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The Division of Labor in Society

The Division of Labor in Society

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The Division of Labor in Society

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Jun 24, 2019


Émile Durkheim is often referred to as the father of sociology. Along with Karl Marx and Max Weber he was a principal architect of modern social science and whose contribution helped established it as an academic discipline. “The Division of Labor in Society”, published in 1893, was his first major contribution to the field and arguably one his most important. In this work Durkheim discusses the construction of social order in modern societies, which he argues arises out of two essential forms of solidarity, mechanical and organic. Durkheim further examines how this social order has changed over time from more primitive societies to advanced industrial ones. Unlike Marx, Durkheim does not argue that class conflict is inherent to the modern capitalistic society. The division of labor is an essential component to the practice of the modern capitalistic system due to the increased economic efficiency that can arise out of specialization; however Durkheim acknowledges that increased specialization does not serve all interests equally well. This important and foundational work is a must read for all students of sociology and economic philosophy. Presented here is the translation of George Simpson.
Jun 24, 2019

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Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) was a French sociologist who formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science.

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The Division of Labor in Society - Émile Durkheim




Translated by GEORGE SIMPSON

The Division of Labor in Society

By Émile Durkheim

Translated by George Simpson

Print ISBN 13: 978-1-4209-6175-1

eBook ISBN 13: 978-1-4209-6176-8

This edition copyright © 2019. Publishing.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Cover Image: a detail of Shell Making, Edinburgh, from British Artists at the Front, Continuation of The Western Front, c. 1918 (colour litho), by John Lavery (1856-1941) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection / Bridgeman Images.

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Preface to the Translation

An Estimate of Durkheim’s Work

Preface to the Second Edition

Preface to the First Edition


Book One. The Function of the Division of Labor








Book Two. Causes and Conditions






Book Three. Abnormal Forms










Boni praeceptores boni

Preface to the Translation

The need for an English translation of Emile Durkheim’s De la division du travail social has long been felt. The first great work of a man who controlled French social thought for almost a quarter of a century and whose influence is now waxing rather than waning, it remains today, both from an historical and contextual standpoint, a book that must be read by all who profess some knowledge of social thought and some interest in social problems. First published in 1893 with the subtitle, Étude sur lOrganisation des Sociétés Supérieures, and a dedication "A Mon Cher Maître, M. Emile Boutroux, Hommage respectueux et reconnaissant" it has gone through five editions, the last having been brought out in 1926, nine years after Durkheim’s death. The second edition appeared in 1902 with the now classic preface, Quelques Remarques sur les Groupements professionnels. The third edition appeared in 1907, the fourth in 1911.

In the second and subsequent editions Durkheim omitted many pages from the long introduction which he wrote for the first. I feel, however, that this introduction is fundamental to an understanding of Durkheim’s position and valuable in itself, besides being indispensable to an appreciation of a study which Durkheim had again turned to in his last years and which he considered his crowning work, the science of ethics. Consequently, I have appended it at the end of this volume. Nowhere else, except in the first French edition (now out of print), can this, Durkheim’s early development of the idea of a science of ethics, be found. Hence I consider it a great boon to sociological scholarship that I was enabled to have this first edition at my disposal, and present it to an English-speaking audience.

The translation has been made from the first and fifth editions only. The sole difficulty I encountered in thus having to restrict myself to these two is that Durkheim did not edit the last edition, and, from all appearances, neither did any of his students or colleagues. Besides the additional preface and the omission of much of the introduction, there was little omitted or added in any of the editions. The footnote to chapter one of book one in the first edition could not have appeared in later editions since it refers to material in the first edition which was omitted in all subsequent editions. I have placed it there with a note of my own. Near the end of chapter two of book two, three and a half lines were added which are important, since they answer the charge of jingoism made against Durkheim{1} and show his international leanings. They read thus: Inversement, tout retour d’un nationalisme étroit a toujours pour conséquence un developpement de l’esprit protectionniste, c’est-à-dire une tendance des peuples à s’isoler, économiquement et moralement, les uns des autres. In its context it tacitly expresses a condemnation of nationalism and is the best refutation of Durkheim’s ad hoc pamphlets published during the war, Qui a voulu la guerre? Les origines de la guerre daprès les documents diplomatiques (in collaboration with E. Denis); "LAllemagne au-dessus de tout" la mentalité allemande et la guerre; and Les lettres à tous les français. In chapter one of book two in a sentence concerning suicide among lower peoples, certain words generalizing the main thought concerning the rarity of suicides among such people were omitted. I have noted this omission in a footnote. It is probable that Durkheim’s work on suicide contained in that remarkable study in social causation, Le Suicide, led him to extenuate the broad generalization he was there making.

