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Community and Society

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A classic in its field, Community and Society was not the first book to explore the composition of, and relationship between, these two types of social groups. Confucius spoke of fundamental social relationships between friends, family members, and rulers and subjects. Similarly, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and other great thinkers produced clear-cut classical outlines of the two groups.
More recently, Ferdinand Tönnies examines the clash between small-scale neighborhood-based communities and the large-scale competitive market society. In doing so, he considered all aspects of life — political, economic, legal, and family; art, religion, and culture; construction of "selfhood" and "personhood"; and modes of cognition, language, and understanding.
One of the first major studies of sociology, this republication of an important work will introduce Tönnies thoughts to a new generation of English-speaking students of sociology, political theory, and the history of European ideas.

320 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1887

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About the author

Ferdinand Tönnies

83 books18 followers
Ferdinand Tönnies was a German philosopher and sociologist.

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
Profile Image for Jonathan.
222 reviews
May 18, 2009
After years of getting him secondhand, I thought it was high time to read Tönnies directly. This book, first published in 1887, presents a simple and elegant model. Tönnies contrasts "community" (Gemeinschaft) with "society" (Gesellschaft) as modes of human existence -- the former being characteristic of premodern humanity, and the latter being characteristic of modern civilization.

In "community," according to Tönnies, human lives are bound together by kinship, proximity, custom, and religion. The individual is inseparable from an organic whole, which developed together not (primarily) as a result of rational deliberation but rather as a result of evolving practices. Mentally, humans in community are directed by "natural will," i.e., a conscience bound to experience and habit; in this context, behavior and selfhood are identical. Economically, humans are connected with the land and involved in face-to-face trade in goods. Legally, they are constrained by traditions and collective possession. In a pure form, Gemeinschaft is religious communism.

In "society," however, individual life is detached from its organic basis. The individual becomes a rational free agent. Mentally, the individual is directed by "artificial will," i.e., a consciousness characterized by endless questioning and coldblooded testing of means for the sake of attaining chosen ends. Economically, the individual maximizes his wealth and power through increasingly abstract market activity. Legally, individuals compete with one another for power and must therefore enter compacts to protect the peace. Public opinion replaces custom, the state replaces the town, and global capitalism replaces the land. Ultimately, this will lead either to a revolution of the downtrodden masses or to an international socialist state as the fullest manifestation of rationalized association -- Tönnies doesn't seem to be sure which. He is very murky on this point.

In fact, Tönnies is inconsistent on a number of matters. First, for example, he pretends to be "objectively" analyzing two different forms of healthy human association. Yet the reader would have to be very thick to miss the fact that his sympathies lie overwhelmingly with community. It is there that he sees "true" freedom, as well as warmth, creativity, and security. He portrays civil society as soulless and brutal; it is a "state of war," in his beautiful inversion of the picture painted by Thomas Hobbes, whereas the state of nature is a state of peace. Second, Tönnies is vague on whether the market economy causes Gesellschaft or Gesellschaft causes the market economy. He leans different ways at different times, switching between materialism and idealism. I have no problem with that, except where it leads him to succumb, in discussing the present and future of the European economy, to the temptations of Marxist or Comtean orthodoxy. Third, his inability to come to terms with the aforesaid issue is probably one reason he dithers over whether the inevitable outcome of late Gesellschaft will be a global socialist oligarchy or a global proletarian revolution in favor of communism. Clearly, I would say, it's the former -- because I see power in consciousness rather than in supposedly "objective" existence, which Tönnies himself frequently acknowledges as being a fiction. Fourth, Tönnies's preface proclaims sociological science to be a superior mode of inquiry to "mere" history, which prefers the concrete to the systematic and tends to be subjectively preoccupied with present political concerns. Yet to choose sociology over history is to establish society over community as the inevitable trend of one's mode of thought. And I'm pretty sure the same thing would have occurred to Tönnies, although he hides his awareness of the fact. That strikes me as kind of tragic.

Anyway, this is a very clear translation of a very thought-provoking text. I recommend it highly.
Profile Image for Luke Echo.
274 reviews19 followers
February 27, 2019
A central text in the history of Sociology. Reading against the debates between the anti-revolutionaries, such as Burke, de Maistre, Donoso Cortes, and the radicals like Prooudhon, Marx etc.. Tönnies offers a kind of theoretical framework that attempts to subsume both stances to a totalising historicised picture of social orders.
Profile Image for Dany.
388 reviews66 followers
March 7, 2020
Uno dei testi più lunghi e pesanti che abbia mai letto per sociologia. Tanta misoginia. Capisco che sia normale data la sua età ma oddio, è stato terribile. Non finiva più.
Profile Image for Agatoni.
52 reviews1 follower
Shelved as 'abandoned'
July 7, 2019

Only read Book 1, on the theories of Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (civil society).

Tönnies holds "community" as the natural state of association which (d)evolves into civil society as exchange and commerce gain in power. I understood Gesellschaft to be nearly synonymous to a capitalist society.

Tönnies more or less acknowledges that community is held together by benevolent authoritarianism. Is equality incompatible with community?

The writing is expectedly academic.
Profile Image for noblethumos.
541 reviews27 followers
December 11, 2022
Community and Society (German: Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft) is a book written by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies. It was first published in 1887 and has since become a classic work in the field of sociology. In the book, Tönnies distinguishes between two types of human social organization: Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society). Gemeinschaft is characterized by close personal relationships, a strong sense of belonging, and a shared set of values and traditions. Gesellschaft, on the other hand, is more impersonal and is characterized by more formal, contractual relationships between individuals. Tönnies' work has been influential in shaping the study of sociology and continues to be a central reference for sociologists today.

Profile Image for Sandra.
237 reviews
July 18, 2015
It is evident to see how influential Tonnies original views from 1887 have been on sociologists, anthropologists, etc... over the past 130 years. This book is based on two concepts to explain human mentality and behavior - Gemenischaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society). Foundational sociological work, but obviously a bit antiquated in views on male/female roles.
Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews

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