top-rated free essay

Overview of Durkheim's Social Facts

By karmo Nov 11, 2013 939 Words
Emile Durkheim was interested in studying societies, not through a psychological or biological viewpoint, but through a sociological lens in order to look at their development and cohesion over time. For him, societies were not merely a group of individuals living together, or a record of that group’s material culture. Rather, societies were defined by their full assemblage of beliefs and ideas. Foundational to his work was the notion that societies operated separately within unique realities that were created and advanced through the collective conscious. In the collective conscious, individual consciences come together to create a reality that is separate from the individual and greater than the sum of those individual parts. Within this consciousness exists “social facts” which define ways of thinking and behaving in a society. Though it was human agency which produced them, by their nature they exert a coercive power over the individuals within a society. In this way, social facts not only regulate a society, but also unite it under one or many belief systems, depending on the society’s complexity. Furthermore, because social facts behave objectively, Durkheim believed that it was possible for them to be studied scientifically. Social facts can encompass any and all of a society's shared knowledge and rules, from laws and mores to ways of speaking and notions of beauty. The internalization of social facts begins at birth and continues throughout an individual's lifetime as he or she consciously and unconsciously learns what behaviors society deems appropriate. This internalization can be seen not only in codified social institutions, but also in people’s compulsion to live within society’s rules. Though simply the thought of violating these rules can cause discomfort within an individual, public opinion within a society also has mechanisms such as shaming and ridicule that can be used to control behavior. Unlike social currents which might cause an individual to act as they otherwise would not but are transitory in nature, social facts are enduring and consistent. They maintain because of the collective consciousness, through which they are able exist outside of the individual, encouraging a person to perform certain behaviors they might never have thought to perform if they were isolated. For this reason social facts are not material but mental in nature and individuals are often never aware of them. Likewise, any changes observed in material structures of society are a result of changes in collective ideas and opinions. In the process of studying social facts, Durkheim defined two types of societies: those which operate by mechanical solidarity, and those which operate by organic solidarity. In societies which operate by mechanical solidarity, cohesion and integration of its members is achieved through a uniform belief system, and similar professional, educational and life experiences. In this way, the collective conscious has an extremely strong effect on these societies since it almost completely coincides with the individual conscious. According to Durkheim, this type of organization is common among small-scale, “primitive” societies and is often based on kinship ties, such as is seen among the Aboriginal cultures of Australia. Here, even religion operates as a social fact since the definitions of what is sacred and profane can differ between Aboriginal clans. On the other hand, in societies which operate on organic solidarity cohesion is fostered through the interdependence of individuals. Though members of these societies may not all have the same experiences and beliefs, they all perform specific labor which requires the success of others within the system in order to thrive. Like parts of a human body, everyone performs their individualized movements which work in sync to move the body forward. Durkheim argues that societies advance from mechanical to organic solidarity as populations grow and divisions in labor become more necessary for survival. As a result, organic solidarity is found among large-scale, industrial cultures where the collective conscious has a less obvious hold. Rather than attempting to impose moral uniformity, here the collective conscious works to mediate between different groups within the society.

Despite this, there are still key questions which arise out of the theory of social facts and the collective consciousness. To agree with the existence of what Durkheim calls social facts is to understand that personal actions are an imperfect representation of an ideal existing beyond the individual. This creates the problem of discerning which, out of the innumerable actions performed everyday, can be considered over time to be a social fact. While Durkheim would argue that social facts can be discerned through both institutional and individual injunctions, societies also contain a great deal of subjectivity and the number of lenses through which to view a particular action seems as great as the number of actions that can be performed. Nonetheless, unlike other sociologists before him, Durkheim’s organization of the world created classifications through which empirical data could be collected and studied scientifically. By looking at the tangible results of social facts such as laws, activities and even religion, as well as observations about what people considered to be appropriate behavior, Durkheim was able to study society on a macro level. Therefore, his theories are not based on the study of the ideas and actions of one individual, as they would be in psychology, but on the product of the ideas of many individuals which have transcended into a form of their own that only exists within the context of collectivity. In the field of sociology then, this means that studies should not focus on individual intentions, but rather on the conditions of the underlying social facts as these are what cause a specific pattern of knowledge or reasoning within an individual.

Cite This Document

Related Documents

  • Social Facts

    ...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 canno...

    Read More
  • Social Facts

    ...Social facts are described by Durkheim as the ways of acting feeling and thinking that are external but coercive of the individual. Social facts according to Durkheim are often linked to each other. There are interrelated and interdependent in their functions or how they work and affect society. There two types of social facts, namely, material ...

    Read More
  • social facts

    ... SOCIAL FACTS - AGENCY/STRUCTURE - SOCIAL TYPES Social facts should be considered as things - in Durkheim's view, they are things, meaning they are "sui generis," peculiar in their characteristics: they are the effect or creation of human activities, actions or agency but they are not intended; they are not the product of conscious intention...

    Read More
  • Durkheim/Social Facts

    ...Stacey Seddon 10 January 2011 Social Theory (SOCI 101) Module Coordinator: Paul Jones Essay Question: Why is the concept of social facts so significant for Durkheim’s work? Illustrate your answer with reference to at least one of his studies. This essay will look at social facts and the significance of them to Durkheim’s work,...

    Read More
  • social facts

    ...scientific study of human activity in society.  More specifically, it is study of the social forces that affect human activities and behavior.  Social Forces are the human - created ways of doing things that influence, pressure, or force people to behave, interact with others, and think in specified ways. SOCIAL FACTS  9...

    Read More
  • Emile Durkheim’s Notion of Social Solidarity

    ...Emile Durkheim’s Notion of Social Solidarity At the heart of Durkheim’s book of Division of Labor in Society is social solidarity. More than an increase in productive output, social solidarity is deemed to be the most notable effect of the division of labor. Over time, as roles become more distinct and appropriated according to one’s ...

    Read More
  • What is Social Fact

    ...What is a Social Fact?  Emile Durkheim Before beginning the search for the method appropriate to the study of social facts it is important to know what are the facts termed 'social'. The question is all the more necessary because the term is used without much precision. It is commonly used to designate almost all the phenomena that occur w...

    Read More
  • Overview of Social Psychology

    ... An Overview of Social Psychology We have all been involved in a situation, at some point, that has left us scratching our heads as to what the hell just happened. Maybe it was someone else’s behavior or maybe it was our own behavior that was outside the norm of acceptable social behavior. Social psychology is the school of...

    Read More

Discover the Best Free Essays on StudyMode

Conquer writer's block once and for all.

High Quality Essays

Our library contains thousands of carefully selected free research papers and essays.

Popular Topics

No matter the topic you're researching, chances are we have it covered.