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The Human Society as a Special Reality in E.Durkheim’s Sociology

Nikolas is fond of the history of sociology and anthropology. He searches new interpretation of these doctrines

Emile Durkheim, Philosopher and Sociologue

E. Durkheim

E. Durkheim

Sociology and Ethnology

  • A new stage in the development of the social theory was the ideas of the French sociological school, which largely determined the development of ethnology in the first half of the twentieth century. The founder of this direction is rightly considered an outstanding French scientist Emile Durkheim. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) was one of the universally recognized founders of sociology as a science. The central idea of Durkheim's theory was the idea that human society is a special reality, not reducible to the sum of its constituent individuals.
  • There are two main trends in E. Durkheim's theoretical understanding of society: naturalism and social realism. The first one is rooted in an understanding of society and its regularities by analogy with nature and is connected with the traditions of the Enlightenment. The second presupposes an understanding of society as a reality of a special kind, different from all other types of reality (physical, chemical, biological) and is rooted in the concept of society. Most of E. Durkheim's works were written using extensive ethnographic material. This shows that he looked for arguments for his sociological concepts on a cultural basis.

The Social Solidarity

  • The main idea that inspired Durkheim was the idea of social solidarity. He was characterized by the desire to find an answer to the question of what ties unite people into society. According to Durkheim, the force that creates the social whole and contributes to its preservation is the division of labor. His main thesis was that the division of labor, by which he meant professional specialization, increasingly fulfills the integrating role that had once been played by social consciousness. As a consequence of the increasing specialization of labor, individuals are forced to exchange their activities, to perform complementary functions, involuntarily forming a unified whole. In undeveloped, archaic societies, there was a mechanical solidarity. People in these societies were bound together purely mechanically. Their solidarity was determined by the similarity of individuals and their social functions, by the underdevelopment of individual personality traits. When there is no room for individual deviations, the collective consciousness, which in archaic society is entirely religious, regulates the whole life of the individual without a trace.
  • In contrast, religion in modern society encompasses an ever diminishing part of social life. The development of the division of labor, in which an increasing number and variety of functions appear, is the main factor weakening the single collective consciousness. The reason for the division of labor Durkheim considered the growth of the population, determining the intensity of social life, increasing "physical density", "volume" of society.

Aboriginal Australian Ceremonies

Residents of Australis

Residents of Australis

Collective Representations

  • Another key concept in the theory of E. Durkheim was the concept of "collective representations". He understood them as a set of beliefs and feelings common to members of one society. Such perceptions can also be called "collective consciousness. They are not derived from the personal experience of an individual member of society but are imposed on the individual by the social environment. It is the collective perceptions that fulfill the function of maintaining group solidarity in society. The most vivid and consistent embodiment of E. Durkheim's social theory was manifested in his concept of religion. The scientist proposed to look for the origins and explanations of religion in society.
  • The origin of religion, such as the Australian totemism he studied, he deduced from the structure of primitive society and its social organization. E. Durkheim painted a vivid picture of the contrast between the two periods in the life of Australian tribes. This is the period of hard work in the solitary struggle for existence and the period of collective festivities when at the end of the labor process the whole tribe gathers together. The monotonous, dull, and miserable existence is replaced by a state of extreme exaltation and elation. It is as if people are possessed by some mighty force that lifts them above reality, making them think and feel differently than they do in ordinary times. This creates an idea of two qualitatively opposite worlds. It is about the ordinary and the sacred, evoking faith in the great transformative power of collectivity. Studying totemism in primitive societies, E. Durkheim saw in it a prototype of "complex" modern societies and transferred the features of totemism to modern religions


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

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  1. What did E.Durkheim do in 1895?
    • He published the Rules of Sociological Method
    • He published the Rules of Sociological Method and set up the first European department of Sociology
  2. What does modern capitalism raise?
    • Hopes
    • Disappoinment
  3. Who influences on the choice on profession in modern industrialized society?
    • Individual does
    • Society does

Answer Key

  1. He published the Rules of Sociological Method and set up the first European department of Sociology
  2. Hopes
  3. Individual does

Central Element

  • The idea of God as a necessary central element of religious systems is rejected. He argued that the God of believers is only a "figurative expression of society. Hence the almost limitless influence of religion on culture, personality, and the basic patterns of human thought. Society is the author and subject of religious worship and dogma. It creates religion and causes religious worship; it is God and the believer at the same time. Among the priorities of social research, E. Durkheim included not only religion but also morality.
  • In interpreting its nature, origin, and functions he adhered to the concept of sociology, deriving morality from social conditions, social environment, the social structure in its specific understanding. E. Durkheim viewed morality as a system of objective rules of behavior. Their distinctive feature was an imperative, coercive, and personal interest in moral values. Interpretation of the social functions of morality Durkheim directly linked to the theory of education. His goal was the formation of a social being, the development in the child of those qualities and properties of his personality that society needs.

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