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


The Division of Labor

[We] shall recognize only two kinds of positive solidarity whichare distinguishable by the following qualities:

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

2. Society is not seen in the same aspect in the two cases. In thefirst, what we call society is a more or less organized totality ofbeliefs and sentiments common to all the members of the group: thisis the collective type. On the other hand, the society in which weare solidary in the second instance is a system of different, specialfunctions which definite relations unite. These two societies reallymake up only one. They are two aspects of one and the same reality,but none the less they must be distinguished.

3. From this second difference there arises another which helps usto characterize and name the two kinds of solidarity.

The first can be strong only if the ideas and tendencies common toall the members of the society are greater in number and intensitythan those which pertain personally to each member. It is as muchstronger as the excess is more considerable. But what makes ourpersonality is how much of our own individual qualities we have, whatdistinguishes us from others. This solidarity can grow only ininverse ratio to personality. There are in each of us, as we havesaid, two consciences: one which is common to our group in itsentirety, which, consequently, is not ourself, but society living andacting within us; the other, on the contrary, represents that in uswhich is personal and distinct, that which makes us an individual.[1] Solidarity which comes from likenesses is at its maximum when thecollective conscience completely envelops our whole conscience andcoincides in all points with it. But, at that moment, ourindividuality is nil. It can be born only if the community takessmaller toll of us. There are, here, two contrary forces, onecentripetal, the other centrifugal, which cannot flourish at the sametime. We cannot, at one and the same time, develop ourselves in twoopposite senses. If we have a lively desire to think and act forourselves, we cannot be strongly inclined to think and act as othersdo. If our ideal is to present a singular and personal appearance, wedo not want to resemble everybody else. Moreover, at the moment whenthis solidarity exercises its force, our personality vanishes, as ourdefinition permits us to say, for we are no longer ourselves, but thecollective life.

The social molecules which can be coherent in this way can acttogether only in the measure that they have no actions of their own,as the molecules of inorganic bodies. That is why we propose to callthis type of solidarity mechanical. The term does not signify that itis produced by mechanical and artificial means. We call it that onlyby analogy to the cohesion which unites the elements of an inanimatebody, as opposed to that which makes a unity out of the elements of aliving body. What justifies this term is that the link which thusunites the individual to society is wholly analogous to that whichattaches a thing to a person. The individual conscience, consideredin this light, is a simple dependent upon the collective type andfollows all of its movements, as the possessed object follows thoseof its owner. In societies where this type of solidarity is highlydeveloped, the individual does not appear, as we shall see later.Individuality is something which the society possesses. Thus, inthese social types, personal rights are not yet distinguished fromreal rights.

It is quite otherwise with the solidarity which the division oflabor produces. Whereas the previous type implies that individualsresemble each other, this type presumes their difference. The firstis possible only in so far as the individual personality is absorbedinto the collective personality; the second is possible only if eachone has a sphere of action which is peculiar to him; that is, apersonality. It is necessary, then, that the collective conscienceleave open a part of the individual conscience in order that specialfunctions may be established there, functions which it cannotregulate. The more this region is extended, the stronger is thecohesion which results from this solidarity. In effect, on the onehand, each one depends as much more strictly on society as labor ismore divided; and, on the other, the activity of each is as much morepersonal as it is more specialized. Doubtless, as circumscribed as itis, it is never completely original. Even in the exercise of ouroccupation, we conform to usages, to practices which are common toour whole professional brotherhood. But, even in this instance, theyoke that we submit to is much less heavy than when societycompletely controls us, and it leaves much more place open for thefree play of our initiative. Here, then, the individuality of allgrows at the same time as that of its parts. Society becomes morecapable of collective movement, at the same time that each of itselements has more freedom of movement. This solidarity resembles thatwhich we observe among the higher animals. Each organ, in effect, hasits special physiognomy, its autonomy. And, moreover, the unity ofthe organism is as great as the individuation of the parts is moremarked. Because of this analogy, we propose to call the solidaritywhich is due to the division of labor, organic.

In determining the principal cause of the progress of the divisionof labor, we have at the same time determined the essential factor ofwhat is called civilization.

