Emile Durkheim Essay, Research Paper
Emile Durkheim Essay
Many different people, from many different backgrounds can define society in many different ways. To some it is the community they live in, to others it is the entity that shapes their lives, and yet to others, it is an exclusive club in which they’re are a member of. To Emile Durkheim, the world’s first official Sociologist, society is a complex structure in which each separate part is responsible for its own function for the benefit of the whole. This essay will not only explain how society can be both internal and external to human beings, but also three characteristics of the social fact concept, and three of Durkheim’s sociologically significant concepts.
According to Durkheim, society comes in two forms: internal and external. First, the internal society forms the ‘collective moral conscious’ (Farganis, pg. 58). In other words, it is the defining mechanism in shaping our beliefs and attitudes for survival in the world. If society does not conform to the internal society, then social isolation, ridicule, and other forms of punishment could occur. Examples of internal society are the Bible, education, and laws. Society uses these devices to attempt to keep social order and construct a socially acceptable individual.
External to society is the actual pressures from the community to conform to the collective. For example, ways of thinking, acting and feeling are external to society. Social facts exist externally to us and compel people to behave in a unified way, with norms that are constructed by society. These facts are recognizable through power that the external persuasion has, which can be exercised over an individual.
In his early works, Durkheim defined social facts, according to Coser in The Work, by their exteriority and constraint, focusing his primary concern on the operation of the law (pg. 129). He later changed his views and stressed that social facts become competent guides and controls of conduct only to the extent that they become internalized by individuals while continuing to exist outside of them (Coser, pg. 129). Social facts contain several characteristics. One characteristic is constraint. Constraint is the ability to condition an individual to conform to society. For example, a person will receive a traffic ticket if they go over the speed limit. The ticket is the act of constraint because it is used as a way to force the person to adhere to the law that has been imposed.
A second characteristic is generality. Generality is something that is potentially universal and diffused with a group. Again, using the speeding ticket as the example, the generality is that the speed limit applies to all persons that possess a valid driver’s license.
A final characteristic included in social facts is externality, which constitutes a reality sui-generis outside of any individual. For example, when a child is born, it is born without any constraints. Among others, cleanliness, obedience, and respect are imposed on the child from the time they are born. These are social facts that are external to the child.
This discussion leads us to the work of Emile Durkheim, specifically, his work with the socially confusing subject of suicide. Durkheim conducted an extensive study on suicide based on the hypothesis that suicide rates increase as the degree of social unity and regulation of the individual by the group decreases. Let’s examine this more closely. Durkheim believed that the explanation of suicide as an individual act was inadequate and that he could demonstrate, through the use of statistical data, that there are social causes of suicide. The larger social forces that exist can account for a social fact, or a phenomenon, that on the surface appears to be solely individual. This was the methodology of Durkheim’s Suicide study. This methodology was unique because, as Coser states on page 130,
the utilization of statistical data to show that the rates of occurrence of specific phenomena rather than with incidence had an additional advantage in that it allowed Durkheim to engage in comparative analysis of various structures. By comparing the rates of suicides in various groups, he was able to?arrive at an overall generalization.
Durkheim relied on data he could count and categorize by specific generalizations. Then comes full circle the discussion of the impact on the external society.
Durkheim is also credited with constructing many sociologically significant concepts. I will examine three of them. The first is that there are two basic forms of social organization called mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Mechanical solidarity people live in simple, pre-industrialized societies. Members of this society are bonded together by shared beliefs and sentiment. Simply put, their unity is based on similarity. For example, tribes of people that live together in a common culture are members of mechanical solidarity. They are unified based on their shared lifestyle.
Organic solidarity societies are complex, industrialized societies that develop out of differences, rather than likenesses, between individuals. This form of social organization is based on the belief that people come together and stay together due to their increasing mutual dependence. Each person depends on the other for their skill because it is different than their own. For example, the state legislature is made of an organic solidarity society. Members represent their own communities and stay together because they are dependent upon one another to adequately run the government.
Another concept Durkheim created was anomie. Anomie, or normlessness, is the breakdown of social norms in a society. Individuals cannot find their place in society without clear rules to guide them; therefore, changing conditions as well as adjustment of life can lead to dissatisfaction, conflict, and deviance. Durkheim observed that social periods of disruption, or anomie, could lead to economic depression and war and higher rates of suicide, crime, and deviance.
A final sociologically significant concept of Durkheim is that he believed he found an area from replacing religion in society and he formed two mutually contradictory hypotheses: either animism or naturism stood at the origin of religion, and the congregation of spirits was a subsequent development. It was through the critical examination of these traditional theories that Durkheim hoped to reveal the need for a new theory. Animism is the idea that the human soul was first suggested by the contrast between dreams and those of normal experience (Jones, pg. 123). This was the most primitive religion, and naturism its secondary form.
The naturistic theory insisted that religion ultimately rest upon a real experience, that of nature (the infinity of time, space, force, etc.) — which is sufficient to directly provoke religious ideas in the mind (Jones, pg. 124). Religion itself begins only when these natural forces cease being represented in the mind, and are transformed into personal, conscious spirits or gods. Durkheim found that god is nothing more than society apotheosized. It was insisted, for example, that a society has all that is necessary to create the idea of the divine, for it is to its members what a god is to his worshippers. It is both physically and spiritually superior to individuals, and thus they not only fear its power, but also respect its authority.
Society can be many things to many people. To Emile Durkheim, society can be both internal and external to human beings and can contain characteristics of the social fact concept. Three of Durkheim’s sociologically significant concepts, social organization, anomie, and religion in society are important in the realm of Sociology. In summary, the following quote from the mouth of the original father of Sociology, Emile Durkheim, “Society is not a mere sum of individuals. Rather, the system formed by their association represents a specific reality which has its own characteristics.”
Coser, Emile Durkheim: The Work. 1977. Pp. 129-132.
http://www.runet.edu/~iridener/DSS/Durkheim/DURKWRK.HTML (28 Jan. 2000).
Farganis, James, “Readings in Social Theory.” 3rd ed. 2000. Pp. 58-69.
Jones, Robert Alum. Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1986. Pp. 123-124.
http://www.lang.uiuc.edu/durkheim/Summaries/forms.html (2 Feb. 2000).