The title page of all the editions contained a quotation from Aristotle’s Politics (B, I, 1261a, 24), reading as follows:

οὐ γὰρ γίνεται πόλις ἐξ ὁμοίων˙ ἕτερον γὰρ συμμαχία καὶ πόλις.

Mention should be made of my translation of terms peculiar to Durkheim’s sociology. The French word conscience I have translated as conscience; the usual translation of Durkheim’s term, consciousness, seems to me to be a gross misinterpretation of Durkheim’s meaning. A conscience for Durkheim (although never expressly defined) is pre-eminently the organ of sentiments and representations; it is not the rational organ that the term consciousness would imply. The qualities possessed by a conscience whether collective or individual are not those generally imputed to consciousness in German, English, and American epistemology. Moreover, the moral character of the sentiments and representations in a conscience would seem to render my translation more in the spirit, as well as the letter, of the original. In fact, the term has resemblance to the term unconscious in psychoanalysis, rather than to consciousness in logical theory. The terms collective and commune Durkheim employed interchangeably in referring to a conscience of such a sort. Their interchangeable character is shown by an error made in calling the conscience commune in the subtitle of chapter three of book two of the main text, and printing it as collective in the heading of that chapter in the table of contents. In this instance, I have made both of them read common.

To translate Durkheim’s term anomie I have called back to life an English word obsolete since 1755 and first used in 1591, anomy. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary finds it used in its earlier period to mean disregard of (divine) law, and in its later, lawlessness. Its derivation is direct from the Greek ἀνομία. The adjective of this noun which Durkheim uses, anomique, has no English counterpart, obsolete or current, and I have had to coin a word which I hope gains some currency because of its fullness of meaning. That word is anomic. The Greek for it is ἄνομος.

The words sentiment and representation I have translated as sentiment and representation. These words, too, Durkheim defined only by implication, but I think that the same English terms will convey the sense intended by the original. Sometimes I have translated similitude as likeness and sometimes as similitude. In the first chapter of book two, Durkheim refers to the plural progrès of the division of labor, implying not the ethical term, progress, but rather the vitalistic term, advances. Durkheim uses the word in the plural and I have sometimes translated it as advances, and sometimes by the singular, progress. This is mentioned here to warn the reader that it is not to be confused with Spencer’s term, nor with the popular use of the word to mean moral superiority. I have often translated la morale as ethics, although sometimes as morality. I do not think Durkheim made any sharp distinction between them. At least the context never shows it.

The picture of Durkheim which appears as the frontispiece in this volume is not a late one; it dates from about 1903. I should have preferred to have used a later one, but the photographs to which I had access and which were of a later date are either very bad and very difficult of reproduction, or else show Durkheim when he was in the throes of the illness which was to be fatal to him and consequently do not catch the spirit and vigor of a great mind.

Where Durkheim has quoted Spencer directly from the French translations of Spencer’s works, I have translated from the French and placed the matter in indirect statement; the page references I have left as referring to the French translations. Where Durkheim quotes Spencer in order to criticize him adversely, as in the majority of the cases, there would seem to be no reason for being interested in Spencer’s ideas after Durkheim has finished with them. In truth, there is scarcely any mind, even though tutored in logic and philosophy, as Spencer’s certainly was not, that can stand up under the attack of Durkheim’s incisive thinking on topics to which he has given keen attention.

This volume I hope marks the beginning of interest in this country in Durkheim’s work. He is certainly the greatest social thinker that has come out of France since Proud’hon, far greater than Comte on whom so much attention was lavished without commensurate results. My friend and former teacher, Mr. George E. G. Catlin, is now supervising a translation of Les Règles de la méthode sociologique which should do much to enhance Durkheim’s reputation among the English-speaking peoples. Dr. Talcott Parsons, as I have noted in my Estimate, is writing an essay on Durkheim. The reputation of Durkheim in this country has suffered from the criticism of anthropologists, but that is because he was not an anthropologist; he made great contributions to anthropology, but it was not his métier.

A student of sociology, with only a general academic training in French, I early sought the aid of Mr. Herbert A. Brodsky, who rendered great service in the preliminary stages of the translation of the two prefaces, the introduction, and the appendix, as well as the greater part of the second book. Had other demands not forced themselves upon him, he might have been my collaborator in the whole task. As it is, I am extremely indebted to him, and realize how much better this book might have been if it had had the benefit of his knowledge of French. I thought it best, however, that the book see the light in English as soon as possible, since further delay would only serve to deprive English-speaking students of the work of a man they can ill afford to miss.

