The Chronicle of Higher Education
November 17th, 2014
At the turn of the 19th into the 20th
century, social theorists of an evolutionary bent were seeking to
describe the development of societies from the simpler to the more
complex. Émile Durkheim, for example, contrasted two major ways in which
societies could be held together: either by mechanical solidarity (the
likeness among component members) or by organic solidarity (a division
of labor that makes component members dependent upon one another).
Ferdinand Tönnies drew a distinction that has had a more nuanced history in the field of sociology, that between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Like "mechanical solidarity," the concept of Gemeinschaft points to what members of a society share, expressing it in a more positive way. Gesellschaft
refers to the more differentiated networks and interactions that
characterize a complex society. Tönnies suggested that a healthy society
needs both forms of connection to hold it together.
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft help illuminate
today’s college experience. To what extent are undergraduates moving
through overlapping though largely differentiated networks, and to what
extent do they share experiences, priorities, and goals?