The Division of Labor in Society:
Pages from the Free Press edition are in (#), from the Calhoun et al reader in {#}


What is the question E.D. is trying to answer?

  • Durkheim notices that the fact of a division of labor is universal across societies.  He wants to know why.  And, given that as society progresses the division of labor also increases, should we attempt to resist this trend or embrace it? (from the intro, not assigned reading).


  • E.D. makes the following hypothesis:  the division of labor serves to create social solidarity.

 "...the economic services that it can render are insignificant compared with the moral effect that it produces, and its true function is to create between two or more people a feeling of solidarity." (p.17)


·         Thus, the research question is the degree to which different ways of dividing labor (social functions) serves to integrate society.
"...above all we must determine the degree to which the solidarity it produces contributes generally to the integration of society.  Only then shall we learn to what extent it is necessary, whether it is an essential factor in social cohesion, or whether, on the contrary, it is only an ancillary and secondary condition for it.  To answer this question we must therefore compare the social bond to others, in order to measure what share in the total effect must be attributed to it.  To do this it is indispensable to begin by classifying the different species of solidarity." [p.159]


Unfortunately, we cannot examine social solidarity directly.
Durkheim says that,

 “ solidarity is a wholly moral phenomenon which by itself is not amenable to exact observation and especially not to measurement.” [p.159]

ED does not give us a clear, one sentence def. of 'solidarity'.  HE does say,
    [Solidarity] attracts men strongly to one another, ensures frequent contacts between them, and multiples the opportunities available to enter into mutual relationships." [159]

Since we cannot measure solidarity directly, we need to measure it indirectly.  E.D.'s approach is to look at law, since laws capture social rules.

    He spends a fair amount of time defending this claim against three alternatives:

    1. That law is an incomplete indicator [true, but captures the essence]
    2. That we should study it directly [would be nice, but (a) no data and (b) we must measure it by its outcomes - just as we use change in volume to measure change in temperature]
    3. That it's really a psychological problem, whether people like their country, etc. or not. [Not of interest to ED]

"Thus our method is clearly traced out for us.  Since law reproduces the main forms of social solidarity, we have only to classify the different types of laws in order to be able to investigate which types of social solidarity correspond to them.” [161]

That is, if we can identify how a given type of law relates to a type of solidarity, then we can use the types of laws we find in any society to describe the solidarity of that society.  For this to work, E.D. must very clearly spell out what types of laws exist, and exactly how they relate to social solidarity.

The argument is sketched as:


E.D. says that the best way to classify laws is on the types of punishment that follows from the law [p162]..  He identifies two types of law:

  1. (1) An injury/fine imposed on the perpetrator. These are called repressive laws.
  2. (2) Those that restore thing to the way they were before the crime was committed, called restitutory laws.

The heart of E.D.’s argument is that societies will all have a different mix of type (1) laws and type (2) laws.  The specific mix evident in any society will tell us a lot about the type of solidarity that operates in that society.


Mechanical Solidarity (Chapter II of the Division of Labor – lots of this detail was not in your text)

It is definitional that the type of social solidarity associated with repressive laws are those that correspond to crimes resulting in repressive punishments.

What, then, is a crime?

  • By definition, crimes are acts repressed by punishments.

For E.D.’s strategy of explaining social solidarity with crime to work, he needs to link crime to social solidarity.  This requires that he identify the essence of crime.

What, he asks, is universal about crime?

There are multiple possibilities:

  • One theory says acts that hurt society are repressed, and thus crimes are simply acts that hurt society.
    • E.D. rejects this because too many acts that are considered crime in no way hurt the society. (p.32,33), and that the same act which is criminal in one setting is not in another.  If, in fact, they were detrimental to society, criminal acts should be more general in their content.
  •     Well, let's modify the same idea some: Acts which seem harmful to the society are considered criminal.  Since we can never know if an act is really harmful, then we repress the things that seem harmful.
    • Again, E.D. says no. Taking this argument would result in a truism: societies deem as 'necessary' the things they deem necessary. (See p.33)  It does not explain WHY they view them as needed.
  • The only feature common to all crimes across all societies is that they comprise acts universally condemned by the members of that society.