Whatever there is of worth in the English style of the book must be attributed to my friend, Mr. George H. Weltner, who has carefully gone over the entire translation and aided me in polishing it. There are parts, however, which even his skill could not polish, and I alone must be held accountable for them. I am sure that what is good in the style is his, and what is bad is mine.

My debt to Professors MacIver and Catlin I have been able to express, but only in a small way, in the dedication.

G. S.

New York City. November, 1933.

An Estimate of Durkheim’s Work{2}


Rarely in the history of social thought has the best of a thinker’s labor been as grossly misinterpreted as in the case of Emile Durkheim. And, in no other case is the misinterpretation to be laid at the door of the thinker himself. His reputation was established by the book here translated and Le Suicide, but his present place in social thought rests upon the views he expressed in other works,—views which, strange to say, were in contradiction to these two studies. De la division du travail social was the first of his magna opera, and undoubtedly the greatest. Le Suicide is directly in line with the conclusions of this book. But Les Règles de la méthode sociologique marks the beginning of a distortion of the results herein contained and misrepresents the logic of science, particularly of social science. Logic and rigorous analysis have never been, in any formal fashion, the great qualities of French thought. In this respect Durkheim is of his country. Of course, this does not mean that his work is illogical; it means that his methodology is incorrect. To the subject-matter of sociology he contributed a great deal, in this work and in Le Suicide; it is unfortunate that the same cannot be said for his methodology. If anything, his methodology disturbed the growth of sociology.

Nevertheless, his fame derives not from De la division du travail social, or from Le Suicide, but from Les Règles, from Les formes élémentaires de la vie réligeuse, and from his social psychology, a science in whose establishment he would never have believed had he not misunderstood the nature of social science. But formally to misinterpret the nature of social science does not necessarily imply the substantial misinterpretation of it. In this work and in Le Suicide, Durkheim contributed enough to social thought and sociology to gain everlasting fame; yet both works are comparatively little known and mentioned cursorily in surveys of social thought.

His fame today rests largely on what is termed his social realism. This is an apt name for his work after the publication of the article entitled Représentations individuelles et représentations collectives which appeared in the Révue metaphysique for 1898. From that article we may justly date the development of his social realism, as well as Durkheim’s misinterpretation of his own work. To be sure, in 1902 there came the highly significant preface to the second edition of De la division du travail social on occupational groups,{3} but this is an outgrowth of conclusions reached in that work, and not those contained in Les Règles or the article in which Durkheim’s theory of collective representations appeared.

The analysis here will set forth the grounds which justify calling him a social realist, with a criticism of such realism; delineate the argument of De la division du travail social; and show Durkheim’s relation to the socialist movement. Before doing so, it might be well to notice and add as another element in Durkheim’s misinterpretation of his own best work a phase of his thought which has recently been brought to public attention; namely, his relation to the French nationalistic movement, and especially his activities during the late war as a fiery jingo.{4} His nationalism is a direct growth from his theory of the collective conscience. As we shall soon see, however, that theory carried over into the analysis of contemporary society a concept which Durkheim had found useful in anthropological work and the study of primitive peoples, but which, on his own assertion and splendid proof in De la division du travail social, was not only inadequate, but also outworn as an instrument for the interpretation of industrial societies where organic solidarity was in process of becoming.

This estimate of Durkheim is not to be wholly negative. We shall deal in some detail with his theory of the division of labor and show its surpassing importance in our present societies. It is over a quarter of a century since Durkheim proclaimed the need for a new moral code, and still we have not evolved it. His foresight and his ingenious proposal for such a moral code stand in striking contrast to some of the fatuous contemporary attempts to proclaim disinterestedness, or a lame, weak, and blind humanism as the way out.


The term realism is generally used to denote a certain philosophical attitude towards the relation of the knowing subject to the object known. A realist is one who believes, and seeks to prove, that objects known have an existence outside of the knowing subject, and so exist even without their being known. There are, of course, all shades of realists, from the Platonic who conceive the Ideas or Forms as having an existence of their own to those who are realistic not about ideas, but about objects. Durkheim’s realism is a theory not of the relation between the known and the knower, but of the individual to society; and realism, for Durkheim, means that society, its facts and products, exists outside of, and above individuals. The existence of society, in short, is not dependent upon individuals. During his lifetime, Durkheim was accused of being a Platonic realist by Tarde, his lifelong opponent. Tarde’s charge Durkheim did not deny but regarded as a just attribution of likeness. He says that "face to face with this system of ideas, the individual mind is in the same position as the nous of Plato before the world of ideas. The individual mind is compelled to absorb them, for it needs them in order to be able to have communion with its fellows. But the absorption is always imperfect."{6} He later qualified this thorough-going realism, but the qualification was verbal and never carried out in practice.

