Emile Durkheim 1858-1917

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Emile Durkheim

The Person

Emile Durkheim was the first French academic sociologist. His life was dominated throughout by his academic career, even though he was intensely and passionately involved in the affairs of French society at large. In his well-established status he differed from the men dealt with so far, and his life may seem uneventful when compared with theirs. Undoubtedly their personal idiosyncrasies had a share in determining their erratic course. But in addition, they were all devoted to a calling that had not yet found recognition in the university. In their attempts to defend the claim to legitimacy of the new science of sociology, they faced enormous obstacles, which contributed in large measure to their personal difficulties.

Emile Durkheim, as well as the theorists who will be dealt with in subsequent chapters, faced a different set of circumstances. They were all academic men but were still considered by their colleagues as intruders representing a discipline that had little claim to legitimate status. As a result, theirs was by no means an easy course. Nevertheless, they fought from within the halls of academe rather than from outside, and so their lives tended to be less embattled than those of their predecessors.

Emile Durkheim was born at Epinal in the eastern French province of Lorraine on April 15, 1858. Son of a rabbi and descending from a long line of rabbis, he decided quite early that he would follow the family tradition and become a rabbi himself. He studied Hebrew, the Old Testament, and the Talmud, while at the same time following the regular course of instruction in secular schools.

Shortly after his traditional Jewish confirmation at the age of thirteen, Durkheim, under the influence of a Catholic woman teacher, had a shortlived mystical experience that led to an interest in Catholicism. But soon afterwards he turned away from all religious involvement, though emphatically not from interest in religious phenomena, and became an agnostic.

Durkheim was a brilliant student at the College d'Epinal and was awarded a variety of honors and prizes. His ambitions thus aroused, he transferred to one of the great French high schools, the Lycee Louis-le-Grand in Paris. Here he prepared himself for the arduous admission examinations that would open the doors to the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure, the traditional training ground for the intellectual elite of France.

After two unsuccessful attempts to pass the rigorous entrance examinations, Durkheim was finally admitted in 1879. At the Ecole Normale he met with a number of young men who would soon make a major mark on the intellectual life of France. Henri Bergson, who was to become the philosopher of vitalism, and Jean Jaures, the future socialist leader, had entered the year before. The philosophers Rauh and Blondel were admitted two years after Durkheim. Pierre Janet, the psychologist, and Goblot, the philosopher, were in the same class as Durkheim. The Ecole Normale, which had been created by the First Republic, was now having a renaissance and was training some of the leading intellectual and political figures of the Third Republic.

Although admission to the Ecole Normale was an achievement in a young man's life, Durkheim, once admitted, seems not to have been happy at the Ecole. He was an intensely earnest, studious, and dedicated young man, soon nicknamed "the metaphysician" by his peers. Athirst for guiding moral doctrines and earnest scientific instruction, Durkheim was dissatisfied with the literary and esthetic emphasis that still predominated at the school. He rebelled against a course of studies in which the reading of Greek verse and Latin prose seemed more important than acquaintance with the newer philosophical doctrines or the recent findings of the sciences. He felt that the school made far too many concessions to the spirit of dilettantism and tended to reward elegant dabbling and the quest for "novelty" and "originality" of expression rather than solid and systematic learning.

Although he acquired some close friends at the school, among whom Jean Jaures was the most outstanding, his earnestness and dedication make him in the eyes of the other students an aloof and remote figure, perhaps even somewhat of a prig. His professors, in their turn, repaid him for his apparent dissatisfaction with much of their teaching by placing him almost at the bottom of the list of successful agregation candidates when he graduated in 1882.

All this does not mean that Durkheim was uninfluenced by his three years at the Ecole Normale. Later on, he spoke almost sentimentally about these years and, if many of his professors irked and annoyed him, there were a few others to whom he was deeply in debt. Among these were the great historian Fustel de Coulanges, author of the Ancient City who became director of the school while Durkheim attended it, and the philosopher Emile Boutroux. He later dedicated his Latin thesis to the memory of Fustel de Coulanges, and his French thesis, The Division of Labor, to Boutroux. What he admired in Fustel de Coulanges and learned from him was the use of critical and rigorous method in historical research. To Boutroux he owed an approach to the philosophy of science that stressed the basic discontinuities between different levels of phenomena and emphasized the novel aspects that emerged as one moved from one level of analysis to another. This approach was later to become a major mark of Durkheim's sociology.

From Coser, 1977:143-144.

(Special acknowledgement to Larry R. Ridener and The Dead Sociologists' Society) http://raven.jmu.edu/~ridenelr/personal/VITA.HTML

Durkheim's Academic Career

At about the time of his graduation, Durkheim had settled upon his life's course. His was not to be the traditional philosopher's calling. Philosophy, at least as it was then taught, seemed to him too far removed from the issues of the day, too much devoted to arcane and frivolous hairsplitting. He wanted to devote himself to a discipline that would contribute to the clarification of the great moral questions that agitated the age, as well as to practical guidance of the affairs of contemporary society. More concretely, Durkheim wished to make a contribution to the moral and political consolidation of the Third Republic which, in those days, was still a fragile and embattled political structure. But such moral guidance, Durkheim was convinced, could be provided only my men with a solid scientific training. Hence he decided that he would dedicate himself to the scientific study of society. What he considered imperative was to construct a scientific sociological system, not as an end in itself, but as a means for the moral direction of society. From this purpose Durkheim never parted.

However, since sociology was not a subject of instruction either at the secondary schools or at the university, Durkheim embarked upon a career as a teacher in philosophy. From 1882 to 1887 he taught in a number of provincial Lycees in the neighborhood of Paris--except for one year when he received a leave of absence for further study at Paris and in Germany. Durkheim's stay in Germany was mainly devoted to the study of methods of instruction and research in moral philosophy and the social sciences. He spent most of his time in Berlin and Leipzig. In the latter city the famous Psychological Laboratory of Wilhelm Wundt impressed him deeply. In his subsequent reports on his German experiences, Durkheim was enthusiastic about the precision and scientific objectivity in research that he had witnessed in Wundt's laboratory and elsewhere. At the same time he stressed that France should emulate Germany in making philosophical instruction serve social as well as national goals. He heartily approved of the efforts of various German social scientists and philosophers who stressed the social roots of the notion of moral duty and sought to make ethics an independent and positive discipline.

With the publication of his reports on German academic life, Durkheim became recognized at the age of twenty-nine as a promising figure in the social sciences and in social philosophy. In addition to his German studies, he had already published a number of critical articles, including reviews of the work of the German-language sociologists Gumplowicz and Schaeffle, and the French social philosopher Fouille. It was not surprising, therefore, that he was appointed to the staff of the University of Bordeaux in 1887. What was surprising, however, was that at the instigation of Louis Liard, the Director of Higher Education at the Ministry of Public Education, a social science course was created for him at the Faculty of Letters at that university. This was the first time a French university opened its doors to this previously tabooed subject. Only a decade earlier, the furious examiners at the Faculty of Letters of Paris had forced the sociologist Alfred Espinas, a future colleague of Durkheim at Bordeaux, to suppress the introduction to his thesis because he refused to delete the name of Auguste Comte from its pages!

At Bordeaux, Durkheim was attached to the department of philosophy where he was charged with courses in both sociology and pedagogy. Some commentators seem to feel that the teaching of pedagogy was a kind of academic drudgery that Durkheim was forced to accept. This was not the case. He continued to teach in the field of education throughout his career, even when he was clearly free to determine for himself the courses he would offer. Education, as will be seen later in more detail, remained for Durkheim a privileged applied field where sociology could make its most important contribution to that regeneration of society for which he aimed so passionately.

At about the time of his academic appointment to Bordeaux, Durkheim married the former Louise Dreyfus. They had two children, Marie and Andre, but very little is known of his family life. His wife seems to have devoted herself fully to his work. She followed the traditional Jewish family pattern of taking care of family affairs as well as assisting him in proofreading, secretarial duties, and the like. Thus, the scholar-husband could devote all his energies to his scholarly pursuits.

The Bordeaux years were a period of intense productive activity for Durkheim. He continued to publish a number of major critical reviews, among others of Toennies' Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, and the opening lectures of some of his courses were published in the form of articles. In 1893, he defended his French doctoral thesis, The Division of Labor, and his Latin thesis on Montesquieu. Only two years later The Rules of Sociological Method appeared, and within another two years Le Suicide was published. With these three major works, Durkheim moved into the forefront of the academic world. He noted in the preface of Suicide that sociology was now "in fashion." Not that his work was universally praised; on the contrary, it created a number of famous controversies and polemical exchanges. But the fact that so many theorists were moved to regard Durkheim as their privileged adversary testifies to his impact on the intellectual world. Then, as later, Durkheim was the center of continued controversy and disputation.

Once having established sociology as a field of interest to a wider public, Durkheim soon felt the need to consolidate these gains by setting up a scholarly journal entirely devoted to the new discipline. L'Annee Sociologique, which he founded in 1898, soon became the center for an extraordinarily gifted group of young scholars, all united, despite a variety of specific disciplinary interests, in a common devotion to the Durkheimian approach to sociology. Each year the Annee analyzed the current literature of sociology in France and elsewhere. These critical accounts allowed the French public for the first time to gain an overall view of the depth and breadth of the sociological enterprise. The Annee also contained independent major contributions from the pen of Durkheim and from his close collaborators. The reviews and papers were all meant to emphasize the need for building conceptual bridges between the specialized fields of the social sciences and the correlative need for factual, specific, and methodical research. The Annee was successful from the beginning, and the continued collaboration of its key contributors helped to weld them together into a cohesive "school," aggressively eager to defend the Durkheimian approach to sociology against all who opposed it.

