Gemeinschaft Revisited: A Critique and Reconstruction of the Community Concept

Authors


Steven Brint Department of Sociology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92507; e-mail: brint@mail.ucr.edu

Abstract

Community remains a potent symbol and aspiration in political and intellectual life. However, it has largely passed out of sociological analysis. The paper shows why this has occurred, and it develops a new typology that can make the concept useful again in sociology. The new typology is based on identifying structurally distinct subtypes of community using a small number of partitioning variables. The first partition is defined by the ultimate context of interaction; the second by the primary motivation for interaction; the third by rates of interaction and location of members; and the fourth by the amount of face-to-face as opposed to computer-mediated interaction. This small number of partitioning variables yields eight major subtypes of community. The paper shows how and why these major subtypes are related to important variations in the behavioral and organizational outcomes of community. The paper also seeks to resolve some disagreements between classical liberalism and communitarians. It shows that only a few of the major subtypes of community are likely to be as illiberal and intolerant as the selective imagery of classical liberals asserts, while at the same time only a few are prone to generate as much fraternalism and equity as the selective imagery of communitarians suggests. The paper concludes by discussing the forms of community that are best suited to the modern world.

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