Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

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Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

the German sociologist TÖNNIES’ (1887) twin IDEAL-TYPE concepts referring to contrasting types of social relationship and, by extension, types of society. Gemeinschaft (usually translated as ‘community’) refers to relationships which are spontaneous and ‘affective’, tend to be related to a person's overall social status, are repeated or long-enduring (as in relationships with kin), and occur in a context involving cultural homogeneity. Characteristically, these are the relationships within families and within simpler, small-scale and premodern societies, including peasant societies. Gesellschaft (usually translated as ‘association’) refers to relationships which are individualistic, impersonal, competitive, calculative and contractual, often employing explicit conceptions of rationality and efficiency. Relationships of this type are characteristic of modern urban industrial societies in which the DIVISION OF LABOUR is advanced. For Tönnies, such relationships involved a loss of the naturalness and mutuality of earlier Gemeinschaft relationships. See also COMMUNITY.

Tönnies derived aspects of his concept from Henry MAINE's distinction between status and contract. Compare also Max Weber's TYPES OF SOCIAL ACTION, Talcott Parsons’ PATTERN VARIABLES and Emile Durkheim's MECHANICAL AND ORGANIC SOLIDARITY. See also Herbert Spencer (MILITANT AND INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY) and Robert Redfield (RURAL-URBAN CONTINUUM).

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