The problem that Durkheim is here dealing with is the central, most crucial, and most vexing in all social thought,—the relation of the individual to society,—for upon an answer to this question will rest a whole theory of society and the methods to be employed in social research. The seemingly naïve and facile solution which Durkheim gives to it, in spite of the profound results on the same subject which he reached in De la division du travail social where the problem is the one which he poses for himself in the book, is the result of the, at that time, great and growing prestige of the science of psychology and its supposed worth in social analysis, and also of the conception of the nature of science which Durkheim inherited from a bad logician, Comte. To understand Durkheim’s realism, we must understand these sources of his work.

In De la division du travail social, written before he assumed the realistic position, Durkheim shows that the collective conscience has gradually become weakened through the course of social evolution and that with its effacement and the decline of mechanical solidarity, the individual has become autonomous and an entity in his own right. In this work, he is hesitant to answer the question whether the collective conscience, which results from likenesses, is a conscience as is the individual conscience. By this term [collective conscience, also sometimes spoken of in the book as common conscience], we simply signify the totality of social likenesses without prejudging the category by which this system of phenomena ought to be defined.{7} But, five years later, in représentations individuelles et représentations collectives, he has already made this term not only a category of, but the very foundation-stone of what he calls socio-psychology and sociology. To accomplish this, he draws the analogy between individual représentations which are the object-matter of individual psychology and collective representations which are the object-matter of social psychology and sociology. And since individual representations are contained within the individual conscience, collective représentations must be contained within what he calls the collective or common conscience.

In the very beginning of this crucial essay, Durkheim admits that his argument is one from analogy. Unfortunately, he fails to realize that arguments from analogy evade the issue by assuming some available teleology without inquiring into the adaptability of the data at hand to such a teleology. Thus, Durkheim argues from psychology to sociology without seeing any inconsistency in that. The basic reason for this is that Durkheim, following in the positivist tradition, fails to realize the difference between the social and the natural sciences.{8} Otherwise, he could never have fallen into the pit-fall.{9}

The collective représentations are exterior to individual consciences because they are not derived from the individuals taken in isolation but from their convergence and union. The private sentiments do not become social except by combining under the action of the forces sui generis which association develops. As a result of these combinations, and of mutual alterations which result therefrom, the private sentiments become something different. The resultant derived therefrom extends beyond the individual mind as the whole is greater than the part. It is this that thinks, that feels, that wills, although it may not be able to will, feel, or act except through the intermediation of individual consciences. This explains why the social phenomenon does not depend upon the personal nature of individuals.{10}

In Les Règles Durkheim expresses the same idea. He says that collective représentations manifest

the way in which the group conceives itself in its relations with the objects which affect it. The group has a different constitution from that of the individual, and the things that affect it are of a different nature. Representations expressing neither the same objects nor the same subjects cannot depend upon the same causes. To understand the way in which society represents itself, one must consider the nature of the society and not that of the individuals.{11}

These collective représentations form the content of what Durkheim calls the collective or common conscience. But there is here a mistaking of the like for the common and collective. In De la division du travail social he found that the common conscience which was concomitant with repressive law and mechanical solidarity had its roots in the great multitude of social likenesses (similitudes). But to speak rigorously, as he is fond of saying, a conscience which has its roots in likenesses would be a conscience similar in individuals and not common to them. For a representation to be common, all individuals would have to partake of one and the same reaction to one and the same stimulus. Sensations are not common; they are communicable. On the basis of such communication, one may join with those who have like sensations, but one cannot penetrate into them. Durkheim might answer that the conscience is common because the same sentiment was forced upon each individual. But a sentiment, even in Durkheim’s usage, is not a representation. Sentiments may be held in common, but they can only result from similar reactions. Common suggests an identity. But there are no identical sensations. If there are, mortal beings will never know of them.

One might be willing to admit a group mind as a physicist admits an atom into his system of categories, if it could be shown that the qualities of such a mind had some relation to objective phenomena. These objective phenomena, in the case of a group mind or a common conscience, would have to be common to that aspect of individual beings which was under consideration. In this instance, the aspect is the individual organism as psychology views it. But psychology, whatever brand one may choose, deals with memory, imagination, perception, thought, gestalts, neuro-muscular processes, and there is surely nothing in a group mind which remembers, thinks, perceives, or reacts as individual beings do. Tarde, to be sure, did speak of social memory, but it was a metaphor and science is not built on metaphors.