Civilization is itself the necessary consequence of the changeswhich are produced in the volume and in the density of societies. Ifscience, art, and economic activity develop it is in accordance witha necessity which is imposed upon men. It is because there is, forthem, no other way of living in the new conditions in which they havebeen placed. From the time that the number of individuals among whomsocial relations are established begins to increase, they canmaintain themselves only by greater specialization, harder work, andintensification 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 peopleby its attraction for them, not as a good foreseen and desired inadvance, of which they seek to assure themselves the largest possiblepart, but as the effect of a cause, as the necessary resultant of agiven state. It is not the pole towards which historic development ismoving and to which men seek to get nearer in order to be happier orbetter, for neither happiness nor morality necessarily increases withthe intensity of life. They move because they must move, and whatdetermines the speed of this march is the more or less strongpressure which they exercise upon one another, according to theirnumber.

This does not mean that civilization has no use, but that it isnot the services that it renders that make it progress. It developsbecause it cannot fail to develop. Once effectuated, this developmentis found to be generally useful, or, at least, it is utilized. Itresponds to needs formed at the same time because they depend uponthe same causes. But this is an adjustment after the fact. Yet, wemust notice that the good it renders in this direction is not apositive enrichment, a growth in our stock of happiness, but onlyrepairs the losses that it has itself caused. It is because thissuperactivity of general life fatigues and weakens our nervous systemthat it needs reparations proportionate to its expenditures, that isto say, more varied and complex satisfactions. In that, we see evenbetter how false it is to make civilization the function of thedivision of labor; it is only a consequence of it. It can explainneither the existence nor the progress 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 oflabor is itself found necessary.

We shall not be astonished by the importance attached to thenumerical factor if we notice the very capital role it plays in thehistory 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 a consequence of nourishment.Therefore, the intensity of organic life is proportional, all thingsbeing equal, to the activity of nourishment, that is, to the numberof elements that the organism is capable of incorporating. Hence,what has not only made possible, but even necessitated the appearanceof complex organisms is that, under certain conditions, the moresimple organisms remain grouped together in a way to form morevoluminous aggregates. As the constitutive parts of the animal aremore numerous, their relations are no longer the same, the conditionsof social life are changed, and it is these changes which, in turn,determine both the division of labor, polymorphism, and theconcentration of vital forces and their greater energy. The growth oforganic substance is, then, the fact which dominates all zoologicaldevelopment. It is not surprising that social development issubmitted to the same law.

Moreover, without recourse to arguments by analogy, it is easy toexplain the fundamental role of this factor. All social life is madeup 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 the reactions exchanged between thecomponent units are themselves more frequent and more energetic. But,upon what does this frequency and this energy depend? Upon the natureof the elements present, upon their more or less great vitality? But. . . individuals are much more a product of common life than theyare determinants of it. If from each of them we take away everythingdue to social action, the residue that we obtain, besides beingpicayune, is not capable of presenting much variety. Without thediversity of social conditions upon which they depend, thedifferences which separate them would be inexplicable. It is not,then, in the unequal aptitudes of men that we must seek the cause forthe unequal development of societies. Will it be in the unequalduration of these relations? But time, by itself, produces nothing.It is only necessary in bringing latent energies to light. Thereremains no other variable factor than the number of individuals inrelation and their material and moral proximity, that is to say, thevolume and density of society. The more numerous they are and themore they act upon one another, the more they react with force andrapidity; consequently, the more intense social life becomes. But itis this intensification which constitutes civilization. [2]

But, while being an effect of necessary causes, civilization canbecome an end, an object of desire, in short, an ideal. Indeed, ateach moment of a society's history, there is a certain intensity ofthe collective life which is normal, given the number anddistribution of the social units. Assuredly, if everything happensnormally, this state will be realized of itself, but we cannot bringit to pass that things will happen normally. If health is in nature,so is sickness. Health is, indeed, in societies as in individualorganisms, only an ideal type which is nowhere entirely realized.Each healthy individual has more or less numerous traits of it, butthere is none that unites them all. Thus, it is an end worthy ofpursuit to seek to bring society to this degree of perfection.

