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How Would Georg Simmel Link Urban Life to the Outrage over the Death of Kitty Genovese? What Would Be a More Contemporary Example That Supports (or Refutes) Simmel’s Perspective?

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How would Georg Simmel link urban life to the outrage over the death of Kitty Genovese?  What would be a more contemporary example that supports (or refutes) Simmel’s perspective?

           This essay focuses on the concept of urbanisation and the influence of city life on the behaviour and attitudes of humans. It details the murder of Kitty Genovese and examines the “bystander effect” which shows “that the presence of other people in a critical situation reduces the likelihood that an individual will help” (Fischer et al. 2011), This effect is crucial when examining the mindset of individuals who witness life-threatening situations and decide not to intervene. The essay then examines the theories of German Sociologist, Georg Simmel and the way in which he links urban life to the infuriation over Kitty’s tragic death. Following this the essay will then explain a contemporary example that I consider supports Simmel’s perspective. This essay will conclude that in the case of Kitty Genovese, and many others, Simmel’s theory is still very relevant and should be taken into consideration when examining circumstances similar to the afore mentioned.

Early on the 13th of March 1964 Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese, a 28-year-old New York citizen unfortunately lost her life. Kitty was driving home in her red fiat, unknowns to her though a 28 year- old man Winston Moseley was following her. When Kitty parked her car near the rail station and began walking towards her apartment, Moseley followed her. The attacked happened at Kew Gardens surrounded by houses. Ms Genovese was stabbed, then a man, Robert Mozer heard her screaming and shouted at Moseley to “leave that girl alone” (Biography, 2016), Moseley quickly fled the scene to his car and when he saw that the man had shut his window and turned off the light in his apartment he came back to finish what he had started. He stabbed and brutally raped Kitty leaving her barely able to breathe. It was only then that a neighbour and friend of Kitty’s Sophie Farrar “heard the commotion and came to her aid” (Biography.com, 2016). 30 minutes later at approximately 4am Karl Ross, a neighbour, decided it was time to call the police. Kitty succumbed to her wounds and died before she reached the hospital. It has been reported that she “may have lived if help had arrived before the second attack” (Biography.com, 2016). The question that we as sociologists must ask ourselves now is why did it take 45 minutes for someone to call for emergency help. Clearly, they knew the girl was suffering yet some claimed they thought it was “just a domestic dispute” (Merry,2016). This case sparked off John Darley’s and Bibb Latané’s sociological concept of “the bystander effect” which later became known as “Genovese syndrome” (Biography.com, 2016).

This effect plays an increasingly important role when we are analysing human behaviour and our reactions. As human beings we are not naturally “uncaring or indifferent to others” (Giddens and Sutton, 2017). Research demonstrates that “the presence of passive bystanders reduces the likelihood that individuals will intervene and help a victim in a critical situation” (Darley and Latané. 1968). This can be seen in the case of Kitty. She believed that it was safe to walk alone at night however it was not. We are more likely to intervene if we are on our own when we witness fatal scenes. Maybe we fear embarrassment, or we fear having to be the hero in a crowd. In some cases, being selfish and protective can be the better choice as the case of Mr Tale Yax, who made the decision to intervene in an altercation between a woman and a man, proves.  He ended up being killed and he lay on the sidewalk for an hour, the surveillance footage “shows one man shake Mr. Tale-Yax before turning him over to reveal the wounds” (Sulzberger and Meenan.2010). It was only then that any caring aspect of human nature was displayed. It is thought provoking to read that 40 years on we are still passing these unfortunate people by for fear that they may hurt us. [pic 1]

German Sociologist Georg Simmel has claimed that we develop a “blasé and disinterested attitude” (Giddens and Sutton, 2017) to occurrences such as the Genovese one. Simmel would link the aspect of compassion to the outrage over her death. It may be suggested that Simmel would also link the fact that we don’t feel a need to care for the lives of other people to the anger during the aftermath of her death. He would question why it is, that after a tragic event such as this one occurs, do we suddenly feel responsible when we could have stopped the death in the first place. Simmel firmly believed that as human beings, when we are introduced to the “urban buzz that surrounds” (Gidden and Sutton, 2017) us, we adopt a coping mechanism.

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