In the same year the Annee was born, Durkheim published his famous paper on Individual and Collective Representations, which served as a kind of manifesto of sociological independence for the Durkheimian school. A series of other seminal papers, some published in the Annee and some elsewhere, followed in the next decade and a half. These included "The Determination of Moral Facts," "Value Judgments and Judgments of Reality," "Primitive Classification" (with Marcel Mauss), and "The Definition of Religious Phenomena."

Nine years after having joined the faculty of the University of Bordeaux, Durkheim was promoted to a full professorship in social science, the first such position in France. He occupied this chair for six years. In 1902, now a man fully recognized stature, he was called to the Sorbonne, first as a charge de cours and then, in 1906, as a Professor of the Science of Education. In 1913, the name of Durkheim's chair was changed by a special ministerial decree to "Science of Education and Sociology." After more than three quarters of a century, Comte's brainchild had finally gained entry at the University of Paris.

During his Paris years, Durkheim continued to edit the Annee and offered a wide range of courses in ethics, education, religion, the philosophy of pragmatism, and the teachings of Saint-Simon and Comte. He appears to have been a masterful lecturer who held his audience so much in thrall that one of his students could write, "Those who wished to escape his influence had to flee from his courses; on those who attended he imposed, willy-nilly, his mastery."

During the last few years of his stay in Bordeaux, Durkheim had already become interested in the study of religious phenomena. At least in part under the influence of Robertson Smith and the British school of anthropology, he now turned to the detailed study of primitive religion. He had published a number of preliminary papers in the area, and this course of studies finally led to the publication in 1912 of Durkheim's last major work, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.

From Coser, 1977:145-148.

Public Involvement

His scholarly work in the Paris period, though extensive, by no means exhausted Durkheim's energies. He played a major role in the general intellectual life of France, as well as in the university. He was an active defender of Dreyfus during the heyday of the affair and attained eminence as a left-of-center publicist and spokesman. Durkheim also became a key figure in the reorganization of the university system. He served on innumerable university committees, advised the Ministry of Education, helped to introduce sociology into school curricula, and in general did yeoman's work to make sociology the cornerstone of civic education. In these years he came nearest to realizing his youthful ambition of building a scientific sociology that would be applied to moral re-education in the Third Republic and at the same time to the development of a secular morality.

When the war came, Durkheim felt obliged to aid his beleaguered fatherland. He became the secretary of the Committee for the Publication of Studies and Documents on the War, and published several pamphlets in which he attacked pan-Germanism and more particularly the nationalistic writings of Treitschke.

Just before Christmas, 1915, Durkheim was notified that his son Andre had died in a Bulgarian hospital from his war wounds. Andre had followed his father to the Ecole Normale and had begun a most promising career as a sociological linguist. He had been the pride and hope of a father who had seen him as his destined successor in the front rank of the social sciences. His death was a blow from which Durkheim did not recover. He still managed to write down the first paragraphs of a treatise on ethics on which he had one preparatory work for a long time, but his energy was spent. He died on November 15, 1917, at the age of fifty-nine.

Emile Durkheim, the agnostic son of devoted Jews, had managed during his career to combine scientific detachment with intense moral involvement. He was passionately devoted to the disinterested quest for truth and knowledge, and yet he was also a figure not unlike the Old Testament prophets, who castigated their fellows for the errors of their ways and exhorted them to come together in a common service to moral unity and communal justice. Although a Frenchman first and foremost, he did not waver from his allegiance to a cosmopolitan liberal civilization in which the pursuit of science was meant to serve the enlightenment and guidance of the whole of humanity. A man made of whole cloth, he still managed to play a variety of roles in a distinctive intellectual and historical context.

From Coser, 1977:148-149.

Emile Durkheim

The Work

General Approach

The main thrust of Durkheim's overall doctrine is his insistence that the study of society must eschew reductionism and consider social phenomena sui generis. Rejecting biologistic or psychologistic interpretations, Durkheim focused attention on the social-structural determinants of mankind's social problems.

Durkheim presented a definitive critique of reductionist explanations of social behavior. Social phenomena are "social facts" and these are the subject matter of sociology. They have, according to Durkheim, distinctive social characteristics and determinants, which are not amenable to explanations on the biological or psychological level. They are external to any particular individual considered as a biological entity. They endure over time while particular individuals die and are replaced by others. Moreover, they are not only external to the individual, but they are "endowed with coercive power, by . . . which they impose themselves upon him, independent of his individual will." Constraints, whether in the form of laws or customs, come into play whenever social demands are being violated. These sanctions are imposed on individuals and channel and direct their desires and propensities. A social fact can hence be defined as "every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint."

Although in his early work Durkheim defined social facts by their exteriority and constraint, focusing his main concern on the operation of the legal system, he was later moved to change his views significantly. The mature Durkheim stressed that social facts, and more particularly moral rules, become effective guides and controls of conduct only to the extent that they become internalized in the consciousness of individuals, while continuing to exist independently of individuals. According to this formulation, constraint is no longer a simple imposition of outside controls on individual will, but rather a moral obligation to obey a rule. In this sense society is "something beyond us and something in ourselves." Durkheim now endeavored to study social facts not only as phenomena "out there" in the world of objects, but as facts that the actor and the social scientist come to know.

Social phenomena arise, Durkheim argued, when interacting individuals constitute a reality that can no longer be accounted for in terms of the properties of individual actors. "The determining cause of a social fact should be sought among the social facts preceding it and not among the states of the individual consciousness." A political party, for example, though composed of individual members, cannot be explained in terms of its constitutive elements; rather, a party is a structural whole that must be accounted for by the social and historical forces that bring it into being and allow it to operate. Any social formation, though not necessarily superior to its individual parts, is different from them and demands an explanation on the level peculiar to it.

Durkheim was concerned with the characteristics of groups and structures rather than with individual attributes. He focused on such problems as the cohesion or lack of cohesion of specific religious groups, not on the individual traits of religious believers. He showed that such group properties are independent of individual traits and must therefore be studied in their own right. He examined different rates of behavior in specified populations and characteristics of particular groups or changes of such characteristics. For example, a significant increase of suicide rates in a particular group indicates that the social cohesion in that group has been weakened and its members are no longer sufficiently protected against existential crises.

In order to explain regular differential rates of suicide in various religious or occupational groupings, Durkheim studied the character of these groups, their characteristic ways of bringing about cohesion and solidarity among their members. He did not concern himself with the psychological traits or motives of the component individuals, for these vary. In contrast, the structures that have high suicide rates all have in common a relative lack of cohesion, or a condition of relative normlessness.

Concern with the rates of occurrence of specific phenomena rather than with incidence had an additional advantage in that it allowed Durkheim to engage in comparative analysis of various structures. By comparing the rates of suicides in various groups, he was able to avoid ad hoc explanations in the context of a particular group and instead arrive at an overall generalization. By this procedure he came to the conclusion that the general notion of cohesion or integration could account for a number of differing specific rates of suicide in a variety of group contexts. Groups differ in the degree of their integration. That is, certain groups may have a firm hold on their individual members and integrate them fully within their boundaries; others may leave component individuals a great deal of leeway of action. Durkheim demonstrated that suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration. "When society is strongly integrated, it holds individuals under its control." People who are well integrated into a group are cushioned to a significant extent from the impact of frustrations and tragedies that afflict the human lot; hence, they are less likely to resort to extreme behavior such as suicide.

For Durkheim, one of the major elements of integration is the extent to which various members interact with one another. Participation in rituals, for example, is likely to draw members of religious groups into common activities that bind them together. Or, on another level, work activities that depend on differentiated yet complementary tasks bind workers to the work group. Related to the frequency of patterned interaction is a measure of value integration, that is the sharing by the members of values and beliefs. In collectivities where a high degree of consensus exists, there is less behavioral deviance than in groups in which consensus is attenuated. The stronger the credo of a religious group, the more unified it is likely to be, and therefore better able to provide an environment that will effectively insulate its members from perturbing and frustrating experiences. Yet Durkheim was also careful to point out that there are special cases, of which Protestantism is the most salient, in which the credo of the group stresses a shared belief in individualism and free inquiry. Protestantism "concedes a greater freedom to individual thought than Catholicism . . . it has fewer common beliefs and practices." In this case, higher rates of such deviant behavior as suicide cannot be explained as a lack of consensus, but as a response to the group-enjoined autonomy of its members.

The difference between value consensus and structural integration can now be more formally approximated in terms of Durkheim's own terminology. He distinguished between mechanical and organic solidarity. The first prevails to the extent that "ideas and tendencies common to all members of the society are greater in number and intensity than those which pertain personally to each member. This solidarity can grow only in inverse ration to personality." In other words, mechanical solidarity prevails where individual differences are minimized and the members of society are much alike in their devotion to the common weal. "Solidarity which comes from likeness is at its maximum when the collective conscience completely envelops our whole conscience and coincides in all points with it." Organic solidarity, in contrast, develops out of differences, rather than likenesses, between individuals. It is a product of the division of labor. With increasing differentiation of functions in a society come increasing differences between its members.

Each element in a differentiated society is less strongly tied to common collective routines, even though it may be bound with equal rigor to the differentiated and specialized tasks and roles that characterize systems of organic solidarity. While the individual elements of such a system have less in common, they are nevertheless much more interdependent than under mechanical solidarity. Precisely because they now engage in differentiated ways of life and in specialized activities, the members are largely dependent upon one another and networks of solidarity can develop between them. In such systems, there can be some release from external controls, but such release is in tune with, not in conflict with, the high degree of dependence of individuals on their fellows.

In his earlier work, Durkheim stated that strong systems of common belief characterize mechanical solidarity in primitive types of society, and that organic solidarity, resulting from the progressive increase in the division of labor and hence increased mutual dependence, needed fewer common beliefs to tie members to this society. He later revised this view and stressed that even those systems with a highly developed organic solidarity still needed a common faith, a common conscience collective, if they were not to disintegrate into a heap of mutually antagonistic and self-seeking individuals.

