Sociology 250

October 19 and 21

Introduction to Durkheim and Division of Labour


A. Introduction 

The third major classical sociologist that we will study this semester is Emile Durkheim. These introductory notes on Durkheim deal with his view of what sociology is, a short note on his method, the emphasis on order and solidarity, and his relationship to structural functional sociology.

1. Durkheim's Sociology

As Hadden notes (p. 85), one of Durkheim’s major contributions was to help define and establish the field of sociology as an academic discipline. Durkheim distinguished sociology from philosophy, psychology, economics, and other social science disciplines by arguing that sociologists should study particular features of collective or group life. This is the study of social facts, things which are external to, and coercive of, individuals. These social facts are features of the group, and cannot be studied apart from the collective, nor can they be derived from the study of individuals. Some examples are religion, urban structures, legal systems, and moral values such as family values. Durkheim argued that these are "features of collective existence … which are not reducible to features of the atoms, individuals, which make it up" (Hadden, p. 87).

Just as Weber can be considered to have defined sociology, so Durkheim focusses on a set of social features that are the proper subject of sociology. Weber emphasized the actor and the meaning and interpretation involved in the actor’s interaction with others. For Weber, it was the meaning that actors place on their own actions and the actions of others that sociologists can understand and interpret. Weber was concerned with the individual actor and his or her motivations and actions, and the sociologists attempt to understand these.

In contrast, Durkheim considers the beliefs, practices, and consciousness of the collective to be coercive on individuals as actors. In this sense, Durkheim has a structuralist approach, considering the social structures to exert a strong influence on social action. Of course, it is individuals who act, but they do not act on a purely individual basis. Rather, they have obligations and duties, and generally act in ways that are strongly influenced by the structures of which they are part. Sociology can be distinguished from psychology in this way – noting that psychologists study individuals and their mental processes, whereas sociologists are concerned with the structures that influence action.

Further Notes on Durkheim's Sociology

Durkheim attempted to define sociology as a separate academic discipline. Durkheim does not consider sociology to be based on psychology or the individual, and is separate from history. For Durkheim, sociology was the "science of institutions" how they came about and operated. Institutions were "all beliefs and all the modes of conduct instituted by the collectivity." (K. Thompson, p. 57). As a subject of study, sociology should study the ways in which social life is crystallized, the states of the collective consciousness that cannot be seen from just the individual consciousness -- states that are found in constraints, institutions, pressures, and symbols. Essential to this is the study of social facts. These social facts are things, and thus cannot be determined just on the basis of reflection, they must require data to discover and investigate. (See quote 3). As a short, concise definition, Durkheim defined social facts as:

things that are external to, and coercive of, the actor. 

Many of these social facts are found in the minds of the actor, as part of mental processes, but at the same time they are not purely internal to the individual. That is, they are factors such as norms, values, customs, etc. which have a collective or societal representation as well. An example of a social fact is "the rate of mortality through suicide, characteristic of the society under consideration." (Suicide, p. 48). Rates such as unemployment rates or homicide rates could be considered social facts. Note that this can be considered similar to, or a development of, Comte's view that it is society that is real. Durkheim, though, has a much more adequate analysis of the connection of the individual and society. Much of Durkheim's writings are concerned with social facts, how they emerge, how they change, and how they affect the individual and society as a whole.  

In The Division of Labor in Society, (page 350) Durkheim says near the end (quote 4):

Spencer in one place compares the work of the sociologist to the calculation of a mathematician who, from the form of a certain number of balls, deduces the manner in which they must be combined in order to keep them in equilibrium. The comparison is inexact and does not apply to social facts. Here, instead, it is rather the form of all which determines that of the parts. Society does not find the bases on which it rests fully laid out in consciences; it puts them there itself. 

This shows how Durkheim is at one level considering the individual as the basis of society, yet at another considering the role of sociology to be that of studying social facts. These social facts are not in the minds of individuals separately from society as a whole. Rather, these social facts are social in that society puts these in the mind of the individual. Psychology, as the study of the individual only, is not able to determine these. Ritzer notes that Durkheim considered psychological facts to be internal to the individual and inherited, thus being clearly distinguishable from external social facts. (p. 78). He also shows how economics is unable to determine why the division of labour emerges in society, although it can determine its effects. That is, Durkheim is concerned with examining the social basis of economic facts, or the social context within which economic structures are set. As a result, Durkheim appears to have been successful in finding a place for sociology as an academic subject area, separate from other academic disciplines.

2. Empirical Study

Durkheim distinguishes sociology from philosophy by focussing on empirical study of the social world. The collective features that he considered important can be studied by careful examination of social processes. That is, the external, coercive social facts are things and can be observed. Durkheim’s most famous study of this sort is Suicide. He argued that the suicide rate at any time and place is a social fact that can be observed and contrasted with the rate at other times and places. While suicide is an "individual, anti-social act" sociology helps to understand "the factors contributing to varying rates of such acts" (Hadden, p. 88). Durkheim’s method is thus quite different than that of Weber or Marx, and focusses on the empirical study of social facts. The influence of Durkheim on the methodology adopted by later sociologists was very great, and contemporary sociologists who use statistical methods often follow the methodology first laid down by Durkheim.

3. Consensus

Unlike Marx, and even Weber, Durkheim focussed his study on the forces that create social solidarity. While he recognizes that societies need not always hold together, and can go through periods of stress and disorganization, unlike Marx he did not look on these are normal features of society. Rather, Durkheim developed an optimistic view of society as being governed by consensus, and tending to develop and maintain structural features that were associated with social order. Hadden states: "Collective, social, moral forces in the form of shared beliefs … on the one hand, and in the form of organizational structures and divisions, on the other, tend, in his view, to govern and integrate the practices and behaviours of individual members" (p. 88).