Moreover, the direction to follow in order to attain this end canbe laid out. If, instead of letting causes engender their effects bychance and according to the energy in them, thought intervenes todirect the course, it can spare men many painful efforts. Thedevelopment of the individual reproduces that of the species inabridged fashion; he does not pass through all the stages that itpassed through; there are some he omits and others he passes throughmore quickly because the experiences of the race help him toaccelerate them. But thought can produce analogous results, for it isequally a utilization of anterior experience, with a view tofacilitating future experience. By thought, moreover, one must notunderstand exclusively scientific knowledge of means and ends.Sociology, in its present state, is hardly in a position to lead usefficaciously to the solution of these practical problems. But beyondthese clear representations in the milieu in which the scholar moves,there are obscure ones to which tendencies are linked. For need tostimulate the will, it is not necessary that it be clarified byscience. Obscure gropings are enough to teach men that there issomething lacking, to awaken their aspirations and at the same timemake them feel in what direction they ought to bend their efforts.

Hence, a mechanistic conception of society does not precludeideals, and it is wrong to reproach it with reducing man to thestatus of an inactive witness of his own history. What is an ideal,really, if not an anticipated representation of a desired resultwhose realization is possible only thanks to this very anticipation?Because things happen in accordance with laws, it does not followthat we have nothing to do. We shall perhaps find such an objectivemean, because, in sum, it is only a question of living in a state ofhealth. But this is to forget that, for the cultivated man, healthconsists in regularly satisfying his most elevated needs as well asothers, for the first are no less firmly rooted in his nature thanthe second. It is true that such an ideal is near, that the horizonsit opens before us have nothing unlimited about them. In any event,it cannot consist in exalting the forces of society beyond measure,but only in developing them to the limit marked by the definite stateof the social milieu. All excess is bad as well as all insufficiency.But what other ideal can we propose? To seek to realize acivilization superior to that demanded by the nature of surroundingconditions is to desire to turn illness loose in the very society ofwhich we are part, for it is not possible to increase collectiveactivity beyond the degree determined by the state of the socialorganism without compromising health. In fact, in every epoch thereis a certain refinement of civilization whose sickly character isattested by the uneasiness and restlessness which accompanies it. Butthere is never anything desirable about sickness.

But if the ideal is always definite, it is never definitive. Sinceprogress is a consequence of changes in the social milieu, there isno reason for supposing that it must ever end. For it to have alimit, it would be necessary for the milieu to become stationary atsome given moment. But such an hypothesis is contrary to the mostlegitimate inductions. As long as there are distinct societies, thenumber of social units will necessarily be variable in each of them.Even supposing that the number of births ever becomes constant, therewill always be movements of population from one country to another,through violent conquests or slow and unobtrusive infiltrations.Indeed, it is impossible for the strongest peoples not to tend toincorporate the feeblest, as the most dense overflow into the leastdense. That is a mechanical law of social equilibrium not lessnecessary than that which governs the equilibrium of liquids. For itto be otherwise, it would be necessary for all human societies tohave the same vital energy and the same density. What isirrepresentable would only be so because of the diversity ofhabitats.

It is true that this source of variations would be exhausted ifall humanity formed one and the same society. But, besides our notknowing whether such an ideal is realizable, in order for progress tocease it would still be necessary for the relations between socialunits in the interior of this gigantic society to be themselvesrecalcitrant to all change. It would be necessary for them always toremain distributed in the same way, for not only the total aggregatebut also each of the elementary aggregates of which it would beformed, to keep the same dimensions. But such a uniformity isimpossible, solely because these partial groups do not all have thesame extent nor the same vitality. Population cannot be concentratedin the same way at all points; it is inevitable that the greatestcentres, those where life is most intense, exercise an attraction forthe others proportionate to their importance. The migrations whichare thus produced result in further concentrating social units incertain regions, and, consequently, in determining new advances therewhich irradiate little by little from the homes in which they wereborn into the rest of the country. Moreover, these changes call forthothers, without it being possible to say where the repercussionsstop. In fact, far from societies approaching a stationary positionin proportion to their development, they become, on the contrary,more mobile and more plastic.

