Sociology is the study of how humans interact with each another, whether alone or in groups. But since the study of human interactions is a diverse subject, many sociologist, professional and non-professional, have observed and made conclusions based on their observations and thought. Two of these are Ferdinand Tonnies and Charles Dickens, and while Tonnies is regarded as one of the fathers of the science of sociology, Charles Dickens' writings have as much of a sociological theme as anything written by Tonnies. One of Tonnies' theories is what is called "Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft," and is commonly translated into English as "culture and society." This type of bipartisan split in society is also described by Charles Dickens in his "Hard Times," where his story centers on the lives of both wealthy and poor in a fictional Victorian industrialized city. In fact, "Hard Times," at its core, describes a society that is very similar in theme to Tonnies' idea of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.
In the 1800's, Ferdinand Tonnies was a leading German sociologist and developed the idea that social relationships fall into one of two categories: Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft. These two terms are generally translated into English as meaning "community" and "society;" however, since the two English words only capture part of the concepts, most sociologists continue to use Tonnies' German terms. Gemeinschaft as a concept, is generally associated with 'community" while Gesellschaft is usually associated with "society." But these terms are differentiated by Tonnies by whether or not they have "real organic life…, or else as a purely mechanical construction." (Tonnies, p. 17) In simple terms, Gemeinschaft, or community, was thought by Tonnies to have an organic origin, something that naturally forms between individuals in the same location. "In Gemeinschaft we are united from the moment of our birth with our own folk…" (Tonnies, p. 18) On the other hand was Gesellschaft, or society, which has social bonds that do not form naturally but must be created artificially. As Tonnies put it, "Gesellschaft means life in the public sphere, in the outside world." (Tonnies, p. 18) The natural relationships between neighbors, for example, are examples of Gemeinschaft, but an organization like a club, or business, something that must be conceived of, formed, and so on, is an example of Gesellschaft.
In the modern world, the concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft can be seen in something like a cooperative business. In a cooperative a number of individuals both live together, forming Gemeinschaft, or a community between the individuals. But a cooperative is also an economic endeavor, and therefore those same individuals must also form artificial constructs such as a board of directors, managers, etc.. In such a case, "Gemeinschaft norms rule rulings within the membership, while Gesellschaft norms dominate the business firms." (Nilsson, 2009)
Tonnies asserts the difference between the two terms as the difference between rural communities and urban societies. He also states the "wherever urban culture flourishes, Society also appears as its indispensable medium." (Tonnies, p. 19) But communities and societies are made up of human beings who interact with each other. Tonnies likens this to the interactions of atoms within matter, their attraction and repulsion, and their relations to the whole. But goes further by stating that as part of a whole, humans have an intrinsic understanding of ourselves as part of the whole, as well as the whole itself. He then makes an assertion that because humans are part of the understanding, and part of the whole, understanding can be shaped by human qualities. "Phenomena can be brought to life by an original outlook and creative imagination…" (Tonnies, p. 21) In other words, human creativity is every bit as much a part of human understanding as facts. And therefore, human creativity in understanding social and cultural interactions is every bit as important as science.
While Tonnies wrote in theoretical terms, Charles Dickens placed a great deal of reality within his stories, and "Hard Times" is no exception. It was the 19th century followers of utilitarianism that Dickens criticized in his novel, those people who put the theories of utilitarianism into practice in places like industrial factories. Utilitarianism professes a theory that the best decision made is the one that grants the most happiness to the most people, and therefore is consequential. This means that the outcome of an action determines it effectiveness, what is best for the most people is the correct course of action. But it is important to categorize the two branches of utilitarianism, first off is "act" utilitarianism, which takes the individual circumstances of the individual case into account when deciding what is in the best interests of the whole. On the other hand is what is called "rule" utilitarianism, where one must take into account many instances of the rule being called into question and decide whether following the rule would be best overall, in all the cases, not just one particular case. If it is decided that the rule produces the best results when always followed, then the rule is followed, always.
In both types of utilitarianism, "act" and "rule," one must first study the question of what will be the outcome of the act or rule if followed. Not only does this require a person to make a decision based on a possible outcome, but must also successfully predict that outcome. In Charles Dickens' time, those who were benefiting the most from industrialization, and the miserable conditions it produced for the masses of people, were the ones who decided what was in the best interest of all. It is no surprise then that they always chose what was best for themselves, and their small group of allies, as what produced the most happiness for the world in general. Somehow they were always able to justify the misery they inflicted on the working class as being necessary to produce the best overall results for society. In opposition to these were the socialists, who believed that the utilitarianism of the wealthy profited only the wealthy and did not bring the most happiness to the most people. Charles Dickens was one of these and in his "Hard Times" attempted to shed light on the struggle between the wealthy utilitarians, and the workers who they exploit.
In the story there are two competing themes, that of utilitarianism and socialism. Utilitarianism is represented by the characters of the wealthy, for instance, Louisa Gradgrind, who was brought up according to her father's utilitarian ideals and her life described as "monotonously round like a piece of machinery which discouraged human interface." (Dickens, 1854, p. 92) Her life is almost an artificial construct, something created artificially that must be endured by a human being. On the other hand is Sissy, who represents the socialistic point-of-view. Dickens, being a socialist, portrays Sissy's life as loving and warm. When asked by Louisa about her father, and if he was always kind to her, Sissy replies "Always, always…Kinder and kinder than I can tell." (Dickens, 1854, p. 96) The circus where she was raised was her communal family, and it shows in her warm and kind personality. There is a clear contrast between the two girls and their lives and families, Louisa is the product of a utilitarian upbringing, resulting in a non-emotional girl that has trouble interacting with others in social relationships. Louisa has mechanical reactions, not true emotional ones. But on the other hand Sissy, who was raised in a poor but loving and caring environment, is more capable of social relationships despite her poor education. In a way it is the education of Louisa that created her utilitarian personality.
When one reads Dickens' "Hard Times" in light of Tonnies' Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft theory, one can see clear correlation between the two. The utilitarian world of Mr. Bounderby can be seen as Gesellschaft, or the society that must be created when industrialization takes place. The artificial constructs of business, owner, worker, and union, the separation of different groups of people into bosses and employees, are all part of industrialization. These artificially created walls of separation between the wealthy and the poor can be thought of as the fundamental basis of Victorian industrialized society. On the other hand is Gemeinschaft, or community, which is represented by the poor working class people and their relationship to each other. The circus, for example, is a place where natural relationships form between individuals, relationships that are caring and nurturing. It exists outside of the boundaries of urban industrialization, and it is the place Sissy sends Tom Gradgrind when he is in trouble, as well as the place where Sissy gained her sense of community. The poor working class people are the ones in the story who have natural, organic relationships with each other. It is the Gesellschaft created by the poor workers that bring a sense of nobility to the common community where these people reside. For instance, Stephen Blackpool is described as "a good power-loom weaver, and a man of perfect…
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