We can't find what is common to crime in the content of a given act, since the acts vary greatly across time and space.  We can only focus on the fact that some acts in every society are deemed punishable by repressive laws. (see p. 34)


“The only feature common to all crimes is that, saving some apparent exceptions to be examined later, they comprise acts universally condemned by the members of each society… The real nature of the fact we have just established cannot be disputed, [namely], that crime disturbs those feelings that in any one type of society are to be found in every healthy consciousness.” (p.33 and 34)


He supports this with another argument: that usually the duties of punishable crimes are not laid out.  The law does not say “Respect life”  but it does lay out “do not kill”  Everyone already knows  -- intuitively, instinctively, and as a function of having grown in the society --  what is criminal.  Thus, “ignorance of the law” is no excuse  --  every functioning member of the society must, on some basic level, know what is right and punish what is wrong. [as an aside, note the similarity to Locke here]


“Since the rules are inscribed upon everyone's consciousness, all are aware of them and feel they are founded upon right.”
“Undoubtedly if an act is punished, it is because it is contrary to a mandatory rule, but this rule is not expressly spelt out.  There can be only one reason for this:  it is because the rule is known and accepted by everybody.” (p.35)


Common Consciousness

Given that crimes offend people “universally”, how do we characterize that stuff we all know? E.D. says:


 "The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a society forms a determinate system with a life of its own.  It can be termed the collective or common consciousness." (p.39) [162]

  • The common consciousness is independent of the particular conditions in which individual find themselves. (it outlasts them).
  • The common consciousness is “something totally different from the consciousness of individuals, although it is realized in individuals.” (p.162)


Given the common consciousness, we can re-state the definition of crime:

            “an act is criminal when it offends the strong, well-defined states of the collective consciousness.” (p.39) [163]


Note the order of events:

"we should not say that an act offends the common consciousness because it is criminal, but that it is criminal because it offend that consciousness." (p.42) [163]

Thus, Durkheim argues, crime is always defined in terms of the collective consciousness.

To sum up:  Section I. is about defining crime -- what it is and what it means.  Crime must be defined in terms of an offense to the common consciousness -- either directly, by violating those things everyone finds important, or indirectly by violating the authority of the common consciousness representative in the authority figure.

II. Punishment [much of this is not in your text].

Given that crimes  are affronts to the common consciousness, what is punishment?

  • In the first place, punishment is an emotional reaction.

“This characteristic is all the more apparent the less cultured societies are.  Indeed, primitive peoples punish for the sake of punishing, causing the guilty person to suffer solely for the sake of suffering and without expecting any advantage for themselves from the suffering they inflict upon him.” (p.44)

E.D. Says this emotional response is at the root of all punishment, it has only been recently that moderation to some degree is more common.
  Because it is modified in modern society, punishment consists of  “ a passionate reaction graduated in intensity." (p.48)


A final definition of punishment:

"Punishment constitutes essentially a reaction of passionate feeling, graduated in intensity, which society exerts through the mediation of an organized body over those of its members who have violated certain rules of conduct." (p.52).


III.What separates repressive law from civil law?


First, recall that crimes are those things that affect the common consciousness:  Thus,

“since the sentiments that crime offends within a single society are the most universally collective ones of all, since they represent especially powerful states of the common consciousness, they cannot possibly brook any opposition… we need a more violent form of satisfaction.” (p.55)

The kinds of offenses that give rise to repressive law assault transcendent values,

"when we demand the repression of crime it is not because we are seeking a personal vengeance, but rather vengeance for something sacred which we vaguely feel is more or less outside and above us." (p.56)

At this point (right around p.57 and 58), E.D. makes a subtle and important point: That punishing criminal activity reinforces the common consciousness.

     "Crime therefore draws honest consciousnesses together, concentrating them.”


IV.  Conclusion.

Now E. D. ties the argument back to social solidarity.  He does this in the first paragraph:

"Thus our analysis of punishment has substantiated our definition of crime.  We began by establishing inductively that crime consisted essentially in an act contrary to strong, well-defined states of the common consciousness. WE have just seen that in effect all the characteristic of punishment derive from the nature of   crime.  Thus the RULES SANCTIONED BY PUNISHMENT ARE THE EXPRESSION OF THE MOST ESSENTIAL SOCIAL SIMILARITIES." (p.60) [p.164]


Given that punitive crime is a function of an assault on the common consciousness, we can gage the degree of solidarity -- the strength of the common consciousness --by seeing what proportion of the overall judicial system is characterized by punitive laws.


