Emile Durkheim and Social Solidarity

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), is easily recognized as a founding father of Sociology and the architect of schools of sociology. He is considered to be a French social positivist. His accomplishments in reforming the educational system in France to include study of sociology; organizing ways to use the empirical methodology of the times to present sociological ideas and principles; and in writing some of the most influential works in the history of the science are well known.

In his construct of solidarity, Durkheim sought to explain the ways in which people develop social structures and bonds based on their divisions of labor and the ways in which they bond together in mutual interest and support. Solidarity refers to the integration, the degree of integration and the type of integration that is demonstrated by a society or a group. In other definitions, solidarity refers to a Christian virtue that was described by Pope John Paul II, and describes working for the common good.

 In more definition, solidarity can be seen as the group bonding in unity to defend against an enemy or opposing interest, as with the unions and the corporation. Finally, solidarity has been incorporated into the language as any bond which holds people together in shared interest and mutual support where each individual works for the well being and support of others.

Durkheim classified the types of solidarity according to the type of society. He classified traditional and small scale societies where members shared ethnicity, work, education, religious training and lifestyle as having “mechanical solidarity”.  There is also kinship, family and social ties with mechanical solidarity.

With  “organic solidarity”, the modern society brings together people based on a division of provision and need where individuals are dependent upon each other for their lifestyle. Societal cohesion in modern societies, then becomes a function of the interdependence of the components of the complex society.

Two areas, the features of the conscious collective and the content of the conscious collective can be compared in consideration of solidarity in organic or mechanical terms.

The Mechanical solidarity conscious collective will be of low volume, intensity and determinativeness with more room for individual initiative and thought. Organic solidarity conscious collective will be the opposite, with high volume, intensity and determinativeness and little room for individual initiative and thought.

The content of the  organic solidarity conscious collective in will tend toward transcendence, or superiority to individual interest and is definitely not to be argued with. It is highly religious. The supreme value of the society is in the society, itself, and in its holistic interests. The content is concrete and specific.

The content of the mechanical solidarity conscious collective trends greatly toward secularism. There is concern about people, ahead of the society and discussion or argument is called for and allowed. The supreme value of the society is to support the individual, not the other way around. The support of the individual is in the specific areas of work ethic, opportunity, dignity and social justice.  Where the content of organic solidarity conscious collective is concrete and specific, the content in the mechanical type is abstract and general.

In terms of the state, order and coherence hold people together in the organic state, while the fear of the mechanical state is that individuals float freely, not in group cohesiveness.

Today, there are elements of both in national political groupings, with some based on mechanical solidarity, such as the “Tea Party” and the conservative groups, while the liberal groups value the forms of the mechanical solidarity.  Left versus right is then comparable to mechanical versus organic.

In social stratification, there are elements of organic solidarity in the family and community structure which might be much stronger in rural, poor, ethnically non assimilated and immigrant communities, while other communities might operate under a more mechanical form of personal solidarity. In a single person, there might be a mechanical solidarity at work, while there is organic solidarity at home and in private life. 

In the military, there might be a heavy orientation to organic solidarity in all aspects of life: at work, in the tightly knit base community and in private life, regardless of the diversity in ethnicity, gender roles, political belief or religion. In national or international labor unions that represent widespread individuals, there might be a mix or hybridization of elements of the mechanical and organic collective consciouses that are appropriate for multiple solidarity orientations in individual life and work: the union, regional, local, religious, political and personal orientations.

Solidarity definitions