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Ferdinand Tönnies

Ferdinand Tönnies' bust in Husum

Ferdinand Tönnies (German: ; 26 July 1855, near Oldenswort, Eiderstedt, North Frisia, Schleswig – 9 April 1936, Kiel, Germany) was a German sociologist and philosopher. He was a major contributor to sociological theory and field studies, best known for his distinction between two types of social groups, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. He was also a prolific writer and co-founder of the German Society for Sociology, of which he was president from 1909 to 1933.


  • Life 1
  • Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft 2
  • Published works 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Ferdinand Tönnies was born into a wealthy farmer's family in North Frisia, Schleswig, then under Danish rule. He studied at the universities of Jena, Bonn, Leipzig, Berlin, and Tübingen. He received a doctorate in Tübingen in 1877 (with a Latin thesis on the ancient Siwa Oasis).[1] Four years later he became a private lecturer at the University of Kiel. Because he had sympathized with the Hamburg dockers' strike of 1896,[2] the conservative Prussian government considered him to be a social democrat, and Tönnies was not called to a professorial chair until 1913. He held this post at the University of Kiel for only three years. He returned to the university as a professor emeritus in 1921 and taught until 1933 when he was ousted by the Nazis, due to his earlier publications that criticized them.[3]

Tönnies, the first German sociologist proper,[4] published over 900 works and contributed to many areas of sociology and philosophy. Many of his writings on sociological theories — including Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (1887) — furthered pure sociology. He coined the metaphysical term Voluntarism. Tönnies also contributed to the study of social change, particularly on public opinion,[5] customs and technology, crime, and suicide.[6] He also had a vivid interest in methodology, especially statistics, and sociological research, inventing his own technique of statistical association.[7]

Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

Tönnies distinguished between two types of social groupings. Gemeinschaft — often translated as community (or left untranslated)— refers to groupings based on feelings of togetherness and on mutual bonds, which are felt as a goal to be kept up, their members being means for this goal. Gesellschaft — often translated as society — on the other hand, refers to groups that are sustained by it being instrumental for their members' individual aims and goals.

Gemeinschaft may be exemplified historically by a family or a neighborhood in a pre-modern (rural) society; Gesellschaft by a joint-stock company or a state in a modern society, i.e. the society when Tönnies lived. Gesellschaft relationships arose in an urban and capitalist setting, characterized by individualism and impersonal monetary connections between people. Social ties were often instrumental and superficial, with self-interest and exploitation increasingly the norm. Examples are corporations, states, or voluntary associations.

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. (For Tönnies, such an approval is by no means self-evident, he is quite influenced by Thomas Hobbes[8]). 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.

Tönnies’ distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, like others between tradition and modernity, has been criticized for over-generalizing differences between societies, and implying that all societies were following a similar evolutionary path, an argument which he never proclaimed.[9]

The equilibrium in Gemeinschaft is achieved through morals, conformism, and exclusion - social control - while Gesellschaft keeps its equilibrium through police, laws, tribunals and prisons. Amish, Hassidic communities are examples of Gemeinschaft, while states are types of Gesellschaft. Rules in Gemeinschaft are implicit, while Gesellschaft has explicit rules (written laws).

