Durkheim is considered the first French academic sociologist and a significant part of the life of this philosopher was surrounded by his work and writing though he also participated a lot in the affairs of the French as a society. Though a respectable academic, he was still faced with various obstacles among them being the resistance and opposition from his colleagues as scholar who represented a discipline that held little relevance or legitimacy in the society of that time.
The center of argument for Durkheim was the insistence on the study of the society as a social phenomena or "sui generis" and argued for the shunning of the reductionism and scientific approach to social life. He totally rejected the biological approaches to life study and even the psychological interpretation of social life and insisted on the determinants of the social problems of mankind to be the social structure.
He is known to have forwarded one of the strongest arguments against and a critique of the reductionism as an explanation of the social behavior. He insisted that the social phenomena are strictly social facts hence must be dealt with within the circles of sociology.
Durkheim insists that these social phenomena have distinctive social determinants and characteristics which are not in any way palatable to the biological or even the psychological explanations (Bolender Initiative, 2011).
Durkheim on social solidarity
It has been widely agreed that Durkheim is a representation of the contemporary Max Weber even though his work was different in a significant manner. It is noticeable that both Weber and Karl Marx are conflict theorists. These two philosophers had a common agreement that any social order corresponded to and was in line with opposing conflicts, with each force trying to overcome the other. They also argue that these conflicts between the society's different facets are essential for the development and continuity of the society (Timothy Shortel, 2006). This is directly the opposite of the approach that Durkheim gives the social existence.
Durkheim's approach is usually referred to as the functionalism approach. The functionalists in general view are on the role of social objects as actors to the society, i.e. what these objects do for the society. Durkheim had the belief that it is harmony and not conflict that gave the proper society its definition. He examines social phenomenon with the view to their function in producing or facilitating social cohesion and consistency. It is from this perspective that Durkheim studied the division of labor, suicide and religion.
As Max Weber was preoccupied with rationality, Durkheim was basically preoccupied with solidarity as the normal condition of a society and even though he appreciated the turmoil and the disorder that was brought about by the process of industrialization, he considered the acts of conflict and conflict itself to be pathological and abnormal.
Durkheim categorizes solidarity into two; mechanical and organic solidarity. Mechanical solidarity he explains to be the integration that is based on shared sentiments and beliefs. On the other hand, the organic solidarity to be dependent on the interdependence and specialization and these two indicate the different ways in which societies organize themselves. He argues that in a society where the kinds of labor that people engage in has little differences, then the integration is majorly based on the common beliefs that the people have.
On the other hand, in a society where there is vast difference in the type of labor that the people engage in, then their solidarity will hugely depend on the mutual dependence that the members of the society may have. This is the differentiation that Durkheim points at between the modern societies and the pre-modern societies and also a pointer to how the society changes in terms of solidarity as it becomes complex as well.
In the pre-modern society, the mechanical solidarity was predominant. The societies that depended on the mechanical solidarity are relatively small and organized around a kinship attachment and the relations and interactions are regulated and controlled by the system of beliefs that are shared by that particular society, a phenomenon that Durkheim referred to as the common conscience. As a result of such a common conscience, there were punitive measures that were put in place and the violations of these social norms and trends by an individual could be taken as an affront and threat to the shared identity hence calling for heavy punishment as a reaction to such deviance.
With the expansion of the society and the consequent industrialization, Durkheim notes that the society geared more towards the division of labor. With such a vast society there arises the need to put in place a complex organization of labor for the production of what Karl Marx referred to as material of life. The complex labor organization leads to the diminishing collective conscience. The solidarity that was hitherto based on the common and shared belief system becomes no longer a possibility. However, Durkheim insists that the complexity doe not lead the society to disintegrate but to more social solidarity that is now based on interdependence.
Durkheim argues that since people can no longer sufficiently produce all that they need all round, they have to depend on each other for the fulfillment of the needs. The integration then comes into play when there is that recognition that each person needs the other for the fulfillment of the needs that they cannot fulfill. It is therefore noticeable that the integration in a society under the organic solidarity is pitched around the economic and the political organization.
In this situation, the legal systems are endowed with regulating the social behavior and their mode of social regulation is based on rules of restitution and exchange rather than punishment as is in the mechanical solidarity. These facts make the modern society a unique one and quite different from the pre-modern society, here, there is solidarity in a highly diverse society with diverse beliefs and occupation without a common conscience.
There is also the fact that Durkheim is in recognition of, he points out the division of labor as means of keeping the society in solidarity. He emphasizes that it is with the division of labor that people come to specialize in the various engagements hence being a contributor to the reproductive capacity of the society as well as being the source of intellectual material and development in the society and more importantly the moral character contributor to the society. He gives an example of the marriage as an institution where if the division of labor is reduced to the minimum, then the material life would fade away and the only remaining relationship would be the sexual one that is not sufficient in sustaining the engagement for long.
This is a stand that is corroborated by an academic called Comte who pointed out that division of labor was something far much more than just economic engagement. Comte says it is 'continuous distribution of different human tasks which constitutes the principal element in social solidarity' and that division of labor has some moral nature since the needs that it fulfills for the social solidarity, harmony and order are moral needs in the society (University of Chicago, 2011).
In as much as Durkheim measures the social solidarity in term of the interdependence of the society and the members, he also recognizes the significance of the law in emphasizing the solidarity and that it is the most visible symbol of the solidarity in a society. He says that the law is the organization of the social life in its most precise form and stable form. It is the reflection of all the essential varieties of social solidarity. This involves the two types of laws that h help in the social solidarity; the repressive laws (which covers the penal law) and the restitutive laws (civil, communal and procedural laws).
The repressive laws are meant to impose some type of damage on the perpetrator of a social offense or disregard for the social order. This is effectively seen in the pre-modern society and is meant to instill the mechanical relationship that exists in this type of society.
On the other hand, the restitutive laws may not necessarily imply infliction of suffering on the perpetrator of the crime but is geared towards the restoration of the relationship and order that previously existed in these relationships and had been disturbed from their normal status.
Durkheim believes that the division of labor is a normal happening but very often enters the pathological state; these are the points at which the certain functions of the organism are not adjusted to one another. He observes that as the labor becomes increasingly and in a complex manner divided up, the pathological phenomenon become more and more increasing as a result issue like commercial crisis sprouts, bankruptcies become prominent and eminent hostility between labor and capital. Durkheim further asserts that the happening of crime within the society is more normal than pathological and through the society…