Perspectives on Sociology Emile Durkheim

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Emile Durkheim: A Sociologist Ahead of His Time

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, was born to a Jewish family in Espinal, France, in 1858. Durkheim's perspective on sociology was innovative. He believed that society progressed from traditional to modern through the increase of the division of labor. His sociological method and ideas were influenced by Enlightenment scholars Montesquieu and Rousse. Emile also discussed their concept of a holistic perspective of society. Herbert Spenser influenced Durkheim's evolutionary and positivistic approach to his investigations. He also took Spenser's concept of collective consciousness (Corning 359).

Division of Labor and its Significance

Durkheim concentrates on what holds society together in his concept of division of labor. According to him, human beings have unlimited desires; the more one acquires, the more he strives for more. Durkheim views and concepts of sociology differed from those of others in the 19th century as his perspective was founded on external things rather than internal as advocated by his peers (Corning 363). According to Durkheim, societal values, norms, rules, and collective consciousness are fundamental to a functioning society.

The Evolution of Society: From Traditional to Modern

Durkheim’s concepts of division of labor focused on the evolution of the society from a traditional to a modern society. He viewed modernity as a complex society in which individuals are no longer held homogenously by values, religious activities, and backgrounds as was the case in traditional societies (Emirbayer 269). According to him in the traditional culture, collective consciousness drove the community. The social norms and values were stronger hence regulated human behavior. However, in the modern society individuals are not firmly bound to each other resulting in less punitive social behavior. Durkheim presents mechanical solidarity as an attraction to others due to mutual resemblances regarding self-sufficiency. In traditional societies, members shared similar beliefs, tendencies, and functionality. It was almost impossible for an individual to think he or she was different from others. While organic solidarity, by contrast, is characterized by specialization making people more dependent on each other (Emirbayer 273). Durkheim attributes social change from mechanical to organic on aspects like increased transportation and communication. A rapid shift in the structural organization of the society may lead to disorder and anomie. Anomie refers to a situation where there is a disruption in the social values and norms of the society. According to Durkheim, the lack of societal influence on individuals leaves them to their own devices which he described as disruptive.

The Society as a Complex Web

Durkheim held the view that the society should be analyzed in terms of functions. He believed that the society is a system of interrelated and interdependent variables that no single entity can function without the other. According to him, when a single part of the society is disrupted, it has an impact on the society as a whole. While he viewed the society to be composed of individuals, the society is not a mere sum of these individuals but has a structure of its own. The society and its structure influence the actions and behaviors of individuals through social facts and currents (Corning 376). It is essential for the society to adjust to accommodate this change and achieve equilibrium. He considered the society as being composed of structures and functions commonly termed as structural functionalism.

The Interplay Between Macro and Micro Level Sociological Approaches

Macro-level sociology analyzes large-scale social processes, while micro-level studies interactions between individuals. The two aspects of sociology compliment and supplement each other. Durkheim analyzed the large-scale shift of the society from traditional to modern societies characterized by specialization. The concepts presented by Durkheim were concerned with how individuals interact with the society as a whole; hence, he advocated macro-level sociology. While Macro-level sociology allows the observation of large-scale phenomena, it risks ignoring individuals that are the driving force of these phenomena. In his study of suicide rates between the Protestants and Catholics, he based the high rates of suicide among Protestants on fewer rules and laws which failed to ground them (Emirbayer 274). This may be assumed to be a micro sociology since he analyzed individual behavior in particular categories. He explained macro-level concepts such as religion, morality, and laws and their influence on individuals. His views of society as more than a sum of individual contributions but a system on its own showcase the complementary differentiation.

Durkheim's Enduring Influence on Contemporary Sociology

Durkheim's contributions to social life included major insights into the influence of external factors such as norms, values, and laws on an individual. He provided insights on how the society can affect individual life. The Durkheimian perspective is important in analyzing the influence of macro-level sociology concepts on the lives of individuals. However, the perspective is not attuned to analyzing individual interactions between individuals. It was more concerned with macro-level sociology. Contemporary sociologists aim to integrate macro and micro levels of sociology to provide a clear picture of the aspect (Emirbayer 266). The views of Durkheimian perspective provide a foundation for theoretical perspectives used by contemporary sociologists; hence, ultimately building on Durkheim's perspective that is adequate to capture the modern-day society.

Works Cited

Corning, Peter A. "Durkheim ans Spencer." The British Journal of Sociology, 1982, pp. 282-359.

Emirbayer, Mustafa. "Durkheim's Contributions to the sociologist Analysis of History." Sociological forum, 1996, pp. 263-285.

March 23, 2023

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