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DurkDoL - 1 Some Comments on Durkheims The Division of...

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1 Some Comments on Durkheim’s The Division of Labor in Society The Division of Labor in Society , written in 1893 was Durkheim’s doctoral dissertation. The book was written during the “golden age of socialism” (i.e., 1890-1914) when socialist political parties had strong popular support in Europe. Many, but by no means all, academics of the time adopted socialist perspectives in their writing and research. While not socialist himself, Durkheim’s work was in silent dialogue with the socialist intellectuals of his day. This dialogue is particularly evident in The Division of Labor in Society. As we shall see in next week’s readings, the socialists were in awe of the sheer volume of goods that could be created by industrialization, but decried the uneven distribution of industrial wealth. Durkheim also believed that unfair distribution of wealth created unnecessary social problems, but he framed the problem of injustice in slightly different terms. As we saw in the readings on suicide, Durkheim had a deep concern for social integration (or solidarity—the term he uses in The Division of Labor in Society ) as well as a deep concern for morality. In The Division of Labor in Society , the interdependence between social solidarity and morality is explored, particularly in the concluding chapters of the book—the section from which the following reading comes. Durkheim argued that there were different forms of social solidarity depending on the way a society produced its goods. Agricultural societies achieved social integration through “mechanical solidarity” where similarity was the primary cohesive force among individuals. In Europe, agricultural societies had a relatively simple class system based on land ownership. A few people (the aristocracy—or in Durkheim’s terms, “the patricians”) owned the land. Most people worked the land as peasants—and supported the aristocracy with the fruits of their labor. The powerful institution of the Church regulated the moral behavior of individuals. The legal system in agricultural societies was relatively undeveloped and most laws were punitive. If someone broke a law, the offender would be punished. The division of labor (or how people decide who does what work) in agricultural societies was relatively simple as there were few jobs available and most children took over the position of their parents. Thus, the children of farmers would become farmers. The sons of craftsmen would become craftsmen. Military or religious organizations occasionally offered an alternative career, but most people simply carried on as farmers. The life of one person was very much like the life of the next person. Durkheim argued that the similarity of people’s lives made it easier for them to identify with each other. Yet, the division of labor characterizing agricultural work gave individuals few opportunities to change the destinies of their birth or to develop their innate talents.
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