Social Facts

Topics: Sociology, Émile Durkheim, Suicide Pages: 11 (4218 words) Published: March 25, 2013
A. Social Facts
Durkheim defined social facts as things external to, and coercive of, the actor. These are created from collective forces and do not emanate from the individual (Hadden, p. 104). While they may not seem to be observable, social facts are things, and "are to be studied empirically, not philosophically" (Ritzer, p. 78). They cannot be deduced from pure reason or thought, but require a study of history and society in order to observe their effects and understand the nature of these social facts. In The Rules of Sociological Method, Durkheim begins by noting features such as the following (quote 3): Social Facts. When I fulfil my obligations as brother, husband, or citizen, when I execute my contracts, I perform duties which are defined, externally to myself and my acts, in law and in custom. Even if they conform to my own sentiments and I feel their reality subjectively, such reality is still objective, for I did not create them; I merely inherited them through my education. (Rules, p. 1). As examples of social facts, Durkheim cites religious beliefs, currency used to undertake transactions, and factors such as "the practices followed in my profession" (Rules, p. 2). These types of conduct or thought are not only external to the individual but are, moreover, endowed with coercive power, by virtue of which they impose themselves upon him, independent of his individual will. (Rules, p. 2). While obligations, values, attitudes, and beliefs may appear to be individual, Durkheim argues that these social facts exist at the level of society as a whole, arising from social relationships and human association. They exist as a result of social interactions and historical developments over long periods of time, and come from "varying collective representations and diverse forms of social organization" (Hadden, p. 104). As individuals who are born and raised in a society, these social facts are learned (through socialization) and generally accepted, but the individual has nothing to do with establishing these. While society is composed of individuals, society is not just the sum of individuals, and these facts exist at the level of society, not at the individual level. As such, these social facts do exist, they are the social reality of society, a reality that constitutes the proper study of sociology (Cuff et al., p. 33). The study of social facts is the "distinct object or subject matter of sociology" (Hadden, p. 105). Durkheim distinguishes social facts from psychological, biological, or economic facts by noting that these are social and rooted in group sentiments and values. At the same time, he distinguishes the study of social facts from philosophy by noting that the real effects of social facts are "manifested in external indicators of sentiments such as religious doctrines, laws, moral codes" (Hadden, p. 105) and these effects can be observed and studied by the sociologist. The study of social facts is thus a large part of the study of sociology. In order to do this, the sociologist must "rid themselves of preconceptions" (Hadden, p. 107) and undertake objective study which can "focus on objective, external indicators such as religious doctrines or laws" (Hadden, p. 107). Each social fact is real, something that is constraining on the individual and external to the actor. The social fact is not just in the mind of the individual – that is, these facts are more than psychological facts. That these exist in society as a whole, over time, and sometimes across societies, provides some proof of this. At the same time they are in the minds of individuals so they are also mental states. Ritzer notes that social facts can be considered to be mental phenomena that are external to and coercive of psychological facts, such as human instincts. The individual mental state could be considered to intervene between social fact and action (Ritzer, p. 105). Durkheim may not have provided a sufficient analysis of the assumptions...
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