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How Durkheim Studies Division of Labour Primarily as a Social and not an Economic Fact

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Discuss how Durkheim studies Division of Labour primarily as a social and not an economic fact. In this essay, we will begin by looking at what ‘Division of Labour’ means. Then, we will look at what economic theorists have had to say about the utility and effect of division of labour. Thereafter, we will analyse Durkheim’s understanding of the same and observe the places where it converges and/or diverges from what classical economists said about division of labour. Simply put, division of labour refers to the splitting up an activity into number of smaller parts or processes. Different individuals are assigned to fulfill these smaller processes. When everyone does what they’re supposed to do, the system works like a well-oiled machine and this increases the efficiency and the productivity of the task as a whole. In his Introduction to Division of Labour in Society, Durkheim puts forth the views of classical economists.

Classical economists like Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill upheld division of labour as essential and necessary. They saw in it the supreme law of human societies and the condition of their progress (Durkheim, 1958). In addition, Karl Marx in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts wrote about the perils of division of labour. According to Marx, excessive specialization and division of labour leads to the worker performing the same, meaningless task over and over again. According to him, this repetitiveness ultimately leads to alienation. (Marx, 1884)

According to him, the function of division of labour is to generate solidarity amongst members of society. Although, Durkheim never explicitly mentions what he understand by ‘solidarity’ but we can think of it as the harmony, cohesion, order and integration that can be seen in the society as a result of division of labour. If we look at all of Durkheim’s works, we can conclude that he laid great emphasis on positivistic methodology of research and advocated comparative analysis. He carries out a systematic comparative analysis of the two different kinds of social solidarity corresponding to two different kinds of societies. (Durkheim, 1958) However, social solidarity is a purely moral phenomenon and doesn’t provide itself for observation and measurement. Durkheim works his way around this problem and uses ‘law’ as an external index of social solidarity.

According to Durkheim, every society is organized around some fundamental laws, which also govern the interaction between members of the society. Therefore, he uses law as an external index to measure degree and nature of solidarity in society. All laws carry some kind of sanctions attached to them. Durkheim classifies these sanctions into two types- repressive sanctions and restitutive sanctions. Based on the classification of sanctions, he classified solidarity in two types- each corresponding to the type of sanction. The kind of solidarity that corresponds to repressive sanctions was called mechanical solidarity and the kind of solidarity corresponding to restitutive sanctions was referred to as organic solidarity.

Mechanical Solidarity: Mechanical solidarity refers to solidarity based on likeness. It is based on collective conscience. While speaking of mechanical solidarity and repressive sanction, Durkheim is referring to primitive society. In such a society, there is a great degree of homogeneity and likeness. Differences amongst individuals are very limited. In such societies, division of labour is at a simple level. Individual conscience is merged with the collective conscience. He defines collective conscience as “the totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the society that forms a deterministic system that has a life of its own” (Durkheim, 1964).

The strength of the collective conscience integrates societies, binding together individual members through strong common beliefs and values. This kind of solidarity can be best observed when this collective conscience is breached. The breach of collective conscience is known as crime. According to him, all crimes have a common element- they shock the collective sentiments that are part of all healthy consciences of the society. Crime is characterized by its capacity to provoke punishment. Punishment is a passionate reaction of graduated intensity that the society exercises through the medium of a body, acting upon those members who have violated t he rules of conduct. Therefore, we can conclude that punishment becomes essential in these societies to maintain the social order. To placate the offended collective conscience and to instill a sense of justice, it is essential that the culprit be punished.

Organic Solidarity: By organic solidarity, Durkheim means solidarity based on difference and complementarity of differences. Organic solidarity is based on restitutive sanctions. These are not punitive, vengeful and expiatory like repressive sanctions. They are concerned with returning things back to their natural order. While speaking of organic solidarity, Durkheim is referring to industrial society where division of labour has made a strong and fundamental impact on the lives of people. A society based on organic solidarity is marked by heterogeneity, differentiation and variety.

In such societies, the strength and impact of the collective conscience lessens, as individual conscience becomes more distinct, more easily distinguished from the collective conscience. Organic solidarity is thus quite unique. An individual while becoming more autonomous depends more upon the society. This is where division of labour comes into the picture. Division of labour in society expects some degree of cooperation from the members of the society.

As a result of division of labour, the levels of specialization increases. As each individual specializes in something special, her dependence on fellow members of the society for fulfillment of needs also increases. Cooperation and complementarity are the twin pillars of organic solidarity in modern complex societies. By the end of Book 1 of his Division of Labour in Society, Durkheim carries out an evolutionary analysis of the kind of solidarity with respect to the evolution of society. As we have mentioned before, Durkheim observed a correspondence between mechanical solidarity and primitive societies and organic solidarity and modern industrial societies. He goes on to state that in this evolution of society from primitive to modern, “mechanical solidarity progressively becomes enfeebled” and it is the “division of labour that fills the role that was formerly filled by common conscience”. (Durkheim, 1964)

Thus Durkheim has clearly stated the function of division of labour- it is to establish solidarity amongst the members of the society. This is very different from what classical economists believe division of labours’ function to be. They attribute the economic progress of society onto division of labour. Durkheim establishes the social utility and purpose of division of labour- to render societies solidary and to maintain order and harmony. Without division of labour and subsequent solidarity, societies will go into the state of anomie or normlessness. According to Durkheim, solidarity, as a result of division of labour, is a moral fact. Whereas, economic functions fulfilled by division of labour have no morality attached to them.

Causes of division of labour: Having explained the social function of division, Durkheim looks into the causes of it. He identifies it to be the increase in moral and material density. Material density refers to the sheer increase in number of people in society i. e. population growth. Moral density refers to the increased interaction between members of society as a result of population growth. The growth in two kinds of densities results in struggle for existence. In societies marked by mechanical solidarity, all individuals have the same talents and compete for same resources- this makes the competition harsh. In case of societies marked by organic solidarity, division of labour ensures that individuals specialize in different fields and areas. This way, they cannot just co-exist but can also complement each other.

Abnormal forms of division of labour: Although Durkheim has talked about the functional utility of the division of labour, he brings to our attention the fact that this might now be the case every time. We get to witness some deviations in the function fulfilled by division of labour. He presents three such deviations in division of labour that gives us results that were not desirous.

· When there is a mismatch between the rate of change with which base, in Marx’s terms, changes and the rate at which values and norms changes, anomie prevails in the society. This leads to normlessness and conflict between different groups in society.

· Secondly, division of labour based on inequality of opportunity, according to Durkheim, fails to produce long-lasting solidarity. This kind of abnormal division of labour results in individuals becoming frustrated and unhappy with their society.

· The third type of deviation occurs when the very purpose of division of labour is destroyed. Work is not well organized and coordinated. Workers are often engaged in doing meaningless tasks and there is no unity of action. Thus integration breaks down and anomie prevails. So far we have seen how according to Durkheim, division of labour is not just limited to the field of economics. Its scope and range is much beyond the field of economics. Its primary role, as we have discussed, is to render societies solidary.

However, Durkheim’s evolutionary understanding of the types of solidarity and the kind of society is too simplistic. Mechanical solidarity is not limited to primitive societies and neither is organic solidarity limited to modern industrial societies. Other than that, we can conclude the essay by stating that Durkheim has been successful in establishing the fact that the scope of division of labour is not limited to the field of economics. It has a larger function to perform- to ensure solidarity, integration, order and harmony in society.

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