December, 2014

Between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

The Stories We Tell
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Chapter Description:

We live, simultaneously, in two worlds. The first world, "Gemeinschaft," is the sphere in which solidarity and the moral approbation of one's fellow men matters. It is the world that F.A. Hayek called the "intimate order" or "micro-cosmos" - the world in which people possess a great deal of local knowledge about those with whom they interact. The second world, "Gesellschaft," is the context in which social relationships are means of satisfying individual aims and purposes through impersoneal mechanism such as those found in market capitalism. Hayek described this world as the "extended order" or "macro-cosmos." The authors show how the lines between the intimate order and the extended order can become blurred in a post-disaster context. They present narratives that guided the strategies of people who returned to participate in the rebuilding of their communities following Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, the authors describe how returnees developed narratives with plots emphasizing their resilience and their damaged communities as central characters as a means of navigating the newly problematized middleground between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.

Book Description:

Since the end of the Cold War, the human face of economics has gained renewed visibility and generated new conversations among economists and other social theorists. The monistic, mechanical "economic systems" that characterized the capitalism-vs.-socialism debates of the mid-20th century have given way to pluralistic ecologies of economic provisioning in which complexly constituted agents cooperate via heterogeneous forms of production and exchange. Through the lenses of multiple disciplines, this book examines how this pluralistic turn in economic thinking bears upon the venerable social-theoretic division of cooperative activity into separate spheres of impersonal Gesellschaft (commerce) and ethically thick Gemeinschaft (community). Drawing resources from diverse disciplinary and philosophical traditions, these essays offer fresh, critical appraisals of the Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft segregation of face-to-face community from impersonal commerce. Some authors issue urgent calls to transcend this dualism while others propose to recast it in more nuanced ways or affirm the importance of treating impersonal and personal cooperation as ethically, epistemically, and economically separate worlds. Yet even in their disagreements, our contributors paint the process of voluntary cooperation – the space commerce and community – with uncommon color and nuance by traversing the boundaries that once separated the thin sociality of economics (as science of commerce) from the thick sociality of sociology and anthropology (as sciences of community). This book facilitates critical exchange among economists, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, and other social theorists by exploring the overlapping notions of cooperation, rationality, identity, reciprocity, trust, and exchange that emerge from multiple analytic traditions within and across their respective disciplines.