Community - a Classic Revisited

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:45
Oral Presentation
Dariusz GAFIJCZUK, Newcastle Unversity, United Kingdom
After the partial disappearance from the analytical inventory of sociological inquiry, the concept of community has returned full force. This recovery and reassertion of community is taking place in academic sociology, as well as wider, everyday political and cultural fields. It is hardly a coincidence that the theme of the recent British Sociological Association’s 2018 annual meeting was precisely ‘Identity, Community and Social Solidarity’. Just as it is not just a slip in expression that recently Facebook, whose ambition has grown exponentially with its size, changed its mission statement: ‘Making the world more open and connected’ was replaced with giving ‘people the power to build community and bring the world closer together’.

The aim of this paper is to reconsider the notion of community as presented in Ferdinand Tönnies’s seminal argument from 1887 — his famous Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft (community/society) dichotomy. As is often the case with classical statements, Tönnies’s text has not been read in its entirety, as an analytical and historical statement that strikes at the heart of modern life, for quite a while. The paper seeks a way of updating Tönnies’s classical take in a way that could renew or at least re-direct our sense and definition of a community as type of ‘ready-made’ space of inclusion or exclusion. Tönnies’s classical statement, as I argue, holds the promise of a model that can break through the standard inclusion-exclusion understanding of how communities are bound and defined. That promise is based on the notion of ‘enfoldment’ and entwinement of modern individuals in each other’s fates. The crucial shift occurs by replacing responsibility at the level of traditional community, with public opinion/responsiveness that defines mass society. The fundamental question here, one that we need to consider anew, is the nature of the social bond at the core of contemporary life.