All entries for Saturday 24 May 2008

May 24, 2008

Ferdinand Toennies

Ferdinand Toennies

Bust of Ferdinand Toennies

I, VollwertBIT, the copyright holder of this work, has published or hereby publishes it under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5

Toennies is best known for his concepts of Gemeinschaft & Gesellschaft.

Gemeinschaft is associated with close-knit communities which are more feudal or semi-feudal in their social relationships. They are in other words pre-industrial.

Gesellschaft by comparison can be associated with the more distanced social relationships between people in a city despite their physical closeness to each other. 

The trailer below is from the Italian film Rocco and His Brothers by Luchino Visconti. Several of Visconti's films explored the tensions developing within Italy as it modernised after the Second World War. Peasant families from the mezzogiorno (deep south) migrated to the rapidly growing industrial cities of Milma and Turin. Visconti's film follows the trials and tribulations of just such a peasant family from the deep south. The film opens with the train arriving in Milan where they expect to meet the eldest brother who has gone on ahead. The family can no longer make a living from the land and they must find work and shelter. 

Simone takes up boxing a fairly typical thing  to do, and as he becomes more dissolute Rocco takes over being a boxer to pay off Simone's debts.   Another brother goes to night school and eventually becomes a skilled worker in the Alfa Romeo factory. His understanding is that hard work and social solidarity in the unions is the way to survive this new environment. The plot gets complicated as firstly Simone has a relationship with Nadia who is also an immigrant and makes a living through prostitution. As simone goes downhill Nadia leaves him. A couple of years later Rocco who had to do national srvice takes up with her: they are both very much in love, yet ultimately Rocco betrays her because he cannot throw over the patriarchal ifeology that the family must be protected at all costs. This is in spite of Simone raping Nadia in front of his brother who is being restrained by Simone's friends. Eventually Nadia is murdered by Simone and it is another brother who recognises that the rule of law is above family and calls the police. Gesellschaft has triumphed over Gemeinscaft which is shown up as being regpressive and regressive.

There are many features of the change to modernity which are effectively tackled in this film and representations of class and the growing industrial city are all involved. This film shows very well the effects of the growth of industrialism creating flows of labour into the city and the problems immigrants have in adapting. For a range of contemporary British films that have been representing some of thes concerns in today's Britain check out my page on this: Representing the World Locally also check out the page Globalisation and Cinema.

Toennies was more concerned with the loss of Gemeinschaft Visconti on the other hand is rather more critical of these older forms of organisation. 

When it comes to the books in DD 201 I would suggest that you revise the work on Family and Kinship in East London from Wilmot and Young. This shows how the stereotype of people being isolated in the city was never really the case.  There were extending families living in Bethnal Green and  according to Wilmot and Young's research and lots of community activities and support. When these families were moved into more modern accommadation their social networks became more extended. The change effected women the most as they didn't usually have a full-time job. 

For more on the work of Wilmot and Young go to Book 1 page 234 and also the reading on page 256 for Bethnal Green and 259 for Greenleigh.  

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Source: Immigrants demonstrating, 1973 (Magnum). From the Michel site

In book one Understanding Everyday Life Foucault pops up early on pp xi-xii.

This introduces us to the idea of cultural technologies such as photography, cinema, TV, the Internet. Not only do these technologies provide an opportinity to extend cultural representation but thay can also be used as new forms of social discipline and provide new forms of surveillance. Foucault did a lot of work on modern disciplinary systems such as the prison, the school, the asylum, the hospital.

The book takes us into the makings of a new disciplinary society where visual communications has an aspect to it which has been described as 'ocular penetration' as people are more and more watched by anonymous powers. People are made visible in different ways through bureaucratic means such as statistics as well as visually based systems of surveillance such as security cameras. Here you might want to think about how the American censuses managed to construct and reconstruct "race" see page 161 book two Social Differences and Divisions. you can also find reference to Foucault's notion of biopower, on page 352 of book 3 Social Change. Here a reading from Donna Haraway describes what she understands by this term:

I understand Foucault's (1978) concept of biopower to refer to the practices of administration, therapeutics and surveillance of bodies that discursively constitute, increase and manage the forces of all living organisms. 

Haraway points to the invention of particular terms in the 19th century as examples such as:

  • The masturbating child
  • The Malthusian couple reproducing far too many children
  • The 'hysterical' woman
  • The homosexual 'pervert' 

For Foucault this tendency of descending individualisation marked a change from earlier societies where the Kings & Queens etc were very much on display whilst the plebs were largely invisible. Making ordinary people visible to invisible powers made them more governable.

