Durkheim, Émile

Durkheim, Émile

Bio: (1857-1917) French sociologist. Émil Durkheim first studied at the École normale supérieure and then spent a few years studying at several universities in Germany. After returning to France, he found a permanent job as a professor of social sciences and pedagogy at the University of Bordeaux. After fifteen years spent in Bordeaux, Durkheim became a professor of pedagogy and later sociology at the Sorbonne in 1902, where he taught for the rest of his life. While working at the University of Bordeaux, Durkheim founded the first sociological journal in France, L'Année Sociologique, and several very important Durkheim collaborators worked on the journal: Marcel Mauss, Celestine Bouglé, and Henri Hubert.

                           Mechanical and Organic Solidarity

Durkheim's first book Division of Labor in Society (1893), as well as the following books The Rules of Sociological Method (1895) and Suicide (1897), are the basis for understanding his sociological approach. In his book Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim observes the development and evolution from primitive to civilized societies, and pays special attention to the relationship between the type of economy and the division of labor, on the one hand, and the type of solidarity and morality is society, on the other hand. To explain this relationship, he introduces a division into two basic types of solidarity in society - "mechanical solidarity" and "organic solidarity".

In societies of mechanical solidarity, the division of labor is very limited, societies consist of segments that are functionally the same, while kinship relations govern relations within and between segments. This way of life and work influence the creation of "collective consciousness" which is completely within the individual consciousness, so individuals blindly obey the opinion of the majority and live following traditional rules. Individuals, among themselves, have the same patterns of actions, emotions, and attitudes, so they do not form separate personalities. The legal system is aimed at retributive sanction, that is, at punishing those who violate collective rules. The goal of the regulatory system is to establish moral balance. Moral and legal responsibility falls on the entire collective, while social status is mostly hereditary.

In societies of organic solidarity, which appear with the emergence of civilization, a complex division of labor is developing. Different experiences and functions in society lead to the creation of different personalities. The connection between individuals is based on different and complementary functions they perform, so this type of solidarity is called organic, because, as in a living organism, where each organ performs a specific function, effective cooperation is necessary for survival in this type of society. Since each person has a different function, there is a development of morality that promotes individualism in society, but individualism in which each person develops their own specificity, to better develop themselves and thus give the greatest contribution to the common good. At the same time, with the development of individualism, there is a decline in the collective consciousness. Durkheim rejects the idea that selfishness and selfish individualism can be the basis for building any kind of solidarity and cohesion in society. In a society of organic solidarity, the legal system is focused on contract law and the restitutive sanction.

The basis of social change and the increase of the division of labor does not lie in the aspiration of individuals to increase economic productivity and thus achieve a higher level of economic consumption, instead, the division of labor is a consequence of changes in socio-morphological structure. Due to the large natural increase of people, there is an increase in population and an increase in population density, and this represents an increase in the physical density of society. Increasing the physical density of society leads to increased competition in society, hence individuals are forced to specialize economically in order to survive. The increasing physical density of people further leads to an increase in moral density, because greater specialization in the division of labor requires higher levels of communication and interaction. If the division of labor does not lead to an increase in cooperation and communication in society, a pathological form of "anomic division of labor" occurs.

                 Views on Epistemology, Methodology, and Theory

Durkheim presents a detailed account of his own epistemological, methodological, and theoretical approach in the book The Rules of Sociological Method. Durkheim's basic methodological postulate is that we should "treat social facts as things." Unlike Comte's positivism, Durkheim believed that sociology could study the inner psychic life of people. In that sense, values, emotions, morals, and all other products of collective and individual consciousness can be seen as things. Social facts exist outside of any individual, and they limit and direct his behavior. Individuals, as members of society, are governed by collective values, rules, and morals. All social facts must be determined by empirical study, and not deduced from the initial premises.

