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To what extent does Durkheim's collective consciousness help to understand today’s society?

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French philosopher and sociologist, Emile Durkheim, first introduced the term "collective consciousness" in 1893 in his book The Division of Labor in Society. This term explores how individuals share a set of values, beliefs, and ideas within a broader community/society. The collective consciousness of a modern, complex, and non-homogenous society isn't as easily understood as that of an isolated and more homogenous society, such as a tribe of people living with minimal contact with other groups/the modern world.

Within the context of the complex social structure of a country like the United States that is comprised of numerous ethnic, religious, and cultural groups, one must take two of Durkheim's understandings of collective consciousness into account: mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Mechanical solidarity is described as the bonds that are formed from shared religious or cultural beliefs. This solidarity comes from a shared heritage and is easily and readily formed. Strong cultural traditions created a sense of solidarity and collective consciousness among a group of people. When cultural and religious beliefs differ in a society, a different form of solidarity is created. Durkheim describes this belief as "organic solidarity". This form of solidarity is created through the necessity for human beings to cooperate in order to live in a healthy, thriving environment. This kind of solidarity can be seen when neighbors help other neighbors during a natural disaster. Organic solidarity also stems from commonalities that exist across cultures, such as celebration, music, dancing, importance of food, leisure, story telling, etc. While there may be specific manners in which different cultures engage in these things, the commonalities among them can being people together. Organic solidarity is the bond that is created through the acknowledgement, that we, as humans need each other regardless of differences in cultural or religious practices.

While the U.S. exists within a defined nation-state, there are still many societies and forms of collective consciousness that exist within the country. While there can be a general collective consciousness that exists from organic solidarity, such as mutual cooperation of people across cultural, ethnic, and religious lines, mechanical forms of solidarity still exist within groups of people that creates subsections of collective consciousness. This is important to ensuring that culture and tradition are not lost among groups of people within the broader society. While organic solidarity ensures that people are able to coexist and forms bonds and friendships outside the parameters of a set cultural tradition.

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