“Two consciousnesses exist within us: the one comprises only states that are personal to each one of us, characteristic of us as individuals, whilst the other comprises states that are common to the whole of society.” (p.61) [164]


That we all have something in common, gives rise to a solidarity based on similarity.

“This gives rise to a solidarity …  which deriving from resemblances, binds the individual directly to society.”  We call this mechanical solidarity.

 "...we all know that a social cohesion exists whose cause can be traced to certain conformity of each individual consciousness to a common type, which is none other than the psychological type of society. [don't worry about that term, it's a relic of E.D.'s time of writing]. "  - i.e. when people think alike, they tend to congregate ' to exhibit cohesion.


A type of social cohesion comes from the blending of that portion of our own consciousness that is vested in the collective and that part that is vested in our own personalities.  The more we are constituted by the 'collective conscious' the more of this type of solidarity we feel.  Because the solidarity stems from the SAMENESS we all share, the offenses to it are commonly felt, and people respond commonly to these offenses.


It is this solidarity, called MECHANICAL SOLIDARITY, that repressive laws represent.  The effect of these laws is to maintain the social cohesion that arises from these similarities.


“[Punishment’s] real function is to maintain inviolate the cohesion of society by sustaining the common consciousness in all its vigor.” (p.63). [166]


Without punishment, we -- as a collective -- would not be able to see the borders of acceptable behavior.  Each punishment tells us what types of things are allowed and not allowed.  Thus, punishment has the result of reinforcing what we already know. Without punishment, the boundaries of acceptable behavior blur, and the depth of the common consciousness weakens.  Thus, E. D. says:


"Punishment is, above all, intended to have its effect upon honest people." [166]


because it helps to describe the moral boundaries of the societies people live in.

Thus, E. D. makes a long argument linking types of crime to a specific type of social solidarity.  Here’s a summary: (PDF file).
(here is is again (Power Point file)).


Mechanical Solidarity rests on similarity.  Thus, if other social facts generate difference among members of the society, then mechanical solidarity will decrease, and the common collective consciousness will decrease as well.  We will see in the next reading, that historical growth leads to a decrease in Mech. Sol.

Organic Solidarity Notes (Chapter 2 of DOL)

Recall the overall argument:

  • Durkheim (E.D) wants to know: Is the division of labor good for social solidarity?
  • However, it is impossible to measure social solidarity directly
  • Thus we need some indicator of the types of solidarity in a society.
  • E.D. Uses LAW as his indicator of social solidarity
  • To make this strategy work, he must identify classes of law.  If he can identify classes of law, then he can trace them back to types of societies.
  • E.D. argues that to classify law, we look at what happens when the law is broken: what kind of punishment is exercised.
  • Using this distinction, E.D. Identifies two types of law:
    • Criminal or Penal law
    • Restitutory or 'civil' law (broadly construed)
  • The solidarity that corresponds with criminal law is mechanical solidarity: solidarity that rests on sameness
  • In the section, E.D. identifies the types of solidarity that follow from restitutory law

1) Defining a restitutory law:

    "The distinguishing mark of this sanction is that it is not expiatory, but comes down to a mere restoration of the 'status quo ante'." (p.68) [167]

or again:

    "Damages awarded have no penal character: they are simply a means of putting back the clock so as to restore the past, so far as possible, to its normal state." (p.69) [167]

  • Restitutory laws put the world back together -- they restore what was before.
  • Restitutory laws are not (usually) part of the collective common consciousness.  Instead, they apply to very specific areas (corporate law, accounting law, housing law, contract law, etc.) and, E.D. claims, a violation of such a law does not elicit the emotional need for expiation that a criminal offense does.


"The idea that murder can be tolerates sets us up in arms, but we very readily accept that the law of inheritance might be modified, ....Since these prescriptions do not correspond to any feeling within us, an as generally we don no know their scientific justification, since this science does not yet exist, they have no deep roots in most of us." [167]

  • Since restitutory laws do not affect everyone, the solidarity that restitutory laws relate to cannot rest on a uniform similarity across everyone in the group.


2) Identifying types of restitutory law (only part of this in your text).

