Living the questions: useful sociological distinctions edition

Bicycle repair, Kurdish style.

Why is Turkey so different from America? And why do I like Turkey so much? These are questions I have been asking myself, and they are questions others will probably ask of me when I return to the US in three weeks. The distinctions offered below, developed by German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies and noted in an article we read in class,* helped give me a vocabulary to answer those two questions.

I am not going to try to answer the questions now–I still have 22 more days to find more reasons to like Turkey or new reasons to hate it–but in the meantime maybe you will find the definitions useful or interesting, as I did.

Society as Gemeinschaft: a community which consists of face-to-face relationships with known persons, many of whom are related by blood or marriage.The members of the community accept a common moral convention which is more or less unquestioned, and their experience of social relations involves many occasions on which the individual is able to identify strongly with others. Society as Gemeinschaft is experienced as enduring and constraining. As made, cannot be unmade or remade. Personal identities are given at birth based on family, social positions, community, region, gender.

Society as Gesellschaft: organizations, associations, and arrangements which are based on formal institutions, legal statues, or passing fashion. It includes not only government, bureaucracy, army and school, but also corporations, clubs, and partnerships. It is not experienced as morally given but as subject to revision, revocation, or transition. Society as Gesellschaft, which has a more or less temporary and provisional dimension, is experienced as “constructed,” meaning it can be made or unmade. Personal identity is constructed with less definite normative foundations.

* Michael E. Meeker, “New Islamic Intellectuals in the Republic of Turkey,” Islam in Modern Turkey, 1991


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