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Sociological Theorists: Classical vs. Contemporary Essay


The classical and contemporary theorists have been attributed to sociological theories, each with different concepts in their arguments. The classical theorists emerged in the mid 19th century, and they have helped shape the course of sociology to what it has become to date. One of the most outstanding classical theorists was Georg Simmel. Contemporary theorists, on the other hand, took over in early 1935, with one of the proponents being Edward Said. Though the theoretical concepts proposed by the classical theorist Georg Simmel and contemporary theorist Edward Said seem to contrast, certain similarities can also be traced.

The Theoretical Approach

Both theorists have different approaches in their theoretical orientation relating to the action-order spectrum. Born in German in 1868, Georg Simmel played a big role in defining the concept of sociology. He tries to understand how individuals interact with each other socially in matters pertaining to social conflict and domination (Appelrouth and Edles, 233). He further draws attention to the inconsistencies experienced in modern life by individuals. Simmel argues that in modern life, individuals draw away from each other and form social groups to which they identify themselves with.

Edward Said, on the other hand, supports the present-day global societies. Born in 1935, Edward concentrates on the aspects of social life and how they are globally entrenched. He argues that this global interconnection is responsible for any activity that takes place in a particular geographical zone. His theory proposes that in modern culture, a nation cannot function on its own self without help from other nations. This he attributes to the uncontrolled economic flow of capital between nations (Appelrouth and Edles 815).

Understanding The Concepts By Georg Simmel And Edward Said

Simmel’s theory is based on certain concepts such as interdependent duality, social distance, and the ‘stranger’ to which he draws his classical theoretical approach. Simmel’s theory seems to concentrate on all forms of individual association. The individual and association duality is well expressed and discussed in Simmel’s theory. He argues that modern society cultivates some kind of independence to individuals by giving them the freedom to make use of their unique talents and interests. He goes ahead to explain that a society can only be formed by individuals coming together for certain purposes (Appelrouth and Edles 239).

Society allows individuals to interact with each other through various forms socially. One form of this interaction is through an exchange that Simmel views as the most significant and purest form of individual interaction. The exchange, in most cases, involves economic gains between individuals. The other form is by the conflict, which tends to resolve conflicting dualisms in the society even though one party stands to be aggrieved. Simmel argues that a purely harmonious society that is not characterized by individual conflict is not real. The last form of interaction that seems to interest Simmel is domination. He argues that individuals need to have some kind of authority over each other. Domination acts as a form of interaction between individuals in society. In defining social distance, Simmel argues that individuals need to be close to each other so as not to be labelled strangers.

A ‘stranger,’ according to him, is somebody who is not considered part of society. Edward, on the other hand, criticizes the concept of orientation by arguing that “Orientalism is prejudiced against the people from the East and their culture.” He states that the false information about the people in the Middle East and Asia as regards their attitudes have been used to serve as just the acts of the Western culture. According to him, orientation promotes general bias generalizations characterized by religious and racial discriminations. Instead of evaluating the differences between the West and East, the dynamic human characteristics of the people from this culture should be studied (Appelrouth and Edles 818).

Similarities And Differences In The Concepts

The arguments posed by the two theorists seem to have some similarities. They both believe in individuals being part of a society and a culture. Simmel’s argument on interdependence duality and the fact that society cannot operate without individuals seem to support the idea of rejecting orientalism for the sake of the individuals in the East. Edward argues that individuals should be made part of other cultures and society without being judged.

Further, they seem to be on the same page regarding the discriminations of ‘strangers’ in society. Both theorists contend that certain people from certain cultures are isolated from society. As regarding social distance and the concept of orientalism, both seem to argue that there is a drift in the way individuals in society relate to each other. Edward argues that the people in the West have distanced themselves from those in the East due to the differences in their racial and cultural backgrounds.

Both theorists seem to support the concept of interaction, though in similar ways. Whilst Simmel concentrates on individual interaction, Edward concerns himself with social interaction. Simmel seems to argue that it is the individuals who make society what it is. However, Edward seems to differ with this concept by insisting society itself transforms its people to operate in a particular manner. Simmel further argues that a conflict is a form of interaction, a concept that is vehemently rejected by Edward. Edward argues that the conflict between the East and West has caused the two regions not to interact with each other.

Works Cited

Appelrouth, Scott and Edles, Laura. Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: text and readings. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press, 2008. Print.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consiousness and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall Inc., 1991. Print.

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