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Ferdinand Tonnies

Ferdinand Tonnies

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the main ideas resulting from Ferdinand Tonnies' studies of social groups.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Earth; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on Ferdinand Tonnies. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So Ferdinand Tonnies, of course, he's a sociologist. And he's a German sociologist. And the reason we're looking at him is he did some really interesting work looking at social grouping. And so he really divides the world up into two different halves, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.

Tonnies is dividing the world into two different halves. And it's interesting because he lived right around the time of the Industrial Revolution. This is part of the way that he divides the world, and so Gemeinschaft versus Gesellschaft. So let's start with Gemeinschaft.

You can think about this as time before the Industrial Revolution. And now it's not exactly true that societies don't have aspects of both of these within them at one time. But it's pretty good for you, as you're learning about this, to think of generally Gemeinschaft's time is communities before Industrial Revolution.

So Gemeinschaft is a community that is truly like a community. Individuals really work together. And there are these traditions that work to keep everyone together, and really create these social bonds that unite everyone into a common fate. Now what Tonnies saw, though, is that society was changing and this other thing was coming up, and that's Gesellschaft.

Now under this type of community what's happening is the community is breaking up, and individuals are acting as individuals. So they're not concerned about the community as much. Instead, they're acting out of self-interest. And they're leaving behind a lot of those traditions that were creating social ties.

Along with this movement toward self-interest, because you are working as an individual and thinking about yourself, the levels of trust between individuals starts to erode, as well. So in a Gemeinschaft community you have people there that are working together and they trust each other, versus Gesellschaft, where you have individuals who are working independently. And they might come together for things, not that there's no community. But there's this general kind of distrust based out of everyone fighting for their own self-interest.

So today's takeaway message-- we looked at Tonnies, who is a sociologist who came up with two different ways of looking at social groups. We have Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. So Gemeinschaft is, again, that community based one that's really based on traditions that keep everyone together in a unified group. And then we have Gesellschaft, which is a community where people are really focused on themselves, and they're working as individuals within the modern world.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And, hopefully, you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know

A form of community organization where group membership and tradition create bonds and solidarity.


A form of community organization where individualism, modernization, and inter-dependent social needs creates solidarity.

People to Know
Ferdinand Tonnies

A sociologist who studied social groupings and is famous for his categorization of social groups as Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.