For Durkheim it was religion, morality, and social values that are part of the consensus. In early forms of society, the all-encompassing moral values that exist in a society are often expressed in their religion or spirituality. These later structures tend to be widely adopted and generally agreed upon, and the teachings, myths, stories, and practices are means by which society’s moral values are expressed and enforced. With the decline of religion as a moral force, and the development of a modern, secular society, Durkheim was concerned with the values and structures which would replace religion. He thought society always needed such moral values, and argued that these must be generally accepted if social order was to exist. Several of Durkheim’s writings were concerned with this issue.

4. Social Solidarity

One of Durkheim's major concerns was to determine how social cohesion or social solidarity is determined. This concern was with what holds societies together and creates the common consciousness, ideology, consensus or solidarity that appears to exist in most human societies much of the time. The notion of solidarity is regarded by Durkheim as a social fact, something that really does exist, is external to the individual, and is coercive of the individual. Grabb notes that this solidarity is "a set of interconnected groups and individuals, interacting with one another in regular, patterned, and more or less predictable ways. Essential to this interaction is morality, or moral regulation ... ." (Grabb, p. 79).

Since society has changed dramatically throughout history, but some form of morality or moral regulation always exists, what is its basis? This is especially a concern for Durkheim in modern society, since in modern society, the scope of individualism has vastly expanded. Giddens (p. 73) notes that there is the growth of the division of labour, specialization of occupational function, development of specific talents, capacities and attitudes not shared by everyone. In addition, philosophies of individual rights and encouragement of the fullest development of the individual, even where this may infringe on the rights of others, may be encouraged in some circumstances. Ritzer notes that Durkheim was concerned "with the declining strength of the common morality in the modern world. ... people were in danger of a 'pathological' loosening of moral bonds. ... without them the individual would be enslaved by ever-expanding and insatiable passions." (Ritzer, p. 85). Further, Durkheim "did not think that the evils of capitalism derived solely from exploitation of one class by another, but also from the exploitation of man's selfish instincts, giving rise to insatiable consumerism and striving for wealth." (Thompson, p. 156). Given these developments, the existence of moral regulation and social solidarity could be questioned and one of Durkheim's concerns was with how these could be re-established.

In some of his early comments on German social science, Durkheim raises a number of issues that may help one to understand his conception of social solidarity. (Giddens, pp. 66-70). These are:

a. Inherited cultural patterns. The cultural inheritance of members of society is the result of a form of cultural evolution or change. These are impersonal in that they do not emerge out of the individual, but are a product of society. "This is easily shown by reference to the example of language: 'each of us speaks a language which he did not create.'" (Giddens, p. 67). The collective consciousness is not the same as individual consciousness, nor is it simply the product of a set or aggregation of individual consciousnesses, rather it is a social product, a social fact.

b. Morality as a collective property. For these German writers, "society is a unity having its own specific characteristics which cannot be inferred from those of its individual members. ... morality is a collective property and must be studied as such." (Giddens, pp. 68-69).

c. Regulation by society. Economic phenomena and relationships cannot be studied in and of themselves, without reference to regulation by society. For Durkheim, economic relations must be studied by setting them within a framework of social norms.

that economic phenomena cannot be adequately studied in the manner of classical economic theory, as if these were separate from the moral norms and beliefs which govern the lives of individuals in society. There is no society ... where economic relationship are not subject to customary and legal regulation. ... If it were not for the existence of social norms which provide the framework within which contracts are made, then 'incoherent chaos' would reign in the economic world. (Giddens, p. 69).  

Marx makes much the same point when discussing commodity fetishism and the manner in which the market, especially labour markets, conceal social relationships. However, Marx treats these social relationships as unequal and exploitative, whereas Durkheim regards these as subject to generally agreed on moral codes or social norms. "In sum, a contract is not sufficient unto itself, but is possible only thanks to the regulation of the contract which is originally social." (Division, p. 215). Without regulation, there would be a chaotic society, or society could be said not to exist. Thus Durkheim finds proof for the social norms in the existence of contracts and economic exchange, and also in the manner in which these change over time. This sets the stage for The Division of Labor in Society.

While we seem to be an individualistic society, with many different groups, there are many elements of solidarity in Canada today, such as the right to vote, to freely enter into markets to buy consumer products, to sell labour power, etc. Rights to freedom of movement, choose one's occupation, attend university, etc. Agreement concerning types of punishment, e.g. we would likely be generally agreed that thieves should not have their hands cut off.

While these may all seem quite basic, all of these are quite different from what they were in some earlier societies. We may take these for granted, and argue that we all have different views on any number of topics. However, we generally abide by such rules and laws. If there were general disregard of these, society would break down. For example, if each student were to challenge each part of their grade, even within the limits allowed, the system would collapse. Outside the norms and laws, there are even greater possibilities for chaos.

5. Functionalism

Durkheim is often considered to have laid the basis for functionalist sociological theories. Comte and Spencer are generally considered functionalists in that they look on the way that different social structures work together as parts of an overall social system. Wallace and Wolf note that there are interrelations between the parts of the social system which lead to the smooth operation of society when each part performs its proper function (p. 18). For example, the various occupations in the division of labour or the different positions in a bureaucracy can each be considered to have a function. So long as each occupation and position performs its duties, the economy or bureaucracy operates relatively smoothly.

Wallace and Wolf (p. 22) use the example of punishment as a social reaction to crime. Punishment serves several functions – discipline or deterrent for the offender and retribution for the criminal act. In addition, punishment serves the function of maintaining society’s moral values, emphasizing the illegal or criminal nature of the act, and reinforcing this among all elements of society, thus strengthening the collective values that hold that the criminal act is wrong. While Wallace and Wolf point out the possibly circular nature of the reasoning involved here, the function that certain acts and structures may perform does form a basis for functionalist sociological analysis. Durkheim may not have been as functionalist in his approach as is sometimes claimed, and other writers such as Marx sometimes develop a functionalist analyst. However, Durkheim has been connected to later functionalist approaches such as those of Parsons, and an argument can be made that Durkheim had a functionalist approach.

