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not become emotionally dependent on the doctor

or the doctor become involved in a particularistic

relation with the patient.

The theory is open to criticism in that it cannot

provide a satisfactory account of the differences

between acute and chronic illness. While acute

illness was an implicit assumption of the sickrole

concept, we need to examine how people

attempt to live normal lives while coping with

chronic illness and how these experiences affect

their family and friends. Many medical conditions

are ambiguous in this respect – are pregnancy or

alcoholism sick roles?

Parsons’s approach has also been criticized because

it is in effect a description of the patient

role rather than the sick role. Not all who are sick

become patients, and not all patients are sick. The

so-called “abnormal sick role” might include

Munchausen’s syndrome in which a person inflicts

self-harm in order to become a patient. The

concept does not pay sufficient attention to conflicts

between patient and doctor; in other words,

it does not explain lack of compliance. Empirical

research has shown that people typically consult

friends or relatives about their condition long

before they consult a professional doctor – this

pattern is described as the lay referral system.

Doctors do not invariably behave in a neutral or

universalistic manner towards their clients; they

are influenced by the gender, social class, and

ethnicity of the patient.

Despite these criticisms, Parsons’s concept of

the sick role has played an important part in the

development of medical sociology, and has remained

influential in understanding doctor–

patient interaction. BRYAN S. TURNER

significance test

– see statistics.

Significant others

– see George Herbert Mead.

Simmel, Georg (1858–1918)

In recent years, the philosopher and social theorist

Georg Simmel has increasingly been recognized as

a key figure in the development of sociology in the

late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

He is the author of over 20 monographs and over

300 essays and other pieces; his work extends

over philosophy, sociology, psychology, cultural

analysis, aesthetics, literature, and art, though

his contribution to sociology and social theory

is associated with other areas of interest.

However, his early monographs already revealed

a social scientific interest. In his first book, Uber

Soziale Differenzierung (1890), Simmel considered

the nature of social differentiation and sought to

identify sociology as the study of forms of social

interaction or reciprocal effect, as well as providing

early examples of the application of this

framework to specific social phenomena. In the

first edition of his Problems in the Philosophy of History

(1892–3 [trans. 1977]), he sought to argue

against the notion of universal historical laws. In

his Introduction to Moral Science (1892–3 [trans.

1977]), Simmel critiqued the then-common attempt

to establish a-priori ethical principles and

philosophies and argued instead for an empirical

investigation of moral values and ethical


Like his contemporary, E´mile Durkheim, Simmel

also sought to establish sociology as an independent

discipline in the 1890s, though on

different foundations. In essays from 1890,

1894, 1895, and 1908, Simmel developed his

own foundation for sociology on the basis of a

series of propositions: in the world, everything

interacts with everything else. This is true of the

social world, too, where the fundamental interrelatedness

of the most diverse phenomena pertains.

The concern with relations between

phenomena is a concern with the reciprocal

effect or interaction (Wechselwirkung) of phenomena

with one another. From 1890 onward, sociology

is defined as the study of “forms of social

interaction.” By the mid-1890s, Simmel defines

sociology’s task more precisely as the study of

“forms of social interaction [Vergesellschaftung],”

that is, the process by which we engage in, and

are members of, society. This sociology is concerned

with the forms rather than the contents

of social interaction and sociation because other

social sciences already deal with these contents.

Hence, sociology is defined not in terms of its subject

matter – society – but in terms of its method.

If sociology is the study of forms of social interaction,

then sociology can and should examine

any form of sociation. The fact that none is too

insignificant means that Simmel explores not

merely major features of interaction, be they

conflict, group enlargements, and so on, but

significance test Simmel, Georg (1858–1918)


also mealtime interaction, the rendezvous, flirtation,

and so on. All forms of interaction and

sociation may be studied historically and comparatively

in order to discover their general


Simmel’s conception of sociology has important

implications for the way in which we study society.

