Ferdinand Tὂnnies “Community and Society”

After reading Ferdinand Tὂnnies , I realize I should have read the three readings in order of publication date but my book had not yet come until this morning. I can see how the latter writings of the other two authors build upon the foundation of Tὂnnies . Simmel, and subsequently Wirth, theorize the same notion that the transformation of society from agricultural to industrial presented significant changes for the patterns of society and community life. Tὂnnies  has labeled them Gemeinschaft and Gessellschaft. The former, describing the laid back lifestyle found in small, rural towns, while the latter, is indicative of the urban metropolis. Threaded throughout all three readings is the focus on the types of relationships between the members of the community, and how they navigate life in a particular community. Tὂnnies , Simmel, and Wirth all point to distinctions in the relationships formed in rural versus urban life and the influence each had on community life experiences.

The relationships fostered in the small towns were what Tὂnnies  deemed, primary & sentimental. As I also pointed out in my Simmel summary, rural life and Gemeinschaft lends itself to these organic primary relationships that develop naturally based on traditional groups of the family. Kinship ties are stronger within rural communities mainly because of less distraction as well as the lack of alternative relationship choices. Gessellschaft and city life, on the other hand, created a more secondary level, approach to the formation of relationships. Relationships in the city community a formed based on a more rational and calculated approach.

Tὂnnies’ concept of Gemeinschaft is instinctive in nature and more organic-he claims it is based on Wesenwille, or essential will. I characterize Wesenwille as the human nature to belong and have companionship; the will of humans to form relationships based on innate reasons. Gessellschaft t is based on Kurwille, or arbitrary will. These relationships form out of rational needs, as a means to an end. I can see this as an innate sense of survival necessary in urban life. I say necessary in that based on the fact that there are less primary, familial ties, which would naturally become support systems and promote survival of individuals. The term urban jungle comes to mind; the notion that city life is fast paced and insincere. Tὂnnies  purports that the individualization and personal freedom experienced in the metropolis “means war and unrestricted freedom of all to destroy and subjugate one another. Where members of society “present veiled hostility”, where, not respect or compassion for another prevents one from attacking their peer, but rather a fear of retaliatory attack against them.

Although Wirth and Simmel (if I understood correctly) posit that more social control is found in the rural setting because members of that society do not want to stand out. I think Tὂnnies  is arguing that urban society can exert more control using state legislation. Within rural setting, folkways and mores and religion keep people in check while bureaucratic legislation sets the tone for behavior in the city. Tὂnnies  doesn’t prefer one ideal type, Gemeinschaft or Gessellschaft, is over the other, rather, he states that there is just a natural progression from rural to urban, folkways to laws, barter to capitalism, liberated to subjugated; a progression to the State, or Staatstum. The urbanization of what were once rural communities, has given rise to the individualization of communities, requiring a more structured form of social control. Enter the bureaucratic state and all the political nuances that accompany it. I point to Tὂnnies ’ statement “the state and its departments and the individuals are the only remaining agents, instead of numerous and manifold fellowships, communities, and commonwealths..” In other words, the characteristics of life in the rural community, which Tὂnnies deemed “real community life, are lost through the development of the city state and the capitalistic money economy.

Tὂnnies  states that there is counterpart to Gemeinschaft, in which members in a village community inherit social status through their kinship ties, or lack thereof. He goes on to state that in this community, outsiders do not have these ties and therefore do not possess the same amount of social capital or status as community natives. However, in the city community, this caste system is not as relevant, and, as Wirth also points out, tends to breakdown as a result of an increase in the variety of highly individualized members interacting with one another. Essentially your social status becomes more about what you have than about who your family is. I would state further that the progression to the capitalist society opens the door to class stratification and subsequent strife and stress between the classes.

 

 

 

Louis Wirth “Urbanism as a Way of Life”

Louis Wirth posits similar reasons for the differences in the urban and rural milieu as does Georg Simmel. Wirth argues that the shift between nomadic civilization and contemporary civilization, and the shift from a predominately rural society to a predominantly urban society, is caused by the shift from agriculture to industrialism. This shift to an industrialized society has drastically changed social life. He states “The growth of cities and the urbanization of the world is one of the most impressive facts of modern times“, as it has given rise to a reshaping of the mode of living, sparking sociological interest in studying these changes and the process of urbanization.

Although experts in various fields of study have tried to constitute a definition of city, Wirth presents the sociological perspective on what social characteristics represent urban life. Rather than solely relying on quantitative characteristics such as density or location, urbanism, the life of the city dwellers, is best defined by the social characteristics that are transformed by, or that evolve from, these quantifiable characteristics. In other words, the numbers alone cannot simply explain social consequences of densely populated areas, with a large number of community members.

The level of heterogeneity in groups plays an important role in the urban mode of living. Statistically speaking, the larger a group becomes, the greater the likelihood that their differences are increased. As Simmel also points out, Wirth states that individuals with different values and social norms are not likely to bond and form kinship. This is normal as people tend to gravitate toward like-minded individuals. Groups are less homogenous in urban settings, and therefore social controls are weakened. Referring to my “The Metropolis and Mental Life” post, folks in the city are not as concerned about getting caught behaving badly, as the likelihood of them running into someone they know is low. Wirth also touches on the stress one would experience should they have a personal relation with the large number of people living in the city; instead urbanites tend to limit contact with neighbors choosing instead to interact with secondary contacts across segmented social situations.