Durkheim and Structural Functionalism

The approach to the study of society taken by Durkheim and the structural functional model is very different from the approaches of Marx and Weber. For both Marx and Weber, the study of society was in large part concerned with the analysis of power and conflict. Marx considered these to be based primarily on economic factors, with social class and class struggle as the most important historical factors. Weber widened the range of social variables, laying less emphasis on overt conflict, and also being concerned with situations where power is accepted and considered legitimate. Property, status and parties, organizations concerned with power, were among the chief concerns of Weber. In his analysis of these issues, Weber was always concerned with social action, how the individual and group interpret actions, the meanings taken by people and the considered manner in which people respond to different situations. Marx did not consider social action in the same manner, but he was also concerned with class consciousness, the manner in which people form themselves as class conscious groups. For both Marx and Weber, the study of history is indispensable. Material factors are important for each, with Weber considering ideological and religious factors to play a more important role than they do for Marx.

In contrast, Durkheim and structural functional theorists are not primarily concerned with social class or status groups, class conflict, or inequalities based on the unequal distribution of property. To the extent that the structural functional approach is concerned with power, it tends to conceive of power as a positive force, being shared among members of the whole society, and the means by which society is able to achieve progress.

While social class may be mentioned as a concept by the functionalist school, it is not a central organizing principle in this approach, and many authors may ignore it or consider it to be unimportant. For example, there appears to be no mention of social class by Durkheim in The Division of Labor in Society. Near the end of this book, Durkheim argues that there should be no inherited property, so that individual talents and abilities can be fully expressed in society. Further, this approach tends to argue that conflict is not the normal form for society. For the most part, social order is the normal state of affairs, society usually functions smoothly, and there is ordinarily not too much overt conflict. Comte argued that the idea of individualism stirred up discontent in society. Comte viewed this as irresponsible, and looked on the proper role of the social analyst as promoting social order, morality and progress. Where change does occur, the functional view tends to be that change is slow and evolutionary, without much overt conflict among different parts of society. Social tensions and forces creating change do occur, but society can adjust to these in a relatively harmonious manner.

What is the concern of the functional approach is the question of social order, social solidarity, or what social factors help hold society together. Grabb (p. 100) notes several points in common between Durkheim and structural functional approaches. In general, both consider "society as a systematic aggregation of interrelated parts, all fulfilling important tasks for the common good. ... [They have a] special interest in organizing and co-ordinating these tasks in order to maximize social integration and the chances for societal survival." Using Durkheim's analysis, Grabb notes three factors that contribute to the integration of modern society: 

(a) Integration is aided by the functional interdependence of individual social actors engaged in their own specialized tasks. This is social solidarity produced by the division of labour for Durkheim. 

(b) There is a collective acceptance by individuals of a system of specific norms or rules that guide social relationships and regulate interactions.  

(c) Integration is enhanced by popular adherence to a body of common values and beliefs. For Durkheim this is collective consciousness (or collective conscience as it is sometimes translated).  

While there are important differences between Durkheim and functionalism (Durkheim may have a more dynamic model, and may be considered more sociological in nature), the two approaches have much the same thrust - emphasizing consensus, shared values and functional interdependence. One example of this is Durkheim's discussion of economic activities in society. He notes that "the government cannot, at every instant, regulate the conditions of the different economic markets ... " These must be to some extent self regulating and outside the control by the state. Durkheim notes:

All these practical problems arise from a multitude of detail, coming from thousands of particular circumstances which only those very close to the problems know about. Thus, we cannot adjust these functions to one another and make them concur harmoniously if they do not concur of themselves. If, then, the division of labour has the dispersive effects that are attributed to it, they ought to develop in this region of society, since there is nothing to hold them together. What gives unity to organized societies, however, as to all organisms, is the spontaneous consensus of parts. Such is the internal solidarity which not only is indispensable as the regulative action of higher centres, but which also is their necessary condition ... . (Division, p. 360). 

Note how Durkheim considers the organization of society to be spontaneous and solidaristic. Regulation is not necessary, but will occur by itself, and this regulation is generally harmonious in nature.

For Durkheim and the structural functional approach, social inequality exists, but it is generally not considered to be problematic. Additionally, writers from this perspective may argue that the degree of social inequality found in modern, Western society is legitimate. Inequality seems to be generally accepted, and that some inequality is not only necessary but functional for the proper operation of society. As evidence for its acceptability, they would note the absence of much overt class conflict and the strong ideological identification people have with the middle class, rather than with the working class. When discussing spontaneity in the division of labour, as opposed to the forced division of labour, Durkheim notes:

It supposes, not only that individuals are not relegated to determinate functions by force, but also that no obstacle, of whatever nature, prevents them from occupying the place in the social framework which is compatible with their faculties. In short, labour is divided spontaneously only if society is constituted in such a way that social inequalities exactly express natural inequalities. (Division, p. 377). 

Durkheim here is arguing that if external impediments are removed, so that differences in natural abilities determine the proper position within the division of labour, then this is the normal, spontaneous or desired form of this division of labour. The structural functional approach is much the same.

The approaches of Marx and Weber have come to be considered superior approaches to many sociological issues, and functional analysis is often considered to be misleading, lacking critical ability, and overly supportive of structures and institutions that exist. But note that the approaches of Marx and Weber may under emphasize consensus and shared values. In addition, the latter may have little to say concerning the sources of social solidarity. While inequalities based on property, class, and power differences are important in explaining inequalities and change in society, Marx and Weber may under emphasize the sources of social solidarity. After all, societies do hold together most of the time, and on a very wide range of issues there is considerable consensus. For the most part, change is slow and evolutionary, and many of the important changes in society occur without overt class conflict on a large scale.

The difficulty with Durkheim and the structural functional approach is that they almost completely ignore conflict and power differences. In fact, their approaches may have been constructed at least partly to negate the Marxian or conflict approach to the study of society. Durkheim treats the anomic and forced forms of the division of labour as unusual, and devotes little time to their analysis.

In the notes that follow, the approach of Durkheim will be outlined, followed by the structural functional approach. Out of this, it may be possible to obtain some useful arguments and approaches, that together with the Marxian and Weberian analysis can lead to a more adequate analysis of society.