First, Simmel rejects the notion of society as a

totality as the immediate object of sociology. In

opposition to Herbert Spencer and Durkheim, for

whom society is an absolute entity, Simmel views

society as the sum total of interactions, and only

when we have investigated all the forms of social

interaction can we know what society is in this

total sense. It follows, therefore, that society is a

constellation of forms of sociation, whether temporary

or more enduring. Specifically, there is a

crucial minimum number of interacting persons,

which involves “I” and “you,” but also the wider

network of other social actors. Simmel explores

ideal forms of social interaction in sociability and

in exchange relations. Second, Simmel sees society

as grounded in the experience and knowledge of its

participants, thus anticipating a phenomenology

of society and a sociology of knowledge. Society

presupposes our consciousness of sociation. These

dimensions emerge out of Simmel asking the question

of how society is possible. Third, the aesthetic

dimensions of society and social interaction form

one of the distinctive features of Simmel’s sociology,

as evidenced in his essay “Sociological Aesthetics”

(1896 [trans. 1968]), in his major Philosophy

of Money (1900 [trans. 1978]), and in many other


Not surprisingly, therefore, Simmel was and is

viewed as a major contributor to a sociology of

culture. In part, this contribution is to be found in

his explorations of the two interrelated sites of

modernity – the developed money economy and

the modern metropolis. Both are conceived as

networks and labyrinths of social interaction accompanied

by increasing social differentiation

(though in the value form of the money economy,

dedifferentiation too), increased functionalization

of social relations, and a widening gap between

subjective (individual and creative) culture and

the objective culture of things. In several respects,

the focus in both sites is upon the spheres of

circulation, exchange, and consumption. The increasing

autonomy of the sphere of circulation is

matched by a growing autonomy of the cultural

sphere. In the metropolis, the individual is confronted

by an objective culture of material objectifications,

shocks of abstract confrontation. The

individual responds to the tumult of the metropolis

through social distance, dissociation, and a

blase´ attitude. The individual freedom gained in

the metropolis is paid for by increasingly abstract

functional relations with others. The very complexity

of interactions and sense impressions requires

precise differentiation, functionality,

intellectuality, exactitude, and calculability.

These same features are present too in interactions

within the money economy, where individuals

must respond to the reification of exchange

relations and the dynamic flux of commodity and

money circulation.

Simmel’s explorations of modern culture rest

upon three concepts of culture that relate both

to his interest in the “fragments of reality,” in the

“dedicated individual threads” in social interaction,

and to his more general dialectic of subjective

and objective culture. His concepts are the

crystallization (Verdichtung) of interactions into

cultural forms, both transitory and enduring; the

creation or cultivation (Kultivierung) of cultural

forms through the transcendence of subjectivity

and the creation of objective forms; and the dialectic

of subjective and objective culture (whose

disjunction Simmel identifies variously in several

essays as the conflict crisis and the tragedy of

modern culture). In his essay on female culture

(1902), Simmel declares that this objective culture

is gendered and thoroughly male. Elsewhere, he

radicalizes Karl Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism

to include cultural production as also

existing in an “autonomous realm” with its own

“immanent developmental logic.”

Simmel’s contribution to sociology and the analysis

of modern culture appeared both in individual

monographs and in essay form. In particular, his

major work Soziologie (1908), which contains contributions

to his investigation of forms of sociations

that extend over the previous decade, explores significant

social processes such as subordination and

domination, conflict, the size of social groups and

their self-preservation, the intersection of social

circles, and the first major contribution to the

sociology of space and spatial relations. His analysis

of processes of social interaction are replete

with instances from everyday life. Hence, Simmel

is a sociologist who explores not merely significant

social processes such as social distance and social

differentiation but also face-to-face interactions in

the everyday world. Instances of the latter are

found in his essays on the sociology of the senses,

interaction at mealtimes, flirtation, the aesthetic

significance of the face, and many others. In his

Philosophy of Money (1900 [trans. 1978]) and in short

essays, Simmel makes early contributions to a

Simmel, Georg (1858–1918) Simmel, Georg (1858–1918)


