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29 DECEMBER 2003

Urban Theory: the disintegration of social relationships into anomie

"Durkheim, writing towards the end of the nineteenth century, feared the disintegration of social relationships into 'anomie'. This constituted a situation where the norms and expectations surrounding behaviour were no longer known. The onset of industrialisation would create normlessness and social breakdown. He identified, as a key feature, the shift from a community based upon mechanical solidarity to one based upon organic solidarity. Mechanical solidarity was where the moral ideas and values of a society were shared by all members, collective authority was absolute and. deviants were not allowed. Conformity to the rules was expected of all the population and was enforced by strong sanctions. The basis of this form of solidarity was the homogeneity of moral beliefs across the population. In contrast, organic solidarity was based upon social differentiation and a key integrating role was played by the division of labour. The new form of solidarity was thus based upon the interdependence of specialised parts. Norms, rules and laws were organised, not around repression, but through contracts between individuals and groups which were legally binding and enforceable via the judiciary and court system. Stability and integration would be rebuilt on the basis of necessity. None of us could survive in the new industrialised urban world on our own; we all depended upon the activities of each other. The newsolidarity that Durkheim saw emerging came out of our diversity rather than being imposed by our homogeneity as it had been under 'mechanical solidarity'. He thus termed this new form of solidarity 'organic solidarity'."

(David C. Thorns, 2002, p. 23)

David C. Thorns (2002). "The Transformation of Cities", Palgrave Macmillan.

Durkheim, Émile. 1960. "The Division of Labour in Society". New York: Macmillian.


29 DECEMBER 2003

Urban Theory: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

A key "analyst of the transformation from the pre–urban to the urban was Ferdinand Toennies. Toennies published an influential book, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (Community and Society) in 1887. In this, he laid out the characteristics of two stages, the first was Gemeinschaft. Here, human relations are intimate, enduring and based upon a clear understanding of where each person stands in society. The worth of the individual is related to the person rather than what they have done, so status is ascribed and not achieved. The second stage, which increasingly characterised industrial society, was Gesellschaft. Here, the large scale and impersonal shapes human relations and the contractual ties that were apparently increasing. Status was achieved rather than ascribed, giving greater importance to individual actions and motivations, Toennies thus saw society as moving through a transition from one form of social organisation to another, and his work is an attempt to theorise about the changes that industrialisation A at the level of social relationships, and social groups.Of the two stages, Gemeinschaft is based on homogeneity, group orientation, informed and shaped by tradition, and guided by sentiment With each person feeling that they are part of the overall community (Table 2.1). Being a member of the community was more important than doing one's own thing. Thus individual desires were subordinate to those of the wider group. The collective nature of society meant that individuals were not specialised and so were 'Jacks and Jills of all trades'. Finally, primary relationships, that is face–to–face relationships between friends and close kin, were the most typical form.In contrast, in Gesellschaft, heterogeneity was the normal basis for society with a greater emphasis upon individualism. Individuals are guided by rationality and by actions which enhance their own self interest rather than the collective interests of the community or wider society. Tasks are specialised so, rather than 'Jacks and Jills of all trades', people become experts or specialists in particular tasks. A consequence of this is that they have to link up with others to get tasks completed. Relationships, rather than being based around a knowledge of the whole person, are more transitory and linked to the accomplishment of defined tasks. For each task, a particular combination of people are grouped together but once the task is finished the reason for that association is lost. Thus, relationships are more fluid than under the Gemeinschaft–based society.Table 2.1 illustrates the contrast between community and society that gradually became a major organising theme for this group of nineteenth–century social theorists. The terminology is a little different across the theorists. However, the differences are relatively minor as they all focus upon the idea of a contrasting typology based around notions of community and society.

Twentieth–century writing within this tradition developed more complex typologies of 'contrast' and built what became known as the rural–urban continuum. Most of the contrasts developed identified the 'rural' with the small–scale, integrated social group and set this against the 'urban' which was seen as larger in scale and more individualistic in orientation (see [Wirth, L. 1938. 'Urbanism as a Way of Life'. American Journal of Sociology 44, 1–24], [Redfield, R. 1960. The Little Community Peasant Society and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press], [Pahl, R.E. 1975. Whose City? (2nd edn). Harmondsworth: Penguin])."

(David C. Thorns, 2002, p.24)

Thorns, David. C. (2002). "The Transformation of Cities: Urban Theory and Urban Cities": Palgrave Macmillan. 0333745973.

Gemeinschaft Gesellschaft
group orientedindividual oriented
tradition dominatesbusiness and commerce dominate
individual guided by sentimentindividual guided by rationality
each person part of the overall culturepreponderance of subcultures
each person jack–of–all tradesjob specialisation
relationships among people valuable in and of themselvesrelationships transitory, superficial
primary relationships predominatesecondary relationships predominate

Table 2.1




Simon Perkins

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