6. Durkheim's Life

Emile Durkheim (1858-1916) was born in Epinal in Lorraine, France. He was a contemporary of Weber (1864-1920), but probably never met Weber. Durkheim came from a Jewish background, and was a superior student at school and University. Eventually he was able to attend the elite Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. He taught for a number of years, and then received an appointment to a position in philosophy at the University of Bordeaux in 1887. He taught education students classes in moral education and began to teach the first course in social science at a French university. In 1902 he was appointed to a professorship at the Sorbonne, where he remained until he died. Durkheim's most famous works are The Division of Labor in Society (1893), The Rules of Sociological Method (1895), Suicide (1897) and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912).

Durkheim is often considered a conservative within the field of sociology, being concerned primarily with order, consensus and solidarity. This approach helped provide a basis for structural functional models of society. Durkheim argued that Marxism is composed of "disputable and out-of-date hypotheses." (Ritzer, p. 73). However, Durkheim was involved politically in the Dreyfus affair, and condemned French racism and anti-Semitism. Durkheim might more properly be considered a political liberal, in that he advocated individual freedom, and opposed impediments to the free operation of the division of labour. In contemporary terms, he might be considered a social democrat, in that while he opposed the development of a socialist society, he favoured social reforms.

In his theoretical model, he advocated the development of "professional groupings" or "occupational groups" as the means by which the interests of special groups could be promoted and furthered. For Durkheim, these would promote more than just their own interests, the general interests of the society as a whole, creating solidarity in a society that had developed a complex division of labour. In advocating this, he comes close to some versions of pluralism. Durkheim was not generally involved in politics, and can be considered a more academic sociologist than either Weber or Marx.

In terms of the development of the field of sociology, Durkheim is especially important. He was the first to offer courses in sociology in French universities, at a time when sociology was not well known or favoured. His writings are important within the field of sociology, in that several of them are basic works that sociology students today are expected to read and understand. Much of the manner in which sociology as an academic discipline is carried on follows Durkheim's suggestions and approach. French sociology, in particular, follows Durkheim, and some of Durkheim's books are likely to serve as texts in French sociology. Much American sociology is also heavily influenced by Durkheim. In recent years, there has again been much attention paid to his writings.

B. The Division of Labor in Society

In The Division of Labor in Society Durkheim attempts to determine what the basis of social solidarity is in society and how this has changed over time. This was Durkheim's first major work, so it does not address all the issues that might be considered important. However, it does present some of Durkheim's basic views and also illustrates some of the methods he used throughout his life. While this book may seem incomplete or inadequate today, it is a major part of Durkheim's sociological approach.

Durkheim's basic argument is that there are two types of social solidarity, mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. The former characterizes earlier societies, where the division of labour is relatively limited. The latter characterizes societies with a highly developed division of labour, and it is this division of labour itself which creates organic solidarity. In both types of societies, individuals for the most part "interact in accordance with their obligations to others and to society as a whole. In doing so, each person also receives some recognition of his or her own rights and contributions within the collectivity. Social morality in this sense is 'strictly necessary' for solidarity between people to occur; without morality, 'societies cannot exist.'" (Grabb, p. 79).

According to Giddens (p. 73), the main substantive problem for Durkheim stems from "an apparent moral ambiguity concerning the relationship between the individual and society in the contemporary world." On the one hand, with specialization and the highly developed division of labour, individuals develop their own consciousness, and are encouraged in this specialization. On the other hand, there are also moral ideas encouraging people to be well rounded, of service to society as a whole. These two seem contradictory, and Durkheim is concerned with finding the historical and sociological roots of each of these, along with how these two seemingly contradictory moral guidelines are reconciled in modern society.

This book can also be read with a view to illuminating Durkheim's methods. In the first chapter, he outlines his method, and the theory which could be falsified. By looking at morality, he is not pursuing a philosophical course, mainly in the realm of ideas. Durkheim is critical of "moral philosophers [who] begin either from some a priori postulate about the essential characteristics of human nature, or from propositions taken from psychology, and thence proceed by deduction to work out a scheme of ethics." (Giddens, p. 72). That is, Durkheim is attempting to determine the roots of morality by studying society, and changes in society. These forms of morality are social facts, and data from society must be obtained, and these used to discover causes. The data used by Durkheim are observable, empirical forms of data in the form of laws, institutions (legal and other), norms and behaviour. In this book, Durkheim adopts a non-quantitative approach, but in Suicide his approach is more quantitative.

In examining the roots of social solidarity, Durkheim regards the examination of systems of law as an important means of understanding morality. He regards "systems of law" as the "externalization of the inner core of social reality (solidarity), it is predicted that as the inner core undergoes qualitative changes from 'mechanical' to 'organic' solidarity, there should be manifest shift in the ratio of types of legal systems ... as a proportion of the total legal corpus." (Tiryakian in Bottomore and Nisbet, p. 214)

Since law reproduces the principal forms of social solidarity, we have only to classify the different types of law to find therefrom the different types of social solidarity which correspond to it. (Division, p. 68). 

Giddens notes that Durkheim is "attempting to measure changes in the nature of social solidarity. Since social solidarity is ... not directly measurable, it follows that in order to chart the changing form of moral solidarity 'we must substitute for the internal fact which escapes us an external index ... which symbolizes it.' Such an index can be found in legal codes. From this, Durkheim begins to build a proof of the division of labour as the basis for the different forms of solidarity. He then attempts to show the nature of society, how it changes over time, and how this results in the shift from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity.

1. Mechanical Solidarity

Early societies tended to be small scale and relatively simple, with little division of labour or only a simple division of labour by age and sex. In this type of society, people are very similar to each other, and Durkheim titles this chapter "Mechanical solidarity through likeness." In this type of society, each person carries out essentially similar types of tasks, so that people share the type of work they carry out. These societies are characterized by likeness, in which the members of the society share the same values, based on common tasks and common life situations and experiences.

