Durkheim and the Evolution of the Division of Labour

Durkheim’s work has been very influential, leading into functionalism and structuralism, and also leading into ideas of industrial society. Durkheim concerned with the moral order of society, and he analyzed the society is changing away from tradition ties of community towards a society committed to notions of individualism.  Transitional problems of maladjustment made a confusedness of people in society, and result the pattern of suicide in the nineteenth-century society due to the transition moral of society. This is the complex change from agrarian feudalism to industrial capitalism.  Durkheim’s ethic is approached via the distinction between what was normal and abnormal in society.

            The normal will be the average and the pathological that which deviates from it. In the case of societies in transition the normal may difficult to identify. In periods of rapid change the social rules can break down and individuals can become unsure what is expected of them. In Suicide (1887), Durkheim is concerned that it is a matter of failures in the integrative moral codes of society. Durkheim considers and looks to social reasons. He finds that there is a correlation between suicide rate and religion (many more Protestants than Catholics). It is the matter of social integration that Durkheim fastens on. The Catholic Church displays greater integration than the other one. So, there is a basic relationship in “Durkheim’s suicide” idea: integration is inversely related to suicide. Durkheim also presents a tripartite categorization of suicide: anomic, egoistic, and altruistic suicide.

Durkheim’s general interest was trying to comprehend the nature of industrial capitalism and he accomplished this via a comparison of traditional and modern societies. He offered a characterization of traditional agrarian small-scale rural society in terms of its typically strong sense of community. The moral web of rules binds people tightly together. If the rules are broken the law will act to expiate the offence given to society, and penal codes are typically retributive. It is contrasted with modern industrial large-scale urban society with its stress on individualism. If the rules are broken the law will act to compensate for any loss suffered, and penal codes are typically restitutive. So Durkheim distinguishes repressive and restitutive legal codes: the former is characteristic of traditional society and the latter of modern society; and these ideal types are characterized in familiar terms: the former, small-scale, rural, intimate, close knit; the latter, large scale, urban, anonymous, diffuse and less integrative.

Durkheim argued that this shift from traditional to modern society further driven by population growth and the advance of technology. It is a matter of the evolution of the progressively more differentiated division of labour. The advancement of technology and the evolution of the division of labour, later appeal to Darwin’s notions of competition and survival in modern society. According to Durkheim, social conflict is pathologic in society and just temporary. Conflict within the system is either irrational or temporary and integration will be enhanced by fostering appropriate moral ideals and these are amenable to identification by positive social science.

Durkheim is a sociologist; he argues that sociology must be clear about its procedures and field of inquiry. He impress that sociology must be separated as an independent field, and apart from phsycology. Durkheim’s work leads to structural-functionalist analysis of the logic of industrial society, via the work of Talcott Parsons. Parsons was preoccupied with the nature of social action and his theoretical reflections in the functionalist theory of society. There are generally four aspects to note. Parsons used this general theory of action to analyze society. First, the analysis of social action comprises four elements: a). a subject or actor, b). a situation, c). a set of symbols, and d). a schedule of rules, norms and values. Second, the scheme of the pattern variables which govern the orientation of action of the particular actor: a). ascription vs achievement, b). diffuseness vs specificity, c). particularism vs universalism, d). affectivity vs affective neutrality, and e). collective orientation vs self orientation. Third, functional requirements of system of action: a). adaptation, b). goal-attainment, c). integration, d). latency. The fourth is then an idea of equilibrium; introduced as the endpoint to which all systems tend when disturbed. Systems are in complex exchange with their environment, and this often requires internal adjustments, but the whole is governed by the notion of equilibrium.

Contemporary theories of modernization follow Durkheim in stressing the stable evolutionary change of social systems. The work of Durkheim is presented by W. W. Rostow, in his text The Stages of Economic Growth (1960). The contemporary theorist firstly defines traditional society, and then the modern society. Modernization is then introduced as the process whereby societies make the designated before-to-after-move. Rostow took the basic dichotomy of traditional and modern and expand it to a five-element stage theory. Rostow argued from the experience of Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the conclusion that every country had to pass through five stages in the shift from the traditional world to the modern. However, as the decade of the 1960s progressed the work of Rostow and modernization theory slowly fell out of favour.  



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