The mature Durkheim realized that only if all members of a society were anchored to common sets of symbolic representations, to common assumptions about the world around them, could moral unity be assured. Without them, Durkheim argued, any society, whether primitive or modern, was bound to degenerate and decay.

From Coser, 1977:129-132.

Individual and Society

To Durkheim, men were creatures whose desires were unlimited. Unlike other animals, they are not satiated when their biological needs are fulfilled. "The more one has, the more one wants, since satisfactions received only stimulate instead of filling needs." It follows from this natural insatiability of the human animal that his desires can only be held in check by external controls, that is, by societal control. Society imposes limits on human desires and constitutes "a regulative force [which] must play the same role for moral needs which the organism plays for physical needs." In well-regulated societies, social controls set limits on individual propensities so that "each in his sphere vaguely realizes the extreme limits on individual propensities so that "each in his sphere vaguely realizes the extreme limits set to his ambitions and aspires to nothing beyond. . . . Thus, an end or a goal [is] set to the passions."

When social regulations break down, the controlling influence of society on individual propensities is no longer effective and individuals are left to their own devices. Such a state of affairs Durkheim calls anomie, a tern that refers to a condition of relative normlessness in a whole society or in some of its component groups. Anomie does not refer to a state of mind, but to a property of the social structure. It characterizes a condition in which individual desires are no longer regulated by common norms and where, as a consequence, individuals are left without moral guidance in the pursuit of their goals.

Although complete anomie, or total normlessness, is empirically impossible, societies may be characterized by greater or lesser degrees of normative regulations. Moreover, within any particular society, groups may differ in the degree of anomie that besets them. Social change may create anomie either in the whole society or in some parts of it. Business crises, for example, may have a far greater impact on those on the higher reaches of the social pyramid than on the underlying population. When depression leads to a sudden downward mobility, the men affected experience a de-regulation in their lives--a loss of moral certainty and customary expectations that are no longer sustained by the group to which these men once belonged. Similarly, the rapid onset of prosperity may lead some people to a quick upward mobility and hence deprive them of the social support needed in their new styles of life. Any rapid movement in the social structure that upsets previous networks in which life styles are embedded carries with it a chance of anomie.

Durkheim argued that economic affluence, by stimulating human desires, carries with it dangers of anomic conditions because it "deceives us into believing that we depend on ourselves only," while "poverty protects against suicide because it is a restraint in itself." Since the realization of human desires depends upon the resources at hand, the poor are restrained, and hence less prone to suffer from anomie by virtue of the fact that they possess but limited resources. "The less one has the less he is tempted to extend the range of his needs indefinitely."

By accounting for the different susceptibility to anomie in terms of the social process--that is, the relations between individuals rather than the biological propensities of individuals-- Durkheim in effect proposed a specifically sociological theory of deviant behavior even though he failed to point to the general implications of this crucial insight. In the words of Robert K. Merton, who was the first to ferret out in this respect the overall implications of Durkheim's thought and to develop them methodically, "Social structures exert a definite pressure upon certain persons in the society to engage in nonconforming rather than conforming conduct."

Durkheim's program of study, the overriding problems in all his work, concerns the sources of social order and disorder, the forces that make for regulation or de-regulation in the body social. His work on suicide, of which the discussion and analysis of anomie forms a part, must be read in this light. Once he discovered that certain types of suicide could be accounted for by anomie, he could then use anomic suicide as an index for the otherwise unmeasurable degree of social integration. This was not circular reasoning, as could be argued, but a further application of his method of analysis. He reasoned as follows: There are no societies in which suicide does not occur, and many societies show roughly the same rates of suicide over long periods of time. This indicates that suicides may be considered a "normal," that is, a regular, occurrence. However, sudden spurts in the suicide rates of certain groups or total societies are "abnormal" and point to some perturbations not previously present. Hence. "abnormally" high rates in specific groups or social categories, or in total societies, can be taken as an index of disintegrating forces at work in a social structure.

Durkheim distinguished between types of suicide according to the relation of the actor to his society. When men become "detached from society," when they are thrown upon their own devices and loosen the bonds that previously had tied them to their fellow, they are prone to egoistic, or individualistic, suicide. When the normative regulations surrounding individual conduct are relaxed and hence fail to curb and guide human propensities, men are susceptible to succumbing to anomic suicide. To put the matter differently, when the restraints of structural integration, as exemplified in the operation of organic solidarity, fail to operate, men become prone to egoistic suicide; when the collective conscience weakens, men fall victim to anomic suicide.

In addition to egoistic and anomic types of suicide, Durkheim refers to altruistic and fatalistic suicide. The latter is touched upon only briefly in his work, but the former is of great importance for an understanding of Durkheim's general approach. Altruistic suicide refers to cases in which suicide can be accounted for by overly strong regulation of individuals, as opposed to lack of regulation. Durkheim argues in effect that the relation of suicide rates to social regulation is curvilinear--high rates being associated with both excessive individuation and excessive regulation. In the case of excessive regulation, the demands of society are so great that suicide varies directly rather than inversely with the degree of integration. For example, in the instance of the Hindu normative requirement that widows commit ritual suicide upon the funeral pyre of their husbands, or in the case of harikiri, the individual is so strongly attuned to the demands of his society that he is willing to take his own life when the norms so demand. Arguing from statistical data, Durkheim shows that in modern societies the high rates of suicide among the military cannot be explained by the deprivations of military life suffered by the lower ranks, since the suicide rate happens to be higher for officers than for enlisted men. Rather, the high rate for officers can be accounted for by a military code of honor that enjoins a passive habit of obedience leading officers to undervalue their own lives. In such cases, Durkheim is led to refer to too feeble degrees of individuation and to counterpose these to the excesses of individuation or de-regulation, which account, in his view, for the other major forms of suicide.

Durkheim's discussion of altruistic suicide allows privileged access to some of the intricacies of his approach. He has often been accused of having an overly anti-individualistic philosophy, one that is mainly concerned with the taming of individual impulse and the harnessing of the energies of individuals for the purposes of society. Although it cannot be denied that there are such tendencies in his work, Durkheim's treatment of altruistic suicide indicates that he was trying to establish a balance between the claims of individuals and those of society, rather than to suppress individual strivings. Acutely aware of the dangers of the breakdown of social order, he also realized that total control of component social actors by society would be as detrimental as anomie and de-regulation. Throughout his life he attempted to establish a balance between societal and individual claims.

Durkheim was indeed a thinker in the conservative tradition to the extent that he reacted against the atomistic drift of most Enlightenment philosophy and grounded his sociology in a concern for the maintenance of social order. As Robert Nisbet has shown convincingly, such key terms as cohesion, solidarity, integration, authority, ritual, and regulation indicate that his sociology is anchored upon an anti-atomistic set of premises. In this respect he was like his traditionalist forebears, yet it would be a mistake to classify Durkheim as a traditionalist social thinker. Politically he was a liberal--indeed, a defender of the rights of individuals against the state. He also was moved to warn against excesses of regulation over persons even though the major thrusts of his argument were against those who, by failing to recognize the requirements of the social order, were likely to foster anomic states of affairs. Anomie, he argued, was as detrimental to individuals as it was to the social order at large.

Durkheim meant to show that a Spencerian approach to the social realm, an approach in which the social dimension is ultimately derived from the desire of individuals to increase the sum of their happiness, did not stand up before the court of evidence or the court of reason. Arguing against Spencer and the utilitarians, he maintained that society cannot be derived from the propensity of individuals to trade and barter in order to maximize their own happiness. This view fails to account for the fact that people do not trade and barter at random but follow a pattern that is normative. For men to make a contract and live up to it, they must have a prior commitment to the meaning of a contract in its own right. Such prior collective commitment, that is, such a non-contractual element of contracts, constitutes the framework of normative control. No trade or barter can take place without social regulation and some system of positive and negative sanctions.

Durkheim's main shafts against individualistic social theories notwithstanding, he was by no means oblivious of the dangers of overregulation to which Spencer's social philosophy had been especially sensitive. Durkheim saw man as Homo duplex--as body, desire, and appetite and also as socialized personality. But man was specifically human only in the latter capacity, and he became fully human only in and through society. Hence, true moral action lies in the sacrifice of certain individual desires for the service of groups and society. But such sacrifices redound in the last analysis to the benefit of individuals, as well as society, since unbridled desires lead to frustration and unhappiness rather than to bliss and fulfillment. Modern society seems to contain, for Durkheim, the potentialities for individualism within social regulation. In contrast to earlier types of social organization based on mechanical solidarity that demanded a high degree of regimentation, modern types of organization rest on organic solidarity obtained through the functional interdependence of autonomous individuals. In modern societies, social solidarity is dependent upon, rather than repressive of, individual autonomy of conduct.

Though Durkheim stressed that in modern societies a measure of integration was achieved through the intermeshing and mutual dependence of differentiated roles, he came to see that these societies nevertheless could not do without some common integration by a system of common beliefs. In earlier social formations built on mechanical solidarity, such common beliefs are not clearly distinct from the norms through which they are implemented in communal action; in the case of organic solidarity, the detailed norms have become relatively independent from overall beliefs, responding as they do to the exigencies of differentiated role requirements, but a general system of overall beliefs must still exist. Hence Durkheim turned, in the last period of his scholarly life, to the study of religious phenomena as core elements of systems of common beliefs.

From Coser, 1977:132-136.

The Sociology of Religion

Durkheim's earlier concern with social regulation was in the main focused on the more external forces of control, more particularly legal regulations that can be studied, so he argued, in the law books and without regard to individuals. Later he was led to consider forces of control that were internalized in individual consciousness. Being convinced that "society has to be present within the individual," Durkheim, following the logic of his own theory, was led to the study of religion, one of the forces that created within individuals a sense of moral obligation to adhere to society's demands.

