No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Georg Simmel's "The web of group-affiliations"

Below, you can firstly read my application of Simmel's piece to safety management in organizations, and secondly read my summary of the paper.

In safety management, different forms of oppression such as nationality, gender, class, and ability can intersect and impact individuals' experiences: A person with a disability may have additional safety needs that are not being met due to lack of accommodations. Furthermore, a foreigner may face additional barriers to accessing safety induction and safety training or may not be taken seriously when reporting safety concerns, as compared to a "regular" employee. 

The increasing complexity and individuality in modern society can exacerbate these issues, as individuals may have multiple identities that are subject to different forms of oppression. This can make it more difficult for safety management systems to address the needs of all individuals, as the intersections of these identities may not be fully understood or taken into account. Additionally, the increasing focus on individualism in society may lead to a lack of attention to systemic issues and an overemphasis on personal responsibility, which can further marginalize marginalized groups.

In order to address these issues, safety management systems must take into account the ways in which different forms of oppression intersect and impact individuals' experiences. This may include providing targeted training and resources for marginalized groups, implementing accommodations for individuals with disabilities, and actively working to challenge and dismantle oppressive systems and structures. It is important to recognize that safety is not just a personal responsibility but also a collective one, and that addressing safety concerns of marginalized groups is not just good for them but also for an entire organization or for a contractor-combination as a whole.

'The web of group-affiliations' is a key text by Georg Simmel, in a version popularized by Reinhard Bendix (Bendix, 1955). This text is particularly influential and relevant to scholars of communication, information, technology, and social networks. Simmel uncovered, isolated, and articulated the forms and patterns that underlie the organization of any and all societal units, from dyads to networks to nations, and theorized how these structures affect their members and the dynamics of their interactions. Many scholars credit Simmel with pioneering the structural approach to studying social life, and trace its roots to this very essay (Chayko, 2015). Reinhard Bendix's translation reduced the complexity of Simmel's original term "circles" to the concreteness of the term "groups", and his original concept of intersectionality went unnoticed until the end of the 1980s in the context of feminist-antiracist discourse (Stoetzler, 2016).

The original essay explores how modern social groupings and networks intersect, operate, and form intricate web-like patterns that resemble those currently seen in internet and digital communication. Written as "The intersection of social circles" (Simmel, 1922), Simmel describes the idea that within the larger circle of society, smaller circles form, and these circles intersect and touch in many ways, creating a multiply intertwined relationship of connection and separation within society. This allows for the emergence of an immense multiplicity of personal individualities. The concept of intersecting circles was adopted from Simmel's teacher Moritz Lazarus, who introduced the image in a text published in 1862. Both Lazarus and Simmel discussed and welcomed increased individuality and diversity through multiplied intersectionality as a characteristic of modernity (Stoetzler, 2016). 

The intersection of social circles applies to power and rank in different circles. In countries with universal draft, an "intellectually and socially high placed man must obey a non-commissioned officer". Coincidentally, business people may be in solidarity with each other in some aspects but are competitors in others, and members of a political party may cultivate literary, esthetic, or religious tendencies that are typically pursued by members of the opposite party.

Simmel writes that religion - the most important and characteristic example of the process of individualization - intersects with other social circles. The power of religion shows itself where it unites members of the same religion across various differences in other respects. So, the circle “religion” intersects in various ways with a multiplicity of modern political and social circles. 

Another aspect: the experience of being a woman can be different depending on one's class position. Simmel advised the bourgeois and proletarian women's movements to cooperate in order to correct a mismatch between societal progress and the adaptation of individuals. 

Simmel's ideas anticipate aspects of the feminist concept of intersectionality, which examines how different forms of oppression intersect and impact individuals' experiences. Also, Simmel's ideas about the traversing of social divisions and the system of coordinates that defines individuals, are similar to ideas in feminist theory about transversal politics and the matrix of domination. Simmel's ideas about the increasing complexity and individuality in modern society, as well as his acknowledgement of the problems that come with this complexity, are still relevant to contemporary debates on social divisions (Stoetzler, 2016).


Simmel, G., Bendix, R. (1955), Conflict & The Web of Group-Affiliations, New York: The Free Press.

Chayko, M. (2015), The first web theorist? Georg Simmel and the legacy
of ‘The web of group-affiliations’, in: Information, Communication & Society, 18:12, 1419-1422, DOI:10.1080/1369118X.2015.1042394.

Simmel, G. (1922), Die Kreuzung sozialer Kreise, in: Soziologie, München: Duncker & Humblot)

Stoetzler, M. (2016), Intersectional Individuality: Georg Simmel’s Concept of
“The Intersection of Social Circles” and the Emancipation
of Women, in: Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 86, No. 2, May 2016, 216–240