There is, it would seem, some inconsistency between the sociologist’s growing
recognition of the importance of deliberately cultivated theoretical continuity – as a
methodological imperative – and a growing tendency to neglect the earlier
contributors to sociological theory. An awareness of the historical development of
sociology, of its past as well as its present state, is the only firm basis for
evaluating whether we have “progressed,” and, if so, how much and in what ways.
Alfred North Whitehead has said that “a science which hesitates to forget its
founders is lost.” But to forget something, one must have known it in the first
place. A science ignorant of its founders does not know how far it has traveled nor
in what direction; it, too, is lost. (Alvin Gouldner, 1958:vi).
Emile Durkheim was the leading figure in the establishment of sociology as an
academic discipline in France in the late 19th and early 20th century. As such, he
had to contend with widespread doubt about every aspect of the discipline. Is
sociology a separate field, different from philosophy or psychology? Is it a branch
of science? Is it useful? Should it even exist?
Durkheim’s answers to these questions are important building blocks on which
modern sociology is built. However, Durkheim’s fate is a contradictory one: he
has become so familiar to sociologists that his work is often taken for granted. This
is because the meaning and content of his work now often seems ‘settled’, even
obvious to sociologists today. In part, this occurred because he wrote in a clear,
forceful, sometimes dogmatic way. However, the clarity of his writing often
obscured the fact that there were tensions in his views about both contemporary
society and sociology. In a contradictory way, Durkheim was capable of being
both supportive and critical of industrial society. At times, he thought of
contemporary society as a stage in natural evolution; at other times he was
piercingly critical of the alienation resulting from industrial, particularly factory,
production. Durkheim was also capable of different views about the nature of the
science of sociology. At times, he viewed sociology as almost a branch of the
natural sciences that used quantification to produce generalizations. However, at
other times he was receptive to a far broader sense of science that could
incorporate anthropological observations of distant communities that must have
seemed exotic to him.
A Biographical Account of Durkheim
Emile Durkheim was born on the 15 April, 1858 in the town of Epinal near Alsace,
in France. He was the youngest in the family, with one brother, Felix and two
sisters, Rosine and Celine. Durkheim grew up in a traditional orthodox Jewish
family: His father, Moise Durkheim, was a rabbi, as was his grandfather and great-
grandfather. Not surprisingly, then, there was a strong family expectation that the
young Emile would also become a rabbi and his early education was arranged with
this in mind (Lukes, 1973:39-43; Bellah, 1973:xi-xiii).
Durkheim excelled at school and wanted to pursue his education. As part of this
decision, he also became distanced from Judaism, and told his father that he did
not want to become a rabbi. After discussion with his family, Durkheim moved to
Paris to study for the examinations that determine admission to the prestigious
Ecole Normale Superieure. This proved to be an unhappy time for Durkheim, who
was both homesick and uninterested in the focus of the Ecole’s examinations on
Latin and rhetoric. As a twenty-year old student, Durkheim was already
committed to science rather than the humanities. After failing twice, Durkheim
finally passed the examinations and was admitted to the Ecole Normale Superieure
in 1879 (Lukes, 1973:43; La Capra, 1972:29-30).
From 1879-1882, Durkheim lived as a ‘normalien’, studying intensely and living a
sequestered life. Even today, students at the Ecole are largely removed from the
bustle of everyday Parisian life, and in Durkheim’s day this was even more so. As
a student, Durkheim lived with a constant sense of intellectual excitement. Lukes
has described the Ecole as a ‘hot-house’ and an ‘exhilarating and closed world’
(1973:47,46). To his fellow students, Durkheim appeared mature beyond his years,
with a level of seriousness that led his classmates to give him the nickname of the
‘metaphysician’ (Lukes, 1973: 52).
Certainly, his studies in Paris exposed Durkheim to a wealth of significant ideas,
charismatic professors and gifted fellow students, and this proved to be a potent
cocktail that informed all his later projects. In particular, the ideas of
Montesquieu, Rousseau and Kant influenced the young Durkheim, reinforcing his
views about the importance of duty and the need for the cohesion provided by a
‘social contract’. LaCapra (1973:30) has suggested that two of Durkheim’s
professors were of particular importance for him: the historian Fustel de Coulanges
and the philosopher Emile Boutroux. Coulanges emphasized that the historian
must study the social world in a rigorous, scientific way, relying on established
facts and disregarding any preconceived ideas (Lukes, 1973: 59-60). Boutroux’s
philosophy was important to Durkheim because it emphasized the importance of
connecting abstract ideas to the realities of day-to-day life. Boutroux also
emphasized that every science must have its own way of explaining the world, an
idea that Durkheim applied to sociology (Lukes, 1973: 57). Durkheim’s fellow
students were also extremely gifted. One of his classmates, Pierre Janet, became
an important psychologist. Others became influential philosophers, historians and
legal scholars. It was a remarkable group of students.
Without question, the saddest part of Durkheim’s time in Paris was the apparent
suicide in 1886 of his close friend, Victor Hommay. Durkheim has described
Hommay’s death as a tragic accident, but the truth is probably that he jumped from
his apartment window to his death. It is impossible to gauge how and to what
extent this tragedy affected Durkheim, but it is striking that Durkheim’s first
substantive project was an extensive, quantitative, comparative analysis of suicide
(Lukes, 1973: 49-52).
Despite the humanistic emphasis of his professors, Durkheim concentrated on the
study of what he called significant ‘social questions’ concerning individual
freedom and collective responsibility (Aron, 1967:80). Parsons (1974:xliv) has
suggested that this interest was too much of a departure for many of his professors,
who considered him ‘rebellious’ and ranked him second from last in his class.
As was typical then and even now for graduates of the Ecole Normale Superieure,
Durkheim taught in various Lycees (High Schools) from 1882-7. This was an
expected period of service that defrayed the expense to the French government of
Durkheim’s education. In 1885, Durkheim took a leave of absence to pursue
further training in Germany. When he returned, he was invited to teach courses on
Education at the University of Bordeaux. It was during this time that Durkheim
began work on the first of his key sociological books, The Division of Labor in
Modern Society (1893), which was later accepted as his doctoral thesis. During his
years at Bordeaux, Durkheim continued to work at a feverish pace. During the
week, he gave university lectures on education and ethics, and on Saturdays he
offered a series of lectures that outlined the ideas that matured into those found in
The Division of Labor.
