Mary Ann Allison has coined the term ”gecyberschaft“.

As a former sociologist, I’m intrigued by a concept extending Ferdinand Tönnies’ distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesllschaft. As a German speaker, I’m horrified by the hideous neologism and bemused that a PhD thesis that has such a linguistically silly device at its heart would be accepted by a major university. And I’m not the only German who feels this way.

Here’s what I wrote in the comments of Jeff Jarvispost about this.:

This is certainly extreme language torture.

You can’t just create German words in the form Ge-x-shaft. It has been used here for aestetic effect rather than to convey any meaning. Tönnies’ juxtaposition between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft</a> only worked because there happened to be two perfect words begining with ge-.

The reason the German sociology jargon is so rich is that the obvious etymology of German words conveys the historical processes that Tönnies was hinting at.

Gemein means “common” and is the root of Gemeinde (which can mean “municipality”, “parish”, “congregation” or “audience”, depending on context). Hence Gemeinshaft. Geselle (journeyman), gesellen (to join), gesellig (sociable). Hence Gesellshaft (society).

By contrast “Gecyber” means, well, nothing. So all this good stuff gets lost. Neither, I’m afraid, does “Gememe”. A more effective German term for this nice idea is unlikely to provide a nice alliteration with Tönnies’s.

A better word for an mediated community where individual status derives from the meritocratic assessment of ideas came quickly, from commentor AST: Beachtungsgemeinschaft, (community of recognition).

But this raises problems of its own. The core Gemeinschaft is still in there, helpfully hinting at what I think is probably a more fundimental critique.

From what I can gather having not read the paper (is it available anywhere?), I suspect that the concept, whatever it is ultimately called, is a bit superfluous. After all, the whole point of the distinction is that large modern societies (Gesllschaft) are distinct from small traditional face-to-face communities (Gemeinschaft) because they employ more complex forms mediation. To specify a new word for a form of Gesellschaft that relies on a the internet is redundant. The change just isn’t revolutionary enough to warrent a new “normal type”. All modern societies are mediated in some way — the Internet merely creates new forms of this well-known phenomenon. If the stress is on the potential for this community to be global in scope, then this sounds like just another re-statement of the globlisation thesis, particularly the issue of “deterritorialised” societies.

The ideal of a society where intellectual meritocracy is divorced from other forms of status is also nothing new. It’s the heart of Habermas’s 30-year old notion of the ideal public sphere. The problems with that is, of course, that true meritocratic assessment is impossible because access to whatever media the society uses to create itself are inevitably unequal. The Internet and blogs do not solve this problem, as the much-discussed issue of power laws highlights.