and friendship are also examples of the dyad. With the entry of a third person we have a different social formation, yielding new differentiations.The entry into this group of a fourth individual does not alter substantially its character, which hastwo consequences: "tertius gaudens" and "divide et empera." Numbers ten and hundred also play a sociological role, which is illustrated by governments (Simmel, 1902: 42-43). Dyads and triads are repeating forms of social interaction and social relationshipswithin Simmel's pure sociology. We might note that in last Simmel's last works he frequently replaces "form" with "type.


Simmel's dyads and the triads carry into the field of sociology Kant's emphasis o­n pluralism.They express Kant's view of multidimensionality, but for Simmel it is multidimensionality limited of this or that number instead of a boundless multidimensionality. The aggregate of the sociation forms can be understood as the set of role structures in a system of action of the social individual. This idea has found further development in structural functionalism as well as in many theories of social action and interactions. For example, Max Weber's theory of "ideal types" is close to this idea.All this testifies to the fruitfulness of Simmel's formal sociology.



The web approach and formal sociology


There is much in common between formal sociology and the web approach to the scientific method.


First, they are based o­n what Mills called "the sociological imagination," covering the aggregate of the most varied social phenomena, including diverse aspects of the complexities of human behavior. In this way they differ from the overwhelming majority of narrow sociological theories and research which constitute what Phillips called sociology's"tower of Babel." Formal sociology and web approach direct our attention beyond this tower.


Second, they have an illustrative or demonstrative character rather than giving usconfirmation o­n the basis of quantitative, statistical or empirical research,which many social scientists believe to be vital. The merit of this method is its availability to a wide public, influencing the reader or hearer not o­nly o­n the basis of reason but also o­n the basis of emotion. The illustrative character of Simmel's sociology have made it in due time widely known and popular. Certainly, this method also has lacks, such as limitations in its ability to influence social scientists.


Third, they aspire to an integral vision of sociology so as to overcoming the narrow approach of specialists. This integral vision has a philosophical character and assumes the indissoluble connection between sociological theory and sociological practice. The web approach and formal sociology both aim at understanding the complex problems of human behavior o­n a global scale. Their ability to take us from considering the most varied social phenomena from the most minute to the global yields the basis for an integral vision of sociology.


Fourth, they both involve connecting conceptual abstractions at low and high levels. For example, Simmel investigates such abstract forms of sociation as social space, rationalization and money as well as more concrete or lower levels of abstraction, such as poverty, fashion and the professions. Similarly, Phillips investigates "a ladder of abstraction" from the most abstract, down to the most concrete,. o­ne merit of the web approach in comparison with formal sociology consists in its systematic character, which is developed by a web of twenty-six sociological concepts. This multidimensional and systematic relationships among key concepts of the web approach points toward overcoming the narrowness and limitations of a traditional sociological approach (Phillips, 2001: 3-77).



Tetrasociology and its connection with formal sociology and web approach


Tetrasociology," developed by the author (2002; 2003), has a number of links to formal sociology and web approach. They are united by a common sociological imagination, aspiring to achieve a wide scope of attention to social reality and to overcome the narrowness of traditional sociological approaches and theories. Just as formal sociology develops a theory of social interaction and sociation forms, and just as the web approach develops a web of twenty six sociological concepts, so does tetrasociology develop a system of coordinates of four-dimensional social space-time derived from the "reproductive employment" of the people of society.


Reproductive employment of the people or "r-employment" is essentially a new concept. People's r-employment is the employment of people in all of the processes of the reproduction of society.This includes all of the social resources or components of society/ and individuals in the course of their entire lives from birth to death. R-employment is universal and common to all of humankind. It is R-employment that creates and destroys, transforms and preserves, ameliorates and worsens all resources or components of society. Any historical or contemporary event can serve as an example. R-employment is identical with the totality of all and any life practices of a person. People ALWAYS, at every given moment of their lives, are involved in reproduction. Because this thesis provokes debate more frequently than other aspects of tetrasociology,I will present several examples.

When a person sleeps ((s)he spends more than a third of her/his life in sleep.What does (s)he produce? When a person eats, takes a rest, idles, is sick, or immerses him(her)self in nirvana, what does (s)he produce? What does a toddler who o­nly eats, drinks, cries, sleeps and performs other physiological functions produce? When a person retires and does not work anymore, what does (s)he produce? What does (s)he produce when (s)he studies, does athletics, goes to the movies, concerts, museums, etc.? In these and numerous other similar examples, a person reproduces HER/HIMSELF as a person, as a personality, as an individual, as o­ne of his/her numerous facets. Can a person do without SELF-reproduction? Certainly not! We spend the biggest part of our lives precisely o­n self-reproduction: sleep, food, study, physical fitness, leisure, self-development, medical treatment, etc. Self-production has priority in the employment structure of individuals. The more perfect and efficient is self-production, the more time people have for social employment, and the higher is its quality.


