Theory of Mechanical and Organic Solidarity by E. Durkheim

: Theory of Mechanical and Organic Solidarity by E. Durkheim Essay Sample

Emile Durkheim formulated his doctrine of the mechanical and organic solidarity in his work The Division of Labor in Society (1893). Durkheim became the author of many program theses on the content and applications of sociological science. Wishing to see the sociology of one of the universally recognized sciences, Durkheim wrote that sociology is not auxiliary to any other science. It is a separate and independent science. Speaking about the object and methodology of the new science, Durkheim argued that every society has a certain group of phenomena that can be distinguished from those ones, studied by other natural sciences. He considered the fundamental goal of the sociology in the research of structural “social facts”.

The creation of the sociology as an academic discipline is considered one of the main elements of Durkheim’s intellectual heritage. His works influenced the formation of such a sociological trend as structuralism or structural functionalism. According to Durkheim, the development of the human society passes through two phases: 1) a mechanical solidarity (pre-industrial, or traditional society) and 2) an organic solidarity (pre-industrial, and then industrial society). The early stage is characterized by the strict regulation, the subordination of an individual to the requirements of the collective, the minimum level of the work division, the lack of specialization, the uniformity of feelings and beliefs, the dominance of customs over the formal law, the despotic power, the underdevelopment of the individuality, and the predominance of the collective property.

In primitive societies, based on the mechanical solidarity, the individual does not belong to itself and it is absorbed by the collective. On the contrary, in a developed society, based on organic solidarity, both individual and collective complement each other. Durkheim derived a number of important sociological laws of the social evolution and the development of the social solidarity: the more primitive society, the more people are alike, the higher is the level of coercion and violence, the lower the level of labor division and the diversity of individuals. The more diversity in the society, the higher is the people tolerance to each other, the broader is the basis of the democracy. The deeper is the labor division, the more new professions appear.

In the simplest societies with a low labor division and a low differentiation of functions, performed by members of society, the law was repressive. Any violation of mechanical solidarity, produced by similarity, was seriously punished. Moreover, the simplest societies tend to be small, with similar conditions and the life experience of individuals who have the same perspectives, which are specific and local in their manifestations. In a small society, as Durkheim wrote, everyone exists under the same conditions and the collective environment is essentially concrete. An example of the mechanical solidarity by Durkheim is the clan, tribe, horde, and primitive family. All of them are united by an extremely low level of labor division and specialization, the predominance of the physical labor over the intellectual one, the absence of the private property and the dominance of collectivist attitudes.

In primitive societies based on the mechanical solidarity, the individual consciousness in everything follows and obeys the collective domination. On the contrary, in mature societies based on the organic solidarity, both begin to complement each other without being absorbed. The guarantee of the individual development here is not just a verbal recognition of human rights and freedoms, the autonomy of consciousness, but first of all, it is the recognition of an independent sphere of action for the individual. The human freedom manifests itself in actions. This means that the collective consciousness must be open to individuals.

The mechanical solidarity is based on the fact that the identity of people grows, and the labor division is reduced. In the modern society, it is different. In it, the level of labor division is higher and the identity of people is lower. The social solidarity here depends on the cooperation of special functions. The specialization in functions is most stated in commercial laws that regulate business agreements. In the lower societies with a small division of the labor, although despotic rule prevailed, the solidarity remained weak. Everyone was free to leave his family. Social ties were not as strong as in the modern society with a developed division of the labor. The Romans easily handed over the citizenship rights of the conquered tribes that easily could be involved in the new society, at least through the adoption. In the current societies, the process of the civil assimilation or naturalization is very complicated and time-consuming (for example, in the USA).

The more stereotyped is the collective consciousness, the more simple are the customs and beliefs, the less a person must be developed. Conversely, the more complex and vague are the rules of behavior, the more individual reflection is required in order to apply general rules to particular cases. With the social progress, the average degree of both intensity and certainty of the collective consciousness, according to Durkheim, is decreasing. If earlier the collective consciousness regulated all spheres of the social life, then later it plays a smaller and smaller role. If in the early stages the authority of the family head was considered a public duty, then, in ancient Rome, the respect for the father became a private matter for everyone. The society as a whole was no longer interested in this.

Durkheim suggests that when the family life has changed from house to house, family feelings have lost their monotony and certainty. From the collective life, a private life as a new sphere is gradually emerging. In the developed type of the modern society, the inviolability of the private life is guaranteed by all its institutions. On the contrary, in less developed societies, especially totalitarian societies, the private lives of individuals are not protected from the violence of the collective system.
The division of the labor brings diversity, and the more it is, the stronger is the people’s desire for unity and exchange. The symbol of exchange is the agreement as its legal form. The exchange assumes that two people take free obligations on themselves. This is the basis for both cooperation and interaction. To co-operate means to share a common occupation among people. The buyer’s contract with the seller or the entrepreneur with the worker is a form of a social interaction. Their relationship is governed by the rights and laws on which the social institutions of society are based.

Durkheim was less attracted by the analysis of the continuous line of evolution in the human society from ancient to modern times and the construction of global metaphysical patterns in the history. He liked the historical-comparative method, which is now called the comparativistics.