Social Theory

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Last updated: March 28, 2019

Emile Durkheim has often been described as the founder of professional sociology. French by nationality, Durkheim based his theories within the French territorial affinity intellectually. Durkheim inherited the ideas of the Division of Labour and the Biological Analogy as social conditions.

Both of which derived from the initial findings of Comte and Saint-Simon’s work. Durkheim’s domain in sociology was centrally concerned with the social realm, which he believed differentiated from the psychological interests of the individual.It is thought that Durkheim’s sociological interests were rooted in the political sphere occurring in France during the period between, 1870 and 1895. As seen in the work of many theorists since the French Revolution. It was thought that the individual was separate from society and entered into the interests of economic necessity and self-interest. This was an issue that Durkheim thought threatened, the unity of social institutions and the environment of group interaction. It therefore inaugurated Durkheim to take a strong anti-individual stance, causing him to criticise the individual in relation to the growing autonomy.His central investigative focus was based on the concept that individual autonomy, only grows at the expense of the collective forces in society.

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In a continuation of Comte’s findings Durkheim regarded his positive approach as a scientific outlook on the world. Placing it on the same footing as that of natural sciences, such as physics or chemistry. In undertaking this idea, Durkheim maintained the view that, the only applicable guide to objective knowledge was that of a scientific method.As he believed that when sociology was a science of society it could comprise a “metaphysical abstraction and philosophical speculation. 1 In contrast to Comte’s typologies regarding utilitarianism Durkheim asserted the tendency demonstrated by utilitarians, in which individuals reduced by society ignored the larger structure of social rules which acted as restraints on individuals.

Durkheim however argued that utilitarian theory had entirely overlooked the social rules which acted as constraints on individual’s actions who behaved against the perceived social norms. The primary findings of Durkheim work focused on social differentiation and social solidarity.With regards to social differentiation Durkheim perceived it to have been formed due to the “specialisation of activities into a complex society. “2 Durkheim labelled this specialised society as the Division of Labour. In doing so he used the term to differentiate between economic principles, as “the supreme law of human societies and the condition of their progress. ” He also used this ideology to illustrate the adopted principles of specialized politics, administrative and scientific factors which extracted their limitations and differences in individuals earning capacity.Durkheim’s Division of Labour 1893 was an implemented “law” used to apply not only in the field of human societies but also to all other biological organisms. The noted correlation between the specialised parts indicated an extended scope in the division of Labour in making its origins simultaneous with the origins of life itself.

In focusing on solidarity, Durkheim tried to describe the degree in which he thought linked individuals to specific groups out with their own environment.In doing so he articulated two definitions “mechanical and organic solidarity. Primarily mechanical roots of solidarity were solely based on identity. In these communities the individual is thought to be connected to another through various channels of attachment to achieve equality. It also aimed to connect individuals so there is no distinction between individual ethics. Durkheim however believed that this principle was to be found in religious beliefs, which helped maintain all aspects of human life while incorporating the significance of the family role and political sphere.This solidarity also focused on the religious nature of common conscience. In doing so it suggested offences that were unorthodox would only be repressed, through the reaffirmation of beliefs incorporated in the individuals’ punishment.

Durkheim work also focused on the social bonds of people and regarded them as ones of compulsion opposed to convention. A secondary criterion of Durkheim’s mechanical solidarity was its “ability to mobilise the entire social mass of society due to the immense leverage the common conscience”3 held over ideals.In contrast the development of organic solidarity and its impact on the Division of Labour, principles were build upon communities of specialised labour forces. There bond therefore suggested that individuals were linked to each other in greater ways other than in society. In eliciting this concept he believed, that the system of social links integrated reliance on others to perform various economic functions in which they themselves were incapable of performing. Organic solidarity is also enhanced by the development of transportation and in the social setting.This shows a comparison to mechanical solidarity in which Durkheim believed social bonds were not forced or reaffirmed by religious beliefs, instead relationships were based on “occupation rather than by kinship affection.

.. of restitutive sanctions. “4 In parallel again with Comte’s findings, Durkheim documented the role that social cohesion and social integration showed a parallel with religious belief.

In his approach outlining the social conditions in relation to religion, Durkheim similar to Marx saw it as having a positive basis in society.As he believed that it held a “collective representation”5 which promoted social cohesion and allowed people to base rules and regulations as a direct comparison of French Protestantism. Weber on the other hand thought that religion promoted a conflict between the individual and society, Durkheim however believed that this ideology was abnormal; instead he believed religion to bind society in a cement to create a shared identity. In relation to society Durkheim took the view that restraint was imposed upon the individual and therefore was incremented.This therefore acted as the centralised ideology to Durkheim’s view of society. Despite Durkheim’s conflicting ideas of society a clear comparison in respect of Rousseau’s work could be shown.

