Durkheim on Solidarity and Social Facts

Topics: Solidarity

Durkheim had two major focal points in his studies. He talks about solidarity (mechanical and organic) and social facts. Durkheim states that division of labor is universal across society and is defined as the increase in specialization with regards to production and manufacturing. This division of labor creates solidarity. Solidarity is defined in sociology as something that attracts men strongly to one another, ensures frequent contacts between them, and multiplies the opportunities available to enter the mutual relationship. This solidarity can be split up into two kinds, mechanical and organic.

Previous to the division of labor, there was mechanical solidarity, which derives from resemblances and binds the individual directly to society. This type of solidarity rests on similarity. A part of this solidarity is religion. Durkheim created a functional definition of religion. According to Durkheim, religion increases solidarity because it is based on sacred objects and ceremonies that are essential for bonding and uniting groups of people. Religion also creates a type of collective consciousness (group thought) as well as a collective effervescence (emotional energy) from the gatherings.

After the division of labor, a new solidarity was created called organic solidarity. Organic solidarity links the individuals to the society through subparts of a society. It is a system of different and special functions united by definite relationships. Organic solidarity is based around a system of contracts, or a symbol of exchange that links one person and what they do to another person and what they do. This system of contracts can lead to a feeling of anomie, which a feeling of aimlessness or sense of despair.

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Social facts are aspects of social life that shape the behavior of individuals. These facts are external but very influential on a person. They are independent of the individuals will. There are material and non-material social facts. Material social facts can be said to occupy space in society. Non-material social facts are social facts which do not have a material reality. The best example of his application of social facts is his study on suicide. He said suicide is a disparity between people’s needs and society’s ability to meet and regulate them which makes suicide a social fact influenced by social currents.

Although Durkheim’s theory and terminology are based on society, it can also be applied to criminality. In regard to solidarity, mechanical and organic represented two different periods in time in which one provided insolation for crime and the other did not. Mechanical solidarity was pre-industrial. Life was described as traditional and simple and there were many small communities. During the time of mechanical solidarity, people had strong ties to both family and religion. They were what held people together and kept people on the correct path. These socially regulating institutions were severely weakened as a result of the industrial revolution. Post-industrial solidarity was referred to as organic solidarity. People were now tied to their work and wage which created a pressure to succeed. Success needed to be achieved by any means necessary, which made the terms right and wrong relative. It also made people experience a chronic state of anomie, which created a persistent demand for success, insatiability, and an all-encompassing fear of regression.

Durkheim claimed that in human nature could be split into two “self’s”. There is the social self and the primal self. According to Durkheim, the social self needs to be developed in order to prevent criminality. The only way to develop the social self is through integration, which is purpose or reason, and regulation, which is constraint. He says if you don’t have these, you can’t achieve social solidarity and the result will be anomie. The primal, or egoistic self, is what needs to be tamed. If it is not, one is more likely to commit criminal or delinquent acts. This is important because Durkheim claims that modernity develops the primal/egoistic self. That means that after the industrial revolution, in the time of organic solidarity, modernity is on the rise and as a result is helping to develop the part of human nature that makes one more likely to commit a criminal act.

Karl Marx was born in Germany in 1818 and although his father was forced to convert to Lutheranism due to the pressure of anti-Semitism, he was more influenced by the French enlightenment. Marx studied law and philosophy but became connected to the “Young Hegelians”, a radical anti-religious group of thinkers. According to Feuer and McLellan (2018), “as a youth [Marx] was influenced less by religion than by the critical, sometimes radical social policies of the Enlightenment, his Jewish background exposed him to prejudice and discrimination that may have led him to question the role of religion in society and contributed to his desire for social change.” Marx soon started questioning these theories for one’s based on materialism. He also rejected the belief in abstract ideas (e.g. religion) for concrete reality.

Marx’s bodies of thought were mainly focused around capitalism. He first introduces a ‘dialectic’ relationship between materialism (viewing physical objects as more important than spiritual connections) and idealism (creating or chasing ideas, sometimes ones that are unrealistic). He believed this thought and action created a unified whole, even if there is no interaction between them. This ‘dialectal materialism’ has four characteristics, Society is a social system (that society has interrelated parts forming an integrated whole), social change is inherent in all societies as people meet their needs (parts of society are often contains the potential for contradiction and conflict), social change evolves in a recognizable direction (society moves in ever more complex directions), freely-acting people can shape the direction of history given their class location (people are always in subordinate and conflicting relations through being in different classes and being exploited or exploiting others).

