Sunday, January 23, 2005

Personal Freedom?

I understand Simmel wrote at the turn of the 20th Century but I question whether the amount of personal freedom attributed to inhabitants of the city applies in modern society. Are we all not confined by the expectations of those with whom we interact regardless of environ? Regardless of where we live we still have close social networks that influence our actions, beliefs, and atttiudes. Therefore, the city simply consists of the combination of multiple "closed" communities in one location but the pressure to conform to reference group norms is no less. Yes, I understand that in the city you may have more contact with unknown others but I would argue in modern society this also occurs in small towns, contradicting Simmel's claim as I understand it. The more relevant question may not be locale but rather how strong are the social networks the individual belongs to and the amount of influence they exert on the individual.

OK, I've rambled enough for tonight.

2 comments:

Chris said...

I had a similar thought in response to Simmel's notion that modernity consists of an urban way of life driven by individualism but in which the ideal person is incessantly trying to negotiate "the conflict and shifting interpretations" between a normative concept of general human qualities and what Simmel holds to be an individual uniqueness and irreplaceability. I think the question is, in comtemporary Western life, which of those two competing forces really has the upper hand socially? How much true individuality and uniqueness does contemporary Western society, and the market-driven mass media, permit? The Frankfurt school of critical theory, and particularly Adorno and Horkheimer, contends that the mass media acts as a mass enculturating, centralizing, homogenizing force opposed to individual freedom and meaning. But their argument was a response to the mainstream media monolith. Does fragementation of mass media shift the balance of the dynamic in favor of individualism as Simmel conceives of it?

Amanda said...

I would agree that we as people are confined by expectations, no matter where we live. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the extremely strong and influential social networks found in ethnic neighborhoods within cities are even more confining than the atmosphere of a small town.