In these early societies, Durkheim argues that legal codes or the system of law tends to be repressive law or penal law. If there is a crime in this society, then this crime stands as an offense to all, because it is an offense to the common morality, the shared system of values that exists. Most people feel the offense, and regardless of how serious it is, severe punishment is likely to be meted out for it. Zeitlin notes (p. 264):

Anything that offends the common conscience threatens the solidarity -- the very existence of society. An offense left unpunished weakens to that degree the social unity. Punishment therefore serves the important function of restoring and reconstituting social unity.  

Penal law is concerned with sanctions only, and there is no mention of obligations. Punishment is severe, perhaps death or dismemberment. Moral obligation and duty is not stated in the punishment, because this is generally understood. Rather the punishment is given, and that is the completion of the penalty.

Some of the following quotes from The Division of Labor in Society show the nature of Durkheim's argument: In the quotes, note that the act is criminal because the act offends the collective conscience. For Durkheim, the collective consciousness reaches all parts of society, has a distinct reality and is independent of individual conditions, and is passed on from one generation to the next. In this, it differs from particular or individual consciences. (Division, pp. 79-80). Quote 5:

Collective Consciousness. the only common characteristic of all crimes is that they consist ... in acts universally disapproved of by members of each society. (Division, p. 73).

The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society forms a determinate system which has its own life; one may call it the collective or common conscience. (Division, p. 79)

an act is criminal when it offends strong and defined states of the collective conscience. (Division, p. 80)

we must not say that an action shocks the common conscience because it is criminal, but rather that it is criminal because it shocks the common conscience. We do not reprove it because it is a crime, but it is a crime because we reprove it. (Division, p. 81). 

Referring to repressive or penal forms of punishment in early society, Durkheim notes that it may extend to: 

the innocent, his wife, his children, his neighbours, etc. This is because the passion which is the soul of punishment ceases only when exhausted. If, therefore, after it has destroyed the one who has immediately called it forth, there still remains force within it, it expands in quite mechanical fashion. (Division, p. 86). 

In contrast, modern legal codes are quite different, with punishment being less important. Instead, society is concerned with restoration of the original situation, rather than exacting revenge on the offender. "But today, it is said, punishment has changed it character; it is no longer to avenge itself that society punishes, it is to defend itself." (Division, p. 86).

This distinction between different types of legal codes and punishment may provide a means of noting what mechanical solidarity means.

Quote 6. Mechanical Solidarity. They must re-enforce themselves by mutual assurances that they are always agreed. The only means for this is action in common. In short, since it is the common conscience which is attacked, it must be that which resists, and accordingly the resistance must be collective. (Division, p. 103). 

(Thus, the analysis of punishment confirms our definition of crime. We began by establishing inductively that crime consisted essentially in an act contrary to strong and defined states of the common conscience. We have just seen that all the qualities of punishment ultimately derive from this nature of crime. That is because the rules that it sanctions express the most essential social likeness.) 

Thus we see what type of solidarity penal law symbolizes. ... not only are all the members of the group individually attracted to one another because they resemble one another, but also because they are joined to what is the condition of existence of this collective type. ... They will as they will themselves, hold to it durably and for prosperity, because, without it, a great part of their psychic lives would function poorly. (Division, p. 105). 

These quotes generally show how the collective consciousness works in societies without a highly developed division of labour. The primary function of punishment, therefore, is to protect and reaffirm the conscience collective in the face of acts which question its sanctity. In order to carry this out, such societies develop forms of repressive or penal law. 

While the common values in these societies can change over time, this process of change is generally quite slow, so that these values are generally appropriate for the historical period in question. At other times, the laws may be inappropriate, and might be maintained only through force. However, Durkheim generally considers this to be an exceptional circumstance, and one that is overcome.


2. Organic Solidarity

With the development of the division of labour, the collective consciousness begins to decline. Each individual begins to have a separate set of tasks which he or she is engaged in. These different situations lead to quite a different set of experiences for each individual. This set of experiences tends to lead toward "a 'personal consciousness,' with an emphasis on individual distinctiveness. (Grabb, p.81). The common situation which created the common collective consciousness is disturbed, and individuals no longer have common experiences, but have a great variety of different settings, each leading towards its own consciousness.

As the developmen of the division of labour erodes the collective consciousness, it also creates a new form of solidarity. This new form is organic solidarity, and is characterized by dependence of individuals on each other within the division of labour, and by a certain form of cooperation. There is a

functional interdependence in the division of labour. ... Organic solidarity ... presupposes not identity but difference between individuals in their beliefs and actions. The growth of organic solidarity and the expansion of the division of labour are hence associated with increasing individualism" (Giddens, p. 77).  

Cuff et al. (p.31) note that this means that "differences are expected and indeed become expected. ... Thus the nature of the moral consensus changes. Commonly shared values still persist because without them there would be no society, but they become generalized, as they are not rooted in the totality of commonly shared daily experiences. Instead of specifying the details of an action, common values tend to be a more general underpinning for social practices. It is in this sense that the division of labour can be seen as a moral phenomenon." 

Thus Durkheim argues that there are individual, and probably group, differences, at the same time as there is a new form of social solidarity. Quote 7: 

Organic Solidarity. There are in each of us, ... two consciences: one which is common to our group in its entirety, which, consequently, is not ourself, but society living and acting within us; the other, on the contrary, represents that in us which is personal and distinct, that which makes us an individual. Solidarity which comes from likeness is at its maximum when the collective conscience completely envelops our whole conscience and coincides in all points with it.  

Durkheim speaks of the centripetal and centrifugal forces, and draws an organic analogy:

Individuality is something which the society possesses. Thus, .. personal rights are not yet distinguished from real rights. (Division, 129-30).

