Ying Yang Twins: Mead and Simmel


In contrast to theorists who placed society as an entity that exist outside and totally independent of human interaction and or individualism, Simmel contends that society and individuals work interdependent with one another. His concept of duality and one existing presupposes the other was defined by the author as, “while who you are as an individual is in an important sense defined and made possible by the groups to which you belong, preserving your individuality demands that your identity not be completely submerged into or engulfed by group membership”. This definition supports the notion of balance between the individual and society, in that one will always be influenced by the other.

Simmel continues on to argue that society has taken a shift from pre-modern societies to modern societies where a person has individual relationships that can tie into her social identity such as work, family, religion, and community. With modern societies comes an increase feeling of freedom and individualism where Simmel argues gets faced with a “tragedy of culture”. Simmel suggests that, “Insofar as we try to express our uniqueness or individuality through fashion, we often turn to buying mass-produced goods”. In this manner he becomes synonymous with Marx’s argument of commodity fetishism and how we begin to interact within our social groups becomes defined by intangible or alienating things. Simmel’s example of exchange through money displays a perfect example of how self-expression, fulfillment, and interaction becomes represented by monetary value only and how interaction becomes superficial in that sense.

In Simmel’s “The Stranger”, Simmel classifies stranger as a person who resonates in a group of people that could possibly share a common feature of the group like gender, race, nationality, but host particular characteristics that make them fundamentally different from the group. Simmel continues that often times it is the mobility of an individual that can make them a stranger. That not being an “original habitant” or being new to an area places you in a remote nearness association within a group.


Similar to Simmel, Mead placed the individual and society as intertwined and could not exist without the other. Mead places more value on the individual and argues that society is constructed through social interaction and you cannot have social interaction without an individual, therefore society is dependent solely on the individual. In that sense he rejected Marx’s view that individual consciousness and view of the world are determined by their class position.

Mead argued that our social processes are constructed by the “I” and “Me”. The “I” represents the response of an individual to the attitudes of others, while the “me” is the organized set of attitudes of others which an individual assumes. The “me” is how one believes he is perceived by the group and the “I” is the individual’s response to the “me”. An example of how a woman might dress in a professional meeting versus how she would dress in the club. The woman would dress more professionally and conservative because while getting dressed in the house she is thinking about how others might perceive her and wouldn’t want to lose her reputation or be looked at as not serious. But when she goes out later that night to a club she dresses to grasp the attention of other males in the club whether that be in a provocative or stylish manner. Both examples serves the “me” and how one is believed to be perceived throughout the gaze of another. Interesting enough I believe that many people base their “I” and self-identity with their “me”. Whether in a positive or negative light, many people today base their self-esteem on how others perceive them which is very ironic given the word to be “self”-esteem.

Application of Theories/Critique

The reading this week made me think of many people that I used to High School with. One of my classmates were always known for their taste in fashion and always having the newest sneakers and product out so he internalized that concept of himself based off of how others perceived him to be that “fresh kid” or fly. None of those characteristics had anything to do with inner self or values. One of my other classmates were none for writing peoples papers for money and some of his cliental would only speak or hang around him only when it was time for a paper to be due. That superficial relationship is what I see daily when people only associate themselves with people who can do for them, in which is the essence of networking, but cannot be the sole premise of relationships.

Research Questions

  1. Is there a true balance between the individual and society or does one out-weigh the other?
  2. Does modern society and individualism create alienation amongst individuals themselves?

One thought on “Ying Yang Twins: Mead and Simmel”

  1. Your question #1 is the eternal sociological question. Simmel was one of the first to raise the question of the role of the individual in the construction of society. Contemporary theory will wrestle with this even more. As you construct your research questions, think more about empirical questions which can be tested.

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