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Ferdinand Tonnies

Ferdinand Tönnies (1855- 1936) was a German sociologist. He was a major contributor to sociological theory and field studies. His distinction between two types of social groups - Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft - is what Tönnies is best known for. He was, however, a prolific writer and also co-founder of the German Society for Sociology.

Tönnies distinguished between two types of social groupings. Gemeinschaft often translated as community refers to groupings based on a feeling of togetherness. Gesellschaft often translated as society on the other hand, refers to groups that are sustained by an instrumental goal. Gemeinschaft may by exemplified by a family or a neighbourhood; Gesellschaft by a joint-stock company or a state.

His distinction between social groupings is based on the assumption that there are only two basic forms of an actor's will, to approve of other men. Following his "essential will" ("Wesenwille"), an actor will see himself as a means to serve the goals of social grouping; very often it is an underlying, subconscious force. Groupings formed around an essential will are called a Gemeinschaft. The other will is the "arbitrary will" ("Kürwille"): An actor sees a social grouping as a means to further his individual goals; so it is purposive and future-oriented. Groupings around the latter are called Gesellschaft. Whereas the membership in a Gemeinschaft is self-fulfilling, a Gesellschaft is instrumental for its members. In pure sociology theoretically these two normal types of will are to be strictly separated; in applied sociology empirically they are always mixed.

The important books :

  • Gemeinschalf and Gessellschaft (1887)
  • Introduction to Sociology (1936)

    Types of social norms stated by Tonnies: Law, Moral rules, Mores and Conventions.