sociology of the emotions, examining – variously –

greed, avarice, gratitude, shame, love, the blase´

attitude, and pessimism. He also made original

contributions to the study of the structure of experience

in his essay on the adventure. Furthermore,

because our social interactions often rest

upon our and others’ typifications of the self, social

typifications of the poor or the stranger are


As an early sociologist of modernity, some of

these themes, such as the blase´ attitude or social

distance, are often located within his study of metropolitan

modernity or the modern mature

money economy. In the latter, Simmel examines

not merely the role of money and exchange in

the transformation of social relations but also

modern consumption and display forms, such as

exhibitions. Relevant to both sites of his theory of

modernity are his essays on fashion, style, and


The breadth of Simmel’s sociological and cultural

interests and the fragmentary nature of much

of our experience of modernity are also revealed

in these investigations not only in the character of

everyday interactions but also in the form of their

presentation too. Simmel was recognized by his

contemporaries as a master of the essay form, a

form reflected upon subsequently by his student

Georg Luka´cs and also by Theodor Wiesengrund

Adorno. His essays are not closed off from further

reflection, nor do they have the apparently definitive

content of the academic article. Rather, they

remain open to interaction with other essays (his

student Siegfried Kracauer [1889–1966] suggested

that from any point of Simmel’s work one could

arrive at any other). They all commence with antinomies

or contradictions that are then developed

in a kind of incomplete dialectic. They often conclude

with unresolved oppositions that, perhaps,

invite the reader to provide the resolution

through the intervention of the third position of

the reader him/herself.

The fate of some of these essays has been varied.

In some cases, hypotheses have been derived from

them and been empirically investigated, as in

the essays on number and the distinction between

dyadic and triadic interactions, or on the nature

of secret societies. In others, notably on the stranger

and the metropolis and mental life, they

have become much-cited texts utilized in a variety

of contexts, often far from their original ones.

At the same time, other essays are increasingly

recognized as contributing to the development

of what Simmel terms a sociological aesthetics,

whose sociological significance has become

increasingly apparent. It is important, nevertheless,

for us to recognize that Simmel was, ultimately

and foremost, a philosopher. The aesthetic

dimensions of social life are explored in essays on

the landscape and the ruin, the handle, and the

picture frame, as well as on places such as Florence,

Rome, and Venice or specific writers and

artists such as Rodin (whose work he judged to

be the epitome of modernity) or Rembrandt, to

whom Simmel devoted a whole monograph (1916

[trans. 2005]).

This recognition, albeit only partial, of the

breadth of interests and the contemporary relevance

of his sociology ensured that Simmel was

regarded as a theorist of modernity. His conception

of modernity is not that of a unilinear process

but of interaction between unresolved contradictions.

The experience of modernity is fragmentary,

in motion, and problematical. This is true

of Simmel’s two sites of modernity: the metropolis

and the money economy. The focus is therefore

upon something much more elusive than the

mode of production or the rational economic enterprise.

Yet out of that dynamic flux, Simmel

seeks to explore the forms of interaction constitutive

of that flux, in order to capture general

properties of social interaction.

There are a number of features of the analysis of

modernity that make Simmel’s work relevant to

more recent theories of modernity and postmodernity.

The shift from a focus upon production to

one located in the sphere of circulation, exchange,

and consumption allows him to concentrate upon

the dynamics of circulation of commodities and

individuals. The interest in modes of leisure and

consumption anticipate more contemporary sociological

developments. Second, the theme of the

widening gap between subjective and objective

culture that runs through his explorations of the

metropolis and the money economy highlights the

cultural sphere whose objectivity becomes increasingly

autonomous and subject to its own laws.

Finally, the focus upon the aesthetic sphere, which

marked him out from his sociological contemporaries,

has given his work an affinity with strands of

contemporary cultural analysis. At the same time,

many of these themes are framed in the context of

contributions to the sociological analysis of forms

of social interaction and a general theory of

modern society. DAV ID F R ISBY

single-parent family

– see lone-parent family.

Simmel, Georg (1858-1918) single-parent family



Situationist thinking began in Paris in the early

1950s when Guy Debord and others devoted themselves

to “de´rives” – drifting through the city,

seeking to isolate its psychogeography and to fashion

a new version of everyday life. The endeavor

related both to the Dada and the Surrealist movements

but, in his The Society of Spectacle (1967 [trans.

1973]), Debord insisted that Dada “wanted to suppress

art without realizing it” while Surrealism

“wanted to realize art without suppressing it.”