We must, therefore, conclude that Durkheim’s theory of collective représentations is inadequate to solve the problem of the relation of the individual to society.

Durkheim’s conception of the nature of science is decidedly in the positivist tradition. From it we can gain an understanding of his definition of a social fact, a concept fundamental in his later work and one which has gained wide vogue, and also of his reputation as a realist. Social facts, he tells us in Les Règles,

consist in ways of acting, thinking, and feeling, exterior to the individual and endowed with a power of coercion, wherewith they impose themselves upon the individual. They must not, then, be confused with organic phenomena since they consist of representations and actions, nor with psychic phenomena which have existence only in the individual consciences and through it. Thus, they constitute a new type of phenomena, and to them must be given the name social.

This definition of factuality in social science is traceable to two aspects of the positivist epistemology which Durkheim clings to. . The first is a distrust of metaphysics and theory; the second the desire to eliminate all personal biases, all values from social studies. Hence, he says that social facts must be treated as things. They must not be conceived of as part of individual consciences or inherent in the minds of individuals. It may be asked of Durkheim, Why must they be not so conceived? And Durkheim’s answer would be because they are not then objective. Unfortunately, this objectivity Durkheim finds in what he is pleased to call the positive sciences, that is, the natural sciences. But, there are as many sciences as there are types of data, and if society exists only in the minds of individuals, or only in the interaction of individuals, as surely could be contended and upheld, it is still possible to be objective about these phenomena. Phenomena can be in the subject and yet be considered objectively. Just as there are as many types of science as there are types of data, so there are as many types of objectivity as there are types of objects to study. To make social facts exterior and coercive to the individual is a circumvention of the very problem which sociology must face. Durkheim’s objectivity is a factitious one since it rests on a distortion of the data. Ultimately, it derives from a false conception of science and a failure to realize the difference between the natural and the social.{12}

To study social facts as things Durkheim contends that we must define the group of phenomena which constitute our science by some characteristic common to them all, but which is external to them. But no characteristic of any science is claimed to be external to the phenomena studied. It is inherent, or presumed to be so, or else it is factitious and artificial. The real difficulty in Durkheim is his desire, at any expense, to make sociology positive. But it is just because the object-matter of sociology is different from natural phenomena that sociology cannot be made positive. What MacIver has called the inner order which social phenomena present and what Znaniecki has termed the humanistic coefficient render social data of an order different from the natural order.{13}

Thus, Durkheim was enabled to make society external to and outside of individuals not through observation of social data, but through an attempt to impose a method upon the data which was not fitting to them. Social facts are exterior to the individual, not because they really are exterior, since there would be no social facts without individuals, but because Durkheim cannot conceive of a science which studies the inner order of phenomena. Just as he drew a false analogy from psychology to set up a theory of collective représentations and the common conscience, so he here draws a false parallel between the science which studies the social and those which study the natural. But, in reality, even the natural scientist does not proceed as Durkheim claims. He does not isolate some aspect for study by considering it outside of and determinate of his data. His data themselves determine his method, and he determines his data. Hence, Durkheim is doing a strange thing. Ultimately his argument reduces to something like this:—Social facts cannot be in individuals and cannot be a result of individual interaction and association alone because we could not then be able to set up a science of the social as are the positive sciences. Therefore, we must assert that that alone is social which is above and outside of individuals so that we can objectively determine it and study its content as facts. He is claiming that we must have a positive science of the social at any cost, even at the cost of the data themselves. The error is too obvious to labor over.

This criterion of objectivity and factuality led Durkheim to a statement on the question of values in sociology which is much too sweeping. Values are metaphysical and speculative; they deal with ethics, and Durkheim claims to be dealing with the science of ethics. We must study moral rules through some external symbol, and that external symbol is law and its sanctions. But law in modern society, as every realm of modern society, is in men, and not outside of them. It is considered to be outside of them in primitive societies, and Durkheim has well shown how it is outside of them there. Hence, morality does not force men to participate in it, but is something that men make. Morality still remains an individual matter despite its social bearing. Furthermore, Durkheim was not as free of values as he claimed. In Les Règles he sees as the duty of the statesman the keeping of society in equilibrium and a state of moral health. What that equilibrium is and what that moral health is Durkheim suggests. But, is it not true that other thinkers have suggested other conditions for the health of society? And is not Durkheim’s solution of social ills a value of his own?

