Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

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

GemeinschaftGesellschaft 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]

Tönnies was a Hobbes scholar—he edited the standard modern editions of Hobbes's The Elements of Law[2] and Behemoth[3]—and it has been argued that he derived both categories from Hobbes's concepts of "concord" and "union".[4]

The second edition, published in 1912, of the work in which Tönnies further promoted the concepts turned out to be an unexpected but lasting success[5] after the first edition was published in 1887 with the subtitle "Treatise on Communism and Socialism as Empirical Patterns of Culture".[6] Seven more German editions followed, the last in 1935,[7] 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.[8]

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,[9] 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.[10] Weber's distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft is highlighted in the essay "Classes, Stände, Parties",[11] which is the basis for Weber's three-component theory of stratification.


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.[12]

Fredric Jameson highlights the ambivalent envy felt by those constructed by Gesellschaft for remaining enclaves of Gemeinschaft, even as they inevitably corrode their existence.[13]

Outside sociology[edit]

In business usage, Gesellschaft is the German term for "company", as in Aktiengesellschaft or Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH). "Gemeinschaft" is used to identify groups which have or are claimed to have an element of affective loyalty: one important usage is in the German name for the European Economic Community, Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tönnies, Ferdinand (1887). Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Leipzig: Fues's Verlag. An English translation of the 8th edition 1935 by Charles P. Loomis appeared in 1940 as Fundamental Concepts of Sociology (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft), New York: American Book Co.; in 1955 as Community and Association (Gemeinschaft und gesellschaft[sic]), London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; and in 1957 as Community and Society, East Lansing: Michigan State U.P. Loomis includes as an Introduction, representing Tönnies' "most recent thinking", his 1931 article "Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft" in Handwörterbuch der Soziologie (Stuttgart, Enke V.).
  2. ^ Hobbes, Thomas (1889). Tönnies, Ferdinand, ed. The Elements of Law Natural and Politic. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 
  3. ^ Hobbes, Thomas (1889). Tönnies, Ferdinand, ed. Behemoth or the Long Parliament. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 
  4. ^ Hont, Istvan (2015). Kapossy, Béla; Sonenscher, Michael, eds. Politics in Commercial Society: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP. p. 6. 
  5. ^ Published with a more abstract subtitle Basic Terms of Pure Sociology (In German: "Grundbegriffe der reinen Soziologie").
  6. ^ In German: Abhandlung des Communismus und des Socialismus als empirischer Culturformen
  7. ^ The 1935 edition was reprinted in 2005 by Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt.
  8. ^ Peter F. Klarén, Thomas J. Bossert. Promise of development: theories of change in Latin America. Boulder, Colorado, USA: Westview Press, 1986. P. 221.
  9. ^ Weber 1968:4, and 40-43)
  10. ^ For more discussion see Waters and Waters 2015:3-6, in Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society. New York: Palsgrave MacMillan
  11. ^ Weber 2015:37-58 in Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society, Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters eds. New York: Palsgrave MacMillan
  12. ^ Eric Hobsbawm, Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism (2007) p. 93
  13. ^ 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. Guenter Roth and Claus Wittich. University of California Press (1921/1968/1978).
  • Weber, Max. Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society: New Translations on Politics, Bureaucracy, and Social Stratification, ed. and trans. Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters. New York: Palsgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1137373539