Book Summary & Highlights: The Division Of Labor In Society By Emile Durkheim

Book Summary & Highlights: The Division Of Labor In Society By Emile Durkheim



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Amazon Summary

Emile 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. This edition is printed on premium acid-free paper.

About Author: Emile Durkheim

Émile Durkheim, (born April 15, 1858, Épinal, France—died November 15, 1917, Paris), French social scientist who developed a vigorous methodology combining empirical research with sociological theory. He is widely regarded as the founder of the French school of sociology.

Other Book Summaries

Understanding Durkheim's Division of Labor

How The Division Of Labor Benefits Society

Durkheim discusses how the division of labor—the establishment of specified jobs for certain people—benefits society because it increases the reproductive capacity of a process and the skill set of the workers. It also creates a feeling of solidarity among people who share those jobs. But, Durkheim says, the division of labor goes beyond economic interests: In the process, it also establishes social and moral order within a society. "The division of labor can be effectuated only among members of an already constituted society," he argues.

Dynamic Density

Density can occur in three ways: * through an increase in the spatial concentration of people * through the growth of towns * through an increase in the number and efficacy of the means of communication When one or more of these things happen, says Durkheim, labor begins to become divided and jobs become more specialized. At the same time, because tasks grow more complex, the struggle for meaningful existence becomes more strenuous.

Social Solidarity

Durkheim argues that two kinds of social solidarity exist: mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Mechanical solidarity connects the individual to society without any intermediary. That is, society is organized collectively and all members of the group share the same set of tasks and core beliefs. What binds the individual to society is what Durkheim calls the "collective consciousness," sometimes translated as "conscience collective," meaning a shared belief system. With regard to organic solidarity, on the other hand, society is more complex—a system of different functions united by definite relationships. Each individual must have a distinct job or task and a personality that is their own.

Personal Thoughts

  • Confronts division of labor on a fundamental level:
    • Between friends
    • Between countries
    • Between spouses
    • Between employees
  • "The division of labor varies in direct ratio with the volume and density of societies." Volume alone doesn't lead to division of labor.
  • "Animals, themselves, prosper more when they differ more... Likewise, in the interior of the organism, what softens the conflict between different tissues is that they feed upon different substances."


I. The Function Of The Division Of Labor

Chapter 1. The Method For Determining This Function

Chapter 2. Mechanical Solidarity Through Likeness

Chapter 3. Organic Solidarity Due To The Division Of Labor

Chapter 4. Further proof Of The Preceding

Chapter 5. Progressive Preponderance Of Organic Solidarity; Its Consequences

Chapter 6. Progressive Preponderance Of Organic Solidarity; Its Consequences

Chapter 7. Organic Solidarity And Contractual Solidarity

II. Causes And Conditions

Chapter 1. The Progress Of The Division Of Labor And Of Happiness

Chapter 2. The Causes

Chapter 3. Secondary Factors

Chapter 4. Secondary Factors (Continued)

Chapter 5. Consequences Of The Preceding

III. Abnormal Forms

Chapter 1. The Anomic Division Of Labor

Chapter 2. The Forced Division Of Labor

Chapter 3. Another Abnormal Form


Among lower peoples, this reaches its greatest rigor. There, one’s first duty is to resemble everybody else, not to have anything personal about one’s beliefs or actions. In more advanced societies, required likenesses are less numerous; the absences of some likenesses, however, is still a sign of moral failure.


