Research Paper: Theoretical Contributions of Durkheim and Allport

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¶ … theoretical contributions of Durkheim and Allport, paying specific attention to structure/function, social facts/dynamic structures, anomie/taboo, and collective representations/social aggregates. It shows them to be similar and different in significant ways.

Comparison of the Theories of Durkheim and Allport

An instructive comparison can be made of the theories of Emile Durkheim and Floyd Allport. Both men formulated important concepts applied in the realm of social psychology. Durkheim was the founder of the functionalist perspective in sociology. He made significant steps in grounding the new discipline late in the 19th century in empirical science, insisting that it has its own subject matter that could only be understood outside the framework of biological or individual factors. Allport proposed an entirely new approach to social psychology with his dynamic-structural theory of behavior. This essay will focus primarily on a comparison of the theoretical contributions of these two social psychologists rather than on their empirical findings.

The Goal: Function or Structure

Durkheim broke with the tradition of a priori principles. Out of the particulars, he looked for explanatory laws. In the Division of Labor (1984), for example, he studied moral facts which derive from and express moral codes. This study was concerned to show the function of the division of labor (i.e., the social need it fulfills) by getting at the conditions upon which it depends (p. 6). The concepts of function and condition were emphasized in his theory. Giddens (1978) comments, "If we see this, we then appreciate that moral codes are grounded in the social conditions of existence, such that the forms of morality appropriate to one society would be quite inappropriate in the context of another" (p. 27). In Durkheim's view, different moral codes will spring up in different social conditions that are representative of those conditions. He studied individuals in society to ascertain what those conditions and laws were, and how they functioned.

Floyd Allport in his important work Theories of Perception and the Concept of Structure (1955) attempted a synthesis of the major contributions to theories of perception. He noticed a structure in the perceptual act. Allport (1955) saw "the clear evidence that a perceptual act is really a dynamically operating structure" (p. 612). It contained the dynamic structure of a self-closed but interwoven process of kinematic events. These events were interactive with the environment, not isolated from surrounding events. Further, they involved the accumulation and expenditure of energies (p. 613). This viewpoint seems contrary to Durkheim. Allport's notion of structure pays no attention to social function. It is based on the a priori notion of universal or structural truths that Durkheim wanted to avoid. He proposed that "structures are neither random, endlessly varied, inexplicable, nor amenable only to quantitative laws, but that there is such a thing as unique structural law sui generis" (p. 622). Durkheim worked from social phenomena to get at prior conditions and social function, while Allport described an intellectual theory about innate structures and applies it like a hypothesis to see if it fits the organism.

Social Facts and Dynamic Structures

In the Rules of Sociological Method, Durkheim said that sociology studies social facts. He defined a social fact thus: "A social fact is every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestation" (1938, p. 13). It is strange nowadays that he had to insist that social facts were things, that is, that social factors were actual influences on human behavior and thought which had real existence external to any individual or solitary mind. Larger than the individual, they were essential to understand for any accurate view of the individual within a social context. Here he went against the biological and individualist paradigms of his time. Thompson (1982) points out that a social fact exerted constraint over the individual. He writes, "It exercised a constraint over the individual in a number of ways, depending on its position on a continuum of social phenomena ranging from morphological facts that determined the availability of facilities, to the constraining force of norms backed by sanctions, to the constraints imposed by language, the force of myths and symbols, and the pressures of public opinion" (p. 59). These facts regulated human society.

Allport defined an event as a discontinuous encounter. Much like Durkheim's social facts, these events are distinct from the individual facts of consciousness. They are mediated through structures. There is a law to the structure of an encounter that could not be got at simply through quantitative measures. The framework (law) is made of "patterning or structuring of contacts or events" (Allport, 1955, p. 628). He conceived of it as a blueprint for interaction, like that which makes interaction possible. Allport's view is not that the structures are historically developed, but that these are in-built organic structures which interact with the environment but are not changed by them. They are simply paradigms that structure the perception of an event. All their parts are interrelated and self-closed (p. 635).

The elementary form of the structure is conceived as circular, that is, as a bundled cycle of ongoing repetitive events, like touching hoops. Allport believed this model worked for descriptions and explanations of organism behavior: "every behavioral phenomenon follows a structural law or paradigm of the type suggested by our model" (p. 645). He thought there are biasing conditions that allow behavior (encounters) to be predicted (i.e., the organism looks at event-regions afforded by the environment and seeks the one with the greatest event or energy density) (p. 650). This notion of energy is very different from Durkheim and more similar to early psychoanalytical notions. In Allport's meld of these notions, structure is what creates the conditions for the passage of energy. The behavior-structure manifold is what allows an outlet to meaning energy, and it is "interstructured" into one's personality (p. 656).

Deviance from the Norm: Anomie vs. Taboo

In terms of institutions, Durkheim understood that the individual internalizes the social practices and beliefs normatively. Institutional flexibility, he thought, was limited. Any act outside the limits of uniformity was sanctioned or punished as anomic. The concept of anomie is important in Durkheim's work. It contrasts with social solidarity, which is either mechanical (based on resemblance) or organic (based on interdepdendence and complementarity) (these notions are developed in the Division of Labor in Society). Anomie occurs when there is no true social mutualism. Thompson (1982) interprets Durkheim's notion of pathology this way: "This manifested itself in two forms: people were not integrated into group relations of interdependence (egoism), and/or appropriate norms had failed to emerge to promote and regulate group relations (anomie)" (p. 119). In other words, anomie describes an imbalance of social forces and their consequences.

Allport conceived society as "an interindividual or societal continuum" (p. 656). The social frame of reference, for him, is accounted for by the interorder relation of the two structures, the individual with the social. By comparison with Durkheim's anomie, Allport uses the notion of taboos to discuss deviance from social conformity. Yet his notion seems very different than Durkheim's. Allport speaks of the lowered energic status that characterizes the structures of taboo acts (p. 660). That is to say, a taboo is discouraged because the energy for it in the social structure is low. This is related to the notion of the imbalance of social forces, but it is more physical or dynamic. Allport is thinking of real energy, not just expressed moral or social rules.

Collective Representations or Structured Aggregates

In the Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Durkheim argues that religion originates out of social functions. It does not have an individual or mental genesis, but rose out of society in the form of collective representations grounded in social reality. He writes, "Collective representations are the result of an immense co-operation, which stretches out not only into space but into time as well; to make them, a multitude of minds have associated, united and combined their ideas and sentiments; for them, long generations have accumulated their experience and their knowledge" (1915, p. 29). This is close to Jung's collective unconscious. Giddens (1978) remarks, "The cognitive formulation of religious ideas is an expression of preexisting social sentiments which antedate their appearance in conscious reflections" (p. 87). For Durkheim, religious beliefs and ceremonies are the concrete expressions of an ideal social totality. For example, totemic beliefs correspond to a clannish social organization. The collective representations express how a society views itself and the symbols it uses tell us what type of society it is. In ceremony, the group imposes itself on the individual and confirms continuity.

In Allport's view, the collective arises in the aggregation of individual behavior-structures. Society (as well as groups and institutions) is composed of individual structures combined and interrelated. He writes, "These collective cycles or self-closing systems start, energically, with the imbalance of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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