Published works

  • 1887: Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Leipzig: Fues's Verlag, 2nd ed. 1912, 8th edition, Leipzig: Buske, 1935 (reprint 2005, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft); his basic and never essentially changed study of social man; translated in 1957 as "Community and Society", ISBN 0-88738-750-0
  • 1896: Hobbes. Leben und Lehre, Stuttgart: Frommann, 1896, 3rd edn 1925; a philosophical study that reveals his indebtedness to Hobbes, many of whose writings he has edited
  • 1897: Der Nietzsche-Kultus, Leipzig: Reisland
  • 1905: “The Present Problems of Social Structure”, in: American Journal of Sociology, 10(5), p. 569–588 (newly edited, with annotations, in: Ferdinand Tönnies Gesamtausgabe, tom. 7, Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter 2009, p. 269-285)
  • 1906: Philosophische Terminologie in psychologischer Ansicht, Leipzig: Thomas
  • 1907: Die Entwicklung der sozialen Frage, Leipzig: Göschen
  • 1909: Die Sitte, Frankfurt on Main: Rütten & Loening
  • 1915: Warlike England as seen by herself, New York: Dillingham [2]
  • 1917: Der englische Staat und der deutsche Staat, Berlin: Curius; pioneering political sociology
  • 1921: Marx. Leben und Lehre, Jena: Lichtenstein
  • 1922: Kritik der öffentlichen Meinung, Berlin: Springer; 2nd ed. 2003, Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter (Ferdinand Tönnies Gesamtausgabe, tom. 14); translated as On Public Opinion. Applied sociology revealing Tönnies' thorough scholarship and his commitment as an analyst and critic of modern public opinion
  • 1924, 1926, and 1929: Soziologische Studien und Kritiken, 3 vols, Jena: Fischer, a collection in three volumes of those papers he considered most relevant
  • 1926: Fortschritt und soziale Entwicklung, Karlsruhe: Braun
  • 1927: Der Selbstmord in Schleswig-Holstein, Breslau: Hirt
  • 1931: Einführung in die Soziologie, Stuttgart: Enke. His fully elaborated introduction into sociology as a social science
  • 1935: Geist der Neuzeit, Leipzig: Buske; 2nd ed. 1998 (in: Ferdinand Tönnies Gesamtausgabe, tom. 22); a study in applied sociology, analysing the transformation from European Middle Ages to modern times
  • 1998–: Tönnies' Complete Works (Ferdinand Tönnies Gesamtausgabe), 24 vols., critically edited by Lars Clausen, Alexander Deichsel, Cornelius Bickel, Rolf Fechner (until 2006), Carsten Schlüter-Knauer, and Uwe Carstens (2006– ), Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter (1998– )
    • 2008: Soziologische Schriften 1891-1905, ed. Rolf Fechner, Munich/Vienna: Profil
    • 2009: Schriften und Rezensionen zur Anthropologie, ed. Rolf Fechner, Munich/Vienna: Profil
    • 2009: Schriften zu Friedrich von Schiller, ed. Rolf Fechner, Munich/Vienna: Profil
    • 2010: Schriften und Rezensionen zur Religion, ed. Rolf Fechner, Profil, Munich/Vienna: Profil
    • 2010: Geist der Neuzeit, ed. Rolf Fechner, Profil-Verlag, Munich/Vienna: Profil
    • 2010: Schriften zur Staatswissenschaft, ed. Rolf Fechner, Profil, Munich/Vienna: Profil
    • 2011: Schriften zum Hamburger Hafenarbeiterstreik, ed. Rolf Fechner, Munich/Vienna: Profl

See also


  1. ^ De Jove Ammone questionum specimen, Phil. Diss., Tübingen 1877
  2. ^ Ferdinand Tönnies: Hafenarbeiter und Seeleute in Hamburg vor dem Strike 1896/97, in: Archiv für soziale Gesetzgebung und Statistik, 1897, vol. 10/2, p. 173-238
  3. ^ See Uwe Carsten, Ferdinand Tönnies: Friese und Weltbürger, Norderstedt 2005, p. 287–299.
  4. ^ See Louis Wirth, The Sociology of Ferdinand Tonnies, in American Journal of Sociology Vol. 32, No. 3 (Nov., 1926), pp. 412-422.
  5. ^ Kritik der öffentlichen Meinung, [1922], in: Ferdinand Tönnies Gesamtausgabe, tom. 14, ed. Alexander Deichsel/Rolf Fechner/Rainer Waßner, de Gruyter, Berlin/New York 2002
  6. ^ Cf. Der Selbstmord von Maennern in Preussen, [Mens en Maatschappij, 1933], in: Ferdinand Tönnies Gesamtausgabe, tom. 22, ed. Lars Clausen, de Gruyter, Berlin/New York 1998, p. 357-380.
  7. ^ Lars Clausen: Ferdinand Tönnies (1855-1936), in: Christiana Albertina, No. 63, Kiel 2006, p. 663-69
  8. ^ See Louis Wirth, The Sociology of Ferdinand Tonnies, in American Journal of Sociology Vol. 32, No. 3 (Nov., 1926), pp. 412-422.
  9. ^ Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Leipzig 1887, §§ 1-40


