Ryan : History of Sociological Thought

Durkheim -- The Division of Labor in Society

Defended as doctoral thesis in 1893.
Important Concepts
collective consciousness "certain number of states of consciousness common to all members of society   penal/repressive law set of rules that involves and injury or punishment imposed upon the perpetrator of a crime.  Expiatory function.  Involves harming perpetrator's honor, fortune, life, liberty, property
mechanical solidarity solidarity of similarity -- shared common experiences/sentiments; socity=everyone fits in
restitutive law rules that govern the restoration of previous state of affairs.  Civil, commercial, procedural, administrative, constitutional law
moral density # of individuals in contact with one another (cf. soul volume) (201)
solidarity the glue of society -- what makes a collection of people into a social unit -- emphasis on feeling like a unit
organic solidarity solidarity of interdependence; society=everyone has a place
soul volume raw # of people in society (cf. moral density) (203)
Themes and Highlights
  • rise of individualism
  • mechanical vs. organic solidarity
  • collective consciousness
  • "individual born of society, not society of individuals"
  • "personal" as antithesis of "social"
  • insight: irreducibility of social entity to sum of its parts
  • methodology: relating social practices (forms of law) and social organization (types of solidarity)
Typical Durkheimian Rhetorical Strategy
  • Carefully definition of phenomenon under investigation
  • Refutation of plausible opposing theories
  • Exposition of Durkheimian-Sociological theory
Durkheim's Foils in DoLiS
  • critics of industrialization who see it as "end of civilization as we know it" (EOCAWKI)
  • Spencer and utilitarians who see society as based on individual cooperation and social contract (and thus see natural evolution of society from more regulation to less regulation)
  • Political economists who see division of labor as "natural" rather than a social construction
  • methodological individualism, social atomism
Logic of the Argument*
  1. What is status of DoL?1
      Economists treat it as natural, necessary for social evolution.  Even a necessary evil.  Durkheim thinks it might be a source of cohesion rather than a challenge to it.
  2. What is function of DoL?
      Smith would say it allows people to enjoy advantages of civilization.  But, Durkheim, says, lots of nasty things increase with civilization.  DoL can't be necessary only because it fulfills needs that it itself creates.
  3. What else does it do?
      Well, differences attract and complementarity makes us feel good.
  4. To what degree does DoL contribute to social cohesion?
      To answer we need  a way to "measure" solidarity.  Can only do so with indicators.  Useful one is law.

      Two types of society (rural/urban;village/city;Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft;pre-modern/modern;preindustrial/industrial), two types of solidarity (mechanical/organic).  Illustrated by two types of law (penal/restitutive).

      Mechanical Solidarity - based on the attraction of like for like. Characterized by in-group solidarity and out-group hostility.  Crime and anything that differs from our way is met with repressive sanctions and punishment which hurts the perpetrator.  Crime is an affront to our conscience collective, to who we are. An act offends the common consciousness not because it is criminal, but it is criminal because it offends that consciousness (40).  Recall Garfinkel's "Conditions for Successful Degradation Ceremonies" in which the denouncing is done "on behalf of society."1,2

      Organic Solidarity - based on complementarity and interdependence.  Crime met with restitutive sanctions that focus on re-achieving status quo.  Restitutive law not based in CC but in DoL. It is meted out by specialists not society as a whole (69-70).   It presumes differences and space between/around individuals.  There must be a sense of individuality, of self-interest, for sanctions against liberty or property or honor to function.  Under organic solidarity the CC does not quite envelop the entire person.  It leaves room for individuality.  Thus, there is a tension or tradeoff between individual conscience and collective conscience.1,2

      And so, ratio of repressive to restitutive law is a measure of the grip of collective conscience and thus of the type of solidarity in a society.

  5. Causes of the Division of Labor3

      Has to be social.  Not pleasure or happiness.  Not clear that we are happier than primitives.

      The DOL is in direct proportion to the moral density of society. (Moral density also increases with the growth of physical density). the increase of social
      density can occur in three ways:

      1. the increasing spatial concentration of a people
      2. the growth of towns (towns do no exist in segmentary societies) (the development of urban centers is not pathological, but is representative of higher society)
      3. increase in number and efficacy of means of communication (201-2). 

      Spencer (206) says ^environmental differences >> ^ DOL.  Durkheim: makes possible but does not force (208).  Rather, ^struggle for survival >> differentiation and specialization (209).  Greater economic productivity is merely a consequence of the DOL, and not a cause or motivation (217).

