Weber’s social psychology and tonnies gemeinschaft

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2021
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Weber was one of the first modern thinkers who attempted to evolve a rational perspective in understanding social phenomenon. He perpetually fostered the theory of objectivity in all human action. Thus he often states that in all sciences where human action is involved it is essential that those occurrences which are without subjective meaning should be given priority. (Weber, 1994). He frequently contended that without the basic form of a thing, its physical quantity, it had literally no meaning. He emphasized that from birth to mortality it is facts that dictated human action.

Weber went to the extent of indicating that even those facts which were psycho physical or social including reactions of individuals should be understood by taking into account the data within. Thus while Weber disavowed the use of psychological methods in society, there is an implicit social psychology in Weber’s work.  This is evident through an in depth analysis of his works which indicate many hints of social psychology implicit in the subjective understanding of phenomenon, in the functioning of public bodies and the concept of charisma.

The first indication of the same is his distinguishing understanding of observable and non observable phenomenon. While understanding of observable phenomenon is easier, he indicates that there is another type of recognition that is explanatory in nature. This comprises of actions and emotions that are displayed by individuals in society over incidents which cause rage, joy, jealousy, pride and so on, in which the motives are not rationally explainable and for which a subjective meaning for the action may have to be sought as an intended meaning.

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Thus for correct interpretation of an event or a fact he denotes that it is essential to understand the covert motive behind that act or event and link one to the other. The motive is the subjective part of the meaning which can be found not just in the factual display but would be in the psycho social content of the message that each is attempting to convey.

The social psychological context of Weber’s views is further crystallized when he explains the functioning of public bodies. These need to be treated as individuals when they are performing normal cognitive purposes such as juristic and should have the same rights and duties. In subjective interpretation these are considered as sociological formations, the resultants of collectivities arising from constructs from other disciplines. (Weber, 2005). Thus these organizations become the epitome of social action of individual persons in collectivity and the psychological influence cannot be undermined in their actions.

The final interpretation of the impact of psychology on sociology in the works of Weber is found in his concept of charisma, which he states as psychic contagion and creates a number of social processes which are understood only in terms of subjectivities in small fragments of transfer from biological interpretation. This is a minor concession that Weber attempts to make towards accepting non scientific phenomenon as a basis for understanding human social behavior.

Toennies considered that change is an intrinsic part of human nature. Change comes from the two facets of human nature one that is dialectical and the other that is contradictory. Thus human evolution as per Toennies has passed through various stages of individualistic and communal feelings which are shared with others. Individualistic strain is stronger in trade and politics and is the lowest in science. These are the concepts of evolution aptly summarized in two German words of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft.  (Toennies, 1954).

Toennies society evolved from a social context in which human beings were enemies of each other and extensive law was essential to preserve order. Gradually communal life gained primacy and order overcome anarchy. However Tonnies indicates that this order in turn led more people to come together with the aim of gaining prosperity which is again as per him a sign of the class struggle which destroys society that is being transformed. Thus the cycle seems to continue interminably. The essence of Tonnies process of evolution of Western civilization lay in the two phases of being communal to being associative.

The Gemeinschaft or communal in German was characterized by geographically isolated communes where all members virtually appeared to of the same stock, lived by tradition and maintained consanguine ties within the families. Labor was cast on pre industrial mode without any division and there was greater emphasis on primary relationships based on the importance of status and a respect for sacredness. This phase lasted till the entry into the industrial age when from small commune’s mass heterogeneous groupings of people emerged.

This was the associative or Gesellschaft mode of social living.   There was greater geographic mobility as more and more people mixed with each other, tradition declined and heterogeneous relationships developed. Conjugal ties were greatly emphasized during this period and there was a division of labor. Status was not bestowed on people due to birth but due to their own achievements. There was greater dependence on secondary relationships and building a secular society.

These two stages in which human societies evolved are indicative of the industrial and the post industrial World. Toennies theme was further elaborated by Emile Durkheim who indicated how forms of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft emerged. The homogeneity and lack of division of labor were attributed to the pre industrial society. The cohesiveness of tribalism to Tonnies was a mechanistic mode of congruity.

Collective conscience and representations through means such as common flag were another form of community feeling and provide indication how it developed over the years. However as society grew, an heterogeneous sense of bonding developed into what Tonnies has described as the Gesellschaft in which more and more relationships were secondary and impersonal.

In some forms slavery and feudalism is a part of the community that existed in the pre industrial age and was only eliminated after the industrial age came to dominate the human activity spectrum. The industrial capitalist society also greatly revolutionized social conditions as the capitalist forces attempted to expand beyond their boundaries in search of trade so did the assimilative values were transferred between different societies which mingled with each other.


1.Toennies, F. (1957) Community and Society. East Lansing, MI.

2.Weber, Max. (1999). Sociological Writings. Edited by Wolf Heydebrand, published in 1994 by Continuum. Transcribed: by Andy Blunden in 1998, proofed and corrected 1999.

3.-- (2005). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 1905. Translated by        Talcott Parsons and Anthony Giddens. London : Unwin Hyman.



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