It is quite otherwise with the solidarity which the division of labour produces. Whereas the previous type implies that individuals resemble each other, this type presumes their difference. The first is possible only in so far as the individual personality is absorbed into the collective personality; the second is possible only if each one has a sphere of action which is peculiar to him; that is, a personality. ... In effect, on the one hand, each one depends as much more strictly on society as labor is more divided; and, on the other, the activity of each is as much more personal as it is more specialized. ... Society becomes more capable of collective movement, at the same time that each of its elements has more freedom of movement. The solidarity resembles that which we observe among the higher animals. Each organ, in effect, has its special physiognomy, it autonomy. And moreover, the unity of the organism is as great as the individuation of the parts is more marked. Because of this analogy, we propose to call the solidarity which is due to the division of labour, organic. (Division, 131). 

In the structure of societies with organic solidarity (quote 8): 

Social Structure. They are constituted, not by a repetition of similar, homogeneous segments, but by a system of different organs each of which has a special role, and which are themselves formed of differentiated parts. Not only are social elements not of the same nature, but they are not arranged in the same manner. They are not juxtaposed linearly ... but entwined one with another, but co-ordinated and subordinated one to another around the same central organ which exercises a moderating action over the rest of the organism. (i, p.181). 

a. Sydie's Description of Organic Solidarity (Sydie, pp. 15-17). The collective consciousness is expressed in the ties connecting autonomous individuals. An example that Durkheim uses is contract law. Contracts imply a need for individuals to co-operate, at least to the extent of agreeing to the contract. This means (i) entry into a social relationship, (ii) each party has a feeling that it is in a state of mutual dependence, (iii) the contract must provide for ways of dealing with future consequences, and (iv) guides for the future are based on past experiences. Thus the contract is imbued with the social experiences of such transactions or relationships. In organic solidarity, there are rules that determine the nature of and relations of divided functions, without specifying the details of how these functions are carried out. (Violation calls only for restitution of the original state). Within this though, the collective consciousness is associated with the cult of the individual. The individual personality becomes stronger, the scope for individual initiative and action is enlarged, and constraints on individual thought and action are less. But it is this that creates the need for co-operation and co-operation itself. That is, freedom does not mean free, unregulated egoism, but moral regulation and the development of society. Ritzer (p. 85) notes that Durkheim's view of freedom meant that the individual needs morality and external control.

Note that the latter idea is not all that dissimilar from Rousseau who argued that freedom is perfect submission of the individual to the general will.

b. Organic Solidarity and Restitutive Law. "The progressive displacement of repressive by restitutive law is an historical trend which is correlated with the degree of development of a society: the higher the level of social development, the greater the relative proportion of restitutive law within the judicial structure." (Giddens, p. 76). For Durkheim, this form of law is concerned with "a simple return in state. Sufferance proportionate to the misdeed is not inflicted on the one who has violated the law or who disregards it; he is simply sentenced to comply with it." The judge "speaks of law; he says nothing of punishment." (Division, p 111).

As the division of labour develops, people do not have a common consciousness, so that the form of law must change. "The very existence of restitutive law, in fact, presupposes the prevalence of a differentiated division of labour, since it covers the rights of individuals either over private property, or over other individuals who are in a different social position from themselves." (Giddens, p. 76) Along with this could come Weber's rational law, perhaps much the same as Durkheim's restitutive law. Systematic codes governing exchange and contracts are necessary, but these are the result of the general acceptance of individual rights within the system of a division of labour.

c. Cause of Organic Solidarity. Durkheim is critical of the economists who regard the development of the division of labour as a result of the coming together of people with different abilities and specialties. While Durkheim did not make reference to Adam Smith, he also may have had in mind Smith's view that people have a natural propensity to truck, barter and trade. Finally, he was critical of the economists' point of view that merely examined the technical conditions for the division of labour, and the increased efficiency associated with it, without consideration of the broader societal conditions necessary to maintain it. Thus Durkheim did not consider the division of labour as a natural condition.

Durkheim considers the development of the division of labour 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 labour emerges in different ways in different societies, leading to somewhat different forms of solidarity. However, it is these developments which create the division of labour and "Civilization develops because it cannot fail to develop." (Division, p. 337).

But this moral relationship can only produce its effect if the real distance between individuals has itself diminished in some way. Durkheim refers to this an increasing density. Moral density cannot grow unless material density grows at the same time. The two are inseparable though. Three ways in which this happens are:

i. Concentration of people. People begin to concentrate together. Agriculture may begin this, and it continues with the growth of cities as well.

ii. Cities. Formation of cities and their development. "Cities always result from the need of individuals to put themselves in very intimate contact with others. They are so many points where the social mass is contracted more strongly than elsewhere. They can multiply and extend only if the moral density is raised." (Division, p. 258).

iii. Transportation and Communication. Increased number and rapidity of means of transportation and communication. This results in "suppressing or diminishing the gaps separating social segments, they increase the density of society." (Division, pp. 259-260).  

The division of labor varies in direct ratio with the volume and density of societies, and, if it progresses in a continuous manner in the course of social development, it is because societies become regularly denser and generally more voluminous. (Division, 262). 

We say, not that the growth and condensation of societies permit, but that they necessitate a greater division of labor. It is not an instrument by which the latter is realized; it is its determining cause. (Division, p. 262). 

As a result of this greater contact, the "struggle for existence becomes more acute" and this results in the development of the division of labour. If needs are the same, then there is always a struggle for existence. But where different interests can be pursued, then there may be room for all. Quote 8: 

Social Structure (2nd part) In the same city, different occupations can co-exist without being obliged mutually to destroy one another, for they pursue different objects. ... Each of them can attain his end without preventing the others from attaining theirs.

The closer functions come to one another, however, the more points of contact they have; the more, consequently, are they exposed to conflict. ... The judge never is in competition with the business man, but the brewer and the wine-grower ... often try to supplant each other. As for those who have exactly the same function, they can forge ahead only to the detriment of others. (Division, p. 267).

In proportion to the segmental character of the social constitution, each segment has its own organs, protected and kept apart from like organs by divisions separating the different segments. ... But, no matter how this substitution is made, it cannot fail to produce advances in the course of specialization. (Division, 269).

