Saturday, April 19, 2014

Karl Marx – dialectical materialism – summary and definition

One of the most basic concepts of Karl Marx's theory is the of "dialectical materialism". Marx thought of the dialectical nature of society and especially history is built on the tradition of G.W.F. Hegel which viewed history as a process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, with each force in history creating an opposite one, driving society forward. But while Hegel was concerned with dialectical idealism, one of spirit, ideas and beliefs, Marx was more concerned with the material-economic side of social reality.

Marx developed his theory of dialectical materialism in the elaborate manner in "The Capital", but his views on the contradiction that propel society forward can be found already in his renown Communist Manifesto (and in The German Ideology). Marx bases the study of society on the study of inner contradictions. Contradictions within society are what, according to Marx the view of dialectical materialism, drive society forward. While Hegel thought the these contradictions are ideal, meaning that they are contradictions between different views and forms of thought, Marx held that they are in fact contradictions with material substance (hence "dialectical materialism").

According to Marx history can be described as an ongoing conflict between classes over the means of production. Nowadays, under the capitalist mode of production the main contradiction is between the needs of capitalists to profit and the needs of the worker to survive by retaining some of the profit. This conflict according to Marx originates from economic circumstances but is manifested in the realm of ideology, a product of the relations of production which serves to grant justification to the existing state. But under the approach of dialectical materialism, the class conflict will undoubtedly bring about change when the social structure can no longer sustain the burden. Dialectical materialism drives social change through the reciprocal relations between contradicting social factors, factors which have to do first and foremost with material considerations of economy and class, with ideology is a product of these considerations.  

Suggested reading:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Emile Durkheim - Moral Education - summary and review

Emile Durkheim was a big believer in education and possibility of moral education as a means for social reform. Is "Moral Education" Durkheim builds on his elsewhere established theory of society as a source of morality. Emile Durkheim sees the state of being associated with social structures as the source of ontological perception, moral judgment and rules of behavior. In "Moral Education" Durkheim describes morality as comprised of three elements on which morality is constructed: discipline, attachment and autonomy. According to Durkheim discipline restraints egoistic tendencies and impulses, functioning to mediate aggressive self centered behavior. Attachment is the degree to which one is willing to be committed to a social group and autonomy is self accountability and responsibility for one's actions. The triadic relation between discipline, attachment and autonomy builds morality as code that is abided through complimenting and interdependent sources of action.       

According to Durkheim education provides children with these three aspects of morality required in order to function in society. School, for example, demands of children both discipline ("sit down and be quiet"), attachment ("love your country") and autonomy ("do your homework"). And id education is the source of morality then this means the morality can be changed through education, and society reformed.

The reformation of society through moral education for Durkheim is conducted not only and not necessarily at the level of content of education (i.e. what is being learned) but also and maybe predominantly at the level form. As described by Durkheim in works such as "Division of Labor in Society", attachment might be regarded as one of the weak points of morality, due to low levels of social cohesion characteristic of modern societies with high division of labor. Moral education will therefore focus on the sense of belongingness to a group. For example, Durkheim suggests that even adults can acquire moral education by associating themselves to various associations (such as occupational ones). 

Additional article summaries by Emile Durkheim:

Anomie according to Durkheim 

Suggested reading:   


Emile Durkheim - Elementary Forms of Religious Life - summary and review

"Elementary Forms of Religious Life" is one of Emile Durkheim's most notable and complex pieces of writing. The article relates to the sociology of religion but also sets forth Emile Durkheim's complex theory of human knowledge. According to Durkheim, at the basis of all religions, be it primitive or modern, stands the distinction between the sacred and profane (for a more detailed account see our summary of Durkheim's "The Sacred and the Profane"). For Durkheim the sacred is generated by means of rituals the created social cohesion and tie individuals to society. These bonds, which are articulated in moral terms, shape the categories through which we understand our social reality.

The differentiation between the sacred and profane takes shape not only in beliefs and rituals, but is also institutionalized in the structures of a church. This systemization of the distinction which forms "the elementary forms of religious life" is especially important for Durkheim since it is the rituals and churches which connect the individual to social structures. They are the source of knowledge regarding what is sacred and profane and the manners in which one should act to maintain this distinction. Durkheim gives the example of the Totem (elaborated in his The Genesis of the Totemic Principle of Mana) as a primitive form of such an organizing function. According to Durkheim the Totem is the material representation of the nonmaterial existence of the clan and its collective consciousness.  

