The aim of his work Division of Labour was to find out the correlation between Social Diversity and Moral Consensus. In pre-modern societies, social cohesion was based on similarities in beliefs and practices. But, in modern societies, people are different from each other, they perform different roles, have different beliefs and yet stay together. What was the basis of this renewed social cohesion? What causes the division of labour and societal differentiation?
Durkheim introduced a concept called dynamic density, which refers to the number of people in society, and amount of interactions among them. As the population increases, the competition for scarce resources increases as well. The competition is further increased as the level of interaction among people increased due to improvement in transport and communication facilities in modern societies. The scarcity of resources, increase in population, demand of goods and services, and availability of transport facilities – all led people to embrace different works for their survival. So, the dynamic density led to division of labour.
In a highly differentiated society, when people of different belief systems come together only to share the scarce resources among themselves, what will happen to the moral consensus, which was easier to achieve in pre modern societies?
In order to find answers to these questions, Durkheim proposed two classifications of social solidarity.
From mechanical to organic solidarity
Social solidarity is defined as the level of integration in a society. The level of integration depends on various factors, like, the willingness of an individual to relate to or bound by the norms of a collective society. As the modern society brings about social differentiation, the very basis of social solidarity, which depends on collective beliefs and practices, also undergoes a change. In order to study this change, Durkheim divided the social solidarity into two parts, mechanical and organic solidarity. And further, he used the legal system, a material social fact, to study collective consciousness/social solidarity, a non material social fact. ( As non material social facts cannot be studied directly and it is only through material social facts that we view them.)
Mechanical Solidarity is characterized by common beliefs and sentiments of people which result into common moral rules and regulations. As more number of people relate with similar moral rules and collective ideas, the punishment meted out for deviance is through repressive laws. Punishment is severe, because setting an example would make people conform to the societal norms religiously, and would help to preserve the moral fabric of the society.
The division of labour in a modern society erodes this attachment with collective ideas and belief systems. Organic solidarity is characterized by weaker rules and regulations. The punishment is often through restitutive laws. The motive, here, is to maintain the social order in society, which can be achieved through reformation and rehabilitation for showing deviance from societal rules. In a modern society, the inter-dependence among people due to their specialized roles gives rise to the social integration.
The pathology of social change
According to Durkheim, modern societies carry some abnormal forms of division of labour, which are pathology of social change, and impede social integration. He identified three such forms viz., anomic division of labour, forced division of labour, and poorly coordinated division of labour.
Anomic division of labour : It is the result of lack of regulation in society. Society fails to delineate the rules of acceptable behaviours. An individual finds it difficult to find a balance between his hedonistic desires and social identity, and may take extreme steps like suicide in times of economic or social crisis.
Forced division of labour : It can occur if the division of labour is based on a person’s ascription, and not on the talent and potential required to perform a particular function. This can lead to conflict and thus, erosion of social solidarity.
Poorly Coordinated division of labour : If the works performed by individuals are not coordinated well, the sense of inter dependence would go down, resulting in isolation and reduced integration among people.
Suicide is one of the manifestations of the pathology of social change. It depends on level of integration and regulation in society. Durkheim proposed four types of suicide :
Egoistic Suicide (weak integration) : Society defines morality, values and sense of purpose in life. As the individualism grows, people feel more alienated from society, affecting integration and social bonds among the people. The lack of common morality, values and the loss of sense of purpose in life cause depression. Durkheim gives the data which shows higher suicide rates among unmarried people who live a relatively isolated and individualistic life than married people.
Altruistic suicide (strong integration): On the other side, strong integration can lead to suicide, where the individual sacrifices his life for the will of the collective. Such intense integration can erode individuality, and is often prone to abuse. The Jones town massacre is a brilliant example where all the members of the cult performed a collective act of suicide on the orders of their leader.
Anomic Suicide (weak regulation) : Anomic suicide results from very weak regulation in society. It may occur during periods of social and economic change. During these times, often, the pace of change might be far greater than the ability of society to form a new generalized value culture or a generalized medium of exchange. It leads to the breakdown of existing societal norms and values, and the absence of new ones. The insufficient regulations make people vulnerable to be controlled by their hedonistic self. The uncontrolled mind can do any destructive act, including killing of self.
Fatalistic suicide (strong regulation) : This is an example of suicide in societies where every aspect of the individual’s lives are intensely regulated, thus, minimising or curbing altogether any individual freedom. Slave societies are an example of this type.
The Positivistic method
Durkheim’s work on suicide is considered as the magnum opus of positivists, where he proved how even intensely personal act such as suicide can be subject to the forces of society. Thus, he stakes a claim for the discipline of a positivistic sociology.