  • Adair-Toteff, C., Ferdinand Tönnies: Utopian Visionar, in: Sociological Theory, vol. 13, 1996, p. 58-65
  • Bickel, Cornelius: Ferdinand Tönnies: Soziologie als skeptische Aufklärung zwischen Historismus und Rationalismus, Opladen: Westdt. Verlag, 1991.
  • Bond, Niall, "Ferdinand Tönnies's Romanticism," The European Legacy, 16.4 (2011), 487-504.
  • Cahnman, Werner J. (ed.), Ferdinand Tönnies: A New Evaluation, Leiden, Brill, 1973.
  • Cahnman, Werner J., Weber and Toennies: Comparative Sociology in Historical Perspective. New Brunswick: Transaction, 1995.
  • Cahnman, Werner J./Heberle, Rudolf: Ferdinand Toennies on Sociology: Pure, Applied and Empirical, 1971.
  • Carstens, Uwe: Ferdinand Tönnies: Friese und Weltbürger, Norderstedt: Books on Demand 2005, ISBN 3-8334-2966-6 [Biography, German]
  • Clausen, Lars: The European Revival of Tönnies, in: Cornelius Bickel/Lars Clausen, Tönnies in Toronto, C.A.U.S.A. 26 (Christian-Albrechts-Universität • Soziologische Arbeitsberichte), Kiel 1998, p. 1-11
  • Clausen, Lars: Tönnies, Ferdinand, in: Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie, tom. X, Munich: K. G. Saur ²2008, p. 60–62 [German]
  • Clausen, Lars/Schlüter, Carsten (eds.): Hundert Jahre "Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft", Opladen: Leske + Budrich 1991 [German]
  • Deflem, Mathieu, "Ferdinand Tönnies on Crime and Society: An Unexplored Contribution to Criminological Sociology." History of the Human Sciences 12(3):87-116, 1999
  • Deflem, Mathieu, "Ferdinand Tönnies (1855-1936)." In the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, edited by Edward Craig. London: Routledge, 2001.
  • Fechner, Rolf: Ferdinand Tönnies - Werkverzeichnis, Berlin/New York (Walter de Gruyter) 1992, ISBN 3-11-013519-1 [Bibliography, German]
  • Fechner, Rolf: Ferdinand Tönnies (1855–1936), in: Handbuch der Politischen Philosophie und Sozialphilosophie, Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter 2008, ISBN 978-3-11-017408-3, p. 1347–1348
  • Ionin, Leonid; Translated by H. Campbell Creighton, M.A. (  
  • Jacoby, Eduard Georg: Die moderne Gesellschaft im sozialwissenschaftlichen Denken von Ferdinand Tönnies, Stuttgart: Enke 1971 [German]
  • Merz-Benz, Peter-Ulrich: Tiefsinn und Scharfsinn: Ferdinand Tönnies' begriffliche Konstitution der Sozialwelt, Frankfurt on Main 1995 (same year: Amalfi Prize) [German]
  • Podoksik, Efraim: 'Overcoming the Conservative Disposition: Oakeshott vs. Tönnies. Political Studies 56(4):857-880, 2008.

External links

  • Ferdinand Tönnies: Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft - Abhandlung des Communismus und des Sozialismus als empirischer Kulturforment
  • Ferdinand Tönnies : Hobbes Leben und Lehre
  • Ferdinand Tönnies : Philosophische Terminologie in psychologisch-soziologischer Ansicht
  • Ferdinand Tönnies: Englische Weltpolitik in englischer Beleuchtung Online book
  • Ferdinand-Tönnies-Gesellschaft
  • Entretien autour de Lou Andreas-Salomé
  • Entretien autour de Friedrich Nietzsche et son temps
  • Review materials for studying Ferdinand Toennies

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