In 1895 Durkheim published Rules of Sociological Method, in which he attempted
to distinguish sociology from both philosophy and psychology by portraying
sociology as the systematic, empirical study of ‘social facts’. At this time he
considered social facts to be external constraints on behavior that had a ‘thing-like’
quality. Social facts often took the form of rates of occurrence – for
unemployment, divorce and suicide, among others. Durkheim argued that these
rates had an existence that was separate from their individual manifestations.
Therefore, the appropriate subject matter of sociology was a ‘level’ of reality that
is different from the reality of individual action, which Durkheim thought of as the
terrain of psychology. This way of thinking led Durkheim at this time towards
quantification and a statistical version of sociology.
In the Rules, Durkheim also distinguished sociology from philosophy. He
considered philosophy to be the investigation of the truth of moral beliefs. By
contrast, Durkheim argued that it was not the sociologist’s role to establish this
truth but rather to establish the ‘function’ of morality for the broader group or
society. He assumed that the function of morality was whatever community need
was met by a moral dictum. Thus, Durkheim did not consider the merits of divorce
to be a sociological problem, but he did consider the consequences of divorce to be
In 1897, Durkheim attempted to demonstrate the force of his methodological
position by studying suicide. Perhaps his interest in this topic was motivated by
the suicide of his friend, Victor Hommay; perhaps it was a kind of theatrical coup,
designed to show that something that appears completely individualistic can be
explained sociologically. Whatever the motivation, Suicide (1897) was a powerful
display of the new science of sociology. Durkheim steered clear of individualistic
explanations of suicide and investigated instead rates of suicide, treating these as a
separate part of the world. Combined, these three books constitute a sustained
effort to present sociology as a separate academic discipline with its own
distinctive subject matter and methodology.
In 1902, Durkheim returned to Paris as a Professor of Education at the Sorbonne.
As a respected and established figure, Durkheim was able to pursue his two
longstanding and interconnected projects: the transformation of public education in
France and the establishment of the new discipline of sociology. In addition to his
university affiliation, his recently formed journal, Année sociologique, was a
forum in which Durkheim and his supporters could advance their ideas.
The political and policy impact of Durkheim’s work in Paris was to reform the
curriculum of French schools to serve the interests of a contemporary, industrial,
liberal democracy. Intellectually, this phase of his life will be remembered as the
time in which he published his monumental and multi-faceted treatise on the role
of religion in social life. The title of this study, The Elementary Forms of
Religious Life (1913), was misleading, as it emphasized only one element of his
project. In fact, the scope of this work was as far-reaching and as general as his
first key study, The Division of Labor in Modern Society.
Durkheim arrived in Paris full of optimism. Not only did he anticipate the
continuing development of sociology, but he also expected his work to contribute
to the fashioning of a more democratic and stable political system. By the time of
his death, this optimism seemed completely misplaced. France was ravished by
the abject misery of The Great War, Durkheim’s son was killed in a botched
military mission and many of his students died during active service. It is unclear
whether Durkheim still believed in the scientific standing of sociology, evident in
his earlier study, Rules of Sociological Method, or whether his assessment had
changed. It is clear that when he died in 1917 his family and his society were in
turmoil and he was a broken man.
Themes in Durkheim’s Sociology
Although Durkheim’s projects were very varied, from patterns of industrial
growth, to rates of suicide, to the origins of religion and the appropriate methods
for sociological research, there are common themes in his work. Above all,
Durkheim thought of himself as an applied scientist who approached the world in a
very practical way. As a result, he considered sociology to be a tool to be used to
first justify and then bring about needed and meaningful social and political
reforms. Especially in his earlier work at Bordeaux, Durkheim insisted that
sociology must be a positivistic science – in principal similar to chemistry or
biology –capable of plotting a course to improve the general quality of life. He was
adamant, perhaps even dogmatic, that this was the appropriate content and methods
for sociology. In fact, he was appalled by any version of sociology that did not
embrace both scientific methodology and the goal of meaningful reform. Unlike
many sociologists today who find the coupling of science and morality to be
troubling, for Durkheim, it was something that was obviously desirable. In fact, he
considered any other kind of sociology to be pointless. In the preface to this first
major book, The Division of Labor in Modern Society (1984:xxvi )
Durkheim put the matter very bluntly:
Yet because what we propose to study is above all
reality, it does not follow that we should give up the idea
of improving it. We would esteem our research not
worth the labor of a single hour if its interest were merely
Durkheim believed that the sociologist is first a kind of architect, designing a
blueprint of a society’s social structure, and second, a kind of physician,
diagnosing and treating its ‘symptoms’ (i.e. problems). The sociologist has
therefore, a special advisory role to play, offering important practical advice to
governments, schools, families and other social institutions. Durkheim believed
that the details of social policies were for politicians to determine, but the broad
direction of policy was a sociological problem. In a sense, he envisaged
sociologists in the role now often occupied by economists.
So, a useful way of thinking about Durkheim’s approach to sociology is to
consider what kinds of social reforms he favored, why he favored them and how he
thought they could be brought about.
Durkheim supported reforms that increased the likelihood of equal opportunity.
Whether in education or elsewhere, he recommended policies that were thoroughly
democratic: everyone was entitled to an equal chance of success. The talent and
effort of the individual is all that should matter as selection criteria. Any
interference in this process reduces the legitimacy and hence authority of the
institution. Durkheim’s egalitarian views revealed his sympathy for socialist
politics. Even though he believed that socialism was not itself a viable political
system, he nevertheless believed that elements of socialism should be incorporated
into every political system.
Durkheim favored reforms that strengthened a person’s sense of belonging to a
wider community. Without this sense of belonging, a person may feel isolated or
worthless. Early in his career, Durkheim thought of this wider community as
simply a person’s society or country. Later, he considered ‘community’ in a more
restrictive sense, limiting it to a group of people in the same profession or with
similar talents or experiences. Durkheim considered membership of such groups
to be an intrinsic good because the norms and values of the group penetrate the
person and regulate his or her conduct. Without this regulation, selfishness,
egoism or what he called ‘the cult of the individual’ can occur, producing a
weakening of collective bonds. This can also occur because people are desperate
for work and are therefore forced to take menial, repetitive jobs from which they
derive little satisfaction. Durkheim argued that whenever people are treated as
spiritless components of machine production, the bond between person and group
is weakened and ultimately broken. In this regard, Durkheim sounds very much
like a follower of Marx.
In the 1880s Durkheim studied with the German psychologist, Wilhelm Wundt,
and it is true to say that Durkheim’s sociology has an implicit social psychology.
