Ferdinand Tönnies


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A German sociologist and founding member of the German Sociological Association. He is most famous for his distinction between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (association). The distinction refers to the different types of relationships supposedly characteristic of small-scale and large-scale societies respectively. In the former, where the population is largely immobile, status is ascribed and the family and church play important roles in sustaining a clearly defined set of beliefs, emotional and co-operative relationships flourish. The village and small community are therefore characterized by gemeinschaftlich relationships. However, these dissolve into contractual and impersonal relationships as the division of labour grows more complex, so that large-scale organizations and cities express gesellschaftlich social forms. Tönnies lamented the loss of community and what he saw as the increasing dominance of competition and individualism in modern urban society. In this respect he was a critic of utilitarianism, a pessimist, and conservative. The distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft parallels Émile Durkheim's contrast between mechanical and organic solidarity—and shares many of the same weaknesses.

Subjects: Social Sciences.

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