In summary, the key point in Durkheim's "Elementary Forms of Religious Life" is the relation he offers between social structure of religion and what can be described as ontological structure of reality itself. The form religion takes is the form of social life which echo in each other, correlating meaning and belief to law and order through rituals and religious institutions.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Division of Labor in Society by Emile Durkheim - summary and analysis

Emile Durkheim's "Division of Labor in Society", as the title suggestes, engages with the topic of the division of labor and its relations to social cohesion and solidarity.
Economists prior to Durkeheim's times, such as Adam Smith or Karl Marx, considered the division of labor and its progress to be a natural law of human societies.  Without it, human societies would never progress, or so the economists believed.
Durkheim tried to take this a step further to argue that the division of labor was not just a natural law, but a moral rule.  That is, he argued that the division of labor created greater social cohesion or solidarity.

Durkheim opens his argument with the question of what is the function of the division of labor?
Adam Smith might answer, "To get the advantages of civilization."
But Durkheim responded:  If so, then it's not a moral rule since suicide and crime greatly increase with the division of labor.
He continued by noting that civilization, by itself, has no intrinsic value.  It's only value consists in fulfilling certain human needs.  Fulfilling needs would not mean anything if the needs were created by civilization itself.
Durkheim proceeds in asking if the division of labor satisfy any needs that it didn't create itself?
Durkheim says that to answer this question, it is useful to consider the old saying, "differences attract,"  but, he twists it to include only those differences that complement each other instead of exclude.  [Nationalities might exclude, whereas male and female, in many cases, complement each other (at least in D’s eyes… see Lehmann’s critique elsewhere.]
 "we seek in others what we lack in ourselves, and associations are formed wherever there is such a true exchange of services -- in short where there is a division of labor."
The function, then, of the division of labor is primarily moral, not economic (though there are, of course, economic results as well);  it's the feeling of solidarity created in two or more persons which it creates.
Then Durkheim moves on, asking to what degree does the solidarity produced by the division of labor contribute to the general cohesion of society?
To answer this question, Durkheim used an external symbol of solidarity, since it is otherwise “too indefinite to easily understand” (27) - Law.
Laws, Durkheim argued, can be categorized by type of sanction:
a)  repressive sanctions (penal laws):  with these laws, some loss or suffering is inflicted on the agent
b)  restitutive sanctions (civil, commercial, administrative law):  these sanctions just seek to return things to the way they were before the infraction.
These two types of sanction corresponded with the two types of solidarity:
a)  Mechanical Solidarity - characterized by repressive sanctions.
-        This type of solidarity is based on the attraction of like for like.
in-group solidarity, out-group hostility
repressive sanctions because offenses offend/shock our our conscience collective [defined as the "totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average citizen of the same society. " (DL, p179)]
-        “we should not say that an act offends the common consciousness because it is criminal, but that it is criminal because it offends the common consciousness” (40)
-        We react aggressively against those ideas and sentiments which contradict our own.  This links the individual to the social order - by virtue of his or her resemblance to others.
-        MS is solidarity “deriving from resemblances, bind[ing] the individual directly to society” (61)
-        Anything that offends collective sentiments in turn offends the collective itself, weakens society – that’s why even “victimless” crimes need to be punished (e.g., food laws) (62)
-        Punishment needed not just to deter actors, but to (re)affirm the power of the CC
-        Punishment protects society by producing atonement

b)  Organic Solidarity - characterized by laws with restitutive sanctions
-        Laws with restitutive sanctions must not have a strong source in the collective conscience.  Instead, they have a source in the division of labor.
-        Goal is to restore the status quo
-        Presumes the differences of individuals - there has to be a sphere of action peculiar to the individual for these sanctions to exist [self-interest].
-        That is, the conscience collective must leave part of the individual conscience untouched.  The more the individual conscience is expanded, the greater the cohesion produced from this kind of solidarity.
For any particular society, then, the ratio of laws with repressive sanctions to those with restitutive sanctions should be the same as the conscience collective to the division of labor.
More "civilized" societies, Durkheim found, did, in fact, have fewer repressive sanctions - except for those types of repressive sanctions that protect the individual.
Thus, the individual becomes the new religion - the last remaining piece of the collective conscience is the sanctity of the individual.

More differences… (83-84)
1)     MS links individual to society w/o intermediary; OS, individual depends on society b/c depends on parts that constitute it
2)     MS: society is composed of beliefs and sentiments common to all; OS: society is system of different and special functions united by definite relationships (AND, these societies are not 2, but really one)
3)     MS: can be strong to extent idea/tendencies common to all exceed in number and intensity those of the individual – solidarity at max when CC squeezes out the individual – 2 opposing forces, which cannot increase together: “if we have a strong inclination to think and act for ourselves we cannot be strongly inclined to think and act like other people” (84); OS: assumes that individuals are different from each other, CC leaves some space in individual consciousness, so that special functions can emerge, free of CC regulation.