    E.D. wants to relate a type of law to a type of solidarity.  To do this, he needs a system for describing types of laws.  Within restitutory law, he identifies two types:

  1. Negative Laws
  2. Positive Laws

·         Negative Laws

·  Laws that link people to things, but not people to people directly.

·  'Real' (called real by jurists) and concern the relational of people to things. ("real" here the same root as 'real-estate')

o       Positive Laws:

    • Positive laws connect people to each other directly, and thus can be a way of uniting the body social, and they spring essentially from the division of labor.
    • We can see this clearly in domestic law which defines the duties and roles of each person in the family.
      • Laws that say WHAT can happen (i.e. must be 16 and no closer than 2nd cousin to be married),
      • Laws that say what the NORMAL type of FUNCTION should be: I.e. the roles of father, husband, wife, legitimate heir, etc. (most readily seen in divorce, the courts then need to keep the FUNCTION (i.e. child support) even when the actual marriage is  gone)
    • Positive law is at its clearest when focusing on CONTRACTS.


In the next section, E.D. backs up, and reviews the general argument, and makes his case about the relation between individual consciousness and collective consciousness.  Read this section closely (around p. 170).


E.D. says that our analysis of law shows two kinds of positive solidarity:

  • Mechanical Solidarity
    • links the individual to society directly
    • "a more or less organized society composed of beliefs and sentiments common to all the members of the group." (p.83)
    • This is a collective type of solidarity.
    • can only be strong in cases where ideas common to all people outweigh ideas held by individuals (p.84).
    • "this society can only increase in inverse relationship to the personality." (p.84)
    • "The solidarity that derives from similarities is at its maximum when the collective consciousness completely envelops our total consciousness, coinciding with it at every point.  At that moment our individuality is zero."(p.84)
    • "In societies where this solidarity is highly developed the individual,...,does not belong to himself; he is literally a thing at the disposal of society." (think of the Borg example from Star Trek.  Keep this in mind when you read Totalitarianism by Arendt.)


  • Organic Solidarity
    •  links the individual to society through the sub-parts of society
    • "a system of different and special functions united by definite relationships."
    • Assumes that people are different from each other.
    • "[Organic solidarity] is only possible if each one of us has a sphere of action that is peculiarly our won, and consequently a personality." (p.85)
    • "This solidarity resembles that observed in the higher animals.  In fact each organ has its own special characteristics and autonomy, yet the greater the unity of the organism, the more marked the individualization of the parts." (p.85)


These two types of solidarity lie on a continuum -- early developing societies are mechanical and modern industrial societies are organic.

       Example: Two types of networks: one of hunters and  gatherers, another with modern industrial sectors.

       Mech.                                                        Organic

       The division of labor is understood to characterize changes in social solidarity. (i..e a progression from mechanical to organic).

       E.D. claims that as individuality goes up, the social whole 'develops' more and increases solidarity.  Does  this hold entirely?  Do we need SOME common overlap? How much?  I.e. how close to the poles above could we get?


There's a nice summary of the argument in the book.  It's worth a rough quote:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

"The following propositions sum up this first part of our work.
    Social life is derived from a dual source, the similarity of individual consciousnesses and the social division of labor.  In the first case the individual is socialized because, lacking any individuality of his own, he is mixed up with his fellows in the same collective type. In the second case [i.e. organic] it is because, whilst his physiognomy and his activities are personal to him, distinguishing him from others, he depends upon them to the very extent that he is distinguished from them, and consequently upon the society that is the result of their combining together.
    The similarity of consciousnesses gives rise to legal rules which, under the threat of repressive measures, impose upon everybody uniform beliefs and practices. The more pronounced the similarity, the more completely social life is mixed up with religious life, an the closer economic institutions are to communism.
    The division of labor gives rise to legal rules that determine the nature and relationships of the function thus divided up, but the infringement of the rules entails only measure of reparation lacking any expiatory character." (p.173)

The Causes
Having described the general trend and the link between DOL and solidarity, ED turns to explaining where the DOL comes from.  WHY do we find the DOL everywhere?  HE starts by limiting his topic:

    "What are the causes of the division of labor?
    Undoubtedly there can be no question of finding one single formula to account for all the possible forms of the division of labor. Such a formula does not exist.  Each particular case depends upon special causes that can only be determined by a special investigation.  The problem that we are posing is less wide.  IF we leave out of account the various forms that the division of labor assumes according to the conditions of time and space, the general fact remains that the division of labor develops regularly as history proceeds. This fact certainly depends on causes that are likewise constant, causes that we shall investigate." (p.179)


Further, he argues that we can't look to the individual psychology to explain it.  "Thus it is in certain variations in the social environment that we must seek the cause that explains the progress of the division of labor." {p.140}


Note that he discusses a 'segmentary' society. This is the social organization that goes with mechanical solidarity -- isolated, local groups that are all-encompassing.

Key to the rise of a DOL is a decrease in this segmentary society.

    "The increase in the DOL is therefore due to the fact that the social segments lose their individuality, that the partitions dividing them become more permeable.  In short, there occurs between them a coalescence that renders the social substance free to enter upon new combinations."

The key to the expansion of the DOL is the increase in social interaction, particularly functional differentiation.


"Thus the division of labor progresses the more individuals there are who are sufficiently in contact with one another to be able mutually to act and react upon one another.  IF we agree to call dynamic or moral density this drawing together and the active exchange that results from it, we can sat that the progress of the division of labor is in direct proportion to the moral or dynamic density of society." [p.171]

He ends up relying on 2 causes of the DOL. Primarily he relies on the increase in Dynamic Density, secondarily on the increase in VOLUME.

Its important to point out, that he sees this as a fundamental cause, that works through a particular mechanism (namely darwinian competition, which we will get to below).

Increases in dynamic density come through three primary developments:

  1. Population concentration - the move from randomly dispersed hunters/gatheres to agricultural based, geographically concentrated social organization
  2. The transformational and development of towns, which includes an increase in the social needs evident for the population.


"But towns always result from the need that drives individuals to keep constantly in the closest possible contact with one another.  They are like so many points where the social mass is contracting more strongly than elsewhere. They cannot therefore multiply and spread out unless the moral density increases. Moreover, we shall see that towns recruit their numbers through migration to them, which is only possible to the extent that the fusion of social segments is far advanced." {172}

  1. The speed and means of communication and transmission.

This process is a cyclic one, once started. So it looks something like:

                    Concentration ----------->  Division of Labor -----------> Concentration ------|
                                                                            |                                                                |


Secondly, the increase in simple VOLUME of people matters, though only when there is also an increase in density.


 "The division of labor varies in direct proportion to the volume and density of societies and if it progresses in a continuous manner over the course of social development it is because societies become regularly more dense and generally more voluminous" {174}

OK, so we have a general argument about how dynamic density increases DOL. But WHY does this happen?  He sets up an ultimate cause in concentration and dynamic density, but really we want a mechanism.  The mechanism he provides is one of Darwinian Competition.  That as concentration increases, people have to diversify to survive, else they are competing for the same resources.

  1. "If labour becomes increasingly divided as societies become more voluminous and concentrated, it is not because the external circumstance are more varied, it is because the struggle for existence becomes more strenuous" (p.208)
  2. After reviewing Darwinian selection, he says that "Men are subject to the same law.  In the same town different occupations can coexist without being forced into a position where they harm one another, for they are pursuing different objectives." (209-210)
  3. "This having been said, it is easy to understand that any concentration in the social mass, particularly if accompanied by a growth in population, necessarily determines the progress of the division of labor"
  4. "The division of labor is therefore one result of the struggle for existence: but it is a gentle denouement.  Thanks to it, rivals are not obliged to eliminate one another completely, but can coexist side by side.  Moreover, as it develops, it provides a greater number of individuals, who in more homogeneous societies would be condemned to extinction, with the means of sustaining themselves and surviving." (p.213)

The boundary condition of the theory is that this must occur in a society that is already constituted (you can't just throw people together), as it requires the development of regulatory structures at the same time as the development of the DOL. (p.217)

The Abnormal Forms of the Division of Labor
The Anomic Division of Labor
    Thus far, ED has made it sounds as if there is no problem associated w. DOL. All is good, and purely functional.  He does, however, recognize that there are many problems with the DOL, but his claim is that these are not systemic with the division of labor, but a result of "abnormal forms" problems with the implementation if you will, of the DOL.