Durkheim had yet another motive for studying the functions of religion--namely, concern with mechanisms that might serve to shore up a threatened social order. In this respect he was in quest of what would today be described as functional equivalents for religion in a fundamentally a-religious age.

Durkheim stands in the line of succession of a number of French thinkers who pondered the problem of the loss of faith. From the days when the Jacobins had destroyed Catholicism in France and then attempted to fill the ensuing moral void by inventing a synthetic Religion of Reason, to Saint-Simon's New Christianity and Comte's Religion of Humanity, French secular thinkers had grappled with the modern problem of how public and private morality could be maintained without religious sanctions. They had asked, just like Ivan Karamasov: "Once God is dead, does not everything become permissible?" Durkheim would not have phrased the question in such language, but he was concerned with a similar problem. In the past, he argued, religion had been the cement of society--the means by which men had been led to turn from the everyday concerns in which they were variously enmeshed to a common devotion to sacred things. By thus wrenching men from the utilitarian preoccupations of daily life, religion had been the anti-individualistic for par excellence, inspiring communal devotion to ethical ends that transcended individual purposes. But if the reign of traditional religious orientations had now ended, what would take their place? Would the end of traditional religion be a prelude to the dissolution of all moral community into a state of universal breakdown and anomie?

Such questions intensified Durkheim's concern with the sociology of religion, adding to the intrinsic interest he had in terms of the internal logic of his system. Basic to his theory is the stress on religious phenomena as communal rather than individual. "A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden--beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." In contrast to William James, for example, Durkheim was not concerned with the variety of religious experience of individuals but rather with the communal activity and the communal bonds to which participation in religious activities gives rise.

Durkheim argued that religious phenomena emerge in any society when a separation is made between the sphere of the profane--the realm of everyday utilitarian activities--and the sphere of the sacred--the area that pertains to the numenous, the transcendental, the extraordinary. An object is intrinsically neither sacred nor profane. It becomes the one or the other depending on whether men choose to consider the utilitarian value of the object or certain intrinsic attributes that have nothing to do with its instrumental value. The wine at mass has sacred ritual significance to the extent that it is considered by the believer to symbolize the blood of Christ; in this context it is plainly not a beverage. Sacred activities are valued by the community of believers not as means to ends, but because the religious community has bestowed their meaning on them as part of its worship. Distinctions between the spheres of the sacred and the profane are always made by groups who band together in a cult and who are united by their common symbols and objects of worship. Religion is "an eminently collective thing." It binds men together, as the etymology of the word religion testifies.

But if religion, the great binding force, is on its deathbed, how then can the malady of modern society, its tendency to disintegrate, be upheld? Here Durkheim accomplished one of his most daring analytical leaps. Religion, he argued, is not only a social creation, but it is in fact society divinized. In a manner reminiscent of Feuerbach, Durkheim stated that the deities which men worship together are only projections of the power of society. Religion is eminently social: it occurs in a social context, and, more importantly, when men celebrate sacred things, they unwittingly celebrate the power of their society. This power so transcends their own existence that they have to give it sacred significance in order to visualize it.

If religion in its essence is a transcendental representation of the powers of society, then, Durkheim argued, the disappearance of traditional religion need not herald the dissolution of society. All that is required is for modern men now to realize directly that dependence on society which before they had recognized only through the medium of religious representations. "We must discover the rational substitutes for these religious notions that for a long time have served as the vehicle for the most essential moral ideas." Society is the father of us all; therefore, it is to society we owe that profound debt of gratitude heretofore paid to the gods. The following passage, which in its rhetoric is rather uncharacteristic of Durkheim's usual analytical style, reveals some of his innermost feelings:

Society is not at all the illogical or a-logical, incoherent and fantastic being which has too often been considered. Quite on the contrary, the collective consciousness is the highest form of psychic life, since it is the consciousness of consciousness. Being placed outside of and above individual and local contingencies, it sees things only in their permanent and essential aspects, which it crystallizes into communicable ideas. At the same time that it sees from above, it sees farther; at every moment of time it embraces all known reality; that is why it alone can furnish the minds with the moulds which are applicable to the totality of things and which make it possible to think of them.

Durkheim did not follow Saint-Simon and Comte in attempting to institute a new humanitarian cult. Yet, being eager as they were to give moral unity to a disintegrating society, he urged men to unite in a civic morality based on the recognition that we are what we are because of society. Society acts within us to elevate us--not unlike the divine spark of old was said to transform ordinary men into creatures capable of transcending the limitations of their puny egos.

Durkheim's sociology of religion is not limited to these general considerations, which, in fact, are contained in only a few pages of his monumental work on The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. The bulk of the book is devoted to a close and careful analysis of primitive religion, more particularly of the data on primitive Australian forms of cults and beliefs. Here, as elsewhere, Durkheim is concerned with elucidating the particular functions of religion rather than with simply describing variant forms. In a well-known critique, the Durkheimian scholar Harry Alpert conveniently classified Durkheim's four major functions of religion as disciplinary, cohesive, vitalizing, and euphoric social forces. Religious rituals prepare men for social life by imposing self-discipline and a certain measure of asceticism. Religious ceremonies bring people together and thus serve to reaffirm their common bonds and to reinforce social solidarity. Religious observance maintains and revitalizes the social heritage of the group and helps transmit its enduring values to future generations. Finally, religion has a euphoric function in that it serves to counteract feelings of frustration and loss of faith and certitude by reestablishing the believers' sense of well-being, their sense of the essential rightness of the moral world of which they are a part. By countering the sense of loss, which, as in the case of death, may be experienced on both the individual and the collective level, religion helps to reestablish the balance of private and public confidence. On the most general plane, religion as a social institution serves to give meaning to man's existential predicaments by tying the individual to that supra-individual sphere of transcendent values which is ultimately rooted in his society.

From Coser, 1977: 136-139.

The Sociology of Knowledge

Durkheim's sociology of knowledge is intimately tied to his sociology of religion. In the latter, he attempts to show that man's religious commitments ultimately can be traced to his social commitments (the City of God is but a projection of the City of Man). His sociology of knowledge postulates that the categories of man's thought--his ways of conceiving space and time, for example--can be traced to his mode of social life.

Durkheim maintained that spatial, temporal, and other thought classifications are social in origin, closely approximating the social organization of primitive people. The first "classes" were classes of men, and the classification of objects in the world of nature was an extension of the social classification already established. All animals and natural objects belonged to this or that clan or phratry, residential or kinship group. He further argued that, although scientific classifications have now become largely divorced from their social origins, the manner in which we still classify things as "belonging to the same family" reveals the social origins of classificatory thought.

Durkheim attempted a sociological explanation of all fundamental categories of human thought, especially the central concepts of time and space. These, he claimed, are not only transmitted by society, but they are social creations. Society is decisive in the genesis of logical thought by forming the concepts of which that thought is made. The social organization of the primitive community is the model for the primitive's spatial organization of his surrounding world. Similarly, temporal divisions into days, weeks, months, and years correspond to periodical recurrences of rites, feasts, and ceremonies. "A calendar expresses the rhythm of the collective activities, while at the same time its function is to assure their regularities."

Although in the light of later critical discussions of this thesis it can be said that Durkheim failed to establish the social origins of the categories of thought, it is important to recognize his pioneering contribution to the study of the correlations between specific systems of thought and systems of social organization. It is this part of Durkheim's contribution, rather than some of the more debatable epistemological propositions found in his work, that has influenced later development in the sociology of knowledge. Even when one refuses assent to the proposition that the notions of time and space are social in origin, it appears that the particular conceptions of time and space within a particular society and at a particular time in history are derived fro specific social and cultural contexts. Here, as in his study of religion, Durkheim was concerned with functional interrelations between systems of beliefs and thought and the underlying social structure.

From Coser, 1977:139-140.

Functional Explanation

It is Durkheim who clearly established the logic of the functional approach to the study of social phenomena, although functional explanations, it will be recalled, play a major part in Spencer's approach, and the lineaments of functional reasoning were already discernible in the work of Comte. In particular, Durkheim set down a clear distinction between historical and functional types of inquiry and between functional consequences and individual motivations.

When . . . . the explanation of a social phenomenon is undertaken, we must seek separately the efficient cause which produces it and the function it fulfills. We use the word "function," in preference to "end" or "purpose," precisely because social phenomena do not generally exist for the useful results they produce. We must determine whether there is a correspondence between the fact under consideration and the general needs of the social organism, and in what this correspondence consists, without occupying ourselves with whether it has been intentional or not.

"The determination of function is . . . necessary for the complete explanation of the phenomena. . . . To explain a social fact it is not enough to show the cause on which it depends; we must also, at least in most cases, show its function in the establishment of social order."

Durkheim separated functional analysis from two other analytical procedures, the quest for historical origins and causes and the probing of individual purposes and motives. The second seemed to him of only peripheral importance for sociological inquiry since men often engage in actions when they are unable to anticipate the consequences. The quest for origins and historical causes, however, was to Durkheim as essential and legitimate a part of the sociological enterprise as was the analysis of functions. In fact, he was convinced that the full explanation of sociological phenomena would necessarily utilize both historical and functional analysis. The latter would reveal how a particular item under consideration had certain consequences for the operation of the overall system or its component parts. The former would enable the analyst to show why this particular item, rather than some others, was historically available to subserve a particular function. Social investigators must combine the search for efficient causes and the determination of the functions of a phenomenon.

The concept of function played a key part in all of Durkheim's work from The Division of Labor, in which he sees his prime objective in the determination of "the functions of division of labor, that is to say, what social needs it satisfies," to The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, which is devoted to a demonstration of the various functions performed in society through religious cults, rites, and beliefs. An additional illustration of Durkheim's functional approach is his discussion of criminality.

