EMILE DURKHEIM


From Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, (Translated by George Simpson). byNew York: The Free Press, 1947.


The Division of Labor


[We] shall recognize only two kinds of positive solidarity which are distinguishable by thefollowing qualities:

1. The first binds the individual directly to society without any intermediary. In the second, hedepends upon society, because he depends upon the parts of which it is composed.

2. Society is not seen in the same aspect in the two cases. In the first, what we call society is amore or less organized totality of beliefs and sentiments common to all the members of thegroup: this is the collective type. On the other hand, the society in which we are solidary in thesecond instance is a system of different, special functions which definite relations unite. Thesetwo societies really make up only one. They are two aspects of one and the same reality, butnone the less they must be distinguished.

3. From this second difference there arises another which helps us to characterize and name thetwo kinds of solidarity.

The first can be strong only if the ideas and tendencies common to all the members of the societyare greater in number and intensity than those which pertain personally to each member. It is asmuch stronger as the excess is more considerable. But what makes our personality is how muchof our own individual qualities we have, what distinguishes us from others. This solidarity cangrow only in inverse ratio to personality. There are in each of us, as we have said, twoconsciences: one which is common to our group in its entirety, which, consequently, is notourself, but society living and acting within us; the other, on the contrary, represents that in uswhich is personal and distinct, that which makes us an individual. [1] Solidarity which comesfrom likenesses is at its maximum when the collective conscience completely envelops ourwhole conscience and coincides in all points with it. But, at that moment, our individuality is nil.It can be born only if the community takes smaller toll of us. There are, here, two contraryforces, one centripetal, the other centrifugal, which cannot flourish at the same time. We cannot,at one and the same time, develop ourselves in two opposite senses. If we have a lively desire tothink and act for ourselves, we cannot be strongly inclined to think and act as others do. If ourideal is to present a singular and personal appearance, we do not want to resemble everybodyelse. Moreover, at the moment when this solidarity exercises its force, our personality vanishes,as our definition permits us to say, for we are no longer ourselves, but the collective life.

The social molecules which can be coherent in this way can act together only in the measure thatthey have no actions of their own, as the molecules of inorganic bodies. That is why we proposeto call this type of solidarity mechanical. The term does not signify that it is produced bymechanical and artificial means. We call it that only by analogy to the cohesion which unites theelements of an inanimate body, as opposed to that which makes a unity out of the elements of aliving body. What justifies this term is that the link which thus unites the individual to society iswholly analogous to that which attaches a thing to a person. The individual conscience,considered in this light, is a simple dependent upon the collective type and follows all of itsmovements, as the possessed object follows those of its owner. In societies where this type ofsolidarity is highly developed, the individual does not appear, as we shall see later. Individualityis something which the society possesses. Thus, in these social types, personal rights are not yetdistinguished from real rights.

It is quite otherwise with the solidarity which the division of labor produces. Whereas theprevious type implies that individuals resemble each other, this type presumes their difference.The first is possible only in so far as the individual personality is absorbed into the collectivepersonality; the second is possible only if each one has a sphere of action which is peculiar tohim; that is, a personality. It is necessary, then, that the collective conscience leave open a partof the individual conscience in order that special functions may be established there, functionswhich it cannot regulate. The more this region is extended, the stronger is the cohesion whichresults from this solidarity. In effect, on the one hand, each one depends as much more strictlyon society as labor is more divided; and, on the other, the activity of each is as much morepersonal as it is more specialized. Doubtless, as circumscribed as it is, it is never completelyoriginal. Even in the exercise of our occupation, we conform to usages, to practices which arecommon to our whole professional brotherhood. But, even in this instance, the yoke that wesubmit to is much less heavy than when society completely controls us, and it leaves much moreplace open for the free play of our initiative. Here, then, the individuality of all grows at thesame time as that of its parts. Society becomes more capable of collective movement, at thesame time that each of its elements has more freedom of movement. This solidarity resemblesthat which we observe among the higher animals. Each organ, in effect, has its specialphysiognomy, its autonomy. And, moreover, the unity of the organism is as great as theindividuation of the parts is more marked. Because of this analogy, we propose to call thesolidarity which is due to the division of labor, organic.


