Echoes of Portbou in Medellín

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By Red-Simmel

Latin American affiliate of the International Georg Simmel Association for Relational Analysis and Creation

Echoes of Portbou

To capitalize on the fact that one of the most highly renowned Latin American Simmelian scholars, Lionel Lewkow, was visiting the University of Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia, the Colombian members of the International Georg Simmel Association for Relational Analysis and Creation decided to repeat the exciting experience brought about by the Association’s first conference, held last year in Portbou, Spain. The purpose was to be the same: honour Georg Simmel’s legacy by sharing the ways in which his insights are being used in research, although the focus this time would be on Colombian sociology students and professors.


The event was carried out on 6 March and centred on three main pillars, which were determined by the speakers’ own lines of study. These were reflections on space, a revisit to the form-content distinction and methodological challenges of complementing Simmel´s guidelines with other authors.


Sociologists Frank Villada and Mauricio Soto discussed the influence that Simmel’s ideas on space have had on them. Revisiting the famous essay on the metropolis, as well as the category of tendency found in the essay “Tendencies in German Life and Thought since 1870”, Villada proposed what he defines as an urban-rural constellation for studying the influence of Medellín on the life of a nearby municipality to the east called La Ceja. In turn, Soto commented on his work as the translator of three of Simmel’s essays and chapters on space, delineating useful categories for responding to queries regarding urban violence in Medellín.

Sociologist Alejandra Galeano and University of Antioquia sociology professors Augusto Botia and Gilberto Díaz offered their reflections on the well-reputed Simmelian terms ‘form’ and ‘content’, as well as their proposal for new approaches. Galeano, after a remarkable explanation of second order forms, proposed an emotion-informed approach for characterizing the Colombian peasantry beyond economic categories. For his part, Botia revisited the notion of life as the basis of his ideas on a so-called ‘sociology of time’ that would consider the future as both form and content. He considers this approach to be a significant figure for understanding this lapse in the Colombian post conflict. Lastly, Díaz focused on urban Colombian novels as a way to unravel the possibility of studying literary forms through the lens of Simmel’s definition of social forms.


The conference’s final pillar was chaired by sociologist Ana Úsuga and sociology professor Germán Porras. Úsuga presented some of the results of her research on student permanence in the University of Antioquia. For the sociologist, Simmel’s insights on social relations, when looked at within the framework of network theory (such as Granovetter’s) and situational approaches, provide an important source of understanding, helping to explain the factors that influence students’ decision to carry on with their studies at the University. Likewise, after a brilliant recap of Georg Simmel’s place in the discussion on the object of sociology in Germany, Porras proposed a Simmel-Luhmann tandem as a tool for discussing how the form-content distinction could be reformulated in terms of form-mean.


The keynote speaker for the event, Lionel Lewkow, wrapped up the series of presentations by delving into an extensive discussion on the relational foundations of Georg Simmel’s social theory. Lewkow discussed Simmel’s idea of Wechselwirkung and its potential for allowing us to propose more vivant approaches to understanding social life, since this particular lens turns us away from substantialist conceptions and answers. Lewkow referenced many of Simmel’s works, particularly On Social Differentiation, translated by the speaker himself into Spanish, The Philosophy of Money and the one he is currently translating, Introduction to the Science of Ethics. By doing so, he emphasized the importance of considering the idea of interweaving effects as one of the most powerful features of the Simmelian legacy.

According to the organizers, the conference was a resounding success. Not unimportant to this fact was the driving spirit shown by the International Georg Simmel Association for Relational Analysis and Creation, an initiative that exists for those who wish to enhance their borders by exploring Georg Simmel’s works, as reads its founding manifesto.

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