In his discussion of deviance and criminality, Durkheim departed fundamentally from the conventional path. While most criminologists treated crime as a pathological phenomenon and sought psychological causes in the mind of the criminal, Durkheim saw crime as normal in terms of its occurrence, and even as having positive social functions in terms of its consequences. Crime was normal in that no society could enforce total conformity to its injunctions, and if society could, it would be so repressive as to leave no leeway for the social contributions of individuals. Deviance from the norms of society is necessary if society is to remain flexible and open to change and new adaptations. "Where crime exists, collective sentiments are sufficiently flexible to take on a new form, and crime sometimes helps to determine the form they will take. How many times, indeed, it is only an anticipation of future morality--a step toward what will be." But in addition to such direct consequences of crime, Durkheim identified indirect functions that are no less important. A criminal act, Durkheim reasoned, elicits negative sanctions in the community by arousing collective sentiments against the infringement of the norm. Hence i has the unanticipated consequence of strengthening normative consensus in the common weal. "Crime brings together upright consciences and concentrates them."

Whether he investigated religious phenomena or criminal acts, whether he desired to clarify the social impact of the division of labor or of changes in the authority structure of the family, Durkheim always shows himself a masterful functional analyst. He is not content merely to trace the historical origins of phenomena under investigation, although he tries to do this also, but he moves from the search for efficient causes to inquiries into the consequences of phenomena for the structures in which they are variously imbedded. Durkheim always thinks contextually rather than atomistically. As such he must be recognized as the direct ancestor of that type of functional analysis which came to dominate British anthropology under the impact of Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski and which led. somewhat later, to American functionalism in sociology under Talcott Parsons and Robert K. Merton.

The sections that follow will provide more information on Durkheim the man, and on his activities as an applied scientist and engaged reformer. This section was limited to his theoretical work, but it could not possibly do justice to all the facets of the work of so complicated a social theorist as Emile Durkheim. Space did not permit a discussion of Durkheim's contributions to the sociology of education, although they are considerable; nor could justice be done to Durkheim's fascinating if highly speculative work on the importance of professional associations as intermediary links between individuals and the all-encompassing, and possibly suffocating, powers of the state. Even his important contributions to the sociology of law could be alluded to only in passing.

As a social theorist, Durkheim, to quote him directly, had as his "principal objective . . . to extend scientific rationalism to human behavior." And although he may have failed in many particulars, the fact that his work has become part of the foundation for all modern sociology testifies to his overall success.

From Coser, 1977:140-143.

Chapter I

From Emile Durkheim, The Rules of the Sociological Method, (Ed. by Steven Lukes; trans. by W.D. Halls). New York: Free Press, 1982, pp. 50-59.

What is a Social Fact?

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 within society, however little social interest of some generality they present. Yet under this heading there is, so to speak, no human occurrence that cannot be called social. Every individual drinks, sleeps, eats, or employs his reason, and society has every interest in seeing that these functions are regularly exercised. If therefore these facts were social ones, sociology would possess no subject matter peculiarly its own, and its domain would be confused with that of biology and psychology.

However, in reality there is in every society a clearly determined group of phenomena separable, because of their distinct characteristics, from those that form the subject matter of other sciences of nature.

When I perform my duties as a brother, a husband or a citizen and carry out the commitments I have entered into, I fulfil obligations which are defined in law and custom and which are external to myself and my actions. Even when they conform to my own sentiments and when I feel their reality within me, that reality does not cease to be objective, for it is not I who have prescribed these duties; I have received them through education. Moreover, how often does it happen that we are ignorant of the details of the obligations that we must assume, and that, to know them, we must consult the legal code and its authorised interpreters! Similarly the believer has discovered from birth, ready fashioned, the beliefs and practices of his religious life; if they existed before he did, it follows that they exist outside him. The system of signs that I employ to express my thoughts, the monetary system I use to pay my debts, the credit instruments I utilise in my commercial relationships, the practices I follow in my profession, etc., all function independently of the use I make of them. Considering in turn each member of society, the foregoing remarks can be repeated for each single one of them. Thus there are ways of acting, thinking and feeling which possess the remarkable property of existing outside the consciousness of the individual.

Not only are these types of behaviour and thinking external to the individual, but they are endued with a compelling and coercive power by virtue of which, whether he wishes it or not, they impose themselves upon him. Undoubtedly when I conform to them of my own free will, this coercion is not felt or felt hardly at all, since it is unnecessary. None the less it is intrinsically a characteristic of these facts; the proof of this is that it asserts itself as soon as I try to resist. If I attempt to violate the rules of law they react against me so as to forestall my action, if there is still time. Alternatively, they annul it or make my action conform to the norm if it is already accomplished but capable of being reversed; or they cause me to pay the penalty for it if it is irreparable. If purely moral rules are at stake, the public conscience restricts any act which infringes them by the surveillance it exercises over the conduct of citizens and by the special punishments it has at its disposal. In other cases the constraint is less violent; nevertheless, it does not cease to exist. If I do not conform to ordinary conventions, if in my mode of dress I pay no heed to what is customary in my country and in my social class, the laughter I provoke, the social distance at which I am kept, produce, although in a more mitigated form, the same results as any real penalty. In other cases, although it may be indirect, constraint is no less effective. I am not forced to speak French with my compatriots, nor to use the legal currency, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise. If I tried to escape the necessity, my attempt would fail miserably. As an industrialist nothing prevents me from working with the processes and methods of the previous century, but if I do I will most certainly ruin myself. Even when in fact I can struggle free from these rules and successfully break them, it is never without being forced to fight against them. Even if in the end they are overcome, they make their constraining power sufficiently felt in the resistance that they afford. There is no innovator, even a fortunate one, whose ventures do not encounter opposition of this kind.

Here, then, is a category of facts which present very special characteristics: they consist of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him. Consequently, since they consist of representations and actions, they cannot be confused with organic phenomena, nor with psychical phenomena, which have no existence save in and through the individual consciousness. Thus they constitute a new species and to them must be exclusively assigned the term social. It is appropriate, since it is clear that, not having the individual as their substratum, they can have none other than society, either political society in its entirety or one of the partial groups that it includes - religious denominations, political and literary schools, occupational corporations, etc. Moreover, it is for such as these alone that the term is fitting, for the word 'social' has the sole meaning of designating those phenomena which fall into none of the categories of facts already constituted and labelled. They are consequently the proper field of sociology. It is true that this word 'constraint', in terms of which we define them, is in danger of infuriating those who zealously uphold out-and-out individualism. Since they maintain that the individual is completely autonomous, it seems to them that he is diminished every time he is made aware that he is not dependent on himself alone. Yet since it is indisputable today that most of our ideas and tendencies are not developed by ourselves, but come to us from outside, they can only penetrate us by imposing themselves upon us. This is all that our definition implies. Moreover, we know that all social constraints do not necessarily exclude the individual personality. [1]

Yet since the examples just cited (legal and moral rules, religious dogmas, financial systems, etc.) consist wholly of beliefs and practices already well established, in view of what has been said it might be maintained that no social fact can exist except where there is a well defined social organisation. But there are other facts which do not present themselves in this already crystallised form but which also possess the same objectivity and ascendancy over the individual. These are what are called social 'currents'. Thus in a public gathering the great waves of enthusiasm, indignation and pity that are produced have their seat in no one individual consciousness. They come to each one of us from outside and can sweep us along in spite of ourselves. If perhaps I abandon myself to them I may not be conscious of the pressure that they are exerting upon me, but that pressure makes its presence felt immediately I attempt to struggle against them. If an individual tries to pit himself against one of these collective manifestations, the sentiments that he is rejecting will be turned against him. Now if this external coercive power asserts itself so acutely in cases of resistance, it must be because it exists in the other instances cited above without our being conscious of it. Hence we are the victims of an illusion which leads us to believe we have ourselves produced what has been imposed upon us externally. But if the willingness with which we let ourselves be carried along disguises the pressure we have undergone, it does not eradicate it. Thus air does not cease to have weight, although we no longer feel that weight. Even when we have individually and spontaneously shared in the common emotion, the impression we have experienced is utterly different from what we would have felt if we had been alone. Once the assembly has broken up and these social influences have ceased to act upon us, and we are once more on our own, the emotions we have felt seem an alien phenomenon, one in which we no longer recognise ourselves. It is then we perceive that we have undergone the emotions much more than generated them. These emotions may even perhaps fill us with horror, so much do they go against the grain. Thus individuals who are normally perfectly harmless may, when gathered together in a crowd, let themselves be drawn into acts of atrocity. And what we assert about these transitory outbreaks likewise applies to those more lasting movements of opinion which relate to religious, political, literary and artistic matters, etc., and which are constantly being produced around us, whether throughout society or in a more limited sphere.

Moreover, this definition of a social fact can be verified by examining an experience that is characteristic. It is sufficient to observe how children are brought up. If one views the facts as they are and indeed as they have always been, it is patently obvious that all education consists of a continual effort to impose upon the child ways of seeing, thinking and acting which he himself would not have arrived at spontaneously. From his earliest years we oblige him to eat, drink and sleep at regular hours, and to observe cleanliness, calm and obedience; later we force him to learn how to be mindful of others, to respect customs and conventions, and to work, etc. If this constraint in time ceases to be felt it is because it gradually gives rise to habits, to inner tendencies which render it superfluous; but they supplant the constraint only because they are derived from it. It is true that, in Spencer's view, a rational education should shun such means and allow the child complete freedom to do what he will. Yet as this educational theory has never been put into practice among any known people, it can only be the personal expression of a desideratum and not a fact which can be established in contradiction to the other facts given above. What renders these latter facts particularly illuminating is that education sets out precisely with the object of creating a social being. Thus there can be seen, as in an abbreviated form, how the social being has been fashioned historically. The pressure to which the child is subjected unremittingly is the same pressure of the social environment which seeks to shape him in its own image, and in which parents and teachers are only the representatives and intermediaries.

