Cosmopolitan sociology and the classical canon: Ferdinand Tönnies and the emergence of global Gesellschaft




How relevant are figures from the classical sociological canon for present day efforts to found cosmopolitan forms of sociological thought? According to the critique of Ulrich Beck, the classical sociologists remain far too wedded to nation-state-centred ways of thinking to play an important role in the development of cosmopolitan sociology. This paper argues that such a critique fails to account for the ways in which certain classical sociologists were attuned to the emerging cosmopolitical conditions of their own time, were not wholly wedded to nation-state-based conceptualizations, and thus can function as both groundings of, and inspirations for, cosmopolitan sociological endeavours. The apparently unpromising case of Tönnies is focused on, the paper showing how he outlined an account of how and why a planet-spanning condition of Gesellschaft developed a position which diverges from and counterpoints Marx's analysis of similar phenomena in important ways. The stereotype of Tönnies as an arch-conservative is also dissolved, allowing him to be considered as one of the most important antecedents of contemporary cosmopolitan sociological practice and a canonical figure still relevant for present-day purposes.