Secondary, superficial relationships are exacerbated by population density. The shift to industrialization and the influx of people moving into the cities, created a need to develop specialized tasks and roles in order to “stand out” from the masses, further increasing the heterogeneity among groups. Wirth states “density thus reinforces the effect of numbers in diversifying men and their activities and in increasing the complexity of the social structure”. Complexity of the social structure results in high turnover rates in groups, and fluctuations in place of residence and employment lead to dissolution of organizations and solid relationships, both of which help to integrate society and create collective behavior. The sense of solidarity is often lost with the transient nature of city dwellers, i.e., most do not own homes and social mobility (up or down) allow for an easy departure form a community or organization.

The money economy grew as a result of industrialization and mass production, which Wirth proposes, “made for an impersonal market”. Although the language he uses evokes a more animalistic tone, Wirth’s idea of “predatory relationships” echoes Simmel’s “rational relationships” in that individuals lose some sense of humanity and compassion when the relationship is strictly quantitative in nature, rather than personal. Where each person is trying to get something out of the other, whether it is purchaser and seller or employer and employee. I would not argue, nor is Wirth arguing, that these relationships are inherently negative. Instead the argument should be made that an excess of these relationships are the underlying cause of the general mental condition Simmel and Wirth are eluding to.

The general consensus among sociologists is that an intersection of social characteristics, stemming primarily form the American movement toward industrialization in cities, creates an urban milieu known as urbanism. Drawing on Wirth’s observations that cities attract more minorities, more single parents and less family units, who rent rather than own, one solution to create a more cohesive environment with lasting relationships would be to create more opportunity for home purchases. Rent-to-own options could be made available and homeowners could receive tax break or other incentives for participating in the rent-to-own program. Another solution is to ensure that employment opportunities are available within communities to create that missing link between place of residence and place of employment. This would build a sense of community and solidarity.

 

Georg Simmel “The Metropolis and Mental Life”

Even though it was written over a century ago, Georg Simmel’s “The Metropolis and Mental Life” is an excellent depiction of the contrast between urban versus rural communities and the influence of the culture within each of those communities on the individual and relationships they develop. Simmel focused on two forms of culture, found either in the small town or the large city, subjective and objective. He found that a key urban problem was the increased objective culture. In an objective culture, individuals are not fully engaged in the culture of the community; they are detached and distanced from the community. Objective culture does not mean as much to the individual and it is not readily embraced. Subjective culture, prevalent in small towns, has more meaning to an individual than objective. There is a higher level of attachment to a subjective culture and there is more interaction between individuals. Culture becomes less subjective as the size of community grows, interactions among group members decrease and relationships became more and more rational and less and less emotional.

Characteristics of the modern society that lead to an increase in objective culture are urbanization, division of labor, and money. Simmel purports that entrepreneurship in the urban environment is a major factor leading to the increase in division of labor, rather than a communal effort. With the increased commercial activity that followed urbanization, individuals needed to specialize in a certain field or trade in order to obtain market share. This focus on obtaining money reduces the amount of emotional attachments and intimate ties one has with others. Additionally, in the urban environment, there are vast amounts of social groups to choose to engage with, both factors, money and availability of groups, allow individuals the freedom to be a part of any social group. Although, this is not to say that the relationship or attachment to these various networks is strong. It is instead, rather weak.

Simmel believed the quality of relationships varied between small, rural towns and large, urban cities and this variability greatly impacted psyche. In small towns individuals have more organic social networks that develop naturally based on traditional groups of the family. The limited size and number of groups within the town also factored in to group choice. The choice of groups may be limited but the relationships are more intimate and more meaningful; ties between members of small groups are quite strong. Individuals follow the norms of the small organic group so as not to stand out. Rational groups, on the other hand, are methodically engineered. Calculated even, and are prevalent urban settings, as Simmel points out, mainly because the “the metropolis has always been the seat of money economy”. Here, individuals choose their relationships and social groups for rational reasons. These choices tend to be goal oriented, with some objective end in mind, such as in “what can I get out of this without expending too much of my already depleted energy?” Although humans need groups and social structure, too many complex groups and relationships, as are found in the city, can increase the level of stimuli and contribute to the blasé metropolitan attitude. In other words, we can only invest so much of ourselves into any one group and if we experience too many groups in the urban environment, the overload of stimuli can make us retreat and withdraw.

As I live in a small town and work in a city, I can relate to Simmel’s argument that the city psyche is very different from that of the small town psyche. I always thought that city life was just too fast paced for people to have time for interaction or time to stop and “smell the roses”. However, I find merit in what Simmel is trying to reveal, that the blasé attitude is a defense mechanism to help us preserve emotional energy. I suppose communities can plan activities to increase community involvement, or outreach from local social institutions such as religious institutions, but I honestly do not know the solution to reducing the detachment and lack of emotional relationships prevalent in urban areas, I am sorry to say but I think it is the nature of the large, urban environment that creates the blasé metropolitan attitude.