In determining the principal cause of the progress of the division of labor, we have at the sametime determined the essential factor of what is called civilization.

Civilization is itself the necessary consequence of the changes which are produced in the volumeand in the density of societies. If science, art, and economic activity develop it is in accordancewith a necessity which is imposed upon men. It is because there is, for them, no other way ofliving in the new conditions in which they have been placed. From the time that the number ofindividuals among whom social relations are established begins to increase, they can maintainthemselves only by greater specialization, harder work, and intensification of their faculties.From this general stimulation, there inevitably results a much higher degree of culture. From thispoint of view, civilization appears, not as an end which moves people by its attraction for them,not as a good foreseen and desired in advance, of which they seek to assure themselves thelargest possible part, but as the effect of a cause, as the necessary resultant of a given state. It isnot the pole towards which historic development is moving and to which men seek to get nearerin order to be happier or better, for neither happiness nor morality necessarily increases with theintensity of life. They move because they must move, and what determines the speed of thismarch is the more or less strong pressure which they exercise upon one another, according totheir number.

This does not mean that civilization has no use, but that it is not the services that it renders thatmake it progress. It develops because it cannot fail to develop. Once effectuated, thisdevelopment is found to be generally useful, or, at least, it is utilized. It responds to needsformed at the same time because they depend upon the same causes. But this is an adjustmentafter the fact. Yet, we must notice that the good it renders in this direction is not a positiveenrichment, a growth in our stock of happiness, but only repairs the losses that it has itselfcaused. It is because this superactivity of general life fatigues and weakens our nervous systemthat it needs reparations proportionate to its expenditures, that is to say, more varied and complexsatisfactions. In that, we see even better how false it is to make civilization the function of thedivision of labor; it is only a consequence of it. It can explain neither the existence nor theprogress of the division of labor, since it has, of itself, no intrinsic or absolute value, but, on thecontrary, has a reason for existing only in so far as the division of labor is itself found necessary.

We shall not be astonished by the importance attached to the numerical factor if we notice thevery capital role it plays in the history of organisms. In effect, what defines a living being is thedouble property it has of nourishing itself and reproducing itself, and reproduction is itself only aconsequence of nourishment. Therefore, the intensity of organic life is proportional, all thingsbeing equal, to the activity of nourishment, that is, to the number of elements that the organism iscapable of incorporating. Hence, what has not only made possible, but even necessitated theappearance of complex organisms is that, under certain conditions, the more simple organismsremain grouped together in a way to form more voluminous aggregates. As the constitutive partsof the animal are more numerous, their relations are no longer the same, the conditions of sociallife are changed, and it is these changes which, in turn, determine both the division of labor,polymorphism, and the concentration of vital forces and their greater energy. The growth oforganic substance is, then, the fact which dominates all zoological development. It is notsurprising that social development is submitted to the same law.

Moreover, without recourse to arguments by analogy, it is easy to explain the fundamental role ofthis factor. All social life is made up of a system of facts which come from positive and durablerelations established between a plurality of individuals. It is, thus, as much more intense as thereactions exchanged between the component units are themselves more frequent and moreenergetic. But, upon what does this frequency and this energy depend? Upon the nature of theelements present, upon their more or less great vitality? But . . . individuals are much more aproduct of common life than they are determinants of it. If from each of them we take awayeverything due to social action, the residue that we obtain, besides being picayune, is not capableof presenting much variety. Without the diversity of social conditions upon which they depend,the differences which separate them would be inexplicable. It is not, then, in the unequalaptitudes of men that we must seek the cause for the unequal development of societies. Will it bein the unequal duration of these relations? But time, by itself, produces nothing. It is onlynecessary in bringing latent energies to light. There remains no other variable factor than thenumber of individuals in relation and their material and moral proximity, that is to say, thevolume and density of society. The more numerous they are and the more they act upon oneanother, the more they react with force and rapidity; consequently, the more intense social lifebecomes. But it is this intensification which constitutes civilization. [2]

But, while being an effect of necessary causes, civilization can become an end, an object ofdesire, in short, an ideal. Indeed, at each moment of a society's history, there is a certain intensityof the collective life which is normal, given the number and distribution of the social units.Assuredly, if everything happens normally, this state will be realized of itself, but we cannotbring it to pass that things will happen normally. If health is in nature, so is sickness. Health is,indeed, in societies as in individual organisms, only an ideal type which is nowhere entirelyrealized. Each healthy individual has more or less numerous traits of it, but there is none thatunites them all. Thus, it is an end worthy of pursuit to seek to bring society to this degree ofperfection.