  7. Consequences of the Foregoing3

      • ROLES: Comte and Spencer saw substitutability only in primitive societies.  Durkheim says no, in modern too  (271).  Individuals may change roles as society changes.  ^DoL >> ^ such elasticity >> function/role ^ independent of who performs it.
      • The DOL is a necessary consequence of the growth of volume and density of society.  Civilization is but an after-effect (not a cause) of the DOL (276). 
      • Furthermore, individuals are more a product of common social life than a determining factor in it  (277). 
      • ^ # and ^diverse individuals >> ^ interactions >> ^intensity of social life==civilization (278). The product of these social relationships becomes an entity in itself (society sui generis). 
      • Spencer: individual establishes relationships out of self interest >> society  >> social progress = improving  relationships individual ends.
      • Durkheim: "Spencer does not see in societies a true reality, existing by itself by virtue of specific and necessary causes, one that consequently bears down upon man, imposing upon him its own nature and to which he is forced to adapt in order to continue living" (281).  (society sui generis)
      • In effect, man does not shape society. according to D,"'it is because society changes that we must change"' (282). D labels this concept a mechanistic theory of progress."  Because the ideal of civilization depends upon the ever changing social environment, we will never be without our goals for society (282).
      • According to D, man is more or less entirely guided by social life. He credits very little to the human psyche alone. He claims that man develops his psychological life in response to his level of sociability (284). Plus, man has only gained the ability to reason because he is a social animal. Social life even influences his emotions. as man's social life grows in complexity, so does his psyche.
      • We should not present social life as the result of individual natures alone -- as does Spencer. Individual natures emerge from social life; consequently, social facts are not just a mere development of psychological facts (286). Everything found in the consciousness of individuals comes form society. 
* Parts of outline derived from
1 http://www.d.umn.edu/~jhamlin1/durkheim.html
2 http://www.unc.edu/courses/soci50a/divisionoflabor.html
3 http://www.spc.uchicago.edu/ssr1/PRELIMS/Theory/durkheim.html
"The Precontractual Basis of Contract"
  • Utilitarians: I have A.  You have B.  Let's trade.
  • Durkheim: We're in society.  I have A.  You have B. Let's trade.

  • There is a taken for granted background to everything we do together.  Compare Garfinkel on "the routine grounds of everyday activities."  For Durkheim you can't start out a story of society by saying "First, two individuals came together...." 
Five Kinds of Social Glue
  1. Organic solidarity
  2. Penal law replaced by restitutive law -- emphasis on restoring order, offense is against social org and CC
  3. Cult of individual -- from God=Society to God=Individual (cf. Goffman)
  4. New shared moral beliefs (ideologies?), e.g., equality of opportunity, work ethic, meritocracy
  5. Occupational groups replace tribal groups (~neo-corporatism)
Research Note
This stuff is hard to research.  We are looking for the implicit, the unarticulated.  Only the tip of the social iceberg is normally visible.

You have to get your respondents to bracket what they take for granted.  One approach is to ask "stupid questions."  To get at underlying logic of things you have to question things.  It might involve undermining their sense of you as an intelligent person.  Don't ask "on what basis do you choose your classes?"  Instead, ask things like "If you like Dr. So and So, why don't you take other courses from her?"  EZ's example of prodding people in the hospital to explain why who gets scheduled to work when: "why not these two?"  "Because they did it last week."

Discussion Questions

  1. What is "social solidarity"?
  2. Durkheim says that the utilitarian idea of society arising from social contract and exchange is a creation of society ex nihilo.  What does he mean by this?
  3. One place Durkheim and Spencer differ is in the role they assign to ideas.  How do ideas play a different role in Durkheim?
  4. Durkheim can be said to be describing a continuum with social at one extreme and personal or individual at the other end.  Is the personal "anti-social" for Durkheim?
  5. How would you explain to a taxi-driver the idea that society invents the individual and not vice versa?
  6. Durkheim points several times to the idea of society as a reality sui generis (as when he says that Spencer didn't really take society as a real thing).  What do you understand by this?

Reading Schedule

Durkheim : The Divisionof Labor in Society
Prefaces to the First Edition xxv-xxx Individual and society -- what is the relationship?
Introduction Book I
What needs to be explained and how should our investigation proceed?
Book I The Function of the Division of Labour
Ch. 1, "The Method of Determining this Function,"  pp. 
What do we mean by function and what is the function of the DoL?
Connections to types of law
from Ch. 2, "Mechanical Solidarity, or Solidarity by Similarities" 
Mechanical solidarity; repressive law; collective sentiments
Similarities; conformity; social function of punishment
from Ch. 3, "Solidarity Arising from the Division of Labour or Organic Solidarity"
Restitutive law; organic solidarity
from Ch. 5, "The Increasing Preponderance of Organic Solidarity and Its Consequences"
Decline in power of CC.  Rise of "individual"
from Ch. 7, "Organic Solidarity and Contracutal Solidarity"
Social contract revisited
Book II The Causes and Conditions
from "Consequences of the Foregoing"
More to life than the psychological.  Society more than aggregation of individuals. 
Book III The Abnormal Forms
Ch 1, "The Anomic Division of Labor"
Ch 2, "The Forced Division of Labour"
Preface to the Second Edition xxxi-lix  


Supplementary Readings

The Division of Labor in Society (1893)
[Excerpt from Robert Alun Jones. Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.,1986. Pp. 24-59.]
Durkheim Notes from UChicago Prelims Library
Excerpts from Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, (Translated by George Simpson). by New York: The Free Press, 1947.
The Emile Durkheim Archive (caution -- free website that sends popup window ads with page)