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Gemeinschaft (German pronunciation: [ɡəˈmaɪnʃaft]) und 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

The dichotomy was proposed by Tönnies as a purely conceptual tool, built up logically, not as an ideal type coined by Max Weber which accentuated the key elements of a historic/social change. According to the dichotomy, social ties can be categorized, on one hand, either as belonging to personal social interactions, roles, values, and beliefs based on such interactions (Gemeinschaft, German, commonly translated as "community"), or 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 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 subtitle "Treatise on Communism and Socialism as Empirical Patterns of Culture",[3] followed by seven more German editions, the last in 1935.[4] and belonged to the general stock of ideas pre-1933 German intellectuals were quite familiar with. 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]


Individuals in Gemeinschaft (often translated as community) are regulated by common mores, and beliefs that people use about the appropriate behavior and responsibility of members of the association, to each other and to the association at large; their ties are characterized by a moderate division of labour, strong personal relationships, strong families, and relatively simple social institutions. In such societies there is seldom a need to enforce indirect social control, due to a direct sense of loyalty an individual feels for gemeinschaft. Tönnies saw the family as the most perfect expression of gemeinschaft; however, he expected that gemeinschaft could be based on shared place and shared belief as well as kinship, and he included globally dispersed religious communities as possible examples of gemeinschaft. Gemeinschaft community involves ascribed status. You are given a status by birth. For example, a person that was born of farmer will come to occupy the parent's role until death.


In contrast, gesellschaft (often translated as society, civil society or association) describes all of the associations in which, for the one person and a larger group never takes precedence over the individual's self-interest, and these associations lack the same level of shared mores. Gesellschaft is maintained through individuals acting in their own self-interest. A modern business is a good example of gesellschaft: the workers, managers, and owners may have very little in terms of shared orientations or beliefs, they may not care deeply for the product they are making, but it is in all their self-interest to come to work to make money, and thus the business continues. Gesellschaft society involves achieved status. You reach your status by education and work, for example, through the attainment of goals, or attendance at Universities

Unlike gemeinschaften, gesellschaften emphasize secondary relationships rather than familial or community ties, and there is generally less individual loyalty to society. Social cohesion in gesellschaften typically derives from a more elaborate division of labor. Such societies are considered more susceptible to class conflict as well as racial and ethnic conflicts. The sociological upheavals during the Reconstruction era of the United States complicated the sociological category of gemeinschaft because former slaves, whose kinship ties were complicated under slavery, forged new communities that shared aspects of both gemeinschaft and gesellschaft.[6]

Since, for Tönnies, gemeinschaft and gesellschaft are normal types, he considered them a matter of pure sociology, whereas he expected to find only a mix of them in applied sociology on doing empirical research. Nevertheless, following Tönnies, without normal types one might not be able to analyze this mix.

As said in the Essentials of Sociology- A Down to Earth Approach, an example of gemeinschaft community in the current world today would be the Amish community. The United States would play a part as being a gesellschaft society.

Talcott Parsons considered Gemeinschaft as representing a community of fate, who share good and bad fortune in common, as opposed to the pursuit of rational self-interest that characterised Gesellschaft.[7]


Eric Hobsbawm has argued that as globalisation 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

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

See also



  • 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,

nn:Gemeinschaft pl:Wspólnota

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