This chapter examines an essay by Ferdinand Tönnies that serves as the ‘Introductory Article’ to the English edition of his famous Community and Association (originally 1887; more often rendered Community and Society). Tönnies proposes to examine societies under the perspective of how their members will and want things, and distinguishes between ‘natural’ and ‘deliberate will’, from which he derives his two ideal-types of society-as-community and society-as-society (or association). Tönnies is on the one hand nostalgic about a lost world of (village-type) communal life, on the other hand describes modern society merely as a temporary form of appearance of what still remains its essence – community life.
This chapter examines sections from Emile Durkheim’s The Rules of Sociological Method (1895). Durkheim argues here that it is the purpose of science to disturb established ideas. One such idea is that things (in society as elsewhere) exist for the purpose of fulfilling the function that they happen to be fulfilling. Against this he hammers home the need to distinguish between the cause of something and the function it has assumed (or has been subsumed to). Most of all, Durkheim’s insistence that society is not something that merely happens in our minds but that it actually is something thing-ly, out there, for real, acknowledges the fact of alienation that also others like Marx reflect on.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, one of the pioneers of sociology in the USA, formulated in his The Souls of Black Folk (1903) a powerful argument on identity in modern society. He describes post-emancipation Afro-Americans as ‘born with a veil’ as they are only indirectly able to gain consciousness of themselves, namely through the eyes of the others who despise them; at the same time, though, the resulting ‘double consciousness’ of being both of and not of this society, can be turned into an advantage: the broken, indirect and precarious vision may see more and deeper. Du Bois talks about more than cognition and epistemology, though: both the African and the American strive to be ‘co-workers’ in the ‘kingdom of culture’. Overcoming ‘the color-line’ is indispensable to the creation of a better, modern, human and humane civilization.
In his famous double-essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05) Max Weber translated a generally felt discontent with modern capitalist civilization into a theme for the (then still emergent) discipline of sociology. Like many of his contemporaries, Weber both affirmed and critiqued modern liberal, capitalist society, celebrating capitalism’s dynamism and creative energy (propelling Western civilization to its well-deserved world-dominating position) while deploring its tendency to become an ‘iron casing’ through which it fetters and destroys itself. Weber felt promoting what he perceived as the original, Puritan capitalist spirit against corrupt ‘utilitarian’, hedonistic capitalism might help slowing down, or even reversing, the decay of Western civilization.
The ‘Excursus on The Stranger’ is one of the most influential sections of Georg Simmel’s Sociology (1908) and is examined in this chapter. Simmel describes with ‘the stranger’ a person who has come from elsewhere but stays, and is thereby close and remote at the same time, detached and attached: the stranger belongs and has a function but could probably leave any moment if s/he chose to.