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

First, they are made more and more free of the yoke of theorganism. An animal is almost completely under the influence of hisphysical environment; its biological constitution predetermines itsexistence. Man, on the contrary, is dependent upon social causes. Ofcourse, animals also form societies, but, as they are veryrestricted, collective life is very simple. They are also stationarybecause the equilibrium of such small societies is necessarilystable. For these two reasons, it easily fixes itself in theorganism. It not only has its roots in the organism, but it isentirely enveloped in it to such a point that it loses its owncharacteristics. It functions through a system of instincts, ofreflexes which are not essentially distinct from those which assurethe functioning of organic life. They present, it is true, theparticular characteristic of adapting the individual to the socialenvironment, not to the physical environment, and are caused byoccurrences of the common life. They are not of different nature,however, from those which, in certain cases, determine without anyprevious education the necessary movements in locomotion. It is quiteotherwise with man, because the societies he forms are much vaster.Even the smallest we know of are more extensive than the majority ofanimal societies. Being more complex, they also change more, andthese two causes together see to it that social life with man is notcongealed in a biological form. Even where it is most simple, itclings to its specificity. There are always beliefs and practicescommon to men which are not inscribed in their tissues. But thischaracter is more manifest as the social mass and density grow. Themore people there are in association, and the more they react uponone another, the more also does the product of these reactions passbeyond the bounds of the organism. Man thus finds himself placedunder the sway of causes sui generis whose relative part inthe constitution of human nature becomes ever more considerable.

Moreover, the influence of this factor increases not only inrelative value, but also in absolute value. The same cause whichincreases the importance of the collective environment weakens theorganic environment in such a manner as to make it accessible to theaction of social causes and to subordinate it to them. Because thereare more individuals living together, common life is richer and morevaried, but for this variety to be possible, the organic type must beless definite to be able to diversify itself. We have seen, ineffect, that the tendencies and aptitudes transmitted by hereditybecame ever more general and more indeterminate, more refractoryconsequently, to assuming the form of instincts. Thus, a phenomenonis produced which is exactly the inverse of that which we observe atthe beginning of evolution. With animals, the organism assimilatessocial facts to it, and, stripping them of their special nature,transforms them into biological facts. Social life is materialized.In man, on the contrary, and particularly in higher societies, socialcauses substitute themselves for organic causes. The organism isspiritualized.

The individual is transformed in accordance with this change independence. Since this activity which calls forth the special actionof social causes cannot be fixed in the organism, a new life, alsosui generis, is superimposed upon that of the body. Freer,more complex, more independent of the organs which support it, itsdistinguishing characteristics become ever more apparent as itprogresses and becomes solid. From this description we can recognizethe essential traits of psychic life. To be sure, it would beexaggerating to say that psychic life begins only with societies, butcertainly it becomes extensive only as societies develop. That iswhy, as has often been remarked, the progress of conscience is ininverse ratio to that of instinct. Whatever may be said of them, itis not the first which breaks up the second. Instinct, the product ofthe accumulated experience of generations, has a much greaterresistive force to dissolution simply because it becomes conscious.Truly, conscience only invades the ground which instinct has ceasedto occupy, or where instinct cannot be established. Conscience doesnot make instinct recede; it only fills the space instinct leavesfree. Moreover, if instinct regresses rather than extends as generallife extends, the greater importance of the social factor is thecause of this. Hence, the great difference which separates man fromanimals, that is, the greater development of his psychic life, comesfrom his greater sociability. To understand why psychic functionshave been carried, from the very beginnings of the human species, toa degree of perfection unknown among animal species, one would firsthave to know why it is that men, instead of living in solitude or insmall bands, were led to form more extensive societies. To put it interms of the classical definition, if man is a reasonable animal,that is because he is a sociable animal, or at least infinitely moresociable than other animals. [3]

