Durkheim’s Divison Of Labor To Social Structure
There was once a time when the societies (feudal societies) of the world were nothing more than just a class that was ruled. For every individual within each class was set a routine for each day and there was little change in the lives of individuals of these societies. There was monotony in their work and their work did little more for them than keeping them alive. In those societies, there was scarce chance for self-actualization.
After these times came another time, marked by drastic changes. The concept of industrialization and Capitalism was introduced to societies all over the world. Some societies accepted it while others not and even condemned it. Those that accepted it became what was known as modern societies or Capitalist societies.
Capitalist or modern societies are very complex in structure. Many theorists have tried to explain or simplify the complexities of these societies, among the greatest of them Karl Marx (the founder of conflict theory) and Emile Durkheim (a functionalism promoter), two social theorists who challenged the aspect of social structure in their works.
Emile Durkheim, who is known as a functionalist, focused on the ideea that everything serves a function in society and his main concern was to discover what that function was. On the other hand Karl Marx, a conflict theorist, stresses that society is a complex system characterized by inequality and conflicts that generate social change. Both Durkheim and Marx were concerned with the characteristics of groups and structures rather than with individuals.
For Durkheim and Marx the “division of labor” has two different viewpoints. “Social harmony comes essentially from the division of labor. It is characterized by a cooperation which is automatically produced through the pursuit by each individual of his own interests. It suffices that each individual consecrate himself to a special function in order, by the force of events, to make himself solidary with others.”
From Durkheim point-of-view, the division of labor means the separation and specialization of work among people. As industry and technology developed permanently and population increases, individuals from society must become more specialized if it is to survive. Labor has never before been as specialized as it is now, in modern society, and the current trend is toward even further increased specialization. On the contrary, Marx believed that the workplace estranges its workers from their own lives (where they have love, affection etc.) because in a capitalistic society workers own none of the means of production, which they use in their work. These are owned by the capitalists, to whom the workers must sell their “labor power,” their abilities and talents, in return for a wage. Marx also uses the term alienation to describe that a worker is enslaved to their workplace because the worker is always working, therefore the working day is not a constant number of hours but it varies.
While Marx asserted that alienation and dehumanization is associated with division of labor, Durkheim looked at the positive side of the division of labour and tried to analyze its impact on the way people interreact with one another. Durkheim’s basic argument is that there are two types of social solidarity, mechanical solidarity – characterizes traditional societies with a limited division of labour -and organic solidarity – characterizes societies with a highly developed division of labour. Durkheim admitted that in both types of societies, individuals “interact in accordance with their obligations to others and to society as a whole. In doing so, each person also receives some recognition of his or her own rights and contributions within the collectivity. Social morality in this sense is strictly necessary for solidarity between people to occur; without morality, societies cannot exist.”
Further more, Durkheim was concerned with the social implications of increased specialization. As specialization increases, people became to be so much separated from one another, values and interests become different, norms are varied, and different subcultures (both work-related and social-related) appear. At work, people, are performing different tasks by using different skills and abilities, individuals becoming, finaly, to appreciate and value different things than one another. Durkheim didn’t see the division of labor as a negative side of a society or the downfall of social order, however.
Division of labour is a concept that has been used in many ways in different contexts by theorists. In Durkheim’s oppinion, division of labor refers to the different types of work and labour performed by individuals. These are the activities and tasks that differ among people as they exercise their labour in producing useful goods and services for themselves or others. The concept of division of labour means that different workers regularly perform different tasks – if all people did the same work, there would not be a division of labour and, of course, not a real development of the society.
Durkheim also stressed that, in reality, the division of labor gave rise to a distinct type of social order, or solidarity: organic solidarity, mentioned before. Division of labour is associated with social solidarity and organic solidarity represents a social structure built on the interdependence of people in society. Because in a modern society, people perform distinct activities through separate and specialized tasks, they come to rely on others for their survivial. For example, if farmers stop working, everyone starves because there is no food produced. If the carpenters quit working, the others won’t have any shelter. If the garbage-men don’t show up, the streets become dumps and diseases spread through population. Durkheim wanted to demonstrate through his theory that without one another in a highly specialized society, no one can survive. This interdependence is the reason why the division of labor doesn’t at all destroy social order.
The division of labor is not without problems of course, and an industrial utopia does not form simply out of interdependence and specialization binds people, but sometimes set people against each other. Interests often collide and conflicts appear. Karl Marx spent a great deal of effort identifying the problems caused by the division of labor. Durkheim wasn’t reluctant or thick-headed into believing that the changes happening around him as a result of industrialization would bring only harmony, but he did recognize that though specialization sets people apart, in certain ways, bind them together.
During time, theorists asked themselves what characterizes our society more than anything else? Whilst Marx said that the class struggle, the answer given by France’s great sociologist, emile Durkheim, was differentiation. He characterized modern (organic) society as individuals held together by their differences – each person performing a different task from his compatriots exists in a state of interdependence with them. The division of labor or specialized economic activity in society is the essential feature of modernity. Durkheim was not the first person to stress the link between differentiation and modernization. but, in comparison with other theorists, he carried out an investigation of the connection that shows much originality and depth of thought than the work of his predecessors.
Durkheim saw modernization as a positive point in society and a result of transition from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity. The division of labor is the element that makes the difference between contemporary societies and the societies of the past. Through his opera, the French sociologist tried to show that the direction of development is from societies with a low division of labor, in which people are expected to behave similarly, to societies with a high division of labor in which they are expected to behave differently, all according to the specialization of each member of community.
Durkheim made a comparison between modern societies and pre-modern (mechanical) communities in which social structure and cohesion was based on the similarity among individuals – the same values, goals and daily lives of people. The division of labor marked every single field of activity from modern society and therefore each area has been marked by the transition from homogeneous (minimized differences) pre-industrial society to heterogeneous (maximized differences) industrial division of labor.
Let’s remember that Emile Durkheim was born in 1858 and in 1893 he published the Division of Labor in Society, his fundamental work regarding nature of human society and its development. Despite the time distance (between his era and ours), through his theory, Durkheim tried to anticipate the changes that will appear lately in modern society: The differentiation process is illustrated in Durkheim’s works by examples from family life, the education system, business and industry, religion and law. In a word, many fields followed precisely Durkheim’s prescription for modernization. We can find in the modern society a great amount of distinctiveness in various realms of daily life. For example, modern academia has been affected by the forces of modernization: academic disciplines increased their distinctiveness; at schools the subject matter of the various academic disciplines reflects this distinctiveness adapted to each particular, unique area of social world: “psychologists study human thought and behavior,