Instead of entering into or remaining in competition, two similar enterprises establish equilibrium by sharing their common task. Instead of one being subordinate to the other, they co-ordinate. But, in all cases, new specialties appear. (Division, 270). 

For Durkheim the result of the division of labour is positive in that there is no need to compete in the sense of struggling just to survive. Rather, the division of labour may signify that there are sufficient material resources for all in society, and this division allows a certain form of co-operation. Quote 9: 

Division of Labour. The division of labour is, then, a result of the struggle for existence, but is a mellowed dénouement. Thanks to it, opponents are not obliged to fight to a finish, but can exist one beside the other. Also, in proportion to its development, it furnishes the means of maintenance and survival to a greater number of individuals who, in more homogeneous societies, would be condemned to extinction. (Division, p. 271). 

The division of labour cannot be anticipated, in terms of the form of its development. It is the sharing of functions, but not according to a preconceived plan. "The division of labour, then, must come about of itself and progressively." (Division, p. 276). It must come to pass in a pre-existing society (Appendix quote 9). 

Division of Labour. Work is not divided among independent and already differentiated individuals who by uniting and associating bring together their different aptitudes. For it would be a miracle if differences thus born through chance circumstance could unite so perfectly as to form a coherent whole. Far from preceding collective life, they derive from it. They can be produced only in the midst of a society, and under the pressure of social sentiments and social needs. That is what makes them essentially harmonious. ... there are societies whose cohesion is essentially due to a community of beliefs and sentiments, and it is from these societies that those whose unity is assured by the division of labour have emerged. (Division, p. 277). 

Civilization is itself the necessary consequence of the changes which are produced in the volume and in the density of societies. If science, art, and economic activity develop, it is in accordance with a necessity which is imposed upon men. It is because there is, for them, no other way of living in the new conditions in which they have been placed. From the time that the number of individuals among whom social relations are established begins to increase, they can maintain themselves only by greater specialization, harder work, and intensification of their faculties. From this general stimulation, there inevitably results a much higher degree of culture. (Division, pp. 336-337). 

Durkheim thus sets out an analysis of the division of labour which emphasizes the special functions of each of type of occupation and endeavour. The biological model, with a well functioning body, where each organ properly serves it function seems to be uppermost in Durkheim's mind. Unlike some of the structural functionalists, Durkheim's method distinguishes the cause of the function from the actual function filled. That is, Durkheim observes the function that the occupation fills in society, but attempts to investigate the development of the cause in an historical manner, examining how this function emerged. In this, one can consider there to be a certain "conflict as a mechanism, within a quasi-Darwinian framework, which accelerates the progression of the division of labour." (Giddens, p. 79).

Durkheim is also providing a criticism of the economic models which argue that people with different specialties come together to trade the products of their specialties. For Durkheim, specialties are not natural in any sense, but are developed. Similarly, the division of labour is not natural either, but develops in different forms in different societies. While there may be a great similarity among these (perhaps like Weber's rationality), national differences emerge. In that sense, Durkheim has an historical model, fairly solidly grounded on the material realities.

On the other hand, Durkheim's analysis may be considered to be mainly descriptive, proposing some fairly straightforward observations concerning culture. His notion of solidarity, mores, morals and norms come very close to the conventional sociological model of these, and may be considered to be widely accepted by all. The question is how these emerge, and whose interests they serve. Here the conflict approach differs dramatically from Durkheim.

Finally, Durkheim's analysis can be considered to be evolutionary and fairly optimistic. For the most part, Durkheim looks on the developments in the division of labour as signalling higher stages of civilization. He does not consider there to be any grand plan to this, and no single factor which guides it. Rather, there is competition, which results in the development of the division of labour, and the outcome of this process cannot be predicted. However, the result is generally positive, because people need each other, and this produces an organic solidarity in society.

3. Abnormal Forms of the Division of Labour

At the end of The Division of Labor in Society, however, Durkheim does note that there can be problems in society. There are two abnormal forms of the division of labour, and the division of labour itself does not always function as well as it could in modern society.

a. Anomic Division of Labor. When there are industrial and commercial crises, there may be a partial break in organic solidarity. Also, where there is conflict between capital and labour, this may be an unusual situation. Part of this is caused by the increased separation of employee and employer under capitalism (Division, p. 354), so that the conditions for a lack of solidarity are expanded as capitalism and the division of labour develop.

Irregular forms such as crime are not treated as part of the breakdown, rather these are treated by Durkheim as differentiation (Division, p. 353), not part of division of labour. Durkheim compares these with cancer, rather than with normal organs.

The real problem is a lack of regulation or a weakened common morality that can occur in modern society. For example, in the economic sphere, there are no rules which fix the number of economic enterprises (Division, p. 366), and there is no regulation of production in each branch of industry. This might be an overall form of irrationality, in Weber's sense. There can be ruptures in equilibrium, capital labour relations may become indeterminate. In the scientific field there may be greater separation of different sciences. (Division, p. 367).

If the division of labour does not produce solidarity in all these cases, it is because the relations of the organs are not regulated, because they are in a state of anomy. For the individual this means there are not sufficient moral constraints and individuals do not have a clear concept of what is proper and acceptable. (Ritzer, p. 85). See Appendix quote 10:

Anomie. ... the state of anomy is impossible when solidary organs are sufficiently in contact or sufficiently prolonged. ... if some opaque environment is interposed, then only stimuli of a certain intensity can be communicated from one organ to another. Relations, being rare, are not repeated enough to be determined ... (Division, pp. 368-9). 

Durkheim also discusses conditions of the worker under capitalism in terms that come very close to Marx's description of alienation and exploitation. He discusses the degrading nature of the division of labour on the worker, the possibility of monotonous routine, and the machine like actions of the worker. (Division, p. 371). However, Durkheim does not consider these to be the normal form, but one which results when the worker does not have a sufficient vision of the whole process of production. 