This is not all. In so far as societies do not reach certaindimensions nor a certain degree of concentration, the only psychiclife which may be truly developed is that which is common to all themembers of the group, which is found identical in each. But, associeties become more vast and, particularly, more condensed, apsychic life of a new sort appears. Individual diversities, at firstlost and confused amidst the mass of social likenesses, becomedisengaged, become conspicuous, and multiply. A multitude of thingswhich used to remain outside consciences because they did not affectthe collective being become objects of representations. Whereasindividuals used to act only by involving one an other, except incases where their conduct was determined by physical needs, each ofthem becomes a source of spontaneous activity. Particularpersonalities become constituted, take conscience of themselves.Moreover, this growth of psychic life in the individual does notobliterate the psychic life of society, but only transforms it. Itbecomes freer, more extensive, and as it has, after all, no otherbases than individual consciences, these extend, become complex, andthus become flexible.

Hence, the cause which called forth the differences separating manfrom animals is also that which has forced him to elevate himselfabove himself. The ever growing distance between the savage and thecivilized man has no other source. If the faculty of ideation isslowly disengaged from the confused feeling of its origin, if man haslearned to formulate concepts and laws, if his spirit has embracedmore and more extensive portions of space and time, if, not contentwith clinging to the past, he has trespassed upon the future, if hisemotions and his tendencies, at first simple and not very numerous,have multiplied and diversified, that is because the social milieuhas changed without interruption. In effect, unless thesetransformations were born from nothing, they can have had for causesonly the corresponding transformations of surrounding milieux. But,man depends only upon three sorts of milieux: the organism, theexternal world, society. If one leaves aside the accidentalvariations due to combinations of heredity,--and their role in humanprogress is certainly not very considerable,--the organism is notautomatically modified; it is necessary that it be impelled by someexternal cause. As for the physical world, since the beginning ofhistory it has remained sensibly the same, at least if one does nottake account of novelties which are of social origin. [4]Consequently, there is only society which has changed enough to beable to explain the parallel changes in individual nature.

It is not, then, audacious to affirm that, from now on, whateverprogress is made in psycho-physiology will never represent more thana fraction of psychology, since the major part of psychic phenomenadoes not come from organic causes. This is what spiritualistphilosophers have learned, and the great service that they haverendered science has been to combat the doctrines which reducepsychic life merely to an efflorescence of physical life. They havevery justly felt that the first, in its highest manifestations, ismuch too free and complex to be merely a prolongation 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 beput outside nature. But all these facts whose explanation we cannotfind in the constitution of tissues derive from properties of thesocial milieu. This hypothesis assumes, at least, very greatprobability from what has preceded. But the social realm is not lessnatural than the organic realm. Consequently, because there is a vastregion of conscience whose genesis is unintelligible throughpsycho-physiology alone, we must not conclude that it has been formedof itself and that it is, accordingly, refractory to scientificinvestigation, but only that it derives from some other positivescience which can be called sociopsychology. The phenomena whichwould constitute its matter are, in effect, of a mixed nature. Theyhave the same essential characters as other psychic facts, but theyarise from social causes.


1. However, these two consciences are not in regionsgeographically distinct from us, but penetrate from all sides.

2. We do not here have to look to see if the fact which determinesthe progress of the division of labor and civilization, growth insocial mass and density, explains itself automatically; if it is anecessary product of efficient causes, or else an imagined means inview of a desired end or of a very great foreseen good. We contentourselves with stating this law of gravitation in the social worldwithout going any farther. It does not seem, however, that there is agreater demand here than elsewhere for a teleological explanation.The walls which separate different parts of society are torn down bythe force of things, through a sort of natural usury, whose effectcan be further enforced by the action of violent causes. Themovements of population thus become more numerous and rapid and thepassage-lines through which these movements are effected--the meansof communication--deepen. They are more particularly active at pointswhere several of these lines cross; these are cities. Thus socialdensity grows. As for the growth in volume, it is due to causes ofthe same kind. The barriers which separate peoples are analogous tothose which separate the different cells of the same society and theydisappear in the same way.

3. The definition of de Quatrefages which makes man a religiousanimal is a particular instance of the preceding, for man'sreligiosity is a consequence of his eminent sociability. Seesupra, pp. 168ff.

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



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