Social facts should be explained through other social facts, and exclusively by the social facts of a higher order, that is, social facts that precede the studied social fact. The basic and key origin of all social facts lies in the internal structure of the social environment. The social environment or "social substratum" consists of morphological elements of society: the number of people in the society, the degree of closeness and communication within society, the spatial distribution of physical elements, etc. „Material density“, which is shaped by social substratum, has a key influence on the formation of moral or „dynamic density“. Scientific objectivity is achieved by paying attention to social facts that can be objectively empirically investigated and whose variations can be easily determined. In that sense, the legal regulation of a society, social (demographic) statistics, and religious dogmas have special objectivity.

                                    Sociology of Suicide

In the book Suicide, Durkheim applies his approach to the study of the phenomenon of suicide and shows the practical applicability of his approach to the study of specific social problems. Durkheim rejects approaches to the phenomenon of suicide, which explain this act through geographical, biological, or individual-psychological factors. He believes that suicide, and its different statistical rates, can only be explained by social facts. Durkheim uses official statistics, which show that suicide rates remain constant over long periods, to prove that individual factors, as causes of suicide, cannot explain such regularities. Only those factors that do not change over time can explain the statistical regularities of suicide rates, and those are the morphological elements of the social substratum and the moral density of a society.

By analyzing the statistical data, Durkheim determined that suicide rates differ between different European countries. However, he also found significant differences between different populations within the same state. Gender, as well as a person's marital and family status, have also affected suicide rates. Major social upheavals and wars have also had an impact on changes in suicide rates. However, the most important regularity that Durkheim noticed in the statistics was the fact that members of different religious groups (even within the same geographical area) have different suicide rates. Protestants had the highest suicide rates, followed by Catholics, while Jews had the lowest suicide rates. Religious doctrines were not the ones that influenced suicide rates, but it was the degree of internal integration of a religious group. Protestants are characterized by the highest degree of individualism, while Jews, due to their history of persecution and isolated social status, have the highest degree of internal connection and integration.          

To explain the connection between a person's individual situation and the form and degree to which that person is integrated into society, on the one hand, with suicide rates, on the other hand, Durkheim introduces four basic types of suicide: 1) egoistic, 2) anomic, 3) fatalistic and 4) altruistic. Factors that affect different types of suicide are: the degree of integration of a society, how much and in what way are individuals integrated into society, and the level to which society regulates the individual behavior of each individual. Egoistic suicide is a consequence of insufficient integration of the individual into the everyday life of the society in which he or she lives. Individuals who follow only their own interests and who are therefore not integrated into the wider society are more likely to lose the meaning of life and fall into depression. Protestant religion emphasizes individualism, both in individual religious experience and in individual life choices, while, at the same time, it emphasizes the importance of a person's economic individualism and allows for selfish economic behavior. In addition, individuals who are not married and have no children are also less integrated into society and more prone to selfish behavior.

Anomic suicides occur at moments when there are rapid and significant social changes, which leads to a break in traditional values ​​and norms. The loss of traditional rules of organizing individual life leads to the rise of insecurity in individuals. The desires of individuals are insatiable and if there is no social control that regulates and limits those desires, individuals can, if they do not achieve their goals, become very disappointed in life, and that leads them to suicide. Both anomic and egoistic suicides are much more common in developed industrial societies because in those societies there is an increase in individualism and a decline in traditional values ​​and control. The altruistic type of suicide is characteristic of individuals who are extremely integrated into society and who are willing to sacrifice their lives to fulfill their duty to society - the best example is the traditional suicide of widows in India during their husbands' funerals. Fatalistic suicide is also characteristic of traditional societies, in which rules and social control prevent individuals from achieving some basic life goals – an example is high rates of suicide among slave populations.

