Thursday, April 19, 2012

Georg Simmel –The Metropolis and Mental Life Revisited

Georg Simmel's famous article "The Metropolis and Mental Life" was a groundbreaking work in the field of urban studies and sociology of the city. The historical background for Simmel's "The Metropolis and Mental Life" was the move from agrarian forms of life the metropolitan ones in the wake of the industrial revolution.
Simmel argues that the move to the metropolis brings about a new form of mental life which are the result of the certain form of human existence and interactions that happen in the city. Simmel is not interested in the metropolis itself and man's mental life themselves, but rather their interaction. "The Metropolis and Mental Life" examines what happens to a man, and humanity at large, upon moving to the big city. Simmel talked about a sense of alienation and indifference that are the result of too much stimuli that the big city hurls at the individual which is too much for his to take. Simmel also talked about the instrumentalization or interpersonal relations under the dominant mode of social relation in the modern metropolis – capitalism.   

But what about this point in time in which most of the people in the west were born in the big metropolis, and did not migrate to it. Are Simmel's observations regarding people's mental lives still relevant for people born 100 years after "The Metropolis and Mental Life". If one was to think that humanity has somehow grown accustomed to massive stimuli he should bear in mind that this urban bombardment of signs and meanings is exponentially growing and we have to filter more, not less. Simmel argued that the other side of the metropolis coin is that indifference makes you in a sense liberated from social constraints and allows you to be who you want to be. Is this still relevant today? Indifference is definitely a trademark of big city life, but is freedom? 

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