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The Concept of Community and Formation of Communities

by Enes Ergene on . Posted in An Analysis of the Gülen Movement

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In the discipline of sociology, the concept of community (Gemeinschaft) derives its importance and complexity from the appearance of the "modern industrial society" which, in the West, has led to the dissolution of traditional identity structures and social organizational forms. In order to understand the concept of "community formation" in the Muslim world, it is well worth touching on the differences expressed in the way it is treated in both Western and Islamic imaginations.

Both in the cultural and epistemological sense, and also in the sense of historical, material and social circumstances, the existential foundation of community was formed differently in the West and in the Islamic world. The way the concept was treated in the West primarily followed a two part line. The first of these was the line of Karl Marx (d. 1883), Ferdinand Tönnies (d. 1936), and Max Weber (d. 1920). The aim of early theorists was to grasp the destructive and transformative power of modernity on human individuals and groups. Again, almost all of them—especially the earlier sociologists, like Marx, Weber, and Tönnies—observed the transformative effect of modernity first hand. Marx tried to define the economic dynamics of this transformation through labor, capital, government, and city. Partly influenced by Marx, Tönnies analyzed the shifts from traditional social life and hierarchy to modern social life and hierarchy. Weber analyzed the forms of social organization that emerged in modernity and the effects of the modern metropolis on different societies.

In his study on "community" and "society," Tönnies incorporated his concepts as "ideal types." He treated the togetherness of "community" as the most characteristic aspect of pre-modern, traditional society. According to him, community is made up of three basic motives and loyalties: blood, bond, and neighborhood. The basic forms of these elements are family, village, clan, provinces, guilds, and professional and religious unions, the family being the strongest. Social relations in pre-modern societies developed on the basis of solidarity, support, and sharing. Whether it be through bonds of blood, as in the family, or through rural territorial bonds, as in the village, town or clan, all "forms of community" produced traditional values that were shared by all. This is precisely the reason why these values were strong. With the emergence of industrial society, however, traditional and rural communities began to unravel. Gradually, rational relations replaced rural and traditional relations based on solidarity, sharing and support. At this juncture, the new social form that Tönnies calls "society" (Gesellschaft) emerged in opposition to "rural community" (Gemeinschaft). In traditional communities, shared feelings of loyalty and everyday necessities brought about shared habits, traditions, and rural values. In society, individuals are strangers to one another; they are disconnected and independent from one another. In community (Gemeinschaft), by contrast, people are connected to each other despite all sorts of differences.

Another sociologist who incorporated the concepts of "community" and "society" was Weber. Weber added a more dynamic view of community than that of Tönnies. He stressed the continuity of community, and claimed that human beings always develop the will and awareness to group around shared ideals and interests. This will and awareness is present in industrial societies, just as it was present in pre-modern societies. Still, Weber maintains that the group organized in the form of a community will, sooner or later, lose its social existence in modern society.

Tönnies and Weber have exerted great influence over community sociology and analyses in both methodological and conceptual terms, not to mention the manner in which these analyses are conducted. The concept of community that is appearing again at the heart of modern Western cities still represents provincial roots, and the culture of run-down immigrant and working-class neighborhoods that have failed to integrate to the modern city culture. The sense of loyalty found in the phenomenon of "community formation" is derived from pre-modern human relations. Yet, blood and territorial bonds have reproduced themselves in the city in more abstract terms. In countries like Turkey, working-class neighborhoods that have not been integrated to modern life have a communal affiliation of "fellow townsmen" (hemşehri), which reveals itself in a warm and welcoming context. But sooner or later they will integrated to modern life.