The industrial revolution restructured the country. Development in transport meant that geographical mobility increased and a huge amount of people flocked from the country to towns and cities in search of work, taking only their immediate family with them. 5 This was detrimental to a Gemeinschaft society as they were weakened by the separation of families. It started the trend that is evident in today’s society where families do not tend to live together. Similarly better-developed countries followed suit. They also started to interact on a larger scale through trade, tourism and technology.
This could have broken bonds between nations but it also meant the emergence of globalisation, an international culture and a rapid increase in immigration and migration, which, in turn, contributed to the decline of a unified workforce and community in general6. There has been a distinct decline in the domain of working class values; the mass society theory7 suggests that media and post modernism in general have created generations of materialistic and selfish people, so although living standards might have improved for many in terms of material wealth, morally the standards have gone in the opposite direction.
The French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville who came up the with the idea of a mass society gives a description of the mass society theory that echoes the link with the demise of Gemeinschaft bonds: “… an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavouring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures of all the rest. His children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them but he sees them not: he touches them but he feels them not”.
8 This is what society today has turned into, Gesellschaft bonds have strengthened and Gemeinschaft bonds have weakened. Gesellschaft bonds are the antithesis of Gemeinschaft bonds. It literally means ‘society’. It has come to be linked with urbanism, industrial life, mobility, heterogeneity and impersonality Tonnies (1887) believed that Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft bonds would always be in existence together – it is just the balance between them that changes so one becomes more dominant. This means that the Gemeinschaft bonds are still present, they are just less conspicuous than they were two centuries ago.
Etzioni (1994) believes that Gemeinschaft societies do exist in today’s society, but they are largely ineffective now seeing as the local authorities have so much power over them. If communities were able to be the decision makers, such as in feudal times where Gemeinschaft societies were widely found and successful, crime rates would be reduced because there would once again be a successful form of social control. However, this is an unrealistic aim and therefore the Gemeinschaft bonds that held societies together so well will always be limited.
It is, perhaps, the state of society in general today that has made Gemeinschaft bonds become less dominant. In 1969 Goldthorpe and Lockwood conducted a study on Luton to examine the change in working class lifestyles and to see to what extend the working and middle classes had converged. The results demonstrated an emergence of the ‘privatised industrialist’ – workers who didn’t see their jobs as identities, had little of no contact with wider family, and couldn’t engage with a community because their lives were interrupted with unsociable work hours.
However, many of the less affluent manual workers belonged to associations and socialised with their neighbours, which the wealthier workers did less of due to the fact that they spent more time in the home. The middle classes, they realised, had not converged with the working class but they were more likes to fraternise with work colleagues. 9 So although there was little to show that traditional Gemeinschaft bonds were firmly in place, but there was certainly evidence of a type of community that had acquired the Gemeinschaft characteristics.
Tonnies himself said that “just as language cannot be made by agreement… real concord cannot be artificially produced. Despite this, many optimists have tried and failed to create a Gemeinschaft type society. They failed simply because they failed to appreciate the balance between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft bonds. Arguably, individuals cannot directly manipulate society because it operates under forces beyond human control. The equilibrium between the two types of bonds occurs naturally.
10 Tonnies knew that in order for society to progress economically industrialisation would have to take place but Gemeinschaft ties would have to be slightly severed first in order to do so. This means that the argument can be reversed: rather than blaming the industrial revolution and capitalism etc. for the decline in community, we can say it was necessary for community to shift to weaker social networks so that Britain could develop. Gemeinschaft bonds cannot literally be created from scratch. They already exist to an extent anyway.
It can be argued that the balance between the dichotomies has shifted over time in favour of Gesellschaft bonds but social networks still hold societies and groups together whilst allowing families to live a more home-centred life. It is wrong to say there is no sense of community, however, if we looks at urban inner city environments it is clear that there is strong social solidarity based on shared experience and marginalisation, but since the general standard of life has improved in post-war life, people don’t find that community or Gemeinschaft bonds are so essential.
However, in Greenleigh there is very much a strong sense of community. Thirty years since the new inhabitants had moved there, the community had stretched to accommodate the arrivals and the network was stronger and more supportive than before. Most contemporary attempts to recreate Gemeinschaft bonds by collectively living off the land have collapsed due to arguments and people who cannot commit. It took generations for Gemeinschaft bonds to reach a stage where they were strong enough – so simply deciding to create them cannot work.
Shenker, Kibbritzini and Hutterite communities still exist because they have never abolished the family unit. Tasks are shared; they have a communal life, but they can retreat when necessary, thus demanding a balance between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft bonds. This therefore means that the group will not collapse under the strain of commitment. 11 Unfortunately this is not representative of every environment and maybe people should realise what advantages Gemeinschaft bonds concur and take a leaf out of the ‘successful’ communities books.