Moreover, the direction to follow in order to attain this end can be laid out. If, instead of lettingcauses engender their effects by chance and according to the energy in them, thought intervenesto direct the course, it can spare men many painful efforts. The development of the individualreproduces that of the species in abridged fashion; he does not pass through all the stages that itpassed through; there are some he omits and others he passes through more quickly because theexperiences of the race help him to accelerate them. But thought can produce analogous results,for it is equally a utilization of anterior experience, with a view to facilitating future experience.By thought, moreover, one must not understand exclusively scientific knowledge of means andends. Sociology, in its present state, is hardly in a position to lead us efficaciously to the solutionof these practical problems. But beyond these clear representations in the milieu in which thescholar moves, there are obscure ones to which tendencies are linked. For need to stimulate thewill, it is not necessary that it be clarified by science. Obscure gropings are enough to teach menthat there is something lacking, to awaken their aspirations and at the same time make them feelin what direction they ought to bend their efforts.

Hence, a mechanistic conception of society does not preclude ideals, and it is wrong to reproachit with reducing man to the status of an inactive witness of his own history. What is an ideal,really, if not an anticipated representation of a desired result whose realization is possible onlythanks to this very anticipation? Because things happen in accordance with laws, it does notfollow that we have nothing to do. We shall perhaps find such an objective mean, because, insum, it is only a question of living in a state of health. But this is to forget that, for the cultivatedman, health consists in regularly satisfying his most elevated needs as well as others, for the firstare no less firmly rooted in his nature than the second. It is true that such an ideal is near, that thehorizons it opens before us have nothing unlimited about them. In any event, it cannot consist inexalting the forces of society beyond measure, but only in developing them to the limit markedby the definite state of the social milieu. All excess is bad as well as all insufficiency. But whatother ideal can we propose? To seek to realize a civilization superior to that demanded by thenature of surrounding conditions is to desire to turn illness loose in the very society of which weare part, for it is not possible to increase collective activity beyond the degree determined by thestate of the social organism without compromising health. In fact, in every epoch there is acertain refinement of civilization whose sickly character is attested by the uneasiness andrestlessness which accompanies it. But there is never anything desirable about sickness.

But if the ideal is always definite, it is never definitive. Since progress is a consequence ofchanges in the social milieu, there is no reason for supposing that it must ever end. For it to havea limit, it would be necessary for the milieu to become stationary at some given moment. Butsuch an hypothesis is contrary to the most legitimate inductions. As long as there are distinctsocieties, the number of social units will necessarily be variable in each of them. Even supposingthat the number of births ever becomes constant, there will always be movements of populationfrom one country to another, through violent conquests or slow and unobtrusive infiltrations.Indeed, it is impossible for the strongest peoples not to tend to incorporate the feeblest, as themost dense overflow into the least dense. That is a mechanical law of social equilibrium not lessnecessary than that which governs the equilibrium of liquids. For it to be otherwise, it would benecessary for all human societies to have the same vital energy and the same density. What isirrepresentable would only be so because of the diversity of habitats.

It is true that this source of variations would be exhausted if all humanity formed one and thesame society. But, besides our not knowing whether such an ideal is realizable, in order forprogress to cease it would still be necessary for the relations between social units in the interiorof this gigantic society to be themselves recalcitrant to all change. It would be necessary forthem always to remain distributed in the same way, for not only the total aggregate but also eachof the elementary aggregates of which it would be formed, to keep the same dimensions. Butsuch a uniformity is impossible, solely because these partial groups do not all have the sameextent nor the same vitality. Population cannot be concentrated in the same way at all points; it isinevitable that the greatest centres, those where life is most intense, exercise an attraction for theothers proportionate to their importance. The migrations which are thus produced result infurther concentrating social units in certain regions, and, consequently, in determining newadvances there which irradiate little by little from the homes in which they were born into the restof the country. Moreover, these changes call forth others, without it being possible to say wherethe repercussions stop. In fact, far from societies approaching a stationary position in proportionto their development, they become, on the contrary, more mobile and more plastic.