There is another phase of Durkheim’s thought which explains his realism, although it, too, does little to validate its worth as an interpretation of the social. After Le Suicide he devoted himself, for the most part, to investigations of primitive societies. There he found that the collective conscience was strong and defined and that social facts were exterior and coercive to the individual. Thus, in Les formes élémentaires de la vie réligeuse, Durkheim was able to show that religion is originally social, and that it always partakes of a means for keeping society alive and healthy. We do not here wish to enter into a discussion of Durkheim’s religious theories,{14} but we wish to point out that his study of primitive religion might well be made in terms of his own definition of social facts and the collective conscience and yet have no validity for the interpretation of modern society. This Durkheim himself showed in De la division du travail social. With the growth of free thought, religion has become an individual affair, and each man may choose his own, or refuse allegiance to any. The collective conscience has been weakened and each individual has become the carrier of his own society. Society becomes nothing more and nothing else than the individuals who compose it. That he did not so conceive society we can ascribe to a misinterpretation of his own work.

The evolutionary clue which Durkheim found in De la division du travail social he used to little advantage in his later work, and to this failure a great part of his social realism is due. Whereas he later was speaking of one type of society,—primitive where the collective conscience is strong and society is external and coercive to the individual—he mistook his doctrine for a theory of all types of society. Whereas in De la division du travail social he was speaking of societies, he later came to speak of society. And his monism was an appropriation of the means for interpreting one type for the interpretation of all types.

We have, then, shown wherein Durkheim’s reputation as a social realist is justified, and also the shortcomings of the position. By a false analogy to psychology, through a bad theory of the nature of science and a failure to distinguish the natural from the social, and a mistaking of modern society for primitive, he was enabled to set society over and above the individual. To these three factors can be attributed, we believe, the criticism which has been levelled at Durkheim.


De la division du travail social had its origin, as Durkheim says, in the question of the relation of the individual to social solidarity. Why does the individual, while becoming more autonomous, depend more upon society? How can he be at once more individual and more solidary? Certainly, these two movements, contradictory as they appear, develop in parallel fashion. ... It appeared to us that what resolves this apparent antinomy is a transformation of social solidarity due to the steadily growing development of the division of labor. That is how we have been led to make this the object of our study. But the division of labor is not a phenomenon that we observe universally in all societies; we find it only in higher societies. To understand it we must then investigate the type of solidarity which we find in societies where there is no, or very little, division of labor. These societies owe their integration to the large number of social similitudes. In them we find a homogeneity of sentiments and practices which is common to all their members. The proof of such homogeneity lies in the existence of only one type of law,—repressive. Since law is the symbol of the manner in which social relations are regulated, it is permissible to study it as an index of solidarity. This Durkheim does through a theory of crime and punishment. This theory has taken high rank in legal philosophy and the study of sanctions advocated by Durkheim has been a key to socializing the study of law. We are not here concerned with that theory except as it bears on the larger study of social evolution and the division of labor.{15} With a mass of detail and a breadth of knowledge that is amazing, Durkheim proves his thesis of the preponderance of repressive law wherever the division of labor is in a rudimentary state.

Repressive law works mechanically; that is, there is no doubt in the minds of the members of the society in which a crime is committed as to what action should be taken. Moreover, the sanctions which attach penalties to crime are, as Durkheim says, engraven in every conscience. He says that the action is spontaneous, concerted, and unopposed. The individual is not a factor in executing the law; he is merely the instrument of society. In such a society, there is no recognition of those different from its members; such difference disrupts social solidarity and calls forth a passionate reaction from all members. This reaction is imposed; it is not planned; it is mechanical. Thus, Durkheim is led to call this type of solidarity mechanical.

The moral value of repressive law and mechanical solidarity is undoubted. The problem then is to show that the type of solidarity which the division of labor gives rise to, as evinced in some other type of law, has a function similar to that executed by mechanical solidarity. But the law which the division of labor makes for is not repressive law, but restitutive law, and there is no penalty attached to it. Moreover, the action, though it involves social sanctions and society is always keenly interested in the outcome of it, is between individuals who, in their own right, have contracted to exchange goods or services. Hence, the study of contract-law will show us the moral influence which the division of labor has. Whereupon Durkheim goes into a learned and valuable analysis of how contract-law works, how it supposes a division of labor, and how, throughout the course of history, it becomes ever more preponderant. But there is nothing mechanical about the relations which contract-law looks after. They are entered into by individuals of their free will, although watched over by society, and presuppose a liberty of movement in the individual which was never possible under repressive law and mechanical solidarity.

