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Life in Cities: Metropolitan Individuality

In 1903, Georg Simmel wrote the essay titled “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” which is discussed as an influential opinion regarding life in cities even today. Although Simmel analyzes life in the metropolis from various perspectives, the author’s key argument is that to successfully adapt to living in a city, an individual should use certain coping mechanisms. According to the author, under the impact of external stimuli, individuals develop a kind of metropolitan intellect and blasé attitude associated with rationalism and some indifference.

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The main idea developed by Simmel is that people in the metropolis try to oppose the number of stimuli in cities that make them react, become more indifferent, and rational. They develop objective culture and build less emotional and more instrumental human interactions. To cope with all stimuli, people promote metropolitan individuality based on being intellectual and rational, rather than open and sensitive. Simmel (1969) claims that a person in a city “reacts with his head instead of his heart” (48). This aspect is associated with “the atrophy of individual culture through the hypertrophy of objective culture” in the metropolis (Simmel 1969, 59). Thus, trying to minimize spending energy on living in a city, an individual also develops the blasé attitude associated with both superficiality and indifference.

Having provided the key points on the first pages of his essay, Simmel continues to develop them, stating that life in the metropolis is connected with the money economy which makes people develop their intellect. According to Simmel (1969), “Modern mind has become more and more calculating” (50). In addition to money, people also begin to calculate and value their time. The author provides the following example: “Punctuality, calculability, exactness are forced upon life by the complexity and extension of metropolitan existence” (Simmel 1969, 51). Cities attract more people because of the type of freedom they provide, but on the other hand, individuals become more isolated and less focused on individuality.

The author offers many examples to illustrate his ideas. However, there are no pieces of evidence in the essay that can be used to support arguments. Thus, Simmel does not cite the ideas of other researchers to support his statements. It is possible to believe the author’s ideas only when regarding them as his personal opinion. In his essay, the author uses the first person to present his views, and one of such examples is combined with Simmel’s attempt to support his particular idea. Thus, “The metropolitan way of life is certainly the most fertile soil for this reciprocity, a point which I shall document merely by citing the dictum of the most eminent English constitutional historian” (Simmel 1969, 50). In other cases, the focus is on the logical development of the author’s thought presented in his essay.

The work by Simmel can be discussed as highly relevant to the contemporary situation in society despite being written in 1903. It seems that people today need to develop metropolitan individuality or personality to effectively adapt to the intensified pace of life. The value of money and working relations surpasses the value of deep emotional relations in cities. Furthermore, the ideas presented in the essay can also be used to analyze one’s attitude to life in a city and other people. It is important to test whether a modern person has developed the blasé outlook and whether there is a dependence on time and being punctual.


Simmel, Georg. 1969. “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” In Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities, edited by R. Sennett, 47-60. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

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