Unraveling Durkheim's Theory of Social Structures
Durkheim was a contemporary of Weber, but his work was very much different. BothMarx and Weber are generally known as conflict theorists. But, Durkheim believed thatharmony, rather than conflict, defined society. He had different ideas considering social facts,solidarity and societal cohesion. He examines social facts with regard to their purpose inproducing or facilitating social cohesion. He studied the division of labor, from this point ofview. While Weber was preoccupied with rationality, Durkheim is mainly concerned withsolidarity: what holds society together? Durkheim believed that solidarity was the normal formof society, and although he recognized the disorder associated with industrialization, heconsidered conflict abnormal.
Durkheim seems in general confident about the prospects formodern society and the division of labor; nevertheless, he also has fears and apprehensions withregards to the same. So as to understand these fears and apprehensions it is moreover importantto look at what the division of labor is, and how it has emerged; the shift from primitive societyto modern society.1.1 Forms of SolidarityWhile the division of labor might be at first being taken as only an economic term,Durkheim believed its true purpose to be in increasing solidarity between people. He definessolidarity as “cohesion of human groups into a social unity” and identifies two types ofsolidarity:a) mechanicalb) organic21.1
A primitive society is characterized by mechanical solidarity. These societies tended tobe small and homogeneous, meaning there is little differentiation in the kinds of labor thatindividuals engage in. Social relations are regulated by a shared system of beliefs, whatDurkheim called the common conscience. A typical example is a situation in which the father isthe hunter whereas the mother is the career and housekeeper. The daily tasks of any given familyessentially look like that of the next family, and so on. There is little or no division of labor andpeople are linked to each other only through similar beliefs, and do not depend on one anotherfor subsistence. Durkheim claims that primitive societies have a stronger common consciousnessbecause they all do alike things and consequently have more mutual understandings, norms, andbeliefs. In a sense, they belong to society, not to themselves. An example of a mechanical societyis tribal societies.1.1(b)
A modern society is characterized by organic solidarity. As society develops andbecomes less primitive, it moves towards organic solidarity. Organic solidarity does not comefrom the collective conscience, but rather, from the division of labor. In this type of society,people are dependent on others and what they produce to survive. They are not like people inprimitive societies who are basically self-sufficient. Instead, they need to rely on many others,such as the grocer, baker, butcher, mechanic, teacher, guard and so forth. This interdependencecauses not only more solidarity, but also a more evident moral character, wherein individuals feelresponsible for one another. It is the differences among the people that held together this type ofsociety. Organic solidarity is possible only when individuals are specialized and different.3This chart help show the emphasis of individual and common in past and present societies.
To measure the decline in mechanical solidarity, Durkheim has explored the law systemin both the traditional and modern societies.1.2 Types of LawsDurkheim believed that social life takes a specific and structured form and the best indicatorof this organization is law. He identifies two types of law:a) Repressive Lawb) Restitutive Law1.2(a) Repressive LawIn these early societies, Durkheim argues that legal codes or the system of law tends to berepressive law or penal law. The goal of repressive law is to punish the individual. Repressivelaw, which centers on punishment, is diffused all through a whole society, imbedded in theconscience collective, and reflects the morals of the society. This type of society does not have avery developed judicial institution because it reacts collectively when there is a crime. Most4people feel the offense, and regardless of how serious it is, severe punishment is likely to bemeted out for it. Penal law involves sanctions only, and there is no mention of obligations.
Punishment is harsh, maybe death or dismemberment. Moral obligation and duty is not stated inthe punishment, because this is in general understood. Rather the punishment is given, and that isthe completion of the penalty. Durkheim said laws changed from repressive in mechanicalsolidarity to restitutive in organic solidarity.1.2(b) Restitutive LawAccording to Durkheim, in modern societies, the legal system tends to be restitutive law.The aim of restitutive law is only to make sure that people abide by to previously establish legalcodes.
Restitutive law represents civil, commercial, procedural, administrative, and constitutionallaws. It reflects the many diverse and complex fields of society. Restitutive sanctions involverestoration and the re-establishment of relationships rather than severe punishment. In this typeof society, when there is a crime the people will be concerned but not directly (centrifugalmovement).
Although some repressive laws continue in organic societies in extreme cases,restitutive law is the norm for most offenses.51.3 ConclusionDurkheim’s optimism with the division of labor was because of the fact that it brought aboutorganic solidarity. But he also had doubts due to the rise of a new form of individualism. He wasvery much concerned, with the loosening of moral bonds, and believed that people would beexposed to an egoistic individualism. It will be a situation where there will be excessiveindividualism and weakening of social bonds. This as said by Durkheim is problematic, as asociety in which individuals only chases their own interests would definitely fall to pieces. Healso points out that division of labor does not always produce cohesion; in some cases it was inan anomic state, whereby, individuals sometimes experience alienation from group goals andvalues.
Durkheim assumes that division of labor is spontaneous and voluntary in order to make itaffective, but most people nowadays who go into jobs do not like that division of labor. Thereare people who go in a job in a sense that they have to have a job and money and not becausethey think that the job they are doing is the job of their life. In these cases they are forced to acertain extent into the division of labor. Moreover he believes that once people are in these jobsthey feel they are doing something worthwhile and contributing but in reality those people feel asense of alienation and pointlessness all their life. Therefore, we can say that our society is tocertain extent held by the division of labor, but it is not the solution to moral integration andsocial integration.
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