Thus it is not the fact that they are general which can serve to characterise sociological phenomena. Thoughts to be found in the consciousness of each individual and movements which are repeated by all individuals are not for this reason social facts. If some have been content with using this characteristic in order to define them it is because they have been confused, wrongly, with what might be termed their individual incarnations. What constitutes social facts are the beliefs, tendencies and practices of the group taken collectively. But the forms that these collective states may assume when they are 'refracted' through individuals are things of a different kind. What irrefutably demonstrates this duality of kind is that these two categories of facts frequently are manifested dissociated from each other. Indeed some of these ways of acting or thinking acquire, by dint of repetition, a sort of consistency which, so to speak, separates them out, isolating them from the particular events which reflect them. Thus they assume a shape, a tangible form peculiar to them and constitute a reality sui generis vastly distinct from the individual facts which manifest that reality. Collective custom does not exist only in a state of immanence in the successive actions which it determines, but, by a privilege without example in the biological kingdom, expresses itself once and for all in a formula repeated by word of mouth, transmitted by education and even enshrined in the written word. Such are the origins and nature of legal and moral rules, aphorisms and popular sayings, articles of faith in which religious or political sects epitomise their beliefs, and standards of taste drawn up by literary schools, etc. None of these modes of acting and thinking are to be found wholly in the application made of them by individuals, since they can even exist without being applied at the time.

Undoubtedly this state of dissociation does not always present itself with equal distinctiveness. It is sufficient for dissociation to exist unquestionably in the numerous important instances cited, for us to prove that the social fact exists separately from its individual effects. Moreover, even when the dissociation is not immediately observable, it can often be made so with the help of certain methodological devices. Indeed it is essential to embark on such procedures if one wishes to refine out the social fact from any amalgam and so observe it in its pure state. Thus certain currents of opinion, whose intensity varies according to the time and country in which they occur, impel us, for example, towards marriage or suicide, towards higher or lower birth-rates, etc. Such currents are plainly social facts. At first sight they seem inseparable from the forms they assume in individual cases. But statistics afford us a means of isolating them. They are indeed not inaccurately represented by rates of births, marriages and suicides, that is, by the result obtained after dividing the average annual total of marriages, births, and voluntary homicides by the number of persons of an age to marry, produce children, or commit suicide. [2] Since each one of these statistics includes without distinction all individual cases, the individual circumstances which may have played some part in producing the phenomenon cancel each other out and consequently do not contribute to determining the nature of the phenomenon. What it expresses is a certain state of the collective mind.

That is what social phenomena are when stripped of all extraneous elements. As regards their private manifestations, these do indeed having something social about them, since in part they reproduce the collective model. But to a large extent each one depends also upon the psychical and organic constitution of the individual, and on the particular circumstances in which he is placed. Therefore they are not phenomena which are in the strict sense sociological. They depend on both domains at the same time, and could be termed socio-psychical. They are of interest to the sociologist without constituting the immediate content of sociology. The same characteristic is to be found in the organisms of those mixed phenomena of nature studied in the combined sciences such as biochemistry.

It may be objected that a phenomenon can only be collective if it is common to all the members of society, or at the very least to a majority, and consequently, if it is general. This is doubtless the case, but if it is general it is because it is collective (that is, more or less obligatory); but it is very far from being collective because it is general. It is a condition of the group repeated in individuals because it imposes itself upon them. It is in each part because it is in the whole, but far from being in the whole because it is in the parts. This is supremely evident in those beliefs and practices which are handed down to us ready fashioned by previous generations. We accept and adopt them because, since they are the work of the collectivity and one that is centuries old, they are invested with a special authority that our education has taught us to recognise and respect. It is worthy of note that the vast majority of social phenomena come to us in this way. But even when the social fact is partly due to our direct co-operation, it is no different in nature. An outburst of collective emotion in a gathering does not merely express the sum total of what individual feelings share in common, but is something of a very different order, as we have demonstrated. It is a product of shared existence, of actions and reactions called into play between the consciousnesses of individuals. If it is echoed in each one of them it is precisely by virtue of the special energy derived from its collective origins. If all hearts beat in unison, this is not as a consequence of a spontaneous, preestablished harmony; it is because one and the same force is propelling them in the same direction. Each one is borne along by the rest.

We have therefore succeeded in delineating for ourselves the exact field of sociology. It embraces one single, well defined group of phenomena. A social fact is identifiable through the power of external coercion which it exerts or is capable of exerting upon individuals. The presence of this power is in turn recognisable because of the existence of some pre-determined sanction, or through the resistance that the fact opposes to any individual action that may threaten it. However, it can also be defined by ascertaining how widespread it is within the group, provided that, as noted above, one is careful to add a second essential characteristic; this is, that it exists independently of the particular forms that it may assume in the process of spreading itself within the group. In certain cases this latter criterion can even be more easily applied than the former one. The presence of constraint is easily ascertainable when it is manifested externally through some direct reaction of society, as in the case of law, morality, beliefs, customs and even fashions. But when constraint is merely indirect, as with that exerted by an economic organization, it is not always so clearly discernible. Generality combined with objectivity may then be easier to establish. Moreover, this second definition is simply another formulation of the first one: if a mode of behaviour existing outside the consciousnesses of individuals becomes general, it can only do so by exerting pressure upon them. [3]

However, one may well ask whether this definition is complete. Indeed the facts which have provided us with its basis are all ways of functioning: they are 'physiological' in nature. But there are also collective ways of being, namely, social facts of an 'anatomical' or morphological nature. Sociology cannot dissociate itself from what concerns the substratum of collective life. Yet the number and nature of the elementary parts which constitute society, the way in which they are articulated, the degree of coalescence they have attained, the distribution of population over the earth's surface, the extent and nature of the network of communications, the design of dwellings, etc., do not at first sight seem relatable to ways of acting, feeling or thinking.

Yet, first and foremost, these various phenomena present the same characteristic which has served us in defining the others. These ways of being impose themselves upon the individual just as do the ways of acting we have dealt with. In fact, when we wish to learn how a society is divided up politically, in what its divisions consist and the degree of solidarity that exists between them, it is not through physical inspection and geographical observation that we may come to find this out: such divisions are social, although they may have some physical basis. It is only through public law that we can study such political organisation, because this law is what determines its nature, just as it determines our domestic and civic relationships. The organisation is no less a form of compulsion. If the population clusters together in our cities instead of being scattered over the rural areas, it is because there exists a trend of opinion, a collective drive which imposes this concentration upon individuals. We can no more choose the design of our houses than the cut of our clothes - at least, the one is as much obligatory as the other. The communication network forcibly prescribes the direction of internal migrations or commercial exchanges, etc., and even their intensity. Consequently, at the most there are grounds for adding one further category to the list of phenomena already enumerated as bearing the distinctive stamp of a social fact. But as that enumeration was in no wise strictly exhaustive, this addition would not be indispensable.

Moreover, it does not even serve a purpose, for these ways of being are only ways of acting that have been consolidated. A society's political structure is only the way in which its various component segments have become accustomed to living with each other. If relationships between them are traditionally close, the segments tend to merge together; if the contrary, they tend to remain distinct. The type of dwelling imposed upon us is merely the way in which everyone around us and, in part, previous generations, have customarily built their houses. The communication network is only the channel which has been cut by the regular current of commerce and migrations, etc., flowing in the same direction. Doubtless if phenomena of a morphological kind were the only ones that displayed this rigidity, it might be thought that they constituted a separate species. But a legal rule is no less permanent an arrangement than an architectural style, and yet it is a 'physiological' fact. A simple moral maxim is certainly more malleable, yet it is cast in forms much more rigid than a mere professional custom or fashion. Thus there exists a whole range of gradations which, without any break in continuity, join the most clearly delineated structural facts to those free currents of social life which are not yet caught in any definite mould. This therefore signifies that the differences between them concern only the degree to which they have become consolidated. Both are forms of life at varying stages of crystallisation. It would undoubtedly be advantageous to reserve the term 'morphological' for those social facts which relate to the social substratum, but only on condition that one is aware that they are of the same nature as the others.

Our definition will therefore subsume all that has to be defined it if states:


A social fact is any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the individual an external constraint;



which is general over the whole of a given society whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its individual manifestations. [4]


1. Moreover, this is not to say that all constraint is normal. We shall return to this point later.

2. Suicides do not occur at any age, nor do they occur at all ages of life with the same frequency.

3. It can be seen how far removed this definition of the social fact is from that which serves as the basis for the ingenious system of Tarde. We must first state that our research has nowhere led us to corroboration of the preponderant influence that Tarde attributes to imitation in the genesis of collective facts. Moreover, from this definition, which is not a theory but a mere resume of the immediate data observed, it seems clearly to follow that imitation does not always express, indeed never expresses, what is essential and characteristic in the social fact . Doubtless every social fact is imitated and has, as we have just shown, a tendency to become generalised, but this is because it is social, i.e. obligatory. Its capacity for expansion is not the cause but the consequence of its sociological character. If social facts were unique in bringing about this effect, imitation might serve, if not to explain them, at least to define them. But an individual state which impacts on others none the less remains individual. Moreover, one may speculate whether the term 'imitation' is indeed appropriate to designate a proliferation which occurs through some coercive influence. In such a single term very different phenomena, which need to be distinguished, are confused.

4. This close affinity of life and structure, organ and function, can be readily established in sociology because there exists between these two extremes a whole series of intermediate stages, immediately observable, which reveal the link between them. Biology lacks this methodological resource. But one may believe legitimately that sociological inductions on this subject are applicable to biology and that, in organisms as in societies, between these two categories of facts only differences in degree exist.


From Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, (Translated by George Simpson). by New York: The Free Press, 1947.

