Durkheim's Conception Of Society

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First, it is important to contrast the way the two men understood the formation and evolution of societies, or cultures. Durkheim’s understanding of society was functionalist in nature (Pope, 1975, p. 361). This means, more specifically, that he viewed society as a whole composed of interrelated parts, assumed the tendency toward system stability, considered how society and social order is possible, and viewed structures in terms of their perpetuation or evolutionary development (Pope, 1975, p. 361). In contrast, however, Boas “felt that 19th century cultural evolutionists made premature generalizations based on poor and inadequate information (Helm, 2001, p.41). Instead, Boas, a trained scientist who did extensive fieldwork in the Pacific…show more content…
It is based on the foundation that humans are inherently social creatures, and so, have a need to form social bonds and interconnected relationships. Those bonds are realized through a common set of shared beliefs, values, and ideas to create what he called a collective consciousness (Durkheim, 1933). This common conscience in turn is held by all members of a society, and has its own laws independent of individual conscience (Morrison, 1995). In other words, there is a shared set of values which is unique to the society, and which is instilled in all members of that society, regardless of their individual expression of those values, thereby devaluing the influence of free-will. Thus, because the impetus to form a society stems from the most basic human instinct, Durkheim believes that individuals have a passive role in shaping it, because it is driven from animalistic drive, and programmed within humans at the biological level. As such, he argues that: “Collective life did not arise from individual life; on the contrary, it is the latter that emerged from the former,” (Durkheim, 1933, The Causes). This means that his model for describing society, or social organization, is suis generis, or a system on its own that pre-exists individuals and in turn shapes their existence. More importantly, the dynamic foundation and social structure that allows for society to function is…show more content…
Actions by a particular individual are construed as a reaction to the impositions and the structure of the collective (Durkheim, 1897). As previously mentioned, this necessitates that he dismisses the role of free-will or independent agency. Even act of individualism are perceived to be a product of the type of society they are in (Giddens, 1971). This sort of determinism is clearly demonstrated in his book Suicide (p.331). In this work he argues that an intimate and utterly personal moment in an individual’s life can be explained through the collective lenses (Durkheim, 1897). Unless an individual is mentally ill, suicides are always a reaction to external factors. This is, according to Durkheim, because “when society is disturbed, either by a painful crisis or by fortunate, but too sudden transformations, it becomes provisionally incapable of exercising its function; hence those shape rises in the figures for suicide,” (Suicide, p. 276) in what might be indicative of the power instituted in society. Not only does this reflect the precarious role that autonomy plays in determining an individual’s wellbeing but also of their particular helplessness within the framework of society. Although one would assume that the rise of individualism
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