Changes in structural features of societies:
The horde:   This structure was seen in mechanical societies and is characterized by a homogeneous mass of indistinguishable parts.  This structure was never seen in reality, but the clan had been.  This was when the horde became a part of a more extensive group - basically, a number of hordes interacting with each other.  The clan also was internally homogeneous and based on resemblances, not differences.
Organized type:  This structure was seen in organic societies.  It was coordinated around a central organ [regulative action.  Individuals place in this structure was determined by occupation instead of kin-group.  This structure also was not anywhere observable in its true form.
Causes of the Division of Labor:
- not the desire for happiness [Durkheim wanted it to be sociological, not psychological].  Are we happier than those in more mechanical societies?
- Instead it was due to an increase in dynamic or moral density:
a)  smaller geographic distance b/w members of a society
b)  smaller technological distance b/w members of a society
c)  sheer social volume of a society.
These factors make the struggle for existence more acute.  The only way to survive, Durkheim might argue, is differentiation/specialization - > then we each need different resources.
Durkheim also discussed Pathological or Abnormal forms of the division of labor (Anomic and forced).  These however, will be more easily discussed based on his next work - Suicide.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Emile Durkheim - Division of Labor in Society - summary and review

Emile Durkheim's "Division of Labor in Society" is considered to be one of his most influential works regarding the structure of society and makings of social solidarity. In "Division of Labor in Society" Durkheim attempts to show how formations of labor division serve to facilitate social interdependence and a sense of solidarity in society. In a sense, Durkheim argues that the division of labor influences and in fact creates the experience of being a part of society.

According to Durkheim the fact that different people engage in different tasks and function creates a situation in which no one is self-sustainable and therefore each and everyone in society is dependent on other people.

Durkheim is especially concerned with the manner in which the division of labor changes over time and across societies, changing also the manner in which people feel they are a part of their group and their view of society as a whole. For Durkheim societies in which the division of labor is small (meaning everybody engages in similar activities) are characterized as having "mechanical solidarity" which is relatively strong. Societies with high division of labor (modern societie) are referred to by Durkheim as having "organic solidarity" which has a weakening effect on collective conscience. These different types of societies are characterized by different types of laws, with mechanical solidarity enforced by repressive law while organic solidarity being dependant on restitutive sanctions.

Although Durkheim's thesis in "Division of Labor in Society" might seem to be economic in orientation, following the lines of previous thought into the matter of the division of labor (like Adam Smith or Karl Marx), or as a theory of social structure, it is in fact a theory of empathy. According to Durkheim being engaged in similar tasks makes you feel more connected with people and more able to have a sense of a shared fate. modernity, which brings about a higher division of labor makes more indifferent to other people that turn into functions rather than human counterparts. 

see also a more detailed summary and analysis of "Division of Labor in Society" by Durkheim 

Suggested reading:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Emile Durkheim / What is a Social Fact? – summary and review

Emile Durkheim's ground breaking article "What is a Social Fact?" is one of the better known articulations of the "building blocks" of functionalist and structuralist sociology. Durkheim defines social facts as predominantly "things", that is real agents, that should be at the focal point of the study of society. For Durkheim social facts are everything of social or cultural nature which work to determine an individual's life. Social facts can be social norms, values, conventions, rules and other social structures.

Social facts according to Durkheim exist outside and regardless of the individual which only works to sustain them by yielding to their power on him (similar to Durkheim's Totemic Principle). This means that social facts are external to us, and they are acquired through society of coerced by it. Deviation from social facts can result in various types of sanctions. They function as "sui generis" generals, meaning ideas that are independent of their actual private cases.

At the basis of the thesis Durkheim set forth in "What is a Social Fact?" lies the perception of the individual grossly conditioned by social realities that form the boundaries of accepted behavior.

Social facts are quite simply the things that you like brushing your teeth, voting, shopping, going to church, paying taxes, yielding to pedestrians and so on and so forth. None of these things are done on your account, they are done because they are social facts that must be abided and therefore have real power over you. The way we manage our lives according to Durkheim is "What is a Social Fact?" is always related to the workings of elaborate networks of social facts.

Durkheim gives the example of suicide rates, found to be higher with protestant communities compares with catholic ones. The fact that denomination had to do with suicide was proof for Durkheim to the function of social facts because it demonstrated how even taking your own life dependant on society rather than individual choice.   

Additional article summaries by Emile Durkheim:

Anomie according to Durkheim 

Suggested reading on and by Durkheim:


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