Durkheim similarly to Rousseau believed that collective structures within the community of society, was separate by way of being independent of the individual. In underlining Rousseau’s earlier ideals Durkheim wanted social facts to form as the “environmental context”6 of a society. Durkheim’s second influential work focused on the established views of individualism, which remained a focal point in the latter nineteenth century.

It was at this time that significant debates among thinkers occurred, in taking up the ideas that relations between society and the individual caused obligations to occur, which in turn affected the interests and rights of the individual. Durkheim for one questioned that “social life would not be possible unless there were interests that were superior to the interests of the individual. “7 Durkheim’s 1895 publication on “The Rules of Sociological Matters” outlined the social facts and rules, which he believed were evident within sociological society.Durkheim coined the idea that social facts were external to, and coercive of, the individual. In turn Durkheim thought this affected an individuals behaviour, through trying to establish society as an entity “sui generis. ” In trying to understand social facts Durkheim believed that actions such as sleeping and eating were inherently different individual acts. If however these acts were present, then these actions would follow under the jurisdiction of biology and psychology, opposed to sociology.

Durkheim therefore argued that there were other acts which were inherently social, such as fulfilling duties as a citizen e. g. protesting. In order to qualify this as a social factor Durkheim believed two criterions must be satisfied; they must exist outside or prior to the individual. When understanding the importance of social facts Durkheim believed that “they were crucial in challenging utilitarian thinking and contemporary discussions from the individual motives to the laws of sociology.

8 Crime issues was another condition in which Durkheim had an interest in, he looked into crime as normal or pathological. In doing so he elicited the idea of anomie. As Emile Durkheim stated, it is the situation in which “individual actions are not properly regulated by shared norms”9 causing few moral standards to guide, conform and regulate them. Durkheim sought it responsible for the economic crisis and unattainable aspirations that were associated in rising crime and helplessness.In relation to understanding anomie, the effects of socio-economic change and how it jeopardizes social cohesion must be undertaken. In accordance to Durkheim, when the division of Labour was effectively established anomie would have a minimal impact on society. Durkheim however believed that social facts regulated human social action acted as constraints over individual behaviour and action. Durkheim identified two types of social facts; material and non-material facts.

Material social facts were regarded as being features of society such as social structures and institutions.These could be the economy, systems in law, religious aspects and education structures. They acted according to Durkheim as an important aspect in understanding the structures and interaction within any society. Non-material social facts in contrast were regarded as those who did not obtain material idealism. They consisted of factors such as norms, values and systems of morality. In Durkheim’s terminology, some of these nonmaterial social facts are collective consciousness and social currents.

An example of the latter is Durkheim’s research into suicide.Durkheim further speculates that it will be the professions in modern societies who were likely to maintain ethical harmony. In Durkheim’s study of suicide he outlined a methodology on social conditions, which could be an explanation of suicide rates in relation to various groups in society.

In outlining this typology Durkheim incorporated some of his earlier conclusion in relation to; religion, family relationships and economic crisis. It based the idea that lack of social solidarity, was a reason for suicide due to a lack of connections between integration and regulations in society.Therefore suicide is thought to have a direct link with poverty, continuing Durkheim’s ideology of positivism, based on specific characteristics.

In view of Durkheim’s positivist approach he outlined the structure of unity, in direct contact to natural sciences of work through observation opposed to factual methodology. This therefore is one of the weaknesses of Durkheim’s writings, as his social conditions on society and the division of Labour is based on empirical facts. Durkheim’s theory also presents an over socialised conception of individuals, due to the focus upon social order.This results from the perceived idea that all individuals who conform against societies norms are regarded as deviants. Although social facts can regulate human action in society and provide constraints, not all individuals cohere to societies ideals. Durkheim’s view on religion however is also one of a primitive nature, as his theory was based on contemporary anthropologies and early societies that assumed individuals were all alike in nature.

Durkheim also attempts to summarise human history into two classifications, that being mechanical and organic solidarity.Durkheim’s deep, if ambivalent debt to Rousseau was that if the division of Labour has no other role than to render “civilisation” possible, and then there would be no reason to grant it the status of a moral fact. At best civilisation would therefore be morally indifferent; and if its sole function was that the division of Labour would participate in this moral neutrality.

In contrast to his contemporaries, some of Durkheim’s ideologies were similar. This however has led to further criticisms of Durkheim’s typologies are they are based on over socialised conceptions of human interaction.Social facts may regulate human action and provide constraints over their behaviour not all individual cohere to them. In conclusion Durkheim’s original writings have been extremely influential, critiques in relation to his work occur as a result of the observational nature that Durkheim used to back up his findings.

Although there are limitations with regards to Durkheim’s social facts, he has made a major impact in sociology. In relation to the original writings of social conditions, his analysis has provided a way forward to the concepts of human norms and social interaction among individuals.

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