Reflections on Cosmopolitan Politesse with Perspectives from Papua New Guinea

in Journal of Legal Anthropology
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In this issue’s forum, Nigel Rapport takes his lead from Georg Simmel, who asked how society is possible. Simmel notes that every individual has a sense of being connected to others, and it is through these connections that the individual has a ‘grasp of the whole complex as society’ (1971: 8). But this understanding is only realised through particular, concrete interactions. The individual in Simmel’s sociology, then, can only exist as an individual through this engagement with others – with, in short, ‘society’. It is this set of relations, it seems, that makes society possible. However, Simmel suggests that the picture an individual gains of the Other through personal contact is based on certain distortions – classifications of a general and conventional nature, some of which may be alienating. At the same time, Simmel also indicates that the individual simultaneously remains separate from society: ‘It seems, however, that every individual has in himself a core of individuality which cannot be re-created by anybody else whose core differs qualitatively from his own. . . . We cannot know completely the individuality of another’ (9–10).