R-employment is an extremely broad sociological category, including not o­nly social or work-related activities but also individual employment or self-production. It is broader than activity, because people can also be inactively employed in sleep, in sickness, in passivity, or in idleness. It is broader than work, because people's activities can also be unrelated to work and consumption.For example, r-employment can include leisure and transportation. At the same time, r-employment also includes as o­ne of its parts work-related or social employment. We will not examine here the five major types of r-employment: individual, social, beneficial, detrimental, and preventive. This is explored in Tetrasociology (2002).


R-employment is the dynamic backbone that people and society share, and this backbone differentiates them from natural phenomena. An individual's entire life is the employment in reproduction of fourproducts or resources: people, information, organization, things, or PIOT.Consequently,thesocial is likewise multidimensional, exemplifying the indissoluble unity of four components: humanitarian (human), informational, organizational and material (physical). And the humanitarian component has the highest priority among the four. The backbone of this component is the primary human property: people's life energy, their activity. Everything in society and individuals is the product of this energy, or bears a stamp of it.


The social stretches out to the same limits as the life energy of people's R-employment. But the social is not limited to its humanitarian component, life energy. Life energy is not godlike, that is, it is unable to create from itself. It is able to create out of other phenomena with the help of other instruments, i.e., out of natural and social objects with the help of social instruments. Thus, the social's humanitarian component requires such instruments as the informational component (knowledge), the organizational component (norms, order), and the material component (things). In employment processes, people's energy transfers four components of the social, which are incorporated in people, to physical or social objects, which either become social or modify their social characteristics. Persons themselves, as the humanitarian or human resource, become the first such object; product; information, or the informational resource, becomes the second; organizations, the organizational resource, becomes the third; and things, the material and technical resource, become the fourth.


Finally, r-employment allows us to formulate yet another fundamental category of tetrasociology, social space-time (SST). R-employment insures the fusion of social space and social time, and for this reason the two are used as a single category, although each has its own specific content. Below we provide brief definitions and explanations for each.


Social time: Society has no other social time than people's time, and, therefore, their r-employment time. Social time is the time of people's r-employment. Past social time is people's past r-employment, or the employment of past generations. Current social time is people's contemporary r-employment. Future social time is people's future r-employment, or the employment of future generations. All forms of the social are different manifestations of r-employment, and different instances of social time.


Social space: Society does not have another social space besides r-employment's space. Because employment occurs in reproduction processes and results in products or resources (people, information, organization, things - PIOT), social space is delimited by the spatial boundaries of reproduction processes and PIOT resources. Social space expands and contracts to the same degree as do r-employment and PIOT products or resources. Where they are present, there social space is present too, and where they are not present, neither is social space.


The unity of social space and social time is also determined by r-employment: where there is r-employment's space, there its time is present, too, and vice versa. Thus, they are inseparable and can be designated as a single category of social space-time. However, they are also contradictory and dialectical: social time (employment time) creates social space (PIOT resources), and contracts or expands it, while social space (PIOT resources) delimits r-employment, setting limits for social time. R-employment creates the social world as the totality of all past and present PIOT resources.Thus, it creates social space-time.


According to the kinds of resources reproduced, tetrasociology postulates four necessary and sufficient spheres of social reproduction:: social (humanitarian), informational (cultural), organizational (managerial), and technical (material, economic). Abbreviated, the names are as follows: sociosphere, infosphere, organisphere, technosphere. The sociosphere reproduces people from people: people are its object or product. The infosphere reproduces information from information: information is its object or product. The organisphere reproduces organizations: organizations are its object or product. And the technosphere reproduces things: things are its object or product. Each sphere of reproduction represents a sphere of the appropriate subculture: humanitarian, spiritual, organizational, material.


Sphere classes are the major components of spheres and the major category of tetrasociology. Sphere classes are large, productive groups of people, encompassing the population in its entirety, and differentiated by the kind of reproductive employment involved. The priority rankings for sphere classes correspond with those for spheres and resources or products reproduced by them.


Tetrasociology postulates four productive and equally necessary and sufficient, sphere classes, corresponding to the four spheres of social reproduction:

1. SOCIOCLASS:people employed in the sociosphere. This includes, o­n the o­ne hand, people working in healthcare, education, childcare, social welfare, athletics and sports, and o­n the other, all people who are non-working but employed in self-reproduction, that is, pre-schoolers, students, the unemployed, homemakers, non-working retirees and the disabled.

2. INFOCLASS: people employed in the infosphere, i.e., in academia, culture and the arts, communications, informational services, and the mass media.

3. ORGANICLASS: people employed in the organisphere, i.e., in politics, management, law, finance, defence, law enforcement, etc.

4. TECHNOCLASS: people employed in the technosphere, i.e., manual workers and peasants or farmers.


Normally, people are employed not in o­ne but in several spheres, although o­ne of the spheres consumes more time and, therefore, can be considered the major o­ne. Employing this criterion, tetrasociology divides the totality of any country's or the world's population into sphere classes (see an example of the modern sphere classes of Russia in Semashko, 2002, 2003).


Spheres of social reproduction are equally important to and variably prioritized by society, and they aspire toward equilibrium and harmony. Sphere classes employed in these spheres are likewise equally important to and variably prioritized by society. They are equal in employment's cosmopolitism, sociocultural quality and universality), but they differ in the quality and level of employment within each of the spheres. Sphere classes' equality and differences in employment, as well as their aspirations toward balance, make them harmonious and cohesive classes, abolishing class struggle and antagonism. Spheres and sphere classes are ruled by the law of harmony.This law counteracts the law of disharmony of "branch-based" classes, which are identified by their ownership or lack of ownership of property.