The type of solidarity to which the division of labor gives rise derives, then, from a co-operation of individuals within a system. This system is society, and each individual is an organ of society. But co-operation between organs demands an organism within which they co-operate. Thus, Durkheim is led to call the type of solidarity which the division of labor creates, organic solidarity. Mechanical solidarity acts in individuals just as physical forces act upon inanimate matter. The individuals are at the beck and call of society. Its summons must be obeyed. Organic solidarity demands an interaction of parts for the sake of the totality. The emphasis is thus shifted. Whereas in the former society is supreme and dictates the type of solidarity, in the latter the individual is the focus of interest and through his actions keeps the system healthy.

The causes for the development and steady advance of the division of labor lie in the growth of material and moral density which presupposes the effacement of the segmental social type and which is usually accompanied by a growth in volume.

The division of labor requires the specialization of each individual in some certain task to which he devotes himself and which constitutes his life-work. Dilettantism is abhorrent to the proper functioning of organic solidarity; it is merely a superficial development of all the faculties without the profound development of any one, or some few. Individuals become differentiated through the social functions they fulfill. They are no longer forced into certain functions that their ancestry formerly demanded they execute since the force of heredity has become weakened, and no one inherits anything more than very general dispositions. Not only is the individual not forced into any set occupation at birth, but society must see to it that he attains the position his ability merits notwithstanding his lineage. With the differentiation of functions within the social organism and the decline of the force of heredity, there has occurred the weakening of the power of the common conscience, and the growth of individualism. Moreover, the growth of cities has also weakened the common conscience, has pluralized it. This individualism, however, must not be understood as something over and against society, but as a quality which a certain type of society, that in which organic solidarity is dominant and the division of labor is advanced, forces upon individuals. Instead of being a cog in a machine, as it were, the individual becomes the prime factor in the proper working of organic life.

This felicitous working out of the division of labor does not always occur, and sometimes pathological cases arise. Industrial crises become more frequent as labor is divided more. This abnormality results from an insufficient regulation of the relations between capital and labor. Normally, the division of labor itself regulates functions so as to cause the harmonious working out of organic solidarity. But where the spontaneity of economic life is disrupted by over-production, strikes, boycotts, or some such strictly economic causes, then society, through the governmental organ, must step in to regulate the functions so as to make for harmony again. The second type of abnormal forms of the division of labor occurs in class-warfare. This can only come about through force being exercised upon the individual so as to keep him within a function which he finds unsuited to his abilities and possibly beneath them. Such constraint is a result of the inequalities in the external conditions of life which do not permit free competition to take its natural course. The solution for this lies in equalizing the external conditions of fife. There must no longer be rich and poor at birth, but all must start from the same point. There is to be no handicapping of individuals bereft of fortune. Inheritance of wealth is a phenomenon of segmental organization, and organized societies have evolved from, and gone beyond that stage. The third abnormal form occurs when the functional activity of each worker is insufficient. The further working of the division of labor, however, tends of itself to ameliorate this abnormality and to bring about the harmony of functions.

Thus, Durkheim concludes that the division of labor gives rise to organic solidarity and that organic solidarity is a moral phenomenon. It integrates individuals in society at the same time that it insists upon their individuality. Therefore, the question which was posed at the beginning of the investigation has now been answered. And on this note Durkheim ends.

In the preface to the second edition, however, Durkheim returns to a problem which he merely touched upon in the course of the work, that of occupational groups. Though the division of labor is a moral phenomenon, it does create anomalies. The most important of these is the isolation of the individual in some one task and the failure to integrate him in some larger social whole. This can be obviated by the setting up of occupational groups constituted as units on the basis of the type of labor done by the individuals in societies. In a learned argument, Durkheim shows that there is historical precedence for this besides the undoubted moral need for it. Not only will occupational groups integrate certain interests, but these groups should constitute the new basis for political representation. There should be groups of employers as well as groups of employees, and there should be meetings between duly appointed representatives of both types of groups. Though political representation hereafter should be based on occupations, still politics is inadequate to cope with the problems in economic fields which only those nearest them know. These occupations will not only have economic status, but they will undoubtedly develop into little societies of their own with recreational facilities, actuarial functions, and almost all others that men today require for existence. Durkheim finds these groups so completely the solution for our moral dilemma that in Le Suicide he contends that their institution will do much to lessen the number of voluntary deaths which are symptomatic of a society which has lost its hold on the individual and has left him to wander without spiritual pabulum.

The idea was not new, as Durkheim saw. It was as old as economic fife. Proud’hon had suggested it half a century earlier, and Durkheim, using new arguments and with true moral fervor, saw in it the hope for our future society.