He believed that individuals must internalize the norms and values of the wider
social group to such an extent that they become second nature. That is, the person
must think of social norms as more than just external constraints on his or her
behavior; instead these norms must become part of what the person thinks of
himself or herself. It is the difference between a man who feels unhappy because
he has been caught doing something he shouldn’t have been doing and someone
who is ashamed of his own conduct. The internalization of norms is important if
group identity and self-identity are to become intermingled in a way that Durkheim
believed was necessary to preserve the bond between the person and his or her
society. When considered in this way, it is easy to understand why Durkheim
considered sociology and anthropology to be two sides of the same coin. It is also
possible to appreciate why his ideas appealed to and influenced many
anthropologists, perhaps most notably Radcliffe-Brown, who used Durkheim’s
theoretical ideas in his own ethnographic research. Although it is now common to
think of Durkheim as a macro-sociologist who was interested in the quantitative
analysis of social structure, he was certainly committed to the field research
conducted by anthropologists and by the first American sociologists in Chicago in
the early 20th century.
Durkheim believed that sociologists could demonstrate scientifically both the need
and the success or failure of social and political reforms. The scientific
demonstration of this involved the use of statistics to show that a byproduct of
(weakened) collective bonds was either increasing or decreasing. Thus, he
considered the rate of suicide in a country or broad group to be an index of its
‘health’. When there was broad equality of opportunity and strong common bonds,
the rate of suicide was low. When there was an inequality of opportunity,
unrestrained individualism and abundant, dehumanizing work, the rate of suicide
was high. The rate of suicide in a society was therefore an indicator of a society’s
Durkheim’s sociology was therefore based on a political vision of a progressive
liberal democracy. Especially in his earlier work, he thought that every society
naturally ‘evolved’ into this. Every modern society is increasingly technological,
with a highly specialized workforce, but each is nevertheless held together by
multiple forms of attachments between people.
At the University of Bordeaux and later at the University of Paris, Durkheim held
Professorships in Education, and so he gave considerable thought to the form and
content of education in France. He approached this through his sociology and
political theory. He sought to identify the qualities needed by someone who would
participate in a well-regulated liberal democracy, with the idea that these qualities
could then be instilled into every child at school. According to Alun Jones
(2000:206) the three central attributes identified by Durkheim are discipline,
attachment to groups and autonomy. These qualities are not only admirable, but
people who possess them will also thrive in the kind of society Durkheim believed
was generally desirable and beneficial to all.
Understanding Modernity and Morality: The Division of Labor
Durkheim’s first book, The Division of Labor in Modern Society (1893) is a study
in contradiction. Whereas the first two sections of the book largely celebrate the
improving quality of life brought about by industrial society, the third section
outlines the inequality, estrangement and exploitation that accompany and in some
sense facilitate this new quality of life. The Division of Labor therefore has a
‘fault line’ running through it, splitting the argument in two. One part endorses,
even welcomes, industrialization, the other condemns it, and in doing so questions
its ability to reform itself.
Durkheim’s analysis of contemporary society was very abstract. It was not a
description of any particular society; it did not even identify historical periods.
Instead, Durkheim speculated that industrial societies have to have various
characteristics for reasons that he wanted to specify. The key characteristic, as the
title of his book suggests, is an extensive division of labor. For modern societies to
exist at all, they must have a massive workforce with widely varying skills, on a
scale never even imagined before. Some of these skills will be practical, physical
skills of the kind practiced by plumbers, surgeons and hairdressers. Other skills
will be quite different, requiring conceptual or problem-solving skills, as shown by
accountants, politicians and artists. Other skills are also needed, such as those used
in the management and motivation of others. This requires the emotional know-
how displayed by good corporate executives and therapists. Durkheim’s broad
argument was that this extensive division of labor, this pattern of differentiation,
was both distinctively modern and absolutely necessary for contemporary societies
to exist at all. Given this, Durkheim wanted to understand the mechanism that held
societies together. His answer was that although there is only one mechanism of
integration, it works differently in different types of society. Thus, what produces
social solidarity in a primarily rural economy is different from what produces
solidarity in an industrial society, where workplace experiences and forms of
expertise have become much more varied.
In the early part of his career Durkheim’s term for integration was the ‘conscience
collective’. This has proved awkward to translate, as it means both collective
consciousness and collective conscience. Durkheim therefore conflated the
cognitive and the moral, making a way of thinking and a way of judging one and
the same thing. Durkheim’s formal definition of the conscience collective was that
it is ‘the totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a
society [that] forms a determinate system with a life of its own’ (1984:38-9).
Although this definition is very general, it does suggest that people internalize
ways of thinking and judging and that these can studied separately. That insight
informs all of the qualitative, micro-sociological research that came after
Durkheim, allowing sociologists such as Erving Goffman (1922-82) to see
Durkheim as a precursor to their own endeavors.
What this early formulation needed was a way of reducing the scope of the
conscience collective so that it could studied empirically. In his work after The
Division of Labor, Durkheim tried to do exactly this. He signaled this change in
Suicide by abandoning the term conscience collective and replacing it with the
more limited idea of the ‘representations collectives’. It was the role of the social
psychologist to study these. His dissatisfaction with the earlier term is highlighted
in the preface to the second edition of The Division of Labor, where he emphasized
that it is more meaningful to suggest that people are integrated into groups,
professional and otherwise, than into societies. Unlike societies, which are so
diverse, it is feasible to study the norms and values of a group empirically.
The Division of Labor is divided into three parts, concerning its functions, causes
and abnormalities. Durkheim’s account of the function of the division of labor
rests on a contrast between pre-industrial and industrial societies. By ‘function’
Durkheim means the social need something fulfils (1984:11) – namely a
continuing sense of social order and integration. The limited division of labor in
pre-industrial societies produces a type of integration Durkheim called ‘mechanical
solidarity’. This preserves social order because people resemble each other: they
participate in similar activities, share norms and values and have similar emotional,
practical and political responses to events. As a result, personal consciousness is
secondary to social consciousness (Durkheim, 1984:61).
The legal system of pre-industrial societies reflects the central influence of the
group, in that it punishes wrongdoers for violating commonly held beliefs.
Durkheim characterized the legal system that accompanies societies exhibiting
mechanical solidarity as one of ‘repressive law’. This type of law is not trying to
compensate a victim; rather it expresses and channels the outrage of the group
against the offender.