With societies, individuals are transformed in accordance with the changes produced in thenumber of social units and their relations.

First, they are made more and more free of the yoke of the organism. An animal is almostcompletely under the influence of his physical environment; its biological constitutionpredetermines its existence. Man, on the contrary, is dependent upon social causes. Of course,animals also form societies, but, as they are very restricted, collective life is very simple. Theyare also stationary because the equilibrium of such small societies is necessarily stable. For thesetwo reasons, it easily fixes itself in the organism. It not only has its roots in the organism, but itis entirely enveloped in it to such a point that it loses its own characteristics. It functions througha system of instincts, of reflexes which are not essentially distinct from those which assure thefunctioning of organic life. They present, it is true, the particular characteristic of adapting theindividual to the social environment, not to the physical environment, and are caused byoccurrences of the common life. They are not of different nature, however, from those which, incertain cases, determine without any previous education the necessary movements in locomotion.It is quite otherwise with man, because the societies he forms are much vaster. Even the smallestwe know of are more extensive than the majority of animal societies. Being more complex, theyalso change more, and these two causes together see to it that social life with man is notcongealed in a biological form. Even where it is most simple, it clings to its specificity. Thereare always beliefs and practices common to men which are not inscribed in their tissues. But thischaracter is more manifest as the social mass and density grow. The more people there are inassociation, and the more they react upon one another, the more also does the product of thesereactions pass beyond the bounds of the organism. Man thus finds himself placed under the swayof causes sui generis whose relative part in the constitution of human nature becomes ever moreconsiderable.

Moreover, the influence of this factor increases not only in relative value, but also in absolutevalue. The same cause which increases the importance of the collective environment weakensthe organic environment in such a manner as to make it accessible to the action of social causesand to subordinate it to them. Because there are more individuals living together, common life isricher and more varied, but for this variety to be possible, the organic type must be less definiteto be able to diversify itself. We have seen, in effect, that the tendencies and aptitudestransmitted by heredity became ever more general and more indeterminate, more refractoryconsequently, to assuming the form of instincts. Thus, a phenomenon is produced which isexactly the inverse of that which we observe at the beginning of evolution. With animals, theorganism assimilates social facts to it, and, stripping them of their special nature, transformsthem into biological facts. Social life is materialized. In man, on the contrary, and particularly inhigher societies, social causes substitute themselves for organic causes. The organism isspiritualized.

The individual is transformed in accordance with this change in dependence. Since this activitywhich calls forth the special action of social causes cannot be fixed in the organism, a new life,also sui generis, is superimposed upon that of the body. Freer, more complex, more independentof the organs which support it, its distinguishing characteristics become ever more apparent as itprogresses and becomes solid. From this description we can recognize the essential traits ofpsychic life. To be sure, it would be exaggerating to say that psychic life begins only withsocieties, but certainly it becomes extensive only as societies develop. That is why, as has oftenbeen remarked, the progress of conscience is in inverse ratio to that of instinct. Whatever may besaid of them, it is not the first which breaks up the second. Instinct, the product of theaccumulated experience of generations, has a much greater resistive force to dissolution simplybecause it becomes conscious. Truly, conscience only invades the ground which instinct hasceased to occupy, or where instinct cannot be established. Conscience does not make instinctrecede; it only fills the space instinct leaves free. Moreover, if instinct regresses rather thanextends as general life extends, the greater importance of the social factor is the cause of this.Hence, the great difference which separates man from animals, that is, the greater developmentof his psychic life, comes from his greater sociability. To understand why psychic functions havebeen carried, from the very beginnings of the human species, to a degree of perfection unknownamong animal species, one would first have to know why it is that men, instead of living insolitude or in small bands, were led to form more extensive societies. To put it in terms of theclassical definition, if man is a reasonable animal, that is because he is a sociable animal, or atleast infinitely more sociable than other animals. [3]