During this time, capitalism was growing and the result was the next stage of the industrial revolution. The main goal is to meet one’s primary needs (e.g. food, water, house). Once those needs were met the formation of secondary needs occurred. These secondary needs are leisurely acts such as the arts or higher education. The problem with this is the poor, because they had lower level jobs that didn’t make a lot of money, they were only able to pursue their primary needs. The wealthy, on the other hand, we able to pursue secondary needs. This caused a division of labor, which resulted in class divisions and ultimately class interests. Due to this split of the classes, ideas and knowledge was formed by economic and class interests.

Marx creates names for each side of this division, the Bourgeoisie and Proletariats. The Bourgeoisie are the one percent. They are the rich capitalists that own production and ultimately have control. The Proletariats are the other ninety-nine percent. They are the workers, deemed ‘slaves to the wage’. Marx claims that under capitalism that objects that people produce become a commodity that get sold as a product. This creates capital, or wealth. Workers end up becoming more and more alienated from their work. Marx wanted to understand the connection between religion and social/economic class and believed that religion was acting as a form of false consciousness, or a false way of viewing the world. He further explains his theory by stating that religion started as an explanation for unexplained natural forces, but now is applied to social forces and relations. In other words, religion was used to help comprehend things that had no answer yet (e.g. weather, disease), but was now being applied to everyday life, even if it had a reason. Marx saw religion as beneficial to the Bourgeoisie in two ways. First, it legitimized their place at the top of the economic ladder. On the other side of the coin, religion helped to comfort the lower-class Proletariats by viewing every action, good or bad, as “God’s will” and not anyone’s doing.

There seems to be only one way that this ends in Marx’s eyes, revolution. He says that the revolution happens in three steps. First, the Proletariats have to unite. The Bourgeoisie’s control comes from alienation and exploitation, and if that gets diminished, so does the power they have over the workers. Next, the Proletariats have to organize politically. This increases the chances of laws and policies being changed or created in their favor. Lastly, the ruling class will start to break apart and dissolve. The result will be ‘utopia’. In this ‘utopia’, division of labor is reversed, private property in abolished, and national history becomes world history because there will no longer be competition.

Marx is classified as a conflict theorist. Conflict theories are based on the assumption that powerful ruling political and social elites exploit the less powerful and use the criminal justice system to their own advantage to maintain power and privilege. These theorists believe that the state is organized to serve the interest of the dominant economic class. For Marx, this dominant class is the Bourgeoisie. He uses this powerful class along with the weaker class, the Proletariats, to explain his views on alienation and operation of the law.

To reiterate a previous point, the majority of the people are Proletariats while the Bourgeoisie have the majority of the money. The Proletariats are then forced to be workers and are not only slaves to a wage they are in a sense slaves to the production owners. This exploitation of workers is exemplified in the alienation within manufacturing. This can be broken down into four categories; process, product, others, and species-being. Workers are separated from the process because they are only one part of it. A worker does not see the whole thing through, they only see a tiny piece of it. This bleeds into the product part of alienation because of the disconnect from the final product. They also cannot usually afford the product in which they are producing. Competition over wages, positions within the company, and various other things contribute to the alienation from others. Lastly, species-being is one’s individuality and creativity. Workers follow certain rules and regulations the force conformity. This conformity diminishes uniqueness and eliminates certain differences between humans. Marx introduces the term surplus value as well. This is not part of his alienation theory, but it is another disconnect that he recognizes. He says there is a divide between the wage of the worker and the profit the company is making from those goods. For example, a worker in a factory for Apple makes ten dollars an hour making iPhones that sell for a thousand dollars apiece. A larger detachment between the rich and poor are a direct result this alienation and exploitation.

From either a sociological and criminological viewpoint, Marx believes that aspects of society like religion, ideas, and laws, serve the Bourgeoisie. He theorizes that certain acts are deemed criminal because the interests of the ruling class define them that way. He also believes that the same ruling class that defines criminal acts as such will be able to violate the laws without being punished while the lower class will be punished. Penal law will then expand in order to coerce the Proletariats into submission. One interesting claim Marx makes about crime is that is diverts the lower classes’ attention from the exploitation they experience and direct it toward other members of their own class rather than toward the capitalist class or economic system and that it only exists because it was created by the people whose interests it serves.

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Durkheim on Solidarity and Social Facts. (2022, Jun 30). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/durkheim-on-solidarity-and-social-facts/

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