Gemeinschaft & Gesellschaft
Gemeinschaft and gesellschaft are concepts originally developed by the German sociologist Ferdinand Toennies (1855-1937). Toennies was one of several European social thinkers during this time period who presents an "evolutionary" view of society. The terms represent two, seemingly opposite concepts (thesis, antithesis) developed by Toennies as he examined change in social relationships as populations grew and urban centers of social activity developed. Toennies' theory is among one of many theories of social evolution developed around the same time period. Elements of Toennies' gemeinschaft-gesellschaft concepts have commonalities with the theories of Comte, Durkheim, Marx, Simmel, and Max Weber. Toennies' theory is open to a number of criticisms, not the least of which is its Eurocentricity. Though the actual terms gemeinschaft and gesellschaft are more often found in European, particularly German, sociological theories and research today, the concepts underlying Toennies' theory of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft forms of social structure are important ideas in sociological theory and applied research across the globe. The concepts of the gemeinschaft and gesellschaft ideal types of social relationships have been extended and applied in fields such as rural and urban studies, demographic studies, social work and community development as well as racial, ethnic, and multicultural and international relationships.
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Population, Urbanization & the Environment > Gemeinschaft & Gesellschaft
The terms gemeinschaft and gesellschaft are, originally, German words used by the German social theorist Ferdinand Toennies (1855-1937) in his 1887 publication Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft; it was later translated into English and published in the U.S. as Community and Society (1963) and as Community and Civil Society (2001). "Community" and "society," respectively, are good approximate translations of the two terms gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, where communities are thought of as less populous and more rural while societies are thought of as larger groupings of communities in more populous, urban social centers.
Toennies was one of several European social thinkers during this time who presented an "evolutionary" view of society. Evolutionary theories of society hold social change as forward moving from earlier, simpler forms to more complex forms of social organization. Toennies did not originate evolutionary theories of social change; such lines of thinking had been circulating and published in European thought for many years. However, Toennies is credited with refining the sociological concepts associated with gemeinschaft and gesellschaft.
Toennies posited gemeinschaft communities as an early form of social organization. In such communities, relationships most often took the form of simple and informal social agreements between two individuals or many groups of two individuals, forming small groups or collectives. Gesellschaft societies, however, are composed of more complex economic bonds and more formal social contracts. As populations expand and communities become more urbanized, ties between social collectives come to dominate and organize social life. Individuals in gemeinschaft societies become more and more entwined in a growing number of social contracts.
Toennies' Theory of Social Evolution
Toennies' theory is an example of a dialectical approach to social analytical theory. Gemeinschaft and gesellschaft are two seemingly opposite concepts (thesis, antithesis) developed by Toennies as he examined change in social relationships over time. The third element of the dialectic, synthesis, consists of the conclusions drawn from his examination of social change.
Toennies developed his conclusions about social change using the historico-comparative method, comparing historical accounts of society with his own observations of society. Widely used in Toennies' time, this analytical method continues to be used in the social sciences.
The two concepts are an example of the ideal type as a theoretical tool. By making clear distinctions between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, Toennies distinguished between differing ideal-type classifications of social relationships and changes in those relationships over time. Ideal types are hypothetical sets of characteristics or attributes; cases exactly fitting the ideal type might not be found in the course of observation and investigation.
In his work, he joined a long line of social thinkers examining the idea of social evolution. While social evolutionary thought does draw some analogies between social and biological organisms, social evolutionary thinking preceded Darwinian theories of biological evolution by a number of years (Mitchell, 1968). After publication of Darwin's famous 1859 treatise On the Origins of Species, such lines of thought about society became known as "social Darwinism." Although Toennies himself may not have thought of his work as a theory of social evolution, modern social theorists usually classify his work as an example of such theories.
Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft & Social Interaction
Toennies examined a number of differing areas of social relationships and interpersonal interactions. As individuals and groups trade, barter, and exchange goods and services, relationships between individuals become a form of social agreement or contract, delineating obligations, privileges, rights, and authority among and between persons. Social contracts are agreements between individuals or social collectives, e.g., families, tribes, governments, and business organizations.
According to Toennies, gemeinschaft communities were an early form of social organization. In such communities, relationships most often took the form of simple and informal social agreements between two individuals or many groups of two individuals, forming small groups or collectives (Mitchel, 1968; Tilman, 2004). Connections between people arise out of geographical vicinity and circumstances of birth. Interactions take place among individuals in daily, face-to-face proximity, or copresence. Individuals have little choice in matters of social relationships, with few sources of necessities for survival and few privileges, rights, and obligations to be allocated among relatively small numbers of individuals. Moreover, survival of the many often depends on the survival of a few. Self-interest and collective interests are generally closely aligned.
Gesellschaft societies, however, are composed of more complex economic bonds and social contracts. Over time, as populations expand and communities become more urbanized, more formal ties between social collectives come to dominate and organize social life. Individuals in gemeinschaft societies become more and more entwined in a growing number of social contracts.
However, as populations increase, more economic goods and services are needed and more opportunities arise for varying alignments or configurations of obligations, rights, and privileges to be allocated through many social contracts. This allows for self-interested planning about social contracts, where self-interest does not necessarily closely align with the interests of the various collectives of which individuals may be associated: family, tribe, city, state, and nation, for example. Social interaction becomes more remote, principally guided by the authority, mores, norms, and laws (i.e., social agreements) among the growing number of social collectives of which individuals are members (Mitchell, 1968; Tilman, 2004). The connections between these collectives may be far removed from daily life. Gesellschaft societies are such complex arrangements of various associations and alignments of social collectives.
Below is a summary table contrasting the two classifications, appearing originally in Tilman (2004, p. 585).
Table 1: Characteristics of Gemeinschaft
GEMEINSCHAFT GESELLSCHAFT Kinship Neighbourhood Anonymity of relationships Friendship Barter Monetary exchange Custom Contract Tradition Innovation Inertia Progress Habit Novelty Customary law Legislative law Religious Secular Man as social animal Atomistic individualism Value absolutism Value Relativism Fusion of ends-means Separation of ends-means Natural will Rational will Communal (common) ownership of land and means of production Pursuit of individual self-interest -- rational calculation of personal gain -- egoism, narcissism and will to power -- insensitivity to common needs and public interest Hybrid Natural will Rational will A priori qualities Normal conduct, behaviour or judgement and A. Sentiment Interest (intention) B. Mind and heart Calculation C. Conscience Consciousness New and special qualities (artificial) Regulatory and Welfare State Collectivism
Table 1 represents Tilman's (2004) summary of the aspects of social and interpersonal relationships that Toennies associated with the concepts of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft. The last row of the table presents Tilman's interpretation of Toennies "synthesis" of the two dialectical terms (thesis, antithesis).
Any conclusion that "regulatory and welfare state collectivism" is the only...
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