The Division of Labor

[We] shall recognize only two kinds of positive solidarity which are distinguishable by the following qualities:

1. The first binds the individual directly to society without any intermediary. In the second, he depends upon society, because he depends upon the parts of which it is composed.

2. Society is not seen in the same aspect in the two cases. In the first, what we call society is a more or less organized totality of beliefs and sentiments common to all the members of the group: this is the collective type. On the other hand, the society in which we are solidary in the second instance is a system of different, special functions which definite relations unite. These two societies really make up only one. They are two aspects of one and the same reality, but none the less they must be distinguished.

3. From this second difference there arises another which helps us to characterize and name the two kinds of solidarity.

The first can be strong only if the ideas and tendencies common to all the members of the society are greater in number and intensity than those which pertain personally to each member. It is as much stronger as the excess is more considerable. But what makes our personality is how much of our own individual qualities we have, what distinguishes us from others. This solidarity can grow only in inverse ratio to personality. There are in each of us, as we have said, two consciences: one which is common to our group in its entirety, which, consequently, is not ourself, but society living and acting within us; the other, on the contrary, represents that in us which is personal and distinct, that which makes us an individual. [1] Solidarity which comes from likenesses is at its maximum when the collective conscience completely envelops our whole conscience and coincides in all points with it. But, at that moment, our individuality is nil. It can be born only if the community takes smaller toll of us. There are, here, two contrary forces, one centripetal, the other centrifugal, which cannot flourish at the same time. We cannot, at one and the same time, develop ourselves in two opposite senses. If we have a lively desire to think and act for ourselves, we cannot be strongly inclined to think and act as others do. If our ideal is to present a singular and personal appearance, we do not want to resemble everybody else. Moreover, at the moment when this solidarity exercises its force, our personality vanishes, as our definition permits us to say, for we are no longer ourselves, but the collective life.

The social molecules which can be coherent in this way can act together only in the measure that they have no actions of their own, as the molecules of inorganic bodies. That is why we propose to call this type of solidarity mechanical. The term does not signify that it is produced by mechanical and artificial means. We call it that only by analogy to the cohesion which unites the elements of an inanimate body, as opposed to that which makes a unity out of the elements of a living body. What justifies this term is that the link which thus unites the individual to society is wholly analogous to that which attaches a thing to a person. The individual conscience, considered in this light, is a simple dependent upon the collective type and follows all of its movements, as the possessed object follows those of its owner. In societies where this type of solidarity is highly developed, the individual does not appear, as we shall see later. Individuality is something which the society possesses. Thus, in these social types, personal rights are not yet distinguished from real rights.

It is quite otherwise with the solidarity which the division of labor produces. Whereas the previous type implies that individuals resemble each other, this type presumes their difference. The first is possible only in so far as the individual personality is absorbed into the collective personality; the second is possible only if each one has a sphere of action which is peculiar to him; that is, a personality. It is necessary, then, that the collective conscience leave open a part of the individual conscience in order that special functions may be established there, functions which it cannot regulate. The more this region is extended, the stronger is the cohesion which results from this solidarity. In effect, on the one hand, each one depends as much more strictly on society as labor is more divided; and, on the other, the activity of each is as much more personal as it is more specialized. Doubtless, as circumscribed as it is, it is never completely original. Even in the exercise of our occupation, we conform to usages, to practices which are common to our whole professional brotherhood. But, even in this instance, the yoke that we submit to is much less heavy than when society completely controls us, and it leaves much more place open for the free play of our initiative. Here, then, the individuality of all grows at the same time as that of its parts. Society becomes more capable of collective movement, at the same time that each of its elements has more freedom of movement. This solidarity resembles that which we observe among the higher animals. Each organ, in effect, has its special physiognomy, its autonomy. And, moreover, the unity of the organism is as great as the individuation of the parts is more marked. Because of this analogy, we propose to call the solidarity which is due to the division of labor, organic.

In determining the principal cause of the progress of the division of labor, we have at the same time determined the essential factor of what is called civilization.

Civilization is itself the necessary consequence of the changes which are produced in the volume and in the density of societies. If science, art, and economic activity develop it is in accordance with a necessity which is imposed upon men. It is because there is, for them, no other way of living in the new conditions in which they have been placed. From the time that the number of individuals among whom social relations are established begins to increase, they can maintain themselves only by greater specialization, harder work, and intensification of their faculties. From this general stimulation, there inevitably results a much higher degree of culture. From this point of view, civilization appears, not as an end which moves people by its attraction for them, not as a good foreseen and desired in advance, of which they seek to assure themselves the largest possible part, but as the effect of a cause, as the necessary resultant of a given state. It is not the pole towards which historic development is moving and to which men seek to get nearer in order to be happier or better, for neither happiness nor morality necessarily increases with the intensity of life. They move because they must move, and what determines the speed of this march is the more or less strong pressure which they exercise upon one another, according to their number.

This does not mean that civilization has no use, but that it is not the services that it renders that make it progress. It develops because it cannot fail to develop. Once effectuated, this development is found to be generally useful, or, at least, it is utilized. It responds to needs formed at the same time because they depend upon the same causes. But this is an adjustment after the fact. Yet, we must notice that the good it renders in this direction is not a positive enrichment, a growth in our stock of happiness, but only repairs the losses that it has itself caused. It is because this superactivity of general life fatigues and weakens our nervous system that it needs reparations proportionate to its expenditures, that is to say, more varied and complex satisfactions. In that, we see even better how false it is to make civilization the function of the division of labor; it is only a consequence of it. It can explain neither the existence nor the progress of the division of labor, since it has, of itself, no intrinsic or absolute value, but, on the contrary, has a reason for existing only in so far as the division of labor is itself found necessary.

We shall not be astonished by the importance attached to the numerical factor if we notice the very capital role it plays in the history of organisms. In effect, what defines a living being is the double property it has of nourishing itself and reproducing itself, and reproduction is itself only a consequence of nourishment. Therefore, the intensity of organic life is proportional, all things being equal, to the activity of nourishment, that is, to the number of elements that the organism is capable of incorporating. Hence, what has not only made possible, but even necessitated the appearance of complex organisms is that, under certain conditions, the more simple organisms remain grouped together in a way to form more voluminous aggregates. As the constitutive parts of the animal are more numerous, their relations are no longer the same, the conditions of social life are changed, and it is these changes which, in turn, determine both the division of labor, polymorphism, and the concentration of vital forces and their greater energy. The growth of organic substance is, then, the fact which dominates all zoological development. It is not surprising that social development is submitted to the same law.

Moreover, without recourse to arguments by analogy, it is easy to explain the fundamental role of this factor. All social life is made up of a system of facts which come from positive and durable relations established between a plurality of individuals. It is, thus, as much more intense as the reactions exchanged between the component units are themselves more frequent and more energetic. But, upon what does this frequency and this energy depend? Upon the nature of the elements present, upon their more or less great vitality? But . . . individuals are much more a product of common life than they are determinants of it. If from each of them we take away everything due to social action, the residue that we obtain, besides being picayune, is not capable of presenting much variety. Without the diversity of social conditions upon which they depend, the differences which separate them would be inexplicable. It is not, then, in the unequal aptitudes of men that we must seek the cause for the unequal development of societies. Will it be in the unequal duration of these relations? But time, by itself, produces nothing. It is only necessary in bringing latent energies to light. There remains no other variable factor than the number of individuals in relation and their material and moral proximity, that is to say, the volume and density of society. The more numerous they are and the more they act upon one another, the more they react with force and rapidity; consequently, the more intense social life becomes. But it is this intensification which constitutes civilization. [2]

But, while being an effect of necessary causes, civilization can become an end, an object of desire, in short, an ideal. Indeed, at each moment of a society's history, there is a certain intensity of the collective life which is normal, given the number and distribution of the social units. Assuredly, if everything happens normally, this state will be realized of itself, but we cannot bring it to pass that things will happen normally. If health is in nature, so is sickness. Health is, indeed, in societies as in individual organisms, only an ideal type which is nowhere entirely realized. Each healthy individual has more or less numerous traits of it, but there is none that unites them all. Thus, it is an end worthy of pursuit to seek to bring society to this degree of perfection.

Moreover, the direction to follow in order to attain this end can be laid out. If, instead of letting causes engender their effects by chance and according to the energy in them, thought intervenes to direct the course, it can spare men many painful efforts. The development of the individual reproduces that of the species in abridged fashion; he does not pass through all the stages that it passed through; there are some he omits and others he passes through more quickly because the experiences of the race help him to accelerate them. But thought can produce analogous results, for it is equally a utilization of anterior experience, with a view to facilitating future experience. By thought, moreover, one must not understand exclusively scientific knowledge of means and ends. Sociology, in its present state, is hardly in a position to lead us efficaciously to the solution of these practical problems. But beyond these clear representations in the milieu in which the scholar moves, there are obscure ones to which tendencies are linked. For need to stimulate the will, it is not necessary that it be clarified by science. Obscure gropings are enough to teach men that there is something lacking, to awaken their aspirations and at the same time make them feel in what direction they ought to bend their efforts.

Hence, a mechanistic conception of society does not preclude ideals, and it is wrong to reproach it with reducing man to the status of an inactive witness of his own history. What is an ideal, really, if not an anticipated representation of a desired result whose realization is possible only thanks to this very anticipation? Because things happen in accordance with laws, it does not follow that we have nothing to do. We shall perhaps find such an objective mean, because, in sum, it is only a question of living in a state of health. But this is to forget that, for the cultivated man, health consists in regularly satisfying his most elevated needs as well as others, for the first are no less firmly rooted in his nature than the second. It is true that such an ideal is near, that the horizons it opens before us have nothing unlimited about them. In any event, it cannot consist in exalting the forces of society beyond measure, but only in developing them to the limit marked by the definite state of the social milieu. All excess is bad as well as all insufficiency. But what other ideal can we propose? To seek to realize a civilization superior to that demanded by the nature of surrounding conditions is to desire to turn illness loose in the very society of which we are part, for it is not possible to increase collective activity beyond the degree determined by the state of the social organism without compromising health. In fact, in every epoch there is a certain refinement of civilization whose sickly character is attested by the uneasiness and restlessness which accompanies it. But there is never anything desirable about sickness.