                                      Sociology of Religion

Durkheim examines the nature of religion, and what makes religion specific in relation to similar social phenomena, in the book The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). To explore religion, he pays attention to what he considered to be the most primitive and simplest form of religious life, and that is the totemistic religion of Australian Aborigines. Durkheim did not observe the Aborigines directly but used the ethnographic data of other scientists. Australian Aborigines lived in societies that were divided into several clans, each of which was relatively independent, but the rule of exogamy applied when marrying, so each spouse had to be a member of another clan. Each clan was characterized by great cooperation and solidarity, and that solidarity was symbolized by a specific totem.

Totems were certain plants or animals from the environment in which the clan lived, and it was believed that the whole clan came from that plant or animal and was named after it, so there was a ritual avoidance of that totem. The visual symbolic representation of the totem, usually in the form of drawings on wood and stone, was called "churinga", in the Aboriginal language, and these churingas also represented sacred objects. Totems and churingas were, at the same time, symbols and markings of belonging to a certain clan. Totems were imbued with a mysterious and sacred force or principle (known as mana) and were therefore a source of moral rules (taboos) and principles. Totems were the most sacred objects in religious rituals, as visible manifestations of the totemic principle and god, but they also symbolized the whole society and its unity. That is why Durkheim concluded that while people are respecting the totem they are actually respecting society. This means that society itself, in this case, a specific clan, is an essential object of religious worship.

Durkheim's explanation is based on the fact that the individual is completely dependent on society to survive and function. Unlike other theoretical approaches to religion at the time, which assumed that religious beliefs were pure fabrications and lies, Durkheim concluded that all religions are always essentially true because the real source and object of religious worship is society. Every religion is presented as something sacred and untouchable, as something that is much more important than the individual, and gives moral rules of conduct and punishes if those rules are violated. However, what is really sacred and gives moral rules and sanctions, is society itself. Religion is thus only a symbolic expression of the sacralization of society itself.

Durkheim recognizes how social density influences changes in moral density in Aboriginal seasonal life. Aboriginal people spend part of the year in small groups, while in the second period, the whole clan meets. During the periods when the whole clan gathers, many religious rituals and ceremonies are held, and individuals come to a state of excitement and exaltation. Religious rituals serve to channel the enormous excitement that comes when the fact that whole clan comes together. Durkheim distinguishes between religion and magic because magic is aimed at directly causing specific physical effects - positive or negative - which is not the case with religion. In addition, magic does not unite individuals into a single moral community, as religion does. This is how Durkheim come to his definition of religion: "(religion is) a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, i.e., things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." (Durkheim, 1912).

Durkheim and Marcel Moss in their text Primitive Classification (1902) state that all classification systems and basic categories of knowledge are only a reflection of society, that is, its material substratum (see more details in the Mauss).

                                     Sociology in Practice

Durkheim believed that his sociology could serve as a basis for the political and ethical transformation of modern society. In modern society, society's control over the individual is decreasing, because the influence of religion, kinship groups, and the neighborhood is declining. Individuals are becoming too individualized and detached from any moral control of the wider society. This is exactly what Durkheim calls "anomie". Durkheim proposed the creation of corporations which, together with trade unions and professional associations, would lead to the formation of an authority that would be the basis of moral unity and a source of control over the behavior of individuals. 

Main works

De la division du travail social (1893);

Les Régles de la méthode sociologique (1895); 

Le Suicide (1897);

De quelques formes primitives de classification (1902); 

Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse  (1912);

Education et sociologie (1922);

Sociologie et philosophie (1924);

L'Éducation morale (1925);

Le socialisme (1928).

Works translated into English:

Division Of Labor In Society (2014, in French 1893);

The Rules of Sociological Method: And Selected Texts on Sociology and its Method (2014, in French 1895); 

Suicide, a Study in Sociology (2007, in French 1897);

Primitive Classification (1967, in French 1902);

The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (2012, in French 1912);

Education and Sociology (1956, In French 1922);

Sociology and Philosophy (1974, in French 1924);

Moral Education, (2012, in French 1925);

Socialism and Saint Simon (1962, in French 1928);

Professional Ethics and Civic Morals (2018).

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