By contrast, in industrial societies with a complex division of labor there is new
and different form of integration: ‘organic solidarity’. This produces social order
despite the widespread differentiation that produces a society in which people’s
work experiences and talents are very different, as are their ways of thinking, their
moral frameworks and even their aesthetic standards. Since contemporary culture
is so eclectic, Durkheim could have concluded that social solidarity is impossible.
Instead, he argued that it is now produced not by how similar people are, but by a
shared sense of interdependence. To ensure the more or less uneventful continuity
of everyday life requires extraordinary collaboration among people who appear to
have little in common. Our recognition of this produces and sustains organic
Durkheim distinguished negative and positive solidarity. Negative solidarity links
things to people but it does not foster common sentiments. Thus, property laws
regulate conduct but encourage selfishness (1984:83). By contrast, positive
solidarity links people together through a shared recognition of interdependence.
The strength of organic solidarity is a byproduct of the strength of the social bonds
in that society (or as Durkheim later thought of this, of the strength of bonds in
different groups in that society). The strength of the bonds varies with the
relationship between individual and social consciousness, with the intensity of
collective feeling and with the degree to which shared beliefs and practices are
clear-cut (1984:122). For example, consider funerals: part of what integrates the
mourners into a cohesive group is the extent to which each of them knows what to
do and what to expect at every point of the ceremony.
Organic solidarity is undermined by either a person’s exaggerated sense of self-
importance or excessive selfishness, as both undermine a shared perception of
interdependence. Durkheim referred to this problem as the ‘cult of the individual’.
Finding ways to keep the cult of the individual in check is a sociological problem
Unlike the repressive legal practices of societies exhibiting mechanical solidarity,
industrial societies with organic solidarity use repressive laws far less, favoring
instead the ‘restitutive’ or procedural sanctions of civil law. These are distinctive
forms of punishment in which the intention of the law is to compensate a victim for
a loss. In this sense, the restitutive laws that predominate in industrial societies
aim to restore the status quo: they are a means of putting the clock back (1984: 68).
Ironically, restitutive law may weaken organic solidarity by encouraging injured
parties to seek legal relief from which they as individuals stand to gain, typically
financially. Thus, restitutive law encourages the selfishness and self-importance of
the cult of the individual.
Throughout the first part of The Division of Labor, Durkheim is ambivalent about
the strength of organic solidarity in industrial societies. At times he even
suggested that restitutive sanctions ‘either constitute no part at all of the conscience
collective, or subsist in it in a weak state’ and that by contrast, repressive sanctions
are ‘at the heart and center of the conscience collective’ (1984:69). Later in this
section he confirmed this judgment, suggesting that ‘God now leaves the world to
men and their quarrels’ with the result that the individual is not ‘acted upon’ and
the conscience collective is becoming ever weaker (1984:119-20). However, at
other times he is less sure, and suggests instead that at least some forms of
procedural law express a ‘positive contribution’ to the development of social
solidarity (1984:77) and that organic solidarity breeds a strong morality in which
people are forced to recognize their worth and place in society (1984:173).
In the second section of The Division of Labor Durkheim analyzes the causes of
the division of labor. His first task was to discredit an economic view that he
linked loosely to Adam Smith. This view analyzed the social world as a collection
of individuals, who individually benefited from an increasing division of labor.
According to this view, the cause of the division of labor is each person’s effort to
maximize personal happiness. That is, specialization makes possible our
consumerist lifestyle that we as individuals like because the things we acquire
make us increasingly happy. As Durkheim put it: ‘We reason as if all our
pleasures must have been theirs [our forefathers] also. Then, as we think of all
those refinements of civilization we enjoy and that they did not know, we feel
inclined to pity their lot’ (1984:185).
Durkheim rejected this argument for two reasons: First, because it treats the social
world as just a collection of individuals rather than as a cohesive group and,
second, because many people are worse off in contemporary industrial societies.
He pointed out that modern society has an appreciably higher suicide rate than
earlier societies. Durkheim made this observation with a simple but poignant
remark: ‘the true suicide, the suicide of sadness, is an endemic state among
civilized peoples’ (1984:191). At best, therefore, only some people are happier
now than before. Further, although modern societies have found new forms of
pleasure, they have also found new forms of suffering, and so it is unclear whether
there has been any net gain.
As Poggi (2000:37-57) has recently emphasized, Durkheim’s alternative argument
stressed ecological factors. This indicates that the extensive specialization found in
industrial societies is linked to a pattern of land use, specifically, the development
of cities. Durkheim emphasized that the population density of cities produces a
‘moral’ or ‘dynamic’ density that fosters organic solidarity (1984:201). This is
greatest where the division of labor is clearly ‘segmentary’. This means that
experts in very different fields generally find it easy to accept each other’s
accomplishments, whereas experts in adjoining specialties are often mutually
suspicious (1984:210). Ironically, then, Durkheim suggests that it is far easier for
people to accept their interdependence with those about whom they know little
than with people whose skills are familiar. The optician and the psychiatrist,
Durkheim suggested, are not in competition with each other, but the brewer and the
wine grower overlap and so they are more likely to be critical of one another
Durkheim speculated that as organic solidarity develops in contemporary societies
the conscience collective is transformed. Instead of being a common
consciousness, the conscience collective splits into many different versions.
Whereas in the past we were very much products of our ‘neighborhood’, today
through travel, communication and a myriad of interests and concerns, each of us
is ‘de-centered’, and influenced by different groups. Some of these groups consist
of members whom we know, but others affect us only through their ideas.
Durkheim suggested that these varied, ‘small compartments that enclose
completely the individual’ are the new form of regulation, replacing the general
conscience collective (1984:241).
In the third and final section of The Division of Labor Durkheim outlined three of
its ‘pathological’ forms. A division of labor is pathological whenever it fails both
to produce solidarity and to improve the character and situation of the individual.
Durkheim began the section by raising the question that was central to Marx: How
can we know that pathological forms of the division of labor in industrial societies
are really ‘exceptional’ and not simply the expected byproduct of capitalism?
(1984:291). Durkheim was deeply ambivalent about his own response to this
question, apparently suspicious of his own stated view that the normal division of
labor is nor divisive and exploitative.
Curiously, Durkheim discussed three pathological forms but only named two of
them: the ‘anomic’ and the ‘forced’. An influential commentator has named the
third of these the ‘alienated’ division of labor (LaCapra, 1970).
