Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

Evaluate Durkheim's theories relating to chapter 12 of The Division of Labor in Society.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this chapter, Durkheim focuses on the proliferation of contractual law in relation to the development of modern society, characterized by intention and extension of the division of labor and, accordingly, society's transition from mechanical to organic solidarity. While mechanical solidarity ties primitive societies together through mutual recognition of similarity...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In this chapter, Durkheim focuses on the proliferation of contractual law in relation to the development of modern society, characterized by intention and extension of the division of labor and, accordingly, society's transition from mechanical to organic solidarity. While mechanical solidarity ties primitive societies together through mutual recognition of similarity between individuals, organic solidarity grounds itself in individuals' recognition of their mutual interdependence. Here, Durkheim is replying to foundational sociologist Herbert Spencer, who argues that solidarity in modern societies stems from voluntary, contractually governed trading relations. Durkheim contends that such relationships rooted simply in mutual interest insufficiently ground solidarity because as circumstances evolve, the participants' interests may stray from one another, and novel conditions beyond the scope of the contract drawn may develop. Thus, these conditions would prove too fleeting to tie together modern societies.

Alternately, Durkheim argues that the organic political differentiation of modern societies as they develop grounds the solidarity that ties them together, namely organic solidarity. As individuals specialized and differentiated, tied together in relations of interdependence, the centralized state and associated bureaucracies emerged, functioning roughly analogously to an animal's brain. With this social differentiation and political centralization, the body of law regulating spontaneously drawn contracts multiplied and intensified, stabilizing mutual interdependence. Contractual law not only prescribes restitutive sanctions, realigning individuals toward one another when they stray from their agreements, but also provides an abstract template allowing people to more easily form new interrelations. Not only this, but belief in the validity of contractual law, compels individuals to self-regulate, to behave in such a way as to facilitate this interdependence. All this facilitates smooth, clearly beneficial cooperation, engendering recognition of the organic solidarity that ties modern societies together.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main claim that Durkheim is making in this chapter is that the division of labor should lead to civilization and to a stable society.  It will not always do so because there are "sicknesses" in societies just as there are in biological organisms.  However, if all goes well, division of labor should lead to stability.

Durkheim argues that the division of labor leads to a higher level of civilization basically through competition.  People can only survive if they work hard and if they really hone their faculties.  When the are forced to do so, they will naturally come to a higher level of culture.

To evaluate this, then, we must ask if we really believe that the division of labor causes us to move towards a higher level of civilization.  I would argue that it does do this so long as we are speaking of material culture, but not necessarily when we are speaking of moral culture.  Our competitive society with its division of labor has undoubtedly increased our standard of living and the amount of "culture" that we enjoy compared to people in past societies.  However, it has brought with it its own pathologies such as excessive greed and crime.

Of course, this does not negate Durkheim's argument.  He argues that societies will get "sick" and will need sociologists to step in and help to heal them.  However, I am not at all sure that sociology is an exact enough science to allow sociologists to accurately diagnose what is wrong with our society, let alone to create a cure.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team