Friday, February 6, 2009

Durkheim's Mechanical and Organic Solidarity

In this paper I will attempt to describe Durkheim's Mechanical and Organic solidarity. Furthermore, I will also apply his definitions of organic solidarity to the institution I chose which was marriage.


  1. Durkheim, in The Division of Labor in Society, outlines the difference between two terms he coins as mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. As he explains it, these two types of solidarity differ at their most basic foundation. Mechanical solidarity is one that is based on the similarities, while organic solidarity is based on the differences of the members of society.
    Since mechanical solidarity is based on likeness, it is assumed that everyone in this type of society acts and thinks in the same way. It is under this logic, that Durkheim states that its members strive to conserve their common collective consciousness (38-39). It is due to this collective consciousness that Durkheim can also define what a crime and how this crime is punishable. He claims that due to the fact that everyone thinks the same way and holds the same values that anything done against, or deviating from this collective moral thought, is considered a “crime” (31). These crimes are punished by repressive law and are public, organized, and passionate and emotional (47). It is in exposing these deviant members to shame that the state reinforces the common moral consciousness of its people.
    Organic solidarity on the other hand is defined by its instrumental involvement with the division of labor. Since this type of solidarity is based on difference, the different members of this type of society complement each other and move forward as a whole (85). The laws that rule over this society restitutory in that they are designed to restore the “status quo” of the division of labor (68). If there is a problem with the way things are running, the specialized bodies such as the courts and lawyers, work to return the calm over the situation and get people to work together again (70). Finally, since these rules do not involve common consciousness, they approach conflict differently depending on the severity of the case and do not involve punishment (71).
    In the institution of marriage, Durkheim’s theory of solidarity is very applicable. Although he is rather sexist and heterosexist in the way he describes domestic relations, his proposed function of this union is understandable. In his view, women are designed to live their life close to the home and around the creation and maintenance of the family. From a psychological perspective, Durkheim claims that the two sexes are divided between the affectionate and the intellectual. He argues that women naturally take on the affectionate role and that men are the intellectual beings (20-21). The two are substantially different, even in the most basic sense since he claims that there is a difference in brain sizes.
    In terms of the solidarity that exists between the two, it can best be described by organic solidarity. Since there are fundamental differences between the two sexes they complement each other to create a domestic division of labor. The women work at home to keep it functional, and the men work outside the home to bring home sustenance for the family. If conflict arises between the two it would seem that the rational partner, the man, would be the most appropriate to find a solution to the problem and restore the functionality of the relationship.
    Being the feminist that I am, I believe his logic to be severely flawed. His logic is understandable given the time in which he lived. However, if this theory were to withstand the test of time, it would rather useless today. With the creation of alternative families such and single parent and same sex parent homes, the “complementary sexes” are no longer the only way to settle. Although he would consider this an illness of his ideal division of labor, there is no reason why these alternatives are not functional or as functional as same sex unions.

  2. Sandra, I agree with you that Durkheim's definition of marital roles is outdated, however, I think that his logic of organic solidarity can definitely still be applied to marriage in the modern sense. Regardless of sex or specific delegation of responsibilities, the overarching principle of complementary differences as it exists in Durkheim's model of organic solidarity still, it seems to me, remains true in the breakdown of many relationships.

  3. Sandra, I'd have to agree with Carrie. In every situation there may be different roles that are applied, roles that fit and don't fit. Given the time that he wrote his theory, it's understandable that he couldn't foresee a same sex union. However, even in the same sex roles, people specialize in different jobs. I think their union of marriage is because they are complement each others' differences. For single mothers, I think they use society to complement their lives. For single mothers, I think they would have a different type of organic solidarity applied to their situation. In this case, they may rely on other single mothers or friends to help raise a child. This can also be a form of organic solidarity in a sense if mothers worked together to raise their children.

  4. both of you should be locked in a cage and urinated on