The argument of Durkheim and his conclusion remain remarkably fresh to this day, and his doctrine of evolution is adequate to the material he presents. We are concerned to dispute his optimism concerning the felicitous working of the division of labor. Now, forty years after he wrote De la division du travail social, all the forms of the division of labor which are present in contemporary society seem to be abnormal forms. Surely on Durkheim’s premises this should not be so. Abnormalities should be the rare exception. How does this come about?

In brief, Durkheim’s misplaced optimism can be traced to his failure to understand the working of modern capitalism. Though he complains that the economists have failed to see a moral phenomenon in the division of labor, he nevertheless failed to see it in its full scope as an economic phenomenon. He views economic life, as most other aspects of society under the division of labor, as a spontaneous product of human interaction. Its only abnormality would seem to lie in constraining the individual in a function and the periodic appearance of crises. To alleviate this he suggests regulation of the external conditions of economic life. But this regulation would seem to imply a total capitalistic upheaval and the destruction of the profit-system. This Durkheim would never admit. As Mauss says of him, All his life he found adherence to socialism properly so-called repugnant because of certain traits in it: its violent character; its more or less purely proletarian class-character, and also its political and politician-like character. Durkheim was deeply opposed to all class or nation warfare. He wished change for the benefit of all society and not one of its parts, even if that part was most numerous and had the force. He considered political revolutions and parliamentary evolutions superficial, costly, and more theatrical than serious. ... He sympathized, as we say, with the socialists, with Jaurès, with socialism. He never gave himself to it.{16}

This can be traced to his failure to distinguish what he so justly called the division of labor in society from what Marx has called the division of labor in the workshop, or in manufacture, or the division of labor caused by capital, in another variant phrase of Marx. The division of labor in society Marx identifies as does Durkheim with that known for centuries past, and which organized the laborers in the various handicrafts.{17} This, as Marx shows, in agreement with Durkheim, was an evolutionary process and a valuable one. What, asks Marx, characterizes the division of labor in manufactures? And he answers,

The fact that the detail laborer produces no commodities. It is only the common product of all the detail laborers that becomes a commodity. Division of labor in a society is brought about by the purchase and sale of the products of different branches of industry, while the connection between the detail operations in a workshop is due to the sale of the labor power of several workmen to one capitalist, who applies it as combined labor power. The division of labor within the workshop implies concentration of the means of production in the hands of one capitalist; the division of labor in society implies their dispersion among many independent producers of commodities. While, within the workshop, the iron law of proportionality subjects definite numbers of workmen to definite functions, in the society outside the workshop chance and caprice have full play in distributing the producers and their means of production among the various branches of industry. Division of labor within the workshop implies the undisputed authority of the capitalist over men, who are but parts of a mechanism that belongs to him. The division of labor within the society brings into contact independent commodity-producers who acknowledge no other authority but that of competition, of the coercion exerted by the pressure of their mutual interests.{18}

Why did Durkheim fail to distinguish between these two aspects of the division of labor? The answer is that he failed to realize the monopolistic nature of capitalism and the activities to which the profit-system lead. He saw economic life much as Adam Smith did, a spontaneous working out of harmony. In the case of industrial crises, it is not the functions which need further regulating, it is the system which warps these functions that must be replaced. And class-warfare does not come about from the individual’s not being in harmony with his function within the system; it is caused by evils inherent in the system itself. Durkheim’s solution would be a compromise between production for profit and production for use. Unfortunately, there can be no compromise since, as Marx says, production for profit (capitalism) is a monster that multiplies. It calls forth from individuals the basest desires in human nature, acquisitiveness at the expense of fellow-men and authority over the lives of others without respect for others. It is not the failure of functions to concur that produces depressions and crises; it is the over-production and financial manipulation which are inherent elements in capitalism. To plan production to meet consumption we must either surrender capitalism or surrender the attempt, and merely pay lip-service to socialism. The abolition of such abnormalities, as Durkheim calls them, requires that industries be owned by society at large for the service of its members, and that the banking system which fosters profit-making be made over into a national credit-institution that metes out credit as society demands.

Durkheim fails to see that the abnormalities he speaks of are inherent in a system, and that we cannot retain the system without also retaining the evils. The workers, even collectively, cannot bargain with those who hold the power, especially when the labor-supply is great enough for the employers to be able to dispense with workers making demands which eat into profits. Were they exchanging commodities, there might be some equality in the bargaining. But they are offering services. There is, then, really no exchange; there is exploitation. Unless the producing forces are themselves constituted for the best interests of the workers, these forces will not hold

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  • (4/5)
    A great sociological treatise that is somewhat diminished in hindsight: some of the phenomena related to the division of labor that Durkheim describes as pathological are in fact chronic ailments of our society today.