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.




Leave a Reply