Durkheim's concepts

Topics: Solidarity

The fact that we have a society at all is a kind of amazing. People with different interests, different amounts of money, and members of different sub cultures, races, and sexual orientations, somehow all manage to hold together in this thing we called society. The thing that at least kind of works. But it doesn’t just hold together. Society has to somehow endure periods of intense change without falling apart. Political change, technological change, population growth, economic crisis, all these things can be massively disruptive.

Sometimes we might even worry that the fabric of society won’t be able to take the stress. And it’s these questions of how society holds together and how to understand when it goes wrong that Emile Durkheim one of the founders of sociology tried to answer. Sociology was to be a truly scientific study of society. With it we could understand its normal and abnormal functioning. We could diagnose how it was changing and we could deal with the consequences.

To him, sociology was to society what biology and medicine were to the human body. According to his thinking society as a kind of organism, made up of different parts which all had to function well together in order for that organism to be healthy.

This basic understanding of society in terms of structures that fit together and which function either well or poorly makes Durkheim the founder of the structural functionalist paradigm. If sociology was to be a true science, then it needed well defined methods and Durkheim focused a lot of his effort on this problem.

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He was committed to sociology as an empirical endeavor. He was the first in the field to think in terms that we now consider standard in sociology. Like thinking about the problem of operationalizing variables, and puzzling over how intangible concepts, like social integration or solidarity can be reflected in things that we can actually measure.

Durkheim’s concept of society

Durkheim had a burning desire to know what held society together. So, he became the individual who laid out the rules for researching human behavior and social relations and he came up with the important idea of social facts and the notions that social groups can be understood through social facts. He encapsulates the ideas on social groups and social facts. Social groups are collection of people who interact on the micro level, hold similar or related expectations about behaviors and share a common identity. After all social groups commenced from the society and the integration exists within the society. Social solidarity refers to the strength of the link that connects individual within a group. He theorized that there are two factors behind social solidarity i.e. organic solidarity and mechanical solidarity.

Mechanical solidarity links together people through similarities of beliefs , positions and behaviors or a collective consciousness. This collective consciousness is what is formed when several people maintain strong social ties and hold the same beliefs based on similar individual characteristics for example a small rural farming community would be an example of a strong mechanical solidarity. Characterized by this type of solidarity all tend to think the same about lots of things like events, politics, values, languages and dialects. These common characteristics bring them together. Organic solidarity is next social solidarity and Durkheim believed that this was more prevalent in modern societies. Basically this type of solidarity calls for people to be united not based on similar beliefs but on interdependence. Organic solidarity is the linking of a social structure through differences and functional interdependence.

Each part of the social structure needs all the other parts to give one another meaning this is kind of like how the organs of a living organism work .Hence, organic solidarity each part does its own thing and analogous to this concept each member of a social group plays a particular role in making that group work . For instance, the individuals that work on a factory floor assembly line making some products, each person contributes to the purpose of the group. The production without everyone doing his part it would be incomplete while each person does a different job and each is important to this production .However, each person may be different and may have different interests, likes and dislikes in fact these people on the assembly line may even hate each other’s guts but that doesn’t matter because each worker still needs the other to complete the production work. They are interdependent. But like mechanical solidarity that doesn’t mean that they all share the same beliefs. Hence, society holds together at first and later on again it’s dividing and makes us more individual. Since, organic solidarity followed mechanical solidarity.

Durkheim’s concept of Suicide

Suicide is a psychological phenomenon, individual phenomena all of which is relevant was the person depressed and they have catastrophe and their life thinks of that nature. But Durkheim said while that’s all true he wanted to get more specific than that and look at other aspects as well. He wanted to look at group behavior. Suicide is literally a human action because it is intentional which means that human beings choose means to achieve goals and in this case person chooses to suicide as a means to an end to their end but is that the only phenomenon that the individual is trying to end? Oftentimes people want to end physical pain, psychological pain or both because every single individual is unique.

Durkheim examined the archival data on suicide in European nations in later 1800s. He found that the same social positions, the same statuses had higher rate of suicide. He also found that suicide rate stay about the same from year to year as long as the basic social conditions remain the same. So, those two things indicated the Durkheim that there’s something sociological reason going there. Then he found that suicide rates are connected to two social facts, social regulation and social integration. Social integration occurs when one identifies with the goals of the groups to which one belongs .Social integration can be low and also high.

Durkheim found that if there is equilibrium in terms of social integration that work like buffer individuals who are suicidal are less likely to commit suicide if there’s equilibrium in between egoistic and altruistic. Durkheim called suicides that occur when social integration is too low egoistic and he called those when integration is too high altruistic. Thus, modernization leads every individual to be updated and maintain equal status among all peoples within the society. In case if suddenly one becomes rich in fast pace then usually everyone thinks that they are happy moving into the high class society. But Durkheim explained it as those moving into high class likely to feel miserable because they are not used to with those societies and kill themselves. Due to the competitive age people tends to achieve more than others and if not possible they commit suicide, crime in a society hence, Durkheim considered it as an important part of the society to evolve.