Durkheim used the word ‘anomie’ to describe a state of deregulation. For
example, he suggested that one of the reasons bankruptcies occur is because
different units of society fail to adjust to one another. He suggested that class
struggle is similarly anomic (1984:292). In this section, Durkheim questioned
whether an extensive division of labor could promote solidarity rather than
pathology. At one point he entertained the idea that each of us can recognize the
contributions of others, only immediately to dismiss this by saying that it will be to
‘no avail’ because professional activity increases the person’s sense of self-worth
(1984:298). His conclusion is surprisingly pessimistic:
Functional diversity entails a moral diversity that nothing can prevent,
and it is inevitable that one should grow at the same time as the other.
[…] The collective sentiments thus become more and more powerless
to contain the centrifugal tendencies that the division of labor is
alleged to bring about; for, on the one hand, these tendencies increase
as labor becomes increasingly divided up, and at the same time the
collective sentiments grow weaker (1984:298).
The phrase, ‘centrifugal tendencies’ conveys an image of people being violently
thrown from the center to the periphery, destroying any ‘collective sentiments’.
Although Durkheim indicates that the division of labor is only ‘allegedly’
responsible for this breakdown, it is an allegation that here at least he seemed to
This view is confirmed at the end of his discussion of the anomic division of labor,
where he is very critical of factory conditions. In the main text he is somewhat
conciliatory, at one point arguing that industrialization occurred so rapidly that
initial exploitative practices were inevitable until an ‘equilibrium’ could be reached
(1984:306). However, in an accompanying footnote Durkheim is far more
pessimistic. In it he did not accept the claim that capitalism was in a transitional
state; instead he opposed the widespread inequality and, further, argued that it was
unlikely to disappear over time (1984:309). At the end of the chapter he took a
step back from this position, suggesting that if workers could see that their work
was of some general benefit, then anomic conditions could be avoided. However,
it is hard to read this section without feeling that this final comment is too little, too
late. It seems a lackluster defense of the many repetitive and uninteresting jobs
required in a modern industrial society.
The second pathological form is the ‘forced’ division of labor. This occurs when
there is not a ‘good fit’ between the person and his or her occupation (1984:312).
As a result, force is required to keep people working in jobs in which they have no
interest. Durkheim believed morally and practically that there had to be an
equality of opportunity for a contemporary society to maintain order. As he put it,
‘any external inequality compromises organic solidarity’ (1984:314).
A second and related social problem was inheritance. Durkheim believed that all
inheritance, and specifically property inheritance, was the cause of many kinds of
inequality, and hence should be abolished in the name of justice: ‘Just as ancient
peoples had above all need of a common faith to live by, we have need of justice’
(1984:322). He believed that this need would become increasingly intense without
widespread, extensive social and political reforms.
Durkheim called the third pathological form simply ‘another abnormal form’
(1984:323). It occurs whenever a person experiences work as meaningless. This
could occur because an extensive specialization has produced tasks that by
considered separately make no sense, with the result that each worker derives little
satisfaction from them. This pathology can also occur because the worker feels
under-utilized or because the set tasks are trivial to perform. Durkheim’s
discussion of this abnormal form is very short, suggesting that he did not consider
it to be a serious problem. However, he did mention Marx approvingly (1984:327),
confirming the sense that his third abnormal form of the division of labor reflects
his understanding of Marx’s concept of alienation.
Durkheim’s concluding chapter contains the two divergent concerns that were
considered extensively in the rest of the book. He confirmed his view that an
elaborate division of labor is necessary for the ‘higher societies’ to function and
that this division of labor can itself be a source of solidarity. However, he also
reiterated his fears that the abnormal forms of the division of labor can undermine
the consensus-based efficiency of modern societies. He chose to end the book with
a curious, implicit paraphrase of Marx. In 1845, Marx’s 11 th thesis on Feuerbach
had stated that whereas philosophers had only interpreted the world, the point was
to change it. Durkheim’s similar point was that society’s problems will not be
solved in the ‘silence of the study’; what is needed instead is to prescribe and
pursue the goal that must be attained (1984:340).
Methods of Sociological Research and an Application:
The Study of Suicide
For Durkheim, establishing both the appropriate method and the content for
sociology were interwoven problems. For this reason, his Rules of Sociological
Method (1982; orig.1895) is not a methods textbook: it does not offer concrete
instruction about the practical problems encountered when doing sociological
research. Instead, Durkheim was concerned with three general issues concerning
(1) the extent to which sociology is a science (2) the appropriate content for
sociology and (3) the nature of its explanations. In the Rules, he moved back and
forth between the issues, indicating that in practice they were aspects of the same
problem for him.
Durkheim frequently described himself as a rationalist (for example, 1982:33).
This signaled his commitment to empirical evidence and his suspicion of
speculative thought. It meant that he wanted sociologists to abstain from
guesswork and instead make empirically grounded discoveries about the social
Although he was less willing to adopt the label of positivist, this is also a fair
description of his approach. A positivist believes that all sciences share one
methodological framework, with the result that the investigative methods of
physics, biology and sociology should be the same. In chapter 6 of Rules,
Durkheim criticized J.S. Mill for claiming that sociological evidence cannot be
obtained by experimentation (1982:148). In fact, Durkheim had to accept some
form of positivism if his insistence that sociologists should establish the causes of
social phenomena were to make any sense (1982:123).
Durkheim established the distinctiveness of sociology by showing that its subject
matter is quite different from that of either psychology or philosophy. He
considered psychology to be a science of individual action and motivation and
philosophy to be an exploration of the merits of moral behavior. By contrast,
Durkheim presented sociology as a science of ‘social facts’ that was concerned
with the function of morality rather than with its justification. Thus, he was not
trying to claim that a part of both psychology and philosophy belonged to
sociology. Rather, he considered sociology to have a different subject matter:
psychological and philosophical issues were viewed by him as interesting but
disconnected from sociology. Durkheim did not question the importance of either;
he simply claimed they were different and separate.
For Durkheim, sociology is the study of social facts. He defined a social fact in two
ways: first as ‘any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the
individual an external constraint’ and, second, as that ‘which is general over the
whole of a given society whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its
individual manifestations’ (1982:59).
