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Ferdinand Tonnies

Ferdinand Tonnies

Author: Zach Lamb

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

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello. Welcome to sociological studies. I hope you're doing well. Thanks for tuning in. We're going to discuss German, Ferdinand Tonnies, and his ideas of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. So Tonnies was a German sociologist who studied social groupings and developed the famous categorization of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. So don't be scared of these German words. We're going to simplify it.

At Tonnies time, sociology really got started, had its origins as a discipline trying to understand the transition to modern society, to capitalism with the Industrial Revolution and away from traditional society. So this is how the discipline got started. We saw these massive social changes occurring because of industrialism. And so sociology developed to explain them.

So we developed all these binaries, meaning just two things set apart from each other of, OK, this is the modern versus the traditional. So Tonnies' Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft is really just that. It's another one of these binaries, these different ways to differentiate traditional society from modern society.

So Gemeinschaft is a form of community organization where group membership, emotion, and adherence to tradition, create solidarity, create cohesion. This is characterized, Tonnies maintained-- this characterizes, I should say, pre-modern societies. So these are close-knit societies characterized with close ties-- close family ties, close ties to community, strong emotional ties, and strong obedience to tradition and traditional ways of thinking behaving and acting.

The emphasis is on group solidarity and cohesion in these societies. They're relatively stable. They don't change very much. Contrast that with Gesellschaft. And that's a form of community organization where individualism, modernization-- so the development of modern habits-- and interdependent social needs, create solidarity.

So the Industrial Revolution comes along, and with it, we have what I've been talking about called the market mentality. So the capitalist ethos that's associated with capitalism starts to spread and transform social relationships and group dynamics. So we become much more individualistic, focused on the self and more market-oriented. So it's interdependence of our market needs that create solidarity.

So by that I mean-- let's bring in a famous quote from Adam Smith, an economist, to explain what I mean. So Smith has a really great quote that says, "It's not from the benevolence of the butcher that we get our meat, but with regard to his own self-interest."

So if we want our meat, it's not like he just gives it to us. It's not like his like our best buddy. And so we all are together and close-knit like in Gemeinschaft. But no, we have to appeal to his self-interest, wanting to make a profit from that meat in the market.

And so that I too have a specialization in the market. Suppose I'm a brewer. So I brew beer. And so then we end up engaging in the market and trading with each other to get money to then go buy everything else we need in the market. So we need each other. We need each other. We need this vast complex system of the division of labor to survive.

And so this creates cohesion, because well, without him, and without him, and without them, blah blah blah, we couldn't survive. So it's an interdependence of needs that create solidarity. This has been an introduction to Ferdinand Tonnies, a German, and his ideas of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. I hope you enjoyed it. Have a great rest of your day.

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.