Parsons and Nisbet : two versions of sociological communitarianism

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The long-awaited, posthumous publication of American Society: Toward a Theory of Societal Community promises a new stage in Parsonian scholarship, for it represents the author’s last attempt at a synthesis of his empirical and theoretical works over four decades. Existing literature on the magnum opus is still preliminary, focusing largely on its thematic relevance to social inclusion, civil society and multiculturalism. These discussions share an abiding concern with the potential of modern society to furnish a viable institutional and moral framework in which individual and sociocultural differences can be at once contained and enhanced. An adequate treatment of these and other contemporary issues, however, presupposes a conceptual exposition of Parsons’s understanding of community per se. Instead of following the nostalgic call for a return to tradition, Parsons maintains that the quest for community need not compromise our commitment to modern values such as individual autonomy and social justice. Indeed, the very notion of societal community reveals Parsons’s overarching purpose to go beyond the longstanding dichotomy of community and society, or in Tonnies’s terms Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. In this regard, the crystallization of societal community in the context of American modernity can be taken as Parsons’s final, definitive answer to Durkheim’s question: “How does it come about that the individual, whilst becoming more autonomous, depends ever more closely upon society?” A sustained reflection on this question appears all the more necessary in light of the pervasive sense of “crisis of the social” in our age of relentless globalization and individualization.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Anthem companion to Talcott Parsons
EditorsA. Javier TREVIÑO
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherAnthem Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9780857281838
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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