20 February 2011

Emile Durkheim: Organic Solidarity and Mechanical Solidarity

Ref: Sociology, Modern Society and Social Thinkers

Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) was a French social thinker.

In "Division of Labour in Society" (1892), Durkheim – like Tönnies – tried to analyse the differences between agricultural/rural/traditional society and industrial/urban/modern society. Durkheim said that agricultural society is characterised by "organic solidarity", and industrial society is characterised by "mechanical solidarity"*.

Turgot had given the theory of economic stages of history. Each (economic) stage is more complex than the previous stage. That is, the number of tasks/roles in a society increases as it moves from one stage to the next. Efficiency requires division of labour and specialisation. Thus, greater complexity results in greater division of labour and specialisation. Therefore industrial society is more complex than agricultural society, and has a higher degree of division of labour and specialisation.

Durkheim went further. Industrial society is not only more complex than agricultural society, its nature – how its different parts fit together and their relationship with one another – is also different. These "parts" may be:
a) Parts of the social "super-system" (technology, economy, society, politics, culture)
b) Sub-systems of society (family, education, etc)
c) Units of the social system (castes, classes, etc)
d) Or simply, individuals

Agricultural society is like an organism. It is simpler, but its different parts fit together and interact with one another naturally, or "organically". Example: a family. Industrial society is like a machine. It is more complex, but its different parts fit together and interact with one another artificially, or "mechanically". Example: a corporation.

Thus Durkheim's "organic solidarity" and "mechanical solidarity" correspond to Tönnies' "community" and "society". His work can be seen as a continuation of Tönnies' analysis.

*Durkheim used the terms the other way around. I am using them here in their correct sense.


Anonymous said...

Emile Durkheim stated that industrial societies are complex, advanced and "organic" because the different parts are interdependent and work together to form a fully functioning whole.

"Primitive societies" were known/thought to be simpler, more or less undifferentiated, with members being nearly homogeneous in lifestyle. Their solidarity was built on common belief and a "collective conscience" - hence they experienced "mechanical solidarity".

Theoretically, your use of the terms appears incorrect.

Anonymous said...

You must have confused what Organic vs Mechanical societies are. Your descriptions of them is opposite of Durkheim's description