On page 69 of book 1 Understanding Everyday Life you will find some discussion about foucault and his ideas on discourse. You will find more on both in your dictionary of sociology as well:

discourse refers to the social rules practices and forms of knowledge that govern what is sayable and doable in any given context (p 69)

Think about how this concept can be applied to ideas such as:

  • Race
  • Romance
  • Gender 

We can also think about Foucault when we come to book 4 The Uses of Sociology when we contemplate the role of sociology. The political perspective of sociology (p106) can be seen through the light of Foucault's expression 'power is always present'. The social knowledge generated by sociological thinking and research means that sociology is inevitably connected with social change usually in terms of emancipation and social change.  

For your exam try and think how the work of some key theorists can be related to the various threads across all the books rather than just thinking of the books as discreet entitities.  

Max Weber

Max Weber

Max Weber

Max Weber appears early on in DD 201. We are introduced to him on p 12 of Book 1 Understanding Everyday Life. Here Weber is used in relation to understandings of the home which by the late 19th century at least for the poorer classes was being increasingly invaded by the forces of the state, a situation that was to continue up until the present day. Instead of 'Home' being sen as a 'Haven' from the trials and tribulations of the everyday world various agencies were taking an increasingly important role. Reiger adapts Weber's idea of 'Disenchantment' and applied it to the home. 

Weber spent a lot of time monitoring the changes from a social world that was based upon religious and magical conceptions into a world that was increasingly controlled by 'rational' and 'scientific' forms of calculation along with a growth of managerial systems to assist in this aim.

Weber also pops up again in Book 2. Here Mike Savage considers Weber's theory of class in comparison to both Marx and Pierre Bourdieu.

Unlike Marx Weber: sees no necessary connection between economic inequality (class), honour and reputation (status) and power (command).  suggests Mike Savage.

Marx thought that economic inequalities would eventually lead to a recognition of the social bonds of class through the leadership of the Working class. Marx promoted the idea of strong class identity whilst Weber didn't.

Rosemary Crompton in reading 2.3 of Book 2 p 94 gives a breakdown of Weber's sociological approach.  She points out that Weber was a 'methodological individualist'. in other words he thought that human social phenomena can be broken down into their individual parts rather than seeing abstract structures that can be independently identified as key to shaping society.

Weber believed in market determined 'life chances'.  This leads Weber into an analysis of class which is superficially similar to Marx's:

  • The working class as a whole
  • The petty-bourgeoise
  • Technicians / specialists / Lower level management
  • 'classes privileged through property and education' 

Weber thought that classes could carry a range of possible forms of class action but against Marx he considered that this wasn't necessarily the case that this would happen. He recognised that a mass of people who might be an average of the working class might temporarily identify interests but to place this on the pedestal of historical necessity is 'pseudo-scientific'.  

Max Weber Platz Munich

Max Weber Platz Munich. Nice to see sociologists gaining recognition within public space sommewhere.

Georg Simmel

Georg Simmel

Gerog Simmel

This image and quote is from the Emory University site. Please note the significant differences in translation! 

In DD 201 Simmel  is used in book 3 on Social Change.  Simmel was an important sociologist writing on the changes wrought by modernity in relation to the city at  the start of the 20th century. Simmel's essay'The Metropolis and Mental Life' has become a sociological classic. simmel is particualrly helpful when considering social change and the ways in which social interactions  in  the rapidly growing cities were changing  people's social behaviours in quite radical ways. 

The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his [sic] existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life. (Cited Social Change p 19)

Who's Who? Quiz on Sociological Theorists in DD201

Who's Who? Quiz on Sociological Theorists in DD201


As part of you revision exercises you will find it useful to memorise some of the main theorists that you have started to become familiar with. See if you can remember which ideas the following theorists are associated with. If you can link these ideas into the issues which the course books are dealing with in relation to their ideas.

Try and write down from memory what you can remember about their core ideas then click on the links to refresh your connections.  

Social Theorists

Karl Marx : Not yet open  

Max Weber  

Ferdinand Toennies  

Pierre Bourdieu

Michel Foucault

Henri Lefebvre : Not Yet open

Manuel Castells : Not yet open

Émile Durkheim :  Not yet open

T. H. Marshall : Not yet open

Anthony Giddens :  Not yet open

Georg Simmel

Jürgen Habermas : Not yet open 

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