From Community Living to Social Living: How Do the Human Differences Work?

From the lecture series: Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science

By Steven Gimbel, Ph.D., Gettysburg College

Sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies championed a view that brought out a clear difference between community living and social living. The people living in a community are bound together by the common things among them. On the other hand, the society is distinguished by its diversity. Here, people of diverse cultures and preferences share a common space.

An aerial view of beautiful community homes.
Community living means that its members live close together, which, in turn, gives them common experiences. (Image: Jamen Percy/Shutterstock)

Cities Hold the Answer

If we think of cities like New York, London, and Berlin, that we call cosmopolitan, then these are the places where we get a feeling that we are surrounded by the whole world. We hear languages being spoken from around the world. We also have a choice in food. Whenever we want, we can eat Indian, Thai, Peruvian, or even French food. We will also find the cuisines of different regions being blended to produce innovative items to eat.

Ferdinand Tönnies argued that the sign of modernization was the creation of robust societies and mass scale relocation of people from community living of the rural areas to the social living of industrialized cities. The migration to the cities played a very important role in the way human life was lived.

Societies Turn Into Communities

A portrait of Ferdinand Tönnies.
German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies was of the opinion that community living could not vanish easily. (Image: Ferdinand Urbahns/Public domain)

But while the urban residents of the early 20th century found themselves removed from the close communities of their grandparents, Tonnies still thought that community living was not vanishing. His argument was that societies turn into communities.

Community living means that its members live close together, which, in turn, gives them common experiences. These include experiencing the same weather and cheering for the same sports team. These common experiences let societies draw such lines by which they are bound together. This makes those experience some kind of a unified community living. Likewise, societies arise out of communities. It doesn’t matter how similar we are, we will always find something on which we can differ, even if it is a very small thing, and then we will use this difference to separate ourselves.

This is a transcript from the video series Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Creating Community Living

Dr. Suess told a children’s tale about star-bellied Sneetches. They were similar types of beings and the only difference was that some of them had a star on their bellies while others didn’t have it. This very small difference led to their split and a separate community living and the creation of a hierarchical class structure.

We, humans, are also like those Sneetches. We always find newer ways of creating factions among ourselves and to divide ourselves. Out of these, some of the lines deciding us are real. The differences between people are actual. But, we may not be sure whether it is a good idea or not to create in-groups and out-groups by using these differences on the basis of the context. But we still do it.

Lean more about reality as understood by the ancient Greeks.

Differences Are Important

Let’s take an example. People with physical limitations have special parking places designated for them. And to be allowed to be a part of this group and make use of these places, there is a system that provides markers of membership to some people and not all of them—and a special license plate or a tag that has to be hanged and displayed. If, for some reason, someone who is not a part of this group parks their vehicle in any of these spots, there is a punishment that ranges from a ticket with a fine or is condemned socially.

But even if we think that for some purposes these actual differences are good for drawing the defining lines among us, at the same time, we also understand that sometimes these lines that we draw are illegitimate and should be wiped off for a healthy community living. For example, there are non-discrimination laws in place that try to ensure that these lines are not used to put obstructions in the employment opportunities for people.

Although these divisions may be good or bad, we sometimes fragment our community living into social living where the boundaries are created arbitrarily. In fact, this is something that is not actually the part of a real-world itself, but a fiction created by us. 

Learn more about the underlying reality that governs the universe.

Communities and Their Cultures

Left to its own, customs of any culture adapt to its context. Within a community living, there are certain needs that have to be fulfilled, and if it is determined by the larger of the cultures, then one community will have an abundance of resources while it will minimize the resources available to another community.

And, as a result of that, the expectations of behavior, the institutions created, and the way of living will become different even if these two communities share a common boundary. The isolation will be greater if the boundary is more rigid.

Thus, there will be the creation of more distinct sub-cultures by them. Social scientists have observed two phenomena to fortify the division that is splitting the society into different communities: in-group chauvinism and the fundamental attribution error.

Social Changes Are Unavoidable

But Bob Dylan famously sang, ‘The times they were-a-changin’. The walls that were dividing the society into separate community living were beginning to be demolished. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had famously said during the civil rights struggle, “The moral arc of the universe bends towards justice.” He could see that the changes in the culture were the unavoidable result of a fixed social trajectory. His firm belief was that the progress of humans was real that was an undeniable aspect of social reality itself. But is it really so? The question still remains—is there really social development? Are we really growing and improving?

Common Questions about Community Living

Q: What is community living?

The term community living shows the increased understanding that everyone has a right to integrated living within the community. This includes the right to work, the right to education, and the right to live and enjoy retired life.

Q: How does community living benefit us?

In community living, we are able to maintain interactions with our peers which keeps our mind focused and sharp.

Q: How is community living important for humans?

In community living, people are brought together by a common thread to support each other in the fight against similar threats. As humans, each one of us needs a sense of belonging which is what connects us to those relationships that we develop with each other.

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