Most Popular Highlights From Kindle Users

To ask what the function of the division of labor is, is to seek for the need which it supplies.
The average number of suicides, of crimes of all sorts, can effectively serve to mark the intensity of immorality in a given society. If we make this experiment, it does not turn out creditably for civilization, for the number of these morbid phenomena seems to increase as the arts, sciences, and industry progress.{75}
Of all the elements of civilization, science is the only one which, under certain conditions, presents a moral character.
Everybody knows that we like those who resemble us, those who think and feel as we do. But the opposite is no less true. It very often happens that we feel kindly towards those who do not resemble us, precisely because of this lack of resemblance. These facts are apparently so contradictory that moralists have always vacillated concerning the true nature of friendship and have derived it sometimes from the former, sometimes from the latter. [...] These opposing doctrines prove that both types are necessary to natural friendship. Difference, as likeness, can be a cause of mutual attraction. However, certain differences do not produce this effect. We do not find any pleasure in those completely different from us. Spendthrifts do not seek the company of misers, nor moral and honest people that of hypocrites and pretenders; sweet and gentle spirits have no taste for sour and malevolent temperaments. Only certain kinds of differences attract each other. They are those which, instead of opposing and excluding, complement each other. As Bain says, there is a type of difference which repels, another which attracts, one which leads to rivalry, another which leads to friendship. If one of two people has what the other has not, but desires, in that fact lies the point of departure for a positive attraction.{80} Thus it is that a theorist, a subtle and reasoning individual, often has a very special sympathy for practical men, with their quick sense and rapid intuitions; the timid for the firm and resolute, the weak for the strong, and conversely. As richly endowed as we may be, we always lack something, and the best of us realize our own insufficiency. That is why we seek in our friends the qualities that we lack, since in joining with them, we participate in some measure in their nature and thus feel less incomplete. So it is that small friendly associations are formed wherein each one plays a role conformable to his character, where there is a true exchange of services. One urges on, another consoles; this one advises, that one follows the advice, and it is this apportionment of functions or, to use the usual expression, this division of labor, which determines the relations of friendship. We are thus led to consider the division of labor in a new light. In this instance, the economic services that it can render are picayune compared to the moral effect that it produces, and its true function is to create in two or more persons a feeling of solidarity. In whatever manner the result is obtained, its aim is to cause coherence among friends and to stamp them with its seal.
The state of marriage in societies where the two sexes are only weakly differentiated thus evinces conjugal solidarity which is itself very weak.
Even when a criminal act is certainly harmful to society, it is not true that the amount of harm that it does is regularly related to the intensity of the repression which it calls forth.
The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society forms a determinate system which has its own life; one may call it the collective or common conscience.
Punishment consists, then, essentially in a passionate reaction of graduated intensity that society exercises through the medium of a body acting upon those of its members who have violated certain rules of conduct.
China and Russia are a great deal more populous than the most civilized nations of Europe. With these people, consequently, the division of labor is not developed in proportion to the social volume. That is because the increase of volume is not necessarily a mark of superiority if the density does not increase at the same time and in the same relation, for a society can attain great dimensions because it comprises a very great number of segments, whatever may be the nature of the latter. If, then, even the most vast among them reproduce only societies of very inferior type, the segmental structure will remain very pronounced, and, consequently, social organization little elevated. Even an immense aggregate of clans is below the smallest organized society, since the latter has run through stages of evolution within which the other has remained. In the same way, if the number of social units has influence on the division of labor, it is not through itself and necessarily, but it is because the number of social relations generally increases with that of individuals. But, for this result to be attained, it is not enough that society take in a great many people, but they must be, in addition, intimately enough in contact to act and react on one another. If they are, on the contrary, separated by opaque milieux, they can only be bound by rare and weak relations, and it is as if they had small populations. The increase of social volume does not, then, always accelerate the advances of the division of labor, but only when the mass is contracted at the same time and to the same extent. Consequently, it is only an additional factor, but when it is joined to the first, it amplifies its effects by action peculiar to it, and therefore is to be distinguished from that. We can then formulate the following proposition:The division of labor varies in direct ratio with the volume and density of societies, and, if it progresses in a continuous manner in the course of social development, it is because societies become regularly denser and generally more voluminous.
If work becomes divided more as societies become more voluminous and denser, it is not because external circumstances are more varied, but because struggle for existence is more acute. Darwin justly observed that the struggle between two organisms is as active as they are analogous. Having the same needs and pursuing the same objects, they are in rivalry everywhere. As long as they have more resources than they need, they can still live side by side, but if their number increases to such proportions that all appetites can no longer be sufficiently satisfied, war breaks out, and it is as violent as this insufficiency is more marked; that is to say, as the number in the struggle increase. It is quite otherwise if the co-existing individuals are of different species or varieties. As they do not feed in the same manner, and do not lead the same kind of fife, they do not disturb each other. What is advantageous to one is without value to the others. The chances of conflict thus diminish with chances of meeting, and the more so as the species or varieties are more distant from one another. Thus, Darwin says that in a small area, opened to immigration, and where, consequently, the conflict of individuals must be acute, there is always to be seen a very great diversity in the species inhabiting it. He found turf three feet by four which had been exposed for long years to the same conditions of life nourishing twenty species of plants belonging to eighteen genera and eight classes. This clearly proves how differentiated they are.{333} Everybody, besides, has observed that in the same field with grain a great number of weeds can grow. Animals, themselves, prosper more when they differ more. On an oak-tree there were found two hundred species of insects having no other relationship than neighborhood. Some feed upon the fruits of the tree, others on the leaves, others on the bark and roots. “It would be,” says Haeckel, “absolutely impossible for such a number of individuals to live on this tree if all belonged to the same species, if all, for example, lived upon the bark, or only the leaves.”{334} Likewise, in the interior of the organism, what softens the conflict between different tissues is that they feed upon different substances.

Most Popular Highlights From Goodreads Users

“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.”
“Methodological rules are for science what rules of law and custom are for conduct.”
“As all the other beliefs and practices assume less and less religious a character, the individual becomes the object of a sort of religion. We carry on the worship of the dignity of the human person, which, like all strong acts of worship, has already acquired its superstitions.”