This is not all. In so far as societies do not reach certain dimensions nor a certain degree ofconcentration, the only psychic life which may be truly developed is that which is common to allthe members of the group, which is found identical in each. But, as societies become more vastand, particularly, more condensed, a psychic life of a new sort appears. Individual diversities, atfirst lost and confused amidst the mass of social likenesses, become disengaged, becomeconspicuous, and multiply. A multitude of things which used to remain outside consciencesbecause they did not affect the collective being become objects of representations. Whereasindividuals used to act only by involving one an other, except in cases where their conduct wasdetermined by physical needs, each of them becomes a source of spontaneous activity. Particularpersonalities become constituted, take conscience of themselves. Moreover, this growth ofpsychic life in the individual does not obliterate the psychic life of society, but only transforms it.It becomes freer, more extensive, and as it has, after all, no other bases than individualconsciences, these extend, become complex, and thus become flexible.

Hence, the cause which called forth the differences separating man from animals is also thatwhich has forced him to elevate himself above himself. The ever growing distance between thesavage and the civilized man has no other source. If the faculty of ideation is slowly disengagedfrom the confused feeling of its origin, if man has learned to formulate concepts and laws, if hisspirit has embraced more and more extensive portions of space and time, if, not content withclinging to the past, he has trespassed upon the future, if his emotions and his tendencies, at firstsimple and not very numerous, have multiplied and diversified, that is because the social milieuhas changed without interruption. In effect, unless these transformations were born fromnothing, they can have had for causes only the corresponding transformations of surroundingmilieux. But, man depends only upon three sorts of milieux: the organism, the external world,society. If one leaves aside the accidental variations due to combinations of heredity,--and theirrole in human progress is certainly not very considerable,--the organism is not automaticallymodified; it is necessary that it be impelled by some external cause. As for the physical world,since the beginning of history it has remained sensibly the same, at least if one does not takeaccount of novelties which are of social origin. [4] Consequently, there is only society which haschanged enough to be able to explain the parallel changes in individual nature.

It is not, then, audacious to affirm that, from now on, whatever progress is made inpsycho-physiology will never represent more than a fraction of psychology, since the major partof psychic phenomena does not come from organic causes. This is what spiritualist philosophershave learned, and the great service that they have rendered science has been to combat thedoctrines which reduce psychic life merely to an efflorescence of physical life. They have veryjustly felt that the first, in its highest manifestations, is much too free and complex to be merely aprolongation of the second. Because it is partly independent of the organism, however, it doesnot follow that it depends upon no natural cause, and that it must be put outside nature. But allthese facts whose explanation we cannot find in the constitution of tissues derive from propertiesof the social milieu. This hypothesis assumes, at least, very great probability from what haspreceded. But the social realm is not less natural than the organic realm. Consequently, becausethere is a vast region of conscience whose genesis is unintelligible through psycho-physiologyalone, we must not conclude that it has been formed of itself and that it is, accordingly, refractoryto scientific investigation, but only that it derives from some other positive science which can becalled sociopsychology. The phenomena which would constitute its matter are, in effect, of amixed nature. They have the same essential characters as other psychic facts, but they arise fromsocial causes.


NOTES


1. However, these two consciences are not in regions geographically distinct from us, butpenetrate from all sides.

2. We do not here have to look to see if the fact which determines the progress of the division oflabor and civilization, growth in social mass and density, explains itself automatically; if it is anecessary product of efficient causes, or else an imagined means in view of a desired end or of avery great foreseen good. We content ourselves with stating this law of gravitation in the socialworld without going any farther. It does not seem, however, that there is a greater demand herethan elsewhere for a teleological explanation. The walls which separate different parts of societyare torn down by the force of things, through a sort of natural usury, whose effect can be furtherenforced by the action of violent causes. The movements of population thus become morenumerous and rapid and the passage-lines through which these movements are effected--themeans of communication--deepen. They are more particularly active at points where several ofthese lines cross; these are cities. Thus social density grows. As for the growth in volume, it isdue to causes of the same kind. The barriers which separate peoples are analogous to thosewhich separate the different cells of the same society and they disappear in the same way.

3. The definition of de Quatrefages which makes man a religious animal is a particular instanceof the preceding, for man's religiosity is a consequence of his eminent sociability. See supra, pp.168ff.

4. Transformations of the soil, of streams, through the art of husbandry, engineers, etc.

Back to the Index