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 Durkheim argued that Marxism is composed of "disputable and out-of-date hypotheses."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 he favoured social reforms, while opposing the development of a socialist society.
This leads to the title of the chapter – society as – that is, society as a thing in itself, something of its own kind, or a thing apart. This is the view of Durkheim that society has an existence of its own, apart from the individuals in it, and is thus a proper object of study. This is the study of sociology. Adams and Sydie note the more specific reference of Durkheim to this is social facts or the "facts of social existence, (p. 91) – the facts that cannot be reduced to individual acts, for example, social obligations, social currents such as broad social moods of pessimism or optimism.
The Division of Labor in Society (1893 ..
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.
In examining the roots of social solidarity, Durkheim regards the ..
Durkheim was especially concerned with the question of social order, how does modern society hold together given the individualism and autonomy of each person. Adams and Sydie note that he focused on problems of "reconciling freedom and morality, or individualism and social cohesion in modern society" (p. 90). His book was an exploration and explanation of these issues, and he finds the answer in the concept of social solidarity, common consciousness, and systems of law. Because such forces are not always effective at producing solidarity and because of social changes, there can be disruptions in the solidarity and consciousness. Durkheim connects these to what he calls the forced division of labour (eg. slavery) and to periods of confusion, what he calls . In , the latter is also connected to his analysis of suicide, an exploration of different suicide rates at different places and times in Europe, and an attempt to explain why they differ.
Social Science Dictionary with a Durkheim bias
Two types of social facts are material and non-material social facts. Material social facts are features of society such as social structures and institutions. These could be the system of law, the economy, church and many aspects of religion, the state, and educational institutions and structures. They could also include features such as channels of communication, urban structures, and population distribution. While these are important for understanding the structures and form of interaction in any society, it is nonmaterial social facts that constitute the main subject of study of sociology.
Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works
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).