The phrase ‘external constraint’ is critical to the first definition. It is important that
the condition of externality is understood as referring to any particular person and
not to all persons. Secondly, as Lukes has pointed out (1982:4), Durkheim
conflates two separate senses of constraint. He uses it to refer both to the
constraining role of norms and values and to the conditions of possibility of any
action. In the first sense, people are constrained by other people’s expectations of
them, and Durkheim’s usage is the same as George Herbert Mead’s, whose ideas
inspired the development of symbolic interactionism in the United States in the
20th century. This means that we all feel a pressure to act in appropriate ways. For
example, if someone tells you that his grandmother has died, you are likely to
respond by saying ‘I’m sorry’. The second sense of constraint – the notion of the
conditions of possibility – suggests that something has to occur in order for a
specific act to be possible at all. For example, if children want to play soccer, they
all have to accept that only goalkeepers can touch the ball with their hands. In
philosophy, these two senses of constraint are clearly distinguished: the first is a
‘regulative rule’ and the second a ‘constitutive rule’ (Searle 1969). There are
important differences between them: upon hearing about a death, we may all
recognize the appropriateness of saying ‘I’m sorry’ but we are not obliged to do so.
Someone might equally say ‘Good riddance!’ or even ‘Are you expecting a large
inheritance?’ However, if all soccer players use their hands to control the ball
whenever they want, then by definition they are no longer playing soccer.
Durkheim’s second definition depicts a social fact rather vaguely as something
general in society that has a separate existence. He later stepped back from the
first part of this, suggesting instead that social facts often exist only for groups
within society and not for society as a whole. The second part – that social facts
have a separate existence – is a mandate for sociologists to study the various
norms, values and symbols that people utilize but do not own: they are common
properties of the group. The value of qualitative sociology is that it identifies and
clarifies the common knowledge or common culture of a group, presenting it to
interested outsiders. For example, the world of little league baseball may look
chaotic but for the players it is a separate world with its own language, symbols,
norms, values, status hierarchies and expectations (Fine, 1985). Studying these
parts of little league baseball is what Durkheim meant when he advocated studying
parts of the social world that have a separate existence. The culture of little league
baseball has an existence that is separate from any of the players of little league
baseball, even though it is the actions of the players that exemplify, perpetuate and
transform this culture.
At least in the 1890s - at the time Rules of Sociological Method was written and
published - Durkheim anticipated that the study of social facts could be achieved
scientifically, and that the sociologist’s method and approach could be similar to
that of a natural scientist. Durkheim frequently mentioned biology as a model
science for sociology to copy. In the second chapter of the Rules, he outlined the
‘principal rules’ for a scientific sociology: it must discard preconceptions, define
phenomena ahead of time, focus on external, observable characteristics and
distinguish functions from causes.
Given this deliberate focus on science, it is surprising that Durkheim was also
anxious to distinguish what he called the ‘normal’ from the ‘pathological’ states of
a society. This dichotomy involved a vague, evolutionary assumption that
societies are progressively becoming more ‘normal’ (1982:97). This odd turn of
phrase involved a metaphor and a value judgment. The metaphor was that society
could be thought of as a ‘body’ that could be healthy or sick, the value judgment
was that sociologists could and should identify desirable political and social
reforms and then establish them. Durkheim therefore used this distinction to
introduce moral and political beliefs into sociology that in turn he thought could be
The Rules of Sociological Method is a short, abstract and often rather vague book;
it is suggestive rather than definitive. What Durkheim needed was a demonstration
of the explanatory power of this new science of sociology. In a brilliant, almost
theatrical coup, he chose to study suicide in order to showcase sociology. His
research extended existing research, some of which was government-sponsored.
However, the key to this work is that it invaded psychology’s traditional domain: if
Durkheim could show that sociology could offer a different and perhaps better
explanation of suicide –something widely thought to be the most individual of acts
– then the power and tremendous potential of sociology would be established. In
choosing to study suicide, Durkheim became a kind of sociological imperialist,
since his work at least implied that he thought his sociological explanation of
suicide was better than any psychologists could offer.
Durkheim’s study, Suicide (1952, ) is divided into three sections. The first
section is devoted to problems of definition and to ‘extra-social factors’. The
second concerns the social causes of suicide and the third contains a general
assessment and a discussion of policy implications.
In keeping with his own methodological imperatives outlined in The Rules of
Sociological Method, Durkheim analyzed the rate of suicide, not the motivations
for specific suicides. The rate of suicide is a social fact that is external to the
individual and therefore observable through statistical analysis. It can be treated
as a ‘thing’. Durkheim’s initial problem was to define the kind of thing he took
suicide to be. He settled on the following definition: ‘suicide is applied to all cases
of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim
himself, which he knows will produce this result’ (1952:44). This definition is
meant to be all-inclusive: it includes all intentional acts that by one means or
another lead to the person’s death. Thus, shooting yourself and starving yourself to
death are both suicides by this definition. The difficult class of actions, as
Durkheim himself realized, is the attempted suicide. He chose to exclude these
completely, but arguably they should be included, as the intention is the same. Of
course, it would have been methodologically very difficult to establish how many
attempted suicides occur.
The bulk of the first part of Suicide has a largely negative task: to establish that we
cannot adequately explain rates of suicide by extra-social causes such as the
climate or mental illness.
The second section of Suicide presented Durkheim’s positive arguments that were
based on the fact that suicide rates by country and various other classifications
were relatively stable, as were the variations in suicide rate. Thus, the suicide rate
in Italy was similar year after year, and it was also consistently lower year after
year than in England. If the reasons for suicide really were private and specific to
the individuals involved, then Durkheim reasoned that suicide rates would be quite
different: not stable at all but wildly fluctuating. This is because it is unreasonable
to think that personal torment will follow a consistent pattern. Under these
circumstances, the rate of suicide in Italy, for example, would be lower than in
other countries in some years and higher in others. But Durkheim found the
opposite: suicide rates remained quite stable.
His explanation of this produced one of sociology’s few laws. Durkheim argued
that the rate of suicide was inversely proportional to the rate of solidarity in a
country, as measured by religious, domestic and political affiliation (1952:208).
Thus, if people feel integrated into their groups and communities, the rate of
suicide drops; however, if people feel isolated, the rate of suicide increases. It
follows, Durkheim reasoned, that countries with low suicide rates must have high
levels of solidarity producing strong feelings of integration among citizens.
A certain amount of suicide in a country is, according to Durkheim, ‘normal’ and
more than this is ‘pathological’. Despite this terminology, Durkheim never
attempted to quantify a sense of a normal rate of suicide, except by national
comparison with previous years. A pathological rate occurs because the social
integration that is produced by strong feelings of solidarity is weakened, either
through a failure to attach people to norms or by a failure to manage aspirations
Durkheim developed a typology of suicides: the ‘egoistic’, the ‘altruistic’ and the
‘anomic’. He added a fourth, in a footnote (1952:276), which he called the
‘fatalistic’. The first of these, as its name suggests, occurs because the person
overstates his or her importance to the group. The person’s ego is too strong. As
Durkheim put it, this type of suicide springs from ‘excessive individualism’
(1952:209). He demonstrated this by analyzing the suicide rate among groups that
promote excessive individualism, and then comparing the rate to that found in
groups which promote more integration.