Society and suicide

Durkheim thought that any science needed a well defined object of study. And the object for Durkheim was the social fact. In his book “Rules of sociological Method” he defines social fact as – “consisting of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, who are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him.” The fact is very broad. At first Social facts includes everything from political systems to beliefs about right and wrong, to suicide rates, to holiday celebrations and architectural styles. Secondly, social facts are external to the individual.

This is quite confusing that how can a way of thinking be external to a person? But Durkheim means here is that social facts have a life outside of us. For instance, people give gifts at Christmas, while thinking for a second about why. That’s not something that came up with on own. Giving gifts at Christmas wasn’t an individual’s idea. It’s a social fact, with an existence that’s external to person. If Christmas is not celebrity the strength of Christmas as a social fact in the US means person probably already experienced. The idea that social facts are powerful and coercive and they can make individuals to do things otherwise wouldn’t. Social facts include all kinds of things. They help dictate way to interact to neighbors and how to relate to society. Social facts and their coercive power represent a form of social cohesion, which points back to original question: how societies hold together and how they can go wrong.

Durkheim’s answer to the question of social cohesion is what he called the common or collective consciousness. “The common consciousness is basically the collection of all the beliefs, morals and ideas that are the social facts in a given society.” And with gift giving at Christmas, these beliefs aren’t necessarily held by everyone. They’re just the beliefs that hold coercive power. They’re the ideas that people give life to in their interactions with one another. Thus, common consciousness holds a society together.

But there arise the question, what are the problems? What is social dysfunction? Durkheim argued that if society is an organism, then dysfunction must be thought of as a disease. But Crime would be a social dysfunction in this point. Durkheim argued that crime can’t be a disease, because every society has it. People don’t like crime but some amount of crime is normal. Furthermore, Durkheim argued that crime serves a purpose. For instance, he said that crime helps strengthen the common consciousness.

To him, crime and punishment were a kind of public lesson in right and wrong: When someone is judged and punished, that shows us both society’s morals and how strong those morals are. Crime can also point to possible changes in the common consciousness. Crime in and of itself isn’t necessarily a dysfunction, but just like how sleeping 18 hours a day, everyday might be a sign of disease, if the level of crime in a society becomes excessive, it would eventually stop serving these functions, and the society could no longer function normally. And that’s what social dysfunction is for Durkheim: something that impedes the normal functioning of society.

Since, Durkheim is structural functionalist; social dysfunctions always have larger structural causes. They are created by some underlying problem with the social organism. Durkheim applied this idea in his famous book on suicide. It might be strange to think of suicide as social at all, but Durkheim argued that there was actually a very strong link between societal structure and people taking their own lives. And he found this link in a dysfunctional aspect of his society: namely, in a lack of social integration. When Durkheim looked at the statistics on suicide in Europe over the 19th century, he saw a massive increase one that coincided with the shift from traditional to modern society.

Durkheim argued that traditional societies like those of feudal Europe – were highly socially integrated. People knew their place in society, what that place meant and how they related to other people. But modern society, over the preceding century, had suffered from a loss of social integration. The decreasing importance of religion, and of other traditional ways of thinking, resulted in a smaller, weaker common consciousness and a less intense communal life. As a result, people were less strongly bound to their society. They didn’t necessarily feel they had a place in it and couldn’t understand how they fit. This Durkheim argued, resulted in a dramatically increased suicide rate.

Now, suicide is certainly a personal act, motivated by personal feelings or psychological conditions. But Durkheim showed how these personal feelings were not purely personal, and that they were influenced by the structure of society. In this case he argued that the values holding society together were being pulled apart, and so people lost their sense of place. Feelings of isolation or meaninglessness could be traced back to large social changes. And Durkheim, in diagnosing the problem, believed he had a solution. “If a high suicide rate was a disease, Durkheim’s prescription was to strengthen social organizations- especially those based around the workplace, because that’s where people were spending more and more of their time.” He figured that these organizations –sort of like worker’s guilds – could help provide people with that sense of place that they were lacking.

Now, many sociologists today see that Durkheim’s work on suicide was undermined by the poor quality of statistics at the time. But still he used those statistics in new ways, as evidence and tests for theories of society. Society is composed of social facts, and bound together by common consciousness. This normal functioning can evolve, but it can also be disrupted by rapid change. And that, Durkheim believed, is where sociology steps in. By studying society scientifically, and understanding social facts, sociologists can diagnose the disease and prescribe the cure.

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Durkheim's concepts. (2022, Jun 30). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/durkheim-s-concepts/

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