Archives For Tonnies

“Community thus came to be seen as the natural habitus of the individual and society an alian and essentially meaningless world…we see community as a retreat from the wider society and social institutions.” (Delanty; p30)

According to Delanty there are three major debates on community:

1) Community as tradition (Tonnies)
2) Moral community (Durkheim)
3) The theory of symbolic community (Turner/Cohen)

Tonnies concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft:

Tonnies argues that community and society are different expressions of social relationships. Gemeinschaft conceives of itself as natural and organic, whereas Gesellschaft is seen as mechanical and imaginary. These ideas are reflected in many utopian/dystopian views of the world through various fictions such as Metropolis (film: Lang; 1927) or Nineteen Eighty-Four (Novel: Orwell; 1949).

Tonnies goes on to talk about Gemeinschaft with regards to blood ties and family. These relationships denote a unity of existence common to all man since ancient times. This concept is further developed to a Gemeinschaft of locality, and then to one of mind. This is interesting as it suggests the definition of the community to be of like-mindedness with a common goal. This is significant to my proposed community for my documentary as it is saying that people can be formed as a community when they share a space for living and a common goal. It would be interesting in the case of the homeless to consider the lack of sustainable/suitable housing as the shared locality. The spaces in the urban landscape that are appropriated as shelter, or the many boarding houses could be the shared geography. The common goal to survive and to be sheltered. The common goal could also be the want of basic human needs; food and shelter.

“The will and spirit of kinship is not confined within the walls of the house nor bound up with physical proximity; but, where it is strong and alive in the closest most intimate relationship, it can live on itself, thrive on memory alone, and overcome any distance by its feeling and imagination of nearness and common activity.” (Tonnies; p43)

“Only as long as mutual furtherance and affirmation predominate can a relation really be considered as Gemeinschaft.” (Tonnies; p44)

“…in the Gemeinschaft they remain essentially united in spite of all separating factors, whereas in the Gesellschaft they are essentially separated in spite of all uniting factors.” (Tonnies; p65)

I expect to find something akin to the idea of Gesellschaft expressed here in my research into the life of the homeless. The degree of the separation may become contested as I’m looking to see whether this separateness actually confirms the people in the group as not part of a community. Questions about places they frequent, needs and services and relationships to others in a similar situation should be sufficient to address this issue.


Delanty, G; Chapter 2: Community and Society – Myths of Modernity in Community New York, NY 2003: Routledge, 28-49

Tonnies, F: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft in Community and Society New York NY 1957: Harper and Row pp33-80