Emile Durkheim's Ideas on Social Change and Developments
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Emile Durkheim's Ideas on Social Change and Developments
Emilie Durkheim (1858-1917) was the most influential theorists in the state of modern structural perspectives on criminality as well as in social changes and developments. Because of the influenced by the American and French revolutions and the Industrial Revolution, Durkheim developed a general model of societal development largely based on the economic labor distribution, in which societies are seen as evolving from simplistic mechanical society toward a multilayered organic society according to his dissertation entitled The Division of Labor in Society.
Through his knowledge in understanding the changes within the society and its rapid revolution, Durkheim elaborated the field of sociology from other social sciences. He gave emphasis on the social facts for which according to him is the subject matter of sociology. Social facts or “sui generis”, which means “unique on their own kind”, must be studied distinctly from biological and psychosocial phenomena (Stanczak, 2006). These social facts can be defined as pattern of behavior that is capable in exercising the power within the individuals and serve as guides and controls of conduct. Social facts are different or external to the individual in the form of norms, mores, and folkways. Through socialization and education, the rules in the social facts are internalized within the consciousness of an individual and therefore become the guide for moral obligations to obey the implemented social rules.
Durkheim assumed that the personal behavior must take into account the diverse social forces surrounding the individual. This is through the observation of the constitutional or biological factors that were insufficient to explain crime. Then, the social factors are assumed to quantifiable and measurable things, and may compose the ingredients of scientific analysis. Such social facts, as opposed to individual phenomena, may include such features as customs, obligations, laws, morality, and religious beliefs. The changes in the societies and the development derived from simple and homogeneous populations to advanced states with division of labor, any explanations of deviance are bound to change (Haddorff, 2002).
In the continuous search for the social changes and the link of the social factors in the life of an individual, Durkheim, in turn, was concerned with anomie, a pathological -and, thus, temporary- characteristic of societies in which the division of labor does not evolve naturally, but may be forced by unequal social relations among classes. This includes the interpretation of an individual’s actions towards the suicide, divorce, or crime, for example, varies from one state of community development and organization to another and from one time to another. The changes in the social condition are the applied theory in promoting the structure of crime or criminology (Mutchnick, Martin, & Austin, 2009).
The state of anomie is described upon the society’s ability to serve as a regulatory mechanism breaks down, and create the selfish, greedy tendencies of individuals. Societies in such anomic states experience increases in many social problems, particularly criminal activity. This concept is entirely introduced as part of the social dimensions (Stanczak, 2006). The one common division in social dimension is the labor which is not problematic when regulated but in the involvement of the exceptional circumstances, the division of labor will take on an anomic form. It is either because there is a lack of regulation or because the level of regulation does not match the degree of development of the division of labor. Inspired by the periods of industrial crises, Durkheim assessed that in the conflict between labor and capital, there is lack of unity and excessive degree of specialization in the sciences.
As based on an individual concept, the perspective of anomie can be also seen in the degree of suicides. Anomic suicide takes place when normative regulations are absent, such as in the world of trade and industry (chronic anomie), or when abrupt transitions in society lead to a loss in the effectiveness of norms to regulate behavior (acute anomie). The latter type explains the high suicide rate during fiscal crises and among divorced men. The proposed concept of anomie became a wide influence in the study of sociology and the consideration of changes and development in the society (Mutchnick, Martin, & Austin, 2009).
For Durkheim, social change is represented by transformations in the social morphology -or the structure of social relations that links individuals into a coherent entity, society- and the moral structure -or the body of laws, norms, and sanctions that regulate social life. Durkheim's scheme of social change involves a contrast between simple divisions of labor.
Haddorff, D.W., (2002) Religion and the Market: Opposition, Absorption, or Ambiguity?, Review of Social Economy. 58(4):483.
Mutchnick, R.J., Martin, R., & Austin, W. T., (2009) Criminological Thought: Pioneers Past and Present, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson [Online] Available at: http://www.usm.edu/cj/Syllabi/Misis/Emile%20Durkheim.pdf [Accessed 16 September 2010].
Stanczak, G.C., (2006) Engaged Spirituality: Social Change and American Religion, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
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