But if the ideal is always definite, it is never definitive. Since progress is a consequence of changes in the social milieu, there is no reason for supposing that it must ever end. For it to have a limit, it would be necessary for the milieu to become stationary at some given moment. But such an hypothesis is contrary to the most legitimate inductions. As long as there are distinct societies, the number of social units will necessarily be variable in each of them. Even supposing that the number of births ever becomes constant, there will always be movements of population from one country to another, through violent conquests or slow and unobtrusive infiltrations. Indeed, it is impossible for the strongest peoples not to tend to incorporate the feeblest, as the most dense overflow into the least dense. That is a mechanical law of social equilibrium not less necessary than that which governs the equilibrium of liquids. For it to be otherwise, it would be necessary for all human societies to have the same vital energy and the same density. What is irrepresentable would only be so because of the diversity of habitats.

It is true that this source of variations would be exhausted if all humanity formed one and the same society. But, besides our not knowing whether such an ideal is realizable, in order for progress to cease it would still be necessary for the relations between social units in the interior of this gigantic society to be themselves recalcitrant to all change. It would be necessary for them always to remain distributed in the same way, for not only the total aggregate but also each of the elementary aggregates of which it would be formed, to keep the same dimensions. But such a uniformity is impossible, solely because these partial groups do not all have the same extent nor the same vitality. Population cannot be concentrated in the same way at all points; it is inevitable that the greatest centres, those where life is most intense, exercise an attraction for the others proportionate to their importance. The migrations which are thus produced result in further concentrating social units in certain regions, and, consequently, in determining new advances there which irradiate little by little from the homes in which they were born into the rest of the country. Moreover, these changes call forth others, without it being possible to say where the repercussions stop. In fact, far from societies approaching a stationary position in proportion to their development, they become, on the contrary, more mobile and more plastic.

With societies, individuals are transformed in accordance with the changes produced in the number of social units and their relations.

First, they are made more and more free of the yoke of the organism. An animal is almost completely under the influence of his physical environment; its biological constitution predetermines its existence. Man, on the contrary, is dependent upon social causes. Of course, animals also form societies, but, as they are very restricted, collective life is very simple. They are also stationary because the equilibrium of such small societies is necessarily stable. For these two reasons, it easily fixes itself in the organism. It not only has its roots in the organism, but it is entirely enveloped in it to such a point that it loses its own characteristics. It functions through a system of instincts, of reflexes which are not essentially distinct from those which assure the functioning of organic life. They present, it is true, the particular characteristic of adapting the individual to the social environment, not to the physical environment, and are caused by occurrences of the common life. They are not of different nature, however, from those which, in certain cases, determine without any previous education the necessary movements in locomotion. It is quite otherwise with man, because the societies he forms are much vaster. Even the smallest we know of are more extensive than the majority of animal societies. Being more complex, they also change more, and these two causes together see to it that social life with man is not congealed in a biological form. Even where it is most simple, it clings to its specificity. There are always beliefs and practices common to men which are not inscribed in their tissues. But this character is more manifest as the social mass and density grow. The more people there are in association, and the more they react upon one another, the more also does the product of these reactions pass beyond the bounds of the organism. Man thus finds himself placed under the sway of causes sui generis whose relative part in the constitution of human nature becomes ever more considerable.

Moreover, the influence of this factor increases not only in relative value, but also in absolute value. The same cause which increases the importance of the collective environment weakens the organic environment in such a manner as to make it accessible to the action of social causes and to subordinate it to them. Because there are more individuals living together, common life is richer and more varied, but for this variety to be possible, the organic type must be less definite to be able to diversify itself. We have seen, in effect, that the tendencies and aptitudes transmitted by heredity became ever more general and more indeterminate, more refractory consequently, to assuming the form of instincts. Thus, a phenomenon is produced which is exactly the inverse of that which we observe at the beginning of evolution. With animals, the organism assimilates social facts to it, and, stripping them of their special nature, transforms them into biological facts. Social life is materialized. In man, on the contrary, and particularly in higher societies, social causes substitute themselves for organic causes. The organism is spiritualized.

The individual is transformed in accordance with this change in dependence. Since this activity which calls forth the special action of social causes cannot be fixed in the organism, a new life, also sui generis, is superimposed upon that of the body. Freer, more complex, more independent of the organs which support it, its distinguishing characteristics become ever more apparent as it progresses and becomes solid. From this description we can recognize the essential traits of psychic life. To be sure, it would be exaggerating to say that psychic life begins only with societies, but certainly it becomes extensive only as societies develop. That is why, as has often been remarked, the progress of conscience is in inverse ratio to that of instinct. Whatever may be said of them, it is not the first which breaks up the second. Instinct, the product of the accumulated experience of generations, has a much greater resistive force to dissolution simply because it becomes conscious. Truly, conscience only invades the ground which instinct has ceased to occupy, or where instinct cannot be established. Conscience does not make instinct recede; it only fills the space instinct leaves free. Moreover, if instinct regresses rather than extends as general life extends, the greater importance of the social factor is the cause of this. Hence, the great difference which separates man from animals, that is, the greater development of his psychic life, comes from his greater sociability. To understand why psychic functions have been carried, from the very beginnings of the human species, to a degree of perfection unknown among animal species, one would first have to know why it is that men, instead of living in solitude or in small bands, were led to form more extensive societies. To put it in terms of the classical definition, if man is a reasonable animal, that is because he is a sociable animal, or at least infinitely more sociable than other animals. [3]

This is not all. In so far as societies do not reach certain dimensions nor a certain degree of concentration, the only psychic life which may be truly developed is that which is common to all the members of the group, which is found identical in each. But, as societies become more vast and, particularly, more condensed, a psychic life of a new sort appears. Individual diversities, at first lost and confused amidst the mass of social likenesses, become disengaged, become conspicuous, and multiply. A multitude of things which used to remain outside consciences because they did not affect the collective being become objects of representations. Whereas individuals used to act only by involving one an other, except in cases where their conduct was determined by physical needs, each of them becomes a source of spontaneous activity. Particular personalities become constituted, take conscience of themselves. Moreover, this growth of psychic life in the individual does not obliterate the psychic life of society, but only transforms it. It becomes freer, more extensive, and as it has, after all, no other bases than individual consciences, these extend, become complex, and thus become flexible.

Hence, the cause which called forth the differences separating man from animals is also that which has forced him to elevate himself above himself. The ever growing distance between the savage and the civilized man has no other source. If the faculty of ideation is slowly disengaged from the confused feeling of its origin, if man has learned to formulate concepts and laws, if his spirit has embraced more and more extensive portions of space and time, if, not content with clinging to the past, he has trespassed upon the future, if his emotions and his tendencies, at first simple and not very numerous, have multiplied and diversified, that is because the social milieu has changed without interruption. In effect, unless these transformations were born from nothing, they can have had for causes only the corresponding transformations of surrounding milieux. But, man depends only upon three sorts of milieux: the organism, the external world, society. If one leaves aside the accidental variations due to combinations of heredity,--and their role in human progress is certainly not very considerable,--the organism is not automatically modified; it is necessary that it be impelled by some external cause. As for the physical world, since the beginning of history it has remained sensibly the same, at least if one does not take account of novelties which are of social origin. [4] Consequently, there is only society which has changed enough to be able to explain the parallel changes in individual nature.

It is not, then, audacious to affirm that, from now on, whatever progress is made in psycho-physiology will never represent more than a fraction of psychology, since the major part of psychic phenomena does not come from organic causes. This is what spiritualist philosophers have learned, and the great service that they have rendered science has been to combat the doctrines which reduce psychic life merely to an efflorescence of physical life. They have very justly felt that the first, in its highest manifestations, is much too free and complex to be merely a prolongation of the second. Because it is partly independent of the organism, however, it does not follow that it depends upon no natural cause, and that it must be put outside nature. But all these facts whose explanation we cannot find in the constitution of tissues derive from properties of the social milieu. This hypothesis assumes, at least, very great probability from what has preceded. But the social realm is not less natural than the organic realm. Consequently, because there is a vast region of conscience whose genesis is unintelligible through psycho-physiology alone, we must not conclude that it has been formed of itself and that it is, accordingly, refractory to scientific investigation, but only that it derives from some other positive science which can be called sociopsychology. The phenomena which would constitute its matter are, in effect, of a mixed nature. They have the same essential characters as other psychic facts, but they arise from social causes.


1. However, these two consciences are not in regions geographically distinct from us, but penetrate from all sides.

2. We do not here have to look to see if the fact which determines the progress of the division of labor and civilization, growth in social mass and density, explains itself automatically; if it is a necessary product of efficient causes, or else an imagined means in view of a desired end or of a very great foreseen good. We content ourselves with stating this law of gravitation in the social world without going any farther. It does not seem, however, that there is a greater demand here than elsewhere for a teleological explanation. The walls which separate different parts of society are torn down by the force of things, through a sort of natural usury, whose effect can be further enforced by the action of violent causes. The movements of population thus become more numerous and rapid and the passage-lines through which these movements are effected--the means of communication--deepen. They are more particularly active at points where several of these lines cross; these are cities. Thus social density grows. As for the growth in volume, it is due to causes of the same kind. The barriers which separate peoples are analogous to those which separate the different cells of the same society and they disappear in the same way.

3. The definition of de Quatrefages which makes man a religious animal is a particular instance of the preceding, for man's religiosity is a consequence of his eminent sociability. See supra, pp. 168ff.

4. Transformations of the soil, of streams, through the art of husbandry, engineers, etc

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