The Situationists strove for the “supersession of

art,” wanting to generate artistic creativity which

would not be routinized. Creativity involved new

forms of action which would continuously defy

the kind of appropriation which characterizes

modern life where “all of life presents itself as an

immense accumulation of spectacles.” The Situationist

International was founded in 1957 and

disbanded in 1972. Debord defined its central purpose

as the construction of situations, that is,

“the concrete construction of temporary settings

of life and their transformation into a higher,

passionate nature.” The movement produced a

journal – Internationale Situationniste – and supported

interventions such as, notably, the events

of May 1968 in Paris. There were affinities with the

sociology of Henri Lefebvre (1901–91) and, hence,

with the Annales School, as well as with the Socialisme

ou Barbarie (1949–65) movement, associated

with Cornelius Castoriadis (1922–97) and Jean-

Franc¸ois Lyotard (one of whose earliest texts is a

“de´rive”). The influence of the Situationists is also

clear in Pierre Bourdieu’s attitude towards “consecrated

art” and in Jean Baudrillard’s development

of the notion of “simulacra.” DEREK ROBBINS


– see distribution.

Skocpol, Theda (1947– )

Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and

Sociology, and Director of the Center for American

Political Studies, at Harvard University, Skocpol

was President of the American Political Science

Association (2002–3).

In Vision and Method in Historical Sociology (1984),

she has advocated the use of secondary data

and sources to undertake macro-historical and

comparative work – an approach that she pioneered

in her major work States and Social Revolutions

in France, Russia and China (1979), which received

the C. Wright Mills Award of the Society for

the Study of Social Problems in 1979 and the

American Sociological Association Award for a

Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship in

1980. Skocpol has produced a distinctive theory

of revolutions through an examination of social

revolutions in three ancien re´gimes (see revolution,

theory of). Revolutions occur because states are

vulnerable to endogenous socioeconomic processes,

particularly the management of internal

class conflict. Her theory rejects any role for

human agency in revolutions. For example, revolutions

are not produced by the revolutionary will

of revolutionaries themselves; revolution is the

unintended consequence of the decomposition of

the state and its agrarian bureaucracy. Instead she

examines the causal constraints imposed by objective

historical circumstances. The three principal

forms of constraint are class relations, the

repressive character of the state, and the external

military and other constraints on the state. Perhaps

the key aspect of her argument is to reject

any attempt to absorb the state into society. The

repressive actions of the state have independent

causal consequences for revolutions.

She has conducted historical research on the

origins of American social policy in Social Policy in

the United States: Future Possibilities in Historical Perspective

(1995), Protecting Soldiers and Mothers. The

Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States

(1992), and The Missing Middle. Working Families

and the Future of American Social Policy (2000).

In Diminished Democracy. From Membership to Management

in American Civil Life (2003), Skocpol criticized

those liberal theories that claim the vigor of

civic life depends on the absence of the state. In

contrast, her study of voluntary associations

demonstrates that vigorous democratic politics

nourishes a participatory civil society. She has

contributed to the study of contemporary American

political life in Boomerang. Clinton’s Health

Reform and the Turn against Government (1997) and

(with Morris P. Florina) Civic Engagement in American

Democracy (1999). BRYAN S. TURNER


A condition of subordination and domination involving

forced labor and servitude, which has

been present from the dawn of civilization; it is a

condition made possible through distinguishing

insiders and outsiders, creating social groups

who are possible to enslave, to dominate, and to

make use of. Slavery thus involves a process of

social differentiation as well as subordination,

turning outsiders into subordinates to labor for

“over-ordinates.” In the process, legitimating

ideologies are drawn upon and created to justify

this distinction. While associated with physical

Situationists slavery


labor, slavery also has a symbolic dimension, as

rulers surrounded themselves with slaves to mark

themselves as powerful.

While many definitions treat slavery in reference

to property relations and contrast it with

freedom, Orlando Patterson in Slavery and Social

Death (1982) defines slavery as a form of “social

death,” a social condition characterized by the

“permanent, violent domination of natally alienated

and generally dishonored persons.” The

slave is an other, existing outside the communal

politics of trust and reciprocity. This is an opportunistically

imposed externality, created firstly

through social conflict, especially war. Combat

and conflict create others as outsiders who may

then be defined as marginal.

Being other or “not one of us” opens the possibility

not only of enslavement and domination

but also of dehumanization, being treated as an

animal, and exploited in similar fashion to livestock

or in other cases as a pet. An ideal slave,

rather like a domestic pet, is one who has internalized

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