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Concept Solidarity by Durkheim: Mechanical and Organic Solidary

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With the increased specialized role and responsibilities of individuals in society, Durkheim was interested in what holds society together. He provides an answer by developing a theoretical framework around two types of social solidarity and its relationship with systems of law. Societies with mechanical solidarity tend to be small with an emphasis on religious duty. People usually have the same jobs and responsibilities, consequently indicating a low division of labor. It is not a complex society, however, they are based on shared attitudes and obligations. Alternatively, societies characterized by organic solidarity, are more secular and individualistic due to the specialization of each of our jobs. Organic solidarity is more complex with a greater division of labor. To understand the source of social solidarity, Durkheim considers the examination of systems of law as an important agency for the understanding of morality. In this paper, I will explore how Durkheim might respond that criminal sanction is less repressive in our contemporary society.

According to Durkheim, as we shift from mechanical to organic solidary, we can observe a change in the nature of crime and moral sentiments. In mechanical solidarity, “an act is criminal when it offends strong and defined states of the collective conscience”. As society becomes more complex with more disparity in the division of labor, the weaker does the collective consciousness becomes which explains the lessening of crimes having collective object as their primary focus. It is these types of criminal offenses against public figures and its representatives, which transgress the collective conscience and thus a need for violent repression. Since this shift of solidarity decreases the prominence of collective sentiments, crime comes to be defined in more individual terms, and punishment for crimes tends to be more lenient. For example, violent crimes against the person were said to be injurious against the collective consciousness in traditional societies and physical punishment or, in extreme cases, capital punishment would be the appropriate punishment for such a crime. In our contemporary society, violent crimes against the person by offenders are progressively replaced by restitutive sanctions. For Durkheim, when compensation completely replaces physical coercion seen in traditional or religious society, punishment is viewed as less repressive in modern society. Durkheim also argued that imprisonment varying in time according to the seriousness of the crime, tend to become the primary mean for punishment. Durkheim suggests that the body of punitive choices has been progressively restricted to confinement alone.

I agree for the most part with Durkheim that modern society is lenient in repressive sanctions for deviant behaviors. The Canadian justice system, for example, does not focus on retribution but focuses more on rehabilitation, incapacitation, and deterrence of offenders. The recidivism rate of offenders is still very high from rehabilitation programs which shows that rehabilitation is less repressive than retribution. Also, many offenders who commit violent crime such as homicide and sexual assault in Canada gets a lenient prison sentence instead of the physical punishment seen in traditional societies. I found that Durkheim makes an interesting remark about prisons only coming into existence when society reached a sufficiently advanced stage of material development to permit the existence of the secure institution, such as castles or prisons in modern times for mass incarceration to become the main mean of punishment. The only part I disagree with Durkheim is on the fact that some advanced societies are characterized by severe punishment coupled with a larger number of collective crimes. For example, American justice is a lot stricter than our Canadian system. Accordingly, we have little reason to believe that the number of individual crimes identified and sanctioned correlates with the process of social development.

Due to the shift of mechanic solidarity to organic solidary, I have argued that Durkheim would respond that criminal sanction is less repressive in our contemporary society. This shift of solidarity has caused a decrease of collective sentiments and crime has come to be defined in more individual terms, and thus punishment for crimes tends to be more lenient. While the justice systems have shifted from corporal punishment to incarceration in most parts of the world, some complex societies are still characterized by severe punishment coupled with a larger number of collective crimes. The only weak point in Durkheim’s theory is that it did not take into account the plurality of culture in complex society or the individual traits in mechanical solidarity. Durkheim mainly idealizes society into two types of extreme solidarity when in reality each society is composed of many different types of solidarity.

Reference List

  1. Edles, Laura Desfor, and Scott Appelrouth. Sociological Theory in the Classical Era: Text and Readings. Los Angeles: Sage, 2015.

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