He starts (in stuff you did not read) laying out the problem w. three examples which he considered to be "general" exemplars of the types of problems that we commonly see:

  1. Industrial failure:  a rise in bankruptcy.  "A first case of this nature is provided for us by industrial or commercial crises, and by the bankruptcies that are so many partial breaks in organic solidarity.  They demonstrate in fact that at certain points of the organism certain social functions are not adjusted to one another." (p.292)
  2. Class conflict. "Hostility between labour and capital is another example, a more striking one, of the same phenomenon.  As industrial functions specialise more the struggle becomes more fierce, fare from solidarity increasing. [he then gives a nice thumbnail of the history of relations, starting w. serfs and ending w. free labor]
  3. The ever-widening gulf in science, that no one can understand it all, and thus that science is not progressing as a whole. "Up to very recent times, science, not being very much divided, could be studied almost in its entirety by one and the same person. ... But as specialization was introduced into scientific work each scientist shut himself off increasingly, not only within a particular science, but within a particular kind of problem"  Quoting Schaeffle, he says that "this division of intellectual labor gives serious grounds for fearing that this return to ... the ruination of all science" (p293-4)


Why does this happen?  First, we can't push the DOL too far. "The division of labor cannot therefore be pushed too far without being a source of disintegration." (p.294)

How do we deal with this? Comte suggested using government to solidify the different pieces. But ED says this can't work, because the world simply becomes too complex (making an argument that is very similar to those put against state economies about inefficiency.  Instead, ED argues, government is like the brain/nervous system.  While it SEEMS to control everything, in fact, it evolved at the same time as the rest of the organism, and is really the encoding of traditional/common practices.

If we can identify the causes of the abnormal forms, we can correct them.  So what are the causes?

"If in certain cases organic solidarity is not all the at is needful, it is certainly not because mechanical solidarity has lost ground, but because the conditions of existence for [organic solidarity] have not been realised."  That is, if we get a DOL too soon, we have a problem.  But what are these conditions?

Solidarity requires a regulatory apparatus that sits behind and ensures contracts (i.e. government, norms, tradition).  These can only develop slowly.  "The role of competition is not to abolish competition but to moderate it." (p.145)  These regulatory features develop slowly, as a chain from "ways of reacting" to "habit" to "obligation" (p.145)

He then walks through these three abnormal forms (bankruptcy, class conflict, science dispersion), to show how they are determined by the lack of development in a slow, progressive way.

"Now in all the cases we have described above, this regulatory process either does not exists or is not related to the degree of development of the division of labor." (p.146) [177]

"These various examples are therefore varieties of a same species.  In all these cases, if the division of labor does not produce solidarity it is because the relationships between the organs are not regulated; it is because they are in a state of anomie." (p.147) [177]

Where does this anomie come from?  Anomie is impossible when organs are solidly linked together and are in sufficient contact for a sufficient amount of time.  But if "some blocking mechanism" makes contact impossible, then this regulation cannot develop.


The "coincidence of exceptional circumstances" make regulation impossible, namely (a) to wide a span and (b) to fast a development.

He makes a specific point about the role of DOL in alienation:

"THe foregoing removes all grounds for one of the gravest reproaches that have been made against the DOL.
    It has often been accused of diminishing the individual by reducing him to the role of a machine. And indeed, if he is not aware of the operations required of him are leading, if he does not link them to any aim, he can no longer perform them save  out of routine. Every day her repeats the same movements with monotonous regularity, but without having any interest or understanding o of them em. He is no longer the living cell of a living organism, moved continually by contact w. neighboring cells, which acts upon them and responds in turn to their action, ....  He is no more than a l s cog, which an external force sets in motion.  ... What resolves this contradiction is the fact that, contrary to what has been said, the DOL does not produce this consequences though some imperative of its own nature, but only in exceptional and abnormal circumstances." (p.306-307)

Another reason for class conflict is that it follows when DOL is 'forced' instead of arising spontaneously.  "we may therefore state that the division of labor only produces solidarity if it is spontaneous, and to the degree that it is spontaneous.  But spontaneity must mean not simply the absences of any deliberate, formal type of violence, but of anything that may hamper, even indirectly, the free unfolding of the social force each individual contains within himself." p.312-313.