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17.4G: Community

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    The term community refers to a group of interacting people, living in some proximity, either in space, time, or relationship.

    Learning Objectives

    • Diagram examples of geimeinschaft, gesellschaft, mechanical solidarity, and organic solidarity within your own community or communities, keeping in mind that these concepts cannot always be neatly separated

    Key Points

    • Members of communities share either proximity or interests.
    • In the late nineteenth century, sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies theorized types of social groups by dividing human associations into gemeinschaft (communities) and gesellschaft ( societies ).
    • Geimeinschaft are characterized by community members having shared views of society and close social ties. Gesellschaft are characterized by members having personal interest in being a member of society.
    • Sociologist Émile Durkheim theorized community by understanding social solidarity in terms of mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity.
    • Mechanical solidarity is the sense of community that comes about when members are relatively homogeneous.
    • Organic solidarity comes about when individuals are mutually dependent upon one another.

    Key Terms

    • organic solidarity: It is social cohesion based upon the dependence individuals have on each other in more advanced societies.
    • mechanical solidarity: It normally operates in “traditional” and small scale societies. In simpler societies (e.g., tribal), solidarity is usually based on kinship ties of familial networks.
    • Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft: Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft are sociological categories introduced by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies for two normal types of human association.

    The term community refers to a group of interacting people, living in some proximity, either in space, time, or relationship. A community is typically a social unit that is larger than a single household, comprised of individuals that share values and thus create an environment of social cohesion. Members of a community have things in common, be it a shared geographic location or a shared interest. Increasingly, the notion of community is becoming unhinged from geographic location as individuals form more and more developed webs of society online around shared interests and pursuits.

    Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

    German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies distinguished between two types of human association: gemeinschaft, or community; and gesellschaft, or society. In his 1887 book, aptly titled Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Tönnies argued that gemeinschaft is perceived to be a tighter and more cohesive social entity, due to the presence of a “unity of will.” He added that family and kinship ties were the perfect expressions of gemeinschaft, but that other shared characteristics, such as living in the same place or believing the same things, could also result in the same sense of community that is the fundamental element of gemeinschaft. Gemeinschaften are broadly characterized by a moderate division of labor, strong personal relationships, strong families, and relatively simple social institutions. Governance does not need to be strong to enforce social norms due to a collective sense of loyalty that individuals feel for community, and an internal alignment and identification with the social norms.

    Gesellschaft, on the other hand, is a group in which group members are motivated to take part in the group purely for reasons of self-interest. While individuals may come to identify with their societies, the larger association never takes precedence over the individual’s self interest and, as such, these associations lack the same level of shared norms as gemeinschaft. Unlike gemeinschaften, gesellshcaften emphasize secondary relationships rather than familial ties, resulting in an individual feeling less of a bond and less loyalty to society at large. Social cohesion in gesellschaften typically derives more from an elaborate division of labor. Ultimately, Tönnies viewed gemeinschaft and gesellschaft as pure, sociological categories that are not represented in real life. In reality, all associations are a mix of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft.

    Mechanical and Organic Solidarity

    In 1893, French sociologist Émile Durkheim incorporated the ideas of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, particularly their influences on their respective divisions of labor, into his theory of social solidarity, published as The Division of Labor in Society. In this work, Durkheim establishes two types of social communities that correlate with types of society. Mechanical solidarity is a type of community in which social cohesion comes from the homogeneity of individuals. People feel connected, as though they are a part of a community, because they are similar. Mechanical solidarity speaks to the moderate division of labor and close resemblance in social norms exhibited by Tönnies’s gemeinschaft.

    Durkheim distinguished mechanical solidarity from organic solidarity, or a sense of community developed by the sense of interdependence that arises from specialization of work and complementary skills and interests between people. This mirrors Tönnies’s gesellchaft. Industrialized societies build their senses of community by making people dependent upon one another due to highly specialized divisions of labor. For example, operating under a form of mechanical solidarity, Tina feels like she and Amy belong to the same community because they are both hunters. Under the parameters of organic solidarity, Tina and Amy feel like they belong to the same community because they perform different tasks and help one another. Tina hunts and Amy does not know how, but Amy knows how to build a house and Tina does not. Tina and Amy help each other, each providing a needed service for the other, and thus create a sense of social solidarity—a sense of community.

    17.4G: Community is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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