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Durkheim's Point of View on the Division of Labor


Various theories have been developed to explain the inequalities that exist in the society. One notable theorist is Durkheim, who with his theory of division of labor explained how various factors led to the solidarity and inequalities in societi...Read More


~Posted on Jun 2018

Durkheim's Point of View on the Division of Labor

Various theories have been developed to explain t...

Various theories have been developed to explain the inequalities that exist in the society. One notable theorist is Durkheim, who with his theory of division of labor explained how various factors led to the solidarity and inequalities in societies. He uses organic and mechanical solidarity to explain the cohesion that exists between modern and traditional societies. This article goes ahead to compare and contrast the views of Durkheim and Marx on inequalities in the society.

Social inequality according to Durkheim refers to the presence or existence of unequal opportunities and rewards for the different social status or positions in the society or within groups. Social inequality has various dimensions that define inequality in the society. Some of these dimensions include wealth, income, ethnicity, race, power, education, ancestry and occupational prestige. On the other hand, natural inequality can be described as the difference that occurs between one’s man physical effort or strength and that of the other person. It could also mean the differentiations that exist among individuals in terms of ability or effort.  Therefore, the striking difference between social and natural inequality is that social inequality deals more with the society, unlike natural inequality which emphasizes on the individual. Another difference is that social inequality emphasizes more on power, economic and social status and it is likely to result into anomic division of labor. Organic solidarity arises from the interdependence that comes from the specialization of work and complementarities that exist between individuals.  Therefore, social inequality tends to compromise organic solidarity because stratification in terms of power, economic and social status is bound to cause discontentment among individuals thus compromising solidarity. Spontaneity refers to the quality of happening without apparent external cause. For organic solidarity to exist, the various components that rely on one another must work harmoniously to create solidarity. Therefore, this interaction of the different components should be self-reliance, and this is where spontaneity relates to organic solidarity. The absence of spontaneity leads to existence of external inequalities which can further hinder organic solidarity. It is evident that organic solidarity comes about when cohesion is created by the dependency of individuals on each other due to high specialization. External inequality would mean individuals possessing qualities that they lack through dubious ways to have an upper hand over the rest of the people in the society. When this occurs, other people will feel disadvantaged, and there is bound to be disequilibrium in the status quo. Therefore, to achieve organic solidarity, the issue of external inequality needs to be resolved to ensure spontaneity is achieved. It will help to maintain order and stability that arises from the various components that unite to achieve organic solidarity (Durkheim, 2014). External inequalities tend to result into social inequalities which compromise organic solidarity.

Division of labor is described as the allocation of different elements, parts of a manufacturing process or task in different individuals to achieve or improve efficiency. Thus, nonspontaneous inequality can be described as the inequality which is not self-generated and, therefore, has an external influence. Additionally, regarding the division of labor nonspontaneous inequality is bound to lead to forced division of labor or unusual form of division of labor. For organic solidarity to exist, it is evident that the various components that depend on one another must coexist spontaneously. When spontaneity occurs then, organic solidarity will exist naturally, and division of labor will be realized. According to Durkheim, all inequality is incompatible with organic unity. It can be supported by various statements in the passage. One instance where this argument has been backed up in the passage is when Durkheim says the division of labor produces solidarity when it is spontaneous. It goes further to highlight the meaning of spontaneity by stating that it is not only the absence of deliberate violence but also anything that may hinder free unfolding of the social force contained within individuals. Finally, to reinforce the argument that all inequality is incompatible with organic solidarity, Durkheim has summarized by noting that sufficient and necessary conditions require that the differences should not be played down nor emphasized through external cause if organic solidarity is to be achieved. Natural inequality should be promoted in order to foster organic solidarity. This form of solidarity only exists under two conditions, that is, there must be a system of solidary organs and secondly the interaction of the organs must be predetermined. In addition, anomic forms of division of labor that fails to bring solidarity are cases of industrial or commercial crises, conflict between labor and capital and lack of unity in the sciences. Therefore, this is enough evidence that for Durkheim organic solidarity is not possible with social inequalities.

            The difference in both the works of Durkheim and Marx explains broadly the stratification that exists in the society. Durkheim has dwelt on solidarity to describe stratification in modern societies. He notes that as the society evolves as a result of modernization solidarity moves from mechanical to organic. Organic solidarity refers to the cohesion that is based on the dependence people have on one another. He goes ahead to mention how the evolution of societies eventually leads to a state where occupational groups function as social organizations because they are based on similarity of labor. Therefore, with time these professional bodies are bound to replace normative features that once were exercised by institutions such as the family, community, and religion. Further, on division of labor the significance of natural inequality has been depicted to be the backbone of organic solidarity and not social inequality which is bound to lead to conflicts and discontentment in the society. It may result from power struggles, economic and social inequalities. Marx on the other hand advances the thought of class struggle as the source of inequality in the society. According to him, there are two groups, those that own the means of production called bourgeoisie ad those who sell their labor called proletariats. Regarding their views on social and political stability, the two theorists fail to agree. Durkheim is of the agreement that occupational groups created as a result of organic solidarity can lead to political and social stability. Regarding political instability Durkheim proposes application of regulations to ensure anomic forms of division of labor exists in the society. Marx disputes this by asserting that as long as the two opposing classes exist, both social and political stability will be difficult to exist because the two are always in constant conflict. Unless they adopt an egalitarian society where everyone is equal no political or social stability can be achieved (Tucker, 1972).

            In conclusion, it is evident from Durkheim’s point of view on the division of labor that the difference in specialization in modern societies is the backbone of their solidarity. There ought to be natural inequality to ensure spontaneity in organic unity. When this is realized, then the class difference in Marx theory will not be a problem in providing solidarity exists in the society. It is only possible when external inequalities are eliminated.




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