To this end, he first argued that Protestants were more vulnerable than Catholics.
This is because Catholics understand themselves as part of a church congregation
whose contact with God is mediated through a priest and ultimately through the
Pope himself. This belief indirectly promotes the Catholic’s integration into the
church group. By contrast, Protestants face God alone because their priests are not
considered to have any special role to play. As a result, Protestants are isolated
from the other. Durkheim pointed out that the Protestant ‘is far more the author of
his faith’ (1952:158) than is the Catholic.
Durkheim began his chapter on egoistic suicide with a table indicating that the rate
of suicide in a set of Protestant states is nearly five times higher than in Greek
Catholic states and more than three times higher in a set of Catholic states
(1952:152). He continued to show that marriage insulates people from suicide, and
marriage plus parenthood insulates people even further (1952:171-202).
The second type of suicide is the opposite of the first: it occurs because the person
understates his or her importance to the group and therefore is willing to self-
sacrifice for the good of the group. Durkheim discussed several historical cases
before concluding that religious martyrs have the most ‘altruistic character’
(1952:225). They become ‘engulfed’ in something larger themselves and as a
result, lose themselves. Whereas the egoist only values himself or herself, the
altruist finds hope and value in ‘beautiful perspectives beyond this life’
Durkheim identified three types of altruistic suicide: the ‘obligatory’, the ‘optional’
and the ‘acute’ (1952:227). The first two types occur because of the varying
strength of group expectations, but the third involves a ‘joy’ in the sacrifice of
one’s life (1952:223). All altruistic suicides contain residues of mechanical
solidarity because they require the individual’s identity to be overwhelmed by a
group identity. In contemporary societies exhibiting organic solidarity, altruistic
suicide is therefore rare. The exceptional case, Durkheim suggested, was the
military (1952:228-39). Here is a group that impresses on its members both the
importance of being a team player and the need for sacrifice – and sometimes that
will mean the ultimate sacrifice. Durkheim reflected that ‘every sort of suicide is
then merely the exaggerated or deflected form of a virtue’ (1952:240, also 371).
The third type of suicide, the anomic, results from deregulation (1952:258).
Regulations regarding norms, values, statuses and practices preserve the
conscience collective and connect people to groups. Whenever deregulation
occurs, Durkheim argued, the rate of suicide will increase. A test case of this for
him was divorce. Since he viewed marriage as a way of regulating sexual and
other relations, divorce must involve deregulation and this will be visible through a
social fact: a higher suicide rate among the divorced than among the married (1952
At the end of the chapter on anomic suicide, Durkheim mentioned briefly that a
fourth type of suicide existed also: the fatalistic suicide. He did not consider this to
be an important category because there were so few cases. A fatalistic suicide is
one in which the person no longer has hope for a better future and is held captive
by social or natural constraints against which there is no ‘appeal’. Durkheim gave
several examples, including that of married women who are childless and the
suicide of slaves (1952:276).
The third section of Suicide dealt with the general and practical issues that result
from the earlier arguments. Durkheim referred to the increasing suicide rate of 19th
century Western countries as the ‘ransom-money’ owed and paid as a result of
widespread transformations in society (1952:367). Indeed, he considered the rate
of suicide to be abnormal, even a ‘menace’ (1952:370). How can it be lowered?
The answer must by his own logic involve regulating people’s behavior and by
reattaching them to their groups, but which groups will reverse existing suicidal
As is his preference, Durkheim began by rejecting three possible groups: the
political, the religious and the familial. Durkheim considered politics to be, for the
most part, separate from everyday life and its concerns rather abstract. Durkheim
did not believe that a reinstatement of religious values could reverse the rate of
suicide either, because these values are tied to mechanical solidarity whose day is
largely passed. Even the family offers little hope because the rate of suicide
among the married has been increasing. Durkheim attributed this to changes in the
experience of married life that is now much more varied. Where once children
were educated at home, now they attend schools. In this and other ways, family life
is no longer a ‘compact mass, indivisible and endowed with a sense of
Durkheim’s alternative was not despair but a reiteration of the argument he also
presented in the preface to the second edition of The Division of Labor.
Professional organizations must step forward and regulate the behavior of their
members. They must regulate first economic and then other social functions
affecting their members. Unlike political parties, whose grip on the person is
rather loose, professional affiliations are felt everyday at work; and unlike religious
and family groups, whose origins are traditional and hence part of the past,
professional groups speak to and are part of our contemporary, highly specialized,
Understanding Religion Sociologically: The Elementary Forms of Religious
In some ways, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (2001 ) does not
seem compatible with Durkheim’s other work. It is a selective study of totemism
among Australian Aborigines using published ethnographic data. As such, it seems
at first to be both substantively and methodologically disconnected from
Durkheim’s earlier projects, which all concerned the analysis of contemporary
industrial society and the development of a primarily quantitative, hypothesis-
However, this is misleading. In fact, The Elementary Forms develops Durkheim’s
earlier analysis concerning the importance of the regulation and attachment of
individuals to their various social groups. Thus, although the topic – Aboriginal
religious belief – was a striking departure for Durkheim, the theoretical content
was an extension of themes that were by then well established in his work.
It is therefore appropriate to think of The Elementary Forms as two books in one.
The first concerns the history and content of a specific religion, the second is a
contribution to sociological theory. Scholars have questioned many of his
interpretations of Aboriginal culture and it is unclear whether Durkheim’s
empirical analysis will stand up to scrutiny. Given that our interest is primarily
theoretical, I do not challenge the accuracy of Durkheim’s empirical claims in what
As in earlier works, The Elementary Forms is divided into three ‘books’ or
sections. The first book establishes the most appropriate definitions of religion and
totemism; the second examines the content and nature of totemic beliefs and the
third examines ritual conduct and ends with a broad sociological commentary
about the general role of religion in society.
