Essay, 5 pages (1300 words)


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In this essay I am going to look at the term ‘ community’, through sociological literature. To do this I will look at varying schools of thought towards ‘ community’.

Moving on to the sociological writings of Ferdinand Tonnies, and his theory of Gemienschaft and Gesellschaft. I will outline the theories, citing their key features; I will then go on to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the theory, by way of comparison against Emile Durkheim and his writings of the division of labour in society, in particular mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Community, in ecology is a naturally occurring, non-random, collection of plant and animal life. The community is named after the physical environment, such as a freshwater lake community, or after the dominant species, such as an oak woodland community. In human geography, an interacting group of people living in the same territory: town, village, suburb, or neighbourhood (Kuper, 1999, Pp 114-115).

This term is used in different ways: some see communities as having shared modes of thought and expression, and may use the term in a non-territorial sense, as in ‘ the gay community’. Social geographers see communities as combining human alliances with local social systems in specifically defined locations (Jary, 1996, Pp100-101). Many sociologists have found community to be particularly ambiguous and difficult concept to define it in a simple universally understood way (Kuper, 1999, Pp 114-115). Bell and Newby (1971), found over ninety definitions of community, with only one common factor between them that was ‘ MAN’.

One concept of community, which has had a lasting impact on the sociological world and everyday ideas about the past and present community, is that of the German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies. Tonnies wrote in 1877 about the changes he was seeing in Europe, through what he penned as Gemeinscahft and Gesellschaft, which roughly translate to ‘ community’ and ‘ association’ respectively (Cree, 2000, P 126). Gemeinscahft paints the picture of community as a traditional social concept. Society is made up of notions of blood ties and kinship, neighbourhood and land, mind and friendship. Gemeinscahft refers to relationships which are spontaneous and affective, tend to be related to an individuals overall social status and are seen to be long enduring.

And occur in a context involving cultural homogeneity (Cree, 2000, P 126). These are characteristically relationships within the family and within simpler small-scale societies and are often thought to be pre-modern. In Gemeinscahft, people knew who they were and where they belonged, beliefs and values were well defined and clearly understood – therefore working towards conforming and maintaining the status quo. Individuals within Gemeinscahft are there to promote traditionally existing values and those who did not were clearly visible, anonymity and individual/personal values were not a feature of such a community. Emphasis was clearly on good traditional values, like those held by the church.

Within Gemeinscahft, there was little social mobility, the communities to which members were born was where they were to remain. The church and the family set up the values of the society, which were accepted and passed down from generation to generation – without question. (Bell and Newby, 1978, P24). Members of Gemeinscahft shared a tightly knit neighbourhood, which mad way for close friendships to come about; through shared tasks which Tonnies phrased “ work, organisation and forms of administration” (Tonnies, 2001, P28). Members lived in close proximity to one another, therefore creating support networks.

Members of Gemeinscahft had their roles and statuses pre-determined through social stratification and were clear-cut within their community. The entire community shared this beliefs are thought it was needed to ensure the survival of the community. People living in such a community held a feeling “ security and safety” (Holman, 1998) and belonging. To Tonnies, the rise of industrialisation and urbanisation was changing the notion of community from that of Gemeinscahft to Gesellschaft, he states: “ all intimate, private and exclusive living together . .

is . . . life is Gemeinscahft.

Gesellschaft is public life – it is the world itself”, “ Gemeinscahft is old; Gesellschaft is new” (2000, 127). Tonnies believed this to be a positive action with “ social benefits” (Taylor et al. , 1999, P389) Gesellschaft refers to relationships, which were impersonal, individualistic, competitive, calculative and contractual. Relationships of this type are characteristic of modern urban – industrial society.

In Tonnies’ view, these relationships lost the naturalness and mutuality of Gemeinscahft relationships. A society characterized by formal and aloof relationships. In such a society, people merely reside in their neighbourhoods and are free from social bonds and ties. The progression of urbanisation gave way to greater social mobility, both geographically and socially; people were able to leave the tight knit villages for towns with greater employment opportunities, better housing conditions and with greater economic rewards. People became individuals with equal status and opportunities where values were not so rigid or pre determined (Cree, 2000, Pp 126 -129). Some social scientists have argued that rural communities are Gemeinscahft communities, contrasting with urban, Gesellschaft communities, but later studies claimed that, while urban districts may not have all the positive features of rural societies, they do have beneficial features.

Tonnies saw Gemeinschaft as a “ living organism”, and Gesellschaft as a “ mechanical aggregate and artefact” (Cree, 2000, P127). A comparison to Tonnies works is that of Durkheim, and his essay ‘ The Division of Labour in Society’, first published in 1893 (Cree, 200 P127). In Durkheim’s view, there was a fundamental difference between pre-industrial and industrial society. In pre-industrial society he saw little social different ion with a comparatively unspecialised division of labour, a segmentary structure and a strong collective consciousness. He penned this as ‘ mechanical solidarity’ as the basis of social order. Social solidarity of in pre-industrial societies was based on the similarity between its members – who share the same beliefs and values – also largely the same roles.

This creates the society, which binds its members in close-knit communal life (Haralambos and Holborn, 1995, P184). Durkheim describes mechanical solidarity as: “ Solidarity which comes from likeness is at its maximum when the collective conscience completely envelops our whole conscience and coincides with all points in it” cited in (haralambos and Holborn, 1995, P 184). To Durkheim, Tonnies views of pre-industrial society, or Gemeinschaft, were over romanticised views of ‘ traditional’ society. Members were living in collective dissent about living in a repressive state – not as he outlined ‘ consistent harmony’. Organic solidarity is based on difference not uniformity. In this view, unity is compared to that of a physical organism, parts with varying functions work together to maintain the organism.

In the industrial society, occupational roles are specialised yet perform and function together to maintain the society (haralambos and Holborn, 1995, P 184). Individuals were able to live in a society with greater freedom, which created the opportunity for individuals to distance and separate themselves from others, creating a “ state of Egoism” (Cree, 2000, P 172). Durkheim believed that for society to produce goods and services efficiently its members would specialise in particular roles – specialisation required co-operation, therefore creating dependency upon other members skills. This independence was the basis of organic solidarity (haralambos and Holborn, 1995, P 184 – 185).

Durkheim felt that this would create restlessness among its members – his suggestion was an organised framework of governance – this would create a governing body to fit each part of society and to meet the needs of each ‘ specialist occupation’. Durkheim formulated the distinction between mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity by identifying basic features to each type. These features were demographic and morphological. In conclusion, the ambiguous state that is community, has gone through many fundamentally important stages of change, from what Tonnies called Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. From the once traditional community based on blood ties and land to the industrialisation and subsequent urbanisation, which lead to the informal and competitive communities. Though Durkheim’s views of community were contrasting, they held similar features to Tonnies writings, especially in post-industrial relationships and communities.

As outlined in Cree’s Sociology for Social Workers and Probation Officers, Tonnies writings have been long standing and enduring, which still have significants for communities in the twenty-first century. Both concepts (Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft) are idealized; in real life there are ingredients of both, in varying proportions, in all societies (Kuper, 1999, Pp 114 – 115).

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