Essay: Theorizing Society

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Durkheim and the Division of Labor

This author has found the Durkheim text on the Division of Labor to be most interesting. Durkheim has introduced a Hegelian dichotomy that is contradictory, yet binary at the same time. The question is very much one of what is now the synthesis. The division of labor (hypothesis) brings about individualization (antithesis) (Raapana, N. And Friedrich, N. 2005). This dialectic is established to answer why the division of labor is universal across the board in human societies. This synthesis is religion. From it, Durkheim evolved his views upon and created the subdiscipline of sociology of religion.

Durkheim was born in Epinal, France. The scion of a rabbi, Durkheim also was intended for the rabbinate. His early Jewish religious education contributed to his scholarly command of Talmudic law and biblical history. He synthesized this into his later studies on religion. In 1879 he entered the Ecole Normale Superieure. There, he studied philosophy under Emile Boutroux and Fustel de Couleanges and Gabriel Monod. After graduating he taught at various lycees near Paris. Taking a leave of absence in 1885, he visited Germany, where he became influenced by the work of renowned psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, from whose work on individual representations Durkheim derived his analogous theory to social phenomena, collective representations. Durkheim returned to France in 1886. There he obtained a teaching position at the University of Bordeaux and established a reputation as a dynamic and inspiring instructor whose well-prepared lectures were widely attended. In 1896 he attained a full professorship at Bordeaux. In 1898 founded the journal L'Annee sociologique, serving as editor for the next twelve years. The journal consisted of reviews aimed at scholars in the field of sociology featured articles in the fields of anthropology or sociology and Durkheim was a frequent contributor, publishing his ethnographic studies on incest, totemism, and the marriage practices of Australian aboriginal tribes. In 1902 he was summoned to teach philosophy at University of Paris where he gained a full professorship in 1906 as the chair of the department of Science of Education, which later became the department of Science of Education and Sociology specifically on behalf of Durkheim's teachings. ( Emile Durkheim Biography 2005).

The glue in Durkheim's dialectic is solidarity. Durkheim theorizes that this division of labor brings about solidarity. He maintains that we cannot examine social solidarity directly. Since direct measurement is impossible, we need to do this indirectly. Therefore, he looks at law, since laws and mores capture social rules.

He defends this claim against three alternatives. Firstly, law is an incomplete indicator. Secondly, we should study it directly. Finally, we must measure it by its outcomes. That is, if we can identify how a given type of law relates to a type of solidarity, then we can use the types of laws we find in any society to describe the solidarity of that society. For this to work, we must spell out what types of laws exist and exactly how they relate to this social solidarity. To visualize the conceptual flow, it should be conceived of as follows:

Division of Labor+Solidarity=Types of Law

In other words, it comes down to civilization. Indeed, civilization is a natural outcome of flow we see above. Durkheim considers the development of the division of labor to be associated with the increasing contact among people. There is a greater density of contact, so that people are led to specialize. The division of labor emerges in different ways in different societies, leading to different forms of solidarity. To quote Durkheim "With societies, individuals are transformed in accordance with the changes produced in the number of social units and their relations (Durkheim, E. 1947, p. 4)."

By becoming more attached to society, man gets more removed from his animal nature. Due to man's status as a social animal (we speak and speech affects our evolution), he naturally becomes more removed and free from his natural environment. The animal is completely attached to and at the mercy of his environment. On the other hand, in human beings, aggregates of population dictate more detachment from the environment and dependence upon civilization and socialized behavior. At these centers, life is the most intense. The specialization that a person is involved will also increase in intensity. Migrations may further concentrate social groups. Also, these migrations and concentrations will determine new advances in civilization will radiate out from the centers where they were originated into new nodes. It is impossible to say where they will stop. As a person goes out from the center, societies become less static and more mobile and flexible (ibid, p5).

Durkheim felt that animals also form societies, but in a very restricted form with simple collective life. In addition, they are also stationary because the development of such small societies is stable. The characteristics of those societies have roots in the organism and the individual loses all of its characteristics. Rather, they function through instincts and reflexes close to nature. Unlike these simple societies, human societies are far larger. The smallest are far more complex and massive than animal societies. Because of their size, they are further removed from nature. The more people and mass in the association, they react upon each other and accelerate their development past the capabilities of a simple biological organism or society (ibid, p2).

In nature, biological evolution transforms equilibrium into biological facts. Social life that exists in the simple societies is materialized in this way. In humanity, the process is much more complex and obtuse. While Durkheim does not directly use the word evolution, he is implying that in human society, man is capable of abstract thought and substitution. He therefore substitutes social for physical evolution, thereby spiritualizing the process. In the process, spirituality becomes the glue which keeps human societies together (ibid, p5).

In relation to the rest of his work, Durkheim advocated a form of corporatism called "solidarism" that advocated the creation of an organic social solidarity of society through the agency of functional representation. Solidarism was based upon Durkheim's view that human society as a collective is distinct in dynamic from the dynamic of an individual in that society is what places upon individuals their cultural and social attributes (ibid).

Durkheim claimed that in the economy his solidarism would alter the division of labor by changing it from the mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity. He claimed that the existing industrial capitalist division of labor caused "juridical and moral anomie" which had no norms, agreed rules, or frameworks to resolve conflicts resulting in a confrontational divide between employers and trade unions. He further believed that this anomie caused social dislocation. Further, he claimed it is a moral obligation of the members of society to end the state of war between the individual and the whole by creating a moral organic solidarity based upon professions as organized into a single public institution. In other words, corporate institutions such as guilds would bridge the gap between the individual and the corporate whole to cause harmony (Major Works by Emile Durkheim 1997).

This brings us to compare his original work the Division of Labor (1893) to his later work Suicide (1897). To this end, he studied religious groups such as Catholics and Protestants and compared the suicide rates for each. This book further popularized the term "anomie." In Suicide, Durkheim elaborated upon the notion of normlessness in a person and describes the breakdown of social norms and values. Durkheim saw spirituality as a positive development that could bridge the gap between individual and society. Later in 1897, in his studies of suicide, Durkheim associated anomie to the influence of a lack of norms or norms that were too rigid. But such normlessness or norm-rigidity was a symptom of anomie, caused by the lack of differential adaptation that would enable norms to evolve naturally due to self-regulation, either to develop norms where none existed or to change norms that had become rigid and obsolete (ibid).

In further outlining the social (causes of suicide, characterized by an absence or diminution of standards or values (referred to as normlessness) and an associated feeling of alienation and purposelessness. He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for good or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life. This is contrary to previous theories on suicide which generally maintained that suicide was precipitated by negative events in a person's life and their subsequent depression (ibid).

In Durkheim's view, traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values which the anomic individual lacks. Furthermore, he argued that the division of labor that had been prevalent in economic life since the Industrial Revolution led individuals to pursue egoistic ends rather than seeking the good of a larger community religion, he argued, was an expression of social cohesion (ibid).

In the fieldwork that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Theorizing Society.  (2011, January 16).  Retrieved May 23, 2019, from

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"Theorizing Society."  January 16, 2011.  Accessed May 23, 2019.