Durkheim chose to establish the definition of religion by a comparative
examination of many religions. He did this in order to establish what it was that all
religions had in common. What are, then, the constitutive features of religion; that
is, what must a religion have in order to be a religion? Initially, this seems to be an
easy question: a religion must an understanding of a God or Gods. However,
Durkheim rejected this possibility because of a negative case: Buddhism, in which
there is no God and no promised extra-worldly salvation. Instead, Durkheim chose
a more abstract definition (2001:36):
All known religious beliefs […] present a common
quality: they presuppose a classification of things […]
into two classes, [the] […] profane and sacred. The
division of the world into two comprehensive domains,
one sacred, one profane, is the hallmark of religious
So, a key component of any religion is the ability to distinguish the sacred from the
profane. Any object or idea can be held sacred. In some religions it may be a rock
or a tree. Durkheim pointed out that although Buddhists do not believe in God
they do believe in something sacred: The Four Noble Truths (2001:37). The sacred
part of a religion stands above the everyday world: it consists of whatever is held
in awe and is venerated by its followers. The sacred is not simply superior to the
profane, it is part of a separate, ‘heterogeneous and incompatible’ world (2001:41).
It is protected from the profane world by extensive and (often) elaborate
prohibitions. A person who wishes to pass from the profane to the sacred world
has to be purified in ritualistic ways. This is because the profane is part of the
everyday world and as such it is ‘unclean’.
Durkheim recognized that this definition worked equally well for both religion and
magic. However, he believed that the social organization of magic is quite
different from that of religion. This is because a religion always has a ‘defined
collectivity’ that professes and practices its rituals; that is, a religion always has a
church (2001:42-3). By contrast, Durkheim suggests, a ‘church of magic does not
exist’ (2001:43). Magicians, witches and wizards may gather among themselves
for a variety of activities, but they do not mingle with the laity who are, in a sense,
Distinguishing religion and magic was critical to Durkheim’s definition of religion
as a ‘unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say,
things set apart and surrounded by prohibitions – beliefs and practices that unite its
adherents in a single moral community called a church’ (2001:46).
Durkheim assumed that by studying the most ‘primitive’ religion it would be
possible to see in the clearest way possible the constitutive features and
consequences of religious thought. He used the word ‘primitive’ to describe the
first religion in what he took to be the simplest known society (2001:3). As such
he introduced a possible confusion: is his interest really in the first known religion
or is it in the religion found in the simplest society? And, of course, it is unclear
what makes a society a simple one in the first place.
Durkheim believed that all religions contain both naturist and animist beliefs. The
first identifies some elements of the physical world as sacred and the second
identifies some ideas as sacred. Whereas the sacred element for naturism is, for
example, a rock or a river, the sacred element for animism is an idea or a dream
(2001:47). Durkheim suggested that totemism combines both naturism and
animism and is found among the most primitive societies, specifically, Australian
Australian Aboriginal tribes are organized into clans. Clans are distinctive kinship
networks based not on blood relations but rather on the reciprocal obligations that
follow from clan membership. Each clan has a totem, nearly all of which are taken
from plants or animals. The species or variety as a whole is thought by clan
members to be sacred (2001:88-9), as is the idea, emblem or symbol of the totem,
and as are the clan members themselves. Totemism is therefore a religion of the
‘impersonal force’ that can be found in all the things associated with the totem: its
graphic representations, animals, objects and clan members (2001:140). Durkheim
was also interested in religions (such as those found in Melanesia) that separated
the totemic force from totemic objects. This is the force of ‘mana’ that is more
abstract than a totem, although its roots are the same (2001:140-52).
A phratry is a group of clans that share a special relationship. It is possible that the
phatry was once the clan before it fragmented. In this sense, the phatry totem is
the genus and the clan totem is a species (2001:91).
Durkheim was obviously particularly interested in primitive religious beliefs, but
he was not interested in whether these beliefs were true or not. Rather, he was
interested in the social origin of religious belief. Instead of thinking of them as
otherworldly, Durkheim considered religious beliefs to be a perspective or
representation of the social world (2001:109) precisely because they ‘appropriate
the framework of society as their own’ (2001:112). To support this view he pointed
out that totemic beliefs involve hierarchies, and that these are features of social
organization not found in the natural world (2001:114-5). As Durkheim summed
up his position: ‘Society has provided the canvas on which logical thought has
For Durkheim, the totem was ultimately a form of self-worship, since it
represented both the divine and the social world. As he put it: ‘if the totem is both
the symbol of God and of society, are these not one and the same? (2001:154).
Religious beliefs are therefore affirmations and representations of group life.
These beliefs coexist with rituals that organize and regulate group life,
transforming ideas into social practices.
Durkheim distinguished three kinds of ritual: the negative, the positive and the
piacular. Negative rituals are primarily prohibitions of contact that protect the
sacred from profane contact. In this sense, they are a ‘means to an end’ since they
are required of a person who wishes to pass from a profane state to a sacred one
(2001:230). Positive rituals occur after negative ones, and affirm the sacred
character of each member of the group. Through celebrations, festivals, sacrifices
and other practices, the person and the group are reconnected and honored.
Durkheim made this observation into a broad generalization (2001:257-8):
[…] it should be possible to interpret ritual life in secular
and social terms [… as] a circle. On the one hand, the
individual takes from society the best of himself,
everything that gives him a distinctive personality, and a
place among other beings, his intellectual and moral
culture. […] But on the other hand, society exists and
lives only in and through individuals. […] For society, of
which the gods are merely the symbolic expression, can
no more do without individuals than individuals can do
Society can revive itself only by assembling. But it
cannot remain perpetually in session. The demands of life
do not allow this indefinitely; so it disperses in order to
reassemble anew when, once again, it feels the need to do
so. These necessary alternations correspond to the regular
alternation of sacred and profane time’ (2001:259).
The third type of rite, the piacular, occurs after personal or collective disasters, and
a common type of piacular rite is mourning. Durkheim showed that clans
throughout Australia had many negative and positive rituals associated with
mourning. Family members may wail loudly, inflict harm upon themselves and
may voluntarily renounce the right to speak, sometimes for several years.
Durkheim argued that the key component of the piacular rite is not the personal
expression of grief of the individual mourner but the group’s understanding of
what is expected of mourners. That is, each mourner, because of familial or other
obligations, has a duty to mourn in pre-specified ways (2001:295).
Explain the following passage:
Functional diversity entails a moral diversity that nothing can prevent, and it is
inevitable that one should grow at the same time as the other. […] The collective
sentiments thus become more and more powerless to contain the centrifugal
tendencies that the division of labor is alleged to bring about; for, on the one hand,
these tendencies increase as labor becomes increasingly divided up, and at the
same time the collective sentiments grow weaker (1984:298).
Durkheim: The Division of Labor