Classical Sociological Theory

Topics: Sociology, Émile Durkheim, Anthony Giddens Pages: 8 (2025 words) Published: December 18, 2014
Name: Chow Ka Chun Simon; Ssid: 1155032615
Course Code: SOCI 3003 Classical Sociological Theories
Professor : Chan Hoi Man Tutor : Joanne Luk Date : 12th November, 2014 Mid-term Exercise Topic: Discuss the meaning and significance of social fact. In your paper, discuss why the concept of your choice may be considered as important for understanding the works of the theorist concerned. In addition, you may also discuss the border significance of the concept in helping you to understand the nature of Modern Society and of Modern sociology.

Background and introduction

Social fact is the most important concept in mastering Durkheim’s theory because it is what Durkheim defined as the subject matter of sociology (Durkheim, 1972: 58). That is to say, general social phenomenon possesses the characteristics of a “social fact”. It defines the field of sociology and it is the foundation of understanding Durkheim’s theory. What follows afterwards is the methodology of investigation, which is still influential until present development of sociology. In the following, there will be some discussions about the meaning of social facts, its importance in understanding Durkheim’s theory as well as its importance in understanding the nature of Modern Society and of Modern sociology.

Durkheim was interested in investigating into the social order, and thus engaged in the study of society. He proposed the use of scientific method in understanding society, which is a pioneer in this field. In the past, people concern the idea of perfect society. For example, Durkheim wrote, “Plato was, aimed at discovering, not the laws of social existence, but the best form of society. He does not establish this principle as a law which societies actually follow” (Giddens, 1972 :58) Durkheim believed that there are certain mechanisms behind the society. At the same times, (19th century), as natural science yielded a great success, positivism engendered great influence in the academic world. Durkheim undertook this approach and defined the field of sociology.

Definition and characteristics of social fact

“A discipline may be called a ‘science’ only if it has a definite field to explore…(otherwise) it exists in a vacuum. “ (Durkheim, 1972: 57) Durkheim defined “social fact” as the object for investigation. It is a pivotal concept in Durkheim’s sociology as well as Modern sociology. The definition of social fact is as follow:

“It (social fact) consists of ways of acting, thinking, and feeling, external to the individual, and endowed with a power of coercion, by reason of which they control him. ” (Durkheim, 1964: 3)

“Social fact is distinctive from psychological fact or biological fact because it involves external forces acted upon on individuals and it is not purely within individual’s awareness. It is true, remarks Durkheim, that the individual consciousness is what “makes us individuals”, but there are reality that is completely outside himself (Gisbert, 1959: 357). Social facts are independent from individuals, objectively existed as a “thing” outside them (Durkheim, 1964: 14). It is external to an individual because societies exist before the born of an individual. These “state of collective mind” included customs, religion, legal rules and so on, which is independent on all individuals. They are true reality.

Moreover, this “thing” endow with coercive power or imperative characters which can bend individuals’ free will and affect the way of acting (Durkheim, 1964: 2). Feeling free to conform does not mean that the coercive nature vanished. As Durkheim wrote, “Social constraint is not necessarily incompatible with the individual personality.” (Durkheim, 1964: 4). However, once an individual tries to go against some collective manifestations, sanctions may immediately happenen.

Therefore, Durkheim proposed that “social fact can be recognized by sanctions or by the resistance offered against every individual effort...
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