The major manifestation of the degree to which society's spheres are integrated is that they prove to be analogous spheres for every individual, namely, spheres of character, consciousness, will and body. Society's spheres are the objectificationor materialization of the corresponding spheres of individuals. They coincide in the object and product of reproduction. Character, reproducing people, including the individual, coincides with society's social/humanitarian sphere, and vice versa. Consciousness, reproducing information, including self-consciousness, coincides with society's informational sphere, and vice versa. Will, reproducing organizations, including the individual's self-organization, coincides with society's organizational sphere, and vice versa. Body, reproducing things, including its own organism, coincides with society's technical or material sphere, and vice versa. Both society's spheres and the individual's spheres are identified by o­ne of the four resources reproduced in them: people (individuals), information, organization, things. Society's spheres and the individual's spheres, although not identical, are similar and inseparable. They are rooted in each other, inseparable from each another, reproduce each other and are each other's product.For this reason they can and should be approached as unitary spheres of "society/individuals" or "individuals/society." In their spheres, society and individuals coincide in all of their substantive dimensions: in reproductive employment and its classes, in needs and abilities, and in humanitarian/social, cultural, organizational/political and economic dimensions.


In these spheres, man and society mutually alienate and appropriate each other, but in different ways and by a different organization of social reproduction. Within disharmonic "branch" organizations, the mutual alienation of society and man dominates. They see in each other o­nly as means and not as ends. o­nly by the harmonic organization of a sphere is alienation counterbalanced with the opposite process of the mutual integration of man and society. Here they see in each other, first of all, ends and not means. The harmony of man and society, their mutual appropriation, is reached thanks to sphere harmony and the harmony of sphere classes. The result is vertical' harmony, that is, harmony among spheres and sphere classes.


The branch world, o­n the o­ne hand, has accumulated social disharmony and alienation up to a critical mass, and o­n the other hand has created a lot of means for social harmony, such as information.It gives rise to an opposite aspiration toward a new and harmonious world, through spheres and sphere classes. From the point of view of tetrasociology, such is the dialectics of the transition from branch to sphere society in the epoch of globalization in our century


Thus, the tetrasociological theory of sphere harmony develops and concretizes the idea of fundamental or predetermined harmony outlined within Simmel's formal sociology. Also, the concepts of reproductive employment and social space-time in tetrasociology yield a breadth of approach to sociology that is similar to the breadth achieved by the web of 26 sociological concepts within the web approach to the scientific method.These three theoretical orientations do not exclude but rather supplement each other.


An approach to knowledge that combines elements from a variety of theories, which might be designated as "postpluralism," is a way of addressing the enormous complexity of human behavior.Simmel's theory of interaction and forms of sociation, For example, elements of Phillips' theory of the web approach (2001), DeWitt's theory of social action and social change (2000), tetrasociology's theory of reproductive employment can all be employed. The result is a multidimensional approach which can carry us further than any single theory.The problem of the postpluralistic quality of sociological theories is considered in more detail in Semashko (2002; 2003).


Thus, Simmel's formal sociology and the author's tetrasociology can be included along with Mills' idea of the sociological imagination and Gouldner's idea of a reflexive sociology in the further development of the web approach to the scientific method.They all supplement each other and open up new prospects for sociology's ability to fulfill its original promise. They offer us optimism as to sociology's possibilities for yielding understanding of the complexity of human behavior along with our fundamental problems both o­n a global scale and in the daily life of the individual, or what Mills called personal troubles and public issues.





Gouldner, Alvin. (1970) The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology. New York: Basic Book


DeWitt, Martha R. (2000). Beyond Equilibrium theory; Theories of Social Action and Social Change Applied to a Study of Power Sharing in Transition. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.


Mills, C. Wright. (1959) The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford Univ. Press


Phillips, Bernard. (2001). Beyond Sociology's Tower of Babel: Reconstructing the Scientific Method. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter


Phillips, Bernard; Harold Kincaid and Thomas J. Scheff. (2002). Toward a Sociological Imagination: Bridging Specialized Fields. Lanham, MD: University Press of America


Semashko, Leo. (2002) Tetrasociology: Responses to Challenges. St. Petersburg, Russia: Technical University.


Semashko, Leo, et al. (2003) Tetrasociology: From Sociological Imagination through Dialog to Universal Values and Harmony. St. Petersburg, Russia: Polytechnical University,.


Simmel, Georg. (1996). How is society possible? In G. Simmel, Selected Works, V.2, Moscow.


Simmel, Georg. (1913). A problem of sociology.In New ideas in sociology. V.1., St. Petersburg.


Simmel, Georg. (1902). Introduction in sociology.Scientific review. # 10, St. Petersburg.



Leo Semashko, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Universities of St. Petersburg, Russia. Director of the Private Institute of Strategic Sphere (Tetrasociological) Studies, St. Petersburg.Member of the ISA,


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