... the division of labour does not produce these consequences because of a necessity of its own nature, but only in exceptional and abnormal circumstances. ... The division of labour presumes that the worker, far from being hemmed in by his task, does not lose sight of his collaborators, that he acts upon them, and reacts to them. He is, then, not a machine who repeats his movements without knowing their meaning, but he knows that they tend, in some way, towards an end that he conceives more or less distinctly. (Division, p. 372). 

b. Forced Division of Labor. The forced division of labour is where the division of labour is not allowed to develop spontaneously, and where some act to protect themselves and their positions. These could be traditional forms, which are external to the division of labour, or they could be castes, Weber's status groups, or Marx's classes. Any factors that prevent individuals from achieving positions which would be consistent with their natural abilities indicates a force division of labour. Ritzer notes (p. 98) that this could be inequalities in the structure of work or inadequate organization, with the wrong people in particular positions or incoherent organizational structures. Any interference with the operation of the division of labour that results in the position being filled by those who are not most apt for the position would be forced division of labour. Quote 11: 

Forced Division of Labour. We may say that the division of labour produces solidarity only if it is spontaneous and in proportion as it is spontaneous. ... In short, labor is divided spontaneously only if society is constituted in such a way that social inequalities exactly express natural inequalities. ... It consists, not in a state of anarchy which would permit men freely to satisfy all their good or bad tendencies, but in a subtle organization in which each social value, being neither overestimated nor underestimated by anything foreign to it, would be judged at its worth. (Division, p. 376). 

Of course, wealth interferes with this, but Durkheim views this as abnormal and not the normal tendency. 

even this last inequality, which comes about through birth, though not completely disappearing, is at least somewhat attenuated. Society is forced to reduce this disparity as far as possible by assisting in various ways those who find themselves in a disadvantageous position and by aiding them to overcome it." (Division, p. 379).  

Durkheim also explains the role of individualism in this connection. He credits economists with having seen the importance of spontaneity in social and economic organization. But they were  

mistaken as to the nature of liberty. ... since they logically deduce it from the concept of the individual in itself, it seems to them to be entirely a state of nature, leaving aside all of society. But, besides the fact that it is false to believe that all regulation is the product of constraint, it happens that liberty itself is the product of regulation. Far from being antagonistic to social action, it results from social action. (Division, p. 386). 

In short, liberty is the subordination of external forces to social forces, for it is only in this condition that the latter can freely develop themselves. But this subordination is rather the reverse of the natural order. ... For he can escape nature only by creating another world where he dominates nature. That world is society. (Division, p. 387). 

Grabb notes that "Durkheim's perspective on freedom is particularly significant in this regard. Freedom is not the absence of constraint, of moral and legal rules in the economic and other realms. 'Quite on the contrary, liberty ... is itself the product of regulation. I can be free only to the extent that others are forbidden to profit from their physical, economic, or other superiority to the detriment of my liberty. But only rules can prevent [such] abuses of power." (Grabb, p. 90).

4. Role of State and Occupational Groups

Having said that Durkheim was generally very optimistic concerning the development of the division of labour in developing an organic solidarity, Durkheim was also concerned with the state of modern society. The development of the division of labour did have the tendency to split people, and the organic solidarity might not be sufficient to hold society together.

One solution for regulation that Durkheim discusses is the state. In some senses, Durkheim was a socialist, although not of the same type as Marx. Ritzer notes that for Durkheim, socialism "simply represented a system in which moral principles discovered by scientific sociology could be applied." (Ritzer, p. 73). While the principles of morality had to be present in society, the state could embody these in structures, fulfilling functions such as justice, education, health, etc., and managing a wide range of sectors of society (Grabb, p. 87).

The state "should also be the key structure for ensuring that these rules are moral and just. The appropriate values of individualism, responsibility, fair play, and mutual obligation can be affirmed through the policies instituted by the state in all these fields." (Grabb, p. 87).

The second major hope that Durkheim held was for what he called occupational groups. The state could not be expected to play the integrative role that might be needed, because it was too remote. As a solution, Durkheim thought that occupational or professional groups could provide the means of integration required. These would be formed by people in an industry, representing all the people in this sector. Their role would be somewhat different from Weber's parties, in that they would not be concerned with exercising power, and achieving their own ends. Instead, they would "foster the general interest of society at a level that most citizens can understand and accept." (Grabb, p. 88).

What we especially see in the occupational group is a moral power capable of containing individual egos, of maintaining a spirited sentiment of common solidarity in the consciousness of all the workers, of preventing the law of the strongest from being brutally applied to industrial and commercial relations. (p. 10). Ritzer notes that these associations could "recognize ... common interests as well as common need for an integrative moral system. That moral system ... would serve to counteract the tendency toward atomization in modern society as well as help stop the decline in significance of collective morality." (pp. 98-99).


Cuff, E. C., W. W. Sharrock and D. W. Francis, Perspectives in Sociology, third edition, London, Routledge, 1992. HM66 P36 1984

Durkheim, Emile, The Division of Labor in Society, New York, The Free Press, 1933. Referred to in notes as Division. HD 51 D98

Durkheim, Emile, The Rules of Sociological Method, New York, The Free Press, 1938. Referred to in notes as Rules. HM 24 D962

Durkheim, Emile, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, New York, The Free Press, 1951. Referred to in notes as Suicide. HV 6545 D812

Giddens, Anthony, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory: An Analysis of the Writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1971. HM19 G53.

Grabb, Edward G., Theories of Social Inequality: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives, second edition, Toronto, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1990. HT609 G72

Hadden, Richard W., Sociological Theory: An Introduction to the Classical Tradition, Peterborough, Ontario, Broadview Press, 1997.

Ritzer, George, Sociological Theory, third edition, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1992. HM24 R4938.

Sydie, R. A., Natural Women Cultured Men: A Feminist Perspective on Sociological Theory, Toronto, Methuen, 1987. HM51 S97 1987.

Thompson, Kenneth, Emile Durkheim, Chichester, E. Horwood, 1982. HM22 F8 D8737

Zeitlin, Irving M., Ideology and the Development of Sociological Theory, fourth edition, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1990. HM19 Z4 1990


Last edited on October 26, 1999.

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