Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

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Gemeinschaft (German pronunciation: [ɡəˈmaɪnʃaft]) and Gesellschaft ([ɡəˈzɛlʃaft]) (generally translated as "community and society") are categories which were coined by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies in order to categorize social ties (now called social networks) into two dichotomous sociological types.

Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft dichotomy[edit]

The Gemeinschaft–Gesellschaft dichotomy was proposed by Tönnies as a purely conceptual tool rather than as an ideal type in the way it was used by Max Weber to accentuate the key elements of a historic/social change. According to the dichotomy, social ties can be categorized, on one hand, as belonging to personal social interactions, and the roles, values, and beliefs based on such interactions (Gemeinschaft, German, commonly translated as "community"), or on the other hand as belonging to indirect interactions, impersonal roles, formal values, and beliefs based on such interactions (Gesellschaft, German, commonly translated as "society").[1]

The second edition, published in 1912, of the work in which Tönnies coined the concept turned out to be an unexpected but lasting success[2] after the first edition was published in 1887 with the subtitle "Treatise on Communism and Socialism as Empirical Patterns of Culture".[3] Seven more German editions followed, the last in 1935,[4] and it became part of the general stock of ideas with which pre-1933 German intellectuals were quite familiar. The book sparked a revival of corporatist thinking, including the rise of neo-medievalism, the rise of support for guild socialism, and caused major changes in the field of sociology.[5]

The concepts Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft were also used by Max Weber in Economy and Society, which was first published in 1921. Weber wrote in direct response to Tönnies,[6] and argued that Gemeinschaft is rooted in a “subjective feeling” that may be “affectual or traditional”. Gesellschaft-based relationships, according to Weber, are rooted in “rational agreement by mutual consent,” the best example of which is a commercial contract. To emphasize the fluidity and amorphousness of the relationship between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, Weber modified the terms in German to Vergemeinschaftung, and Vergesellschaftung, which are the gerund forms of the German words.[7]


Eric Hobsbawm argued that as globalization turns the entire planet into an increasingly remote kind of Gesellschaft, so too collective identity politics seeks for a fictitious remaking of the qualities of Gemeinschaft by artificially reforging group bonds and identities.[8]

Fredric Jameson highlights the ambivalent envy felt by those constructed by Gesellschaft for remaining enclaves of Gemeinschaft, even as they inevitably corrode their existence.[9]

Outside sociology[edit]

In business usage, Gesellschaft is the German term for "company", as in Aktiengesellschaft or Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tönnies, Ferdinand (1887). Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Leipzig: Fues's Verlag. (Translated, 1957 by Charles Price Loomis as Community and Society, East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.)
  2. ^ Published with a more abstract subtitle Basic Terms of Pure Sociology (In German: "Grundbegriffe der reinen Soziologie").
  3. ^ In German: Abhandlung des Communismus und des Socialismus als empirischer Culturformen)
  4. ^ The 1935 edition was reprinted in 2005 by Wissenschatliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt
  5. ^ Peter F. Klarén, Thomas J. Bossert. Promise of development: theories of change in Latin America. Boulder, Colorado, USA: Westview Press, 1986. Pp. 221.
  6. ^ Weber 1968:4, and 40-43)
  7. ^ For more discussion see Waters and Waters 2010, and Weber 2010
  8. ^ Eric Hobsbawm, Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism (2007) p. 93
  9. ^ M. Hardt/K. Weeks ed., The Jameson Reader (2000) p. 145


  • Ferdinand Tönnies (ed. Jose Harris), Community and Civil Society, Cambridge University Press (2001), hardcover, 266 pages, ISBN 0-521-56119-1; trade paperback, Cambridge University Press (2001), 266 pages, ISBN 0-521-56782-3
  • Ferdinand Tönnies, Ferdinand Tönnies Gesamtausgabe {TG}, critical edition, 24 vols., tom. II (forthcoming), ed. Lars Clausen, Alexander Deichsel et al., Berlin/New York (de Gruyter): 1998- ), see external weblink Verlagsinformationen.
  • Waters, Tony, and Waters Dagmar. "The new Zeppelin University translation of Weber's' Class, Status, Party'." Journal of classical sociology 10.2 (2010): 153-158.
  • Weber, Max "The distribution of power within the community: Classes, Stände, Parties." Journal of classical sociology [1468-795X] Waters, Dagmar, et al. 2010 vol:10 iss:2 pg:137 -152
  • Weber, Max, Economy and Society, ed. by Guenter Roth and Claus Wittich. University of California Press (1921/1968/1978).