Emile Durkheim: Rules of the Sociological Method
Question #1: Basic Problem with Sociology
The fundamental problem with sociology revolves around the understanding of the terms individual and the society and how they relate to each. The relationship between the two concepts of the individual and society posits the most difficult sociological problem. This is on the basis of the moral framework in which the two influence and affect each other. The modern democratic societies, for example, find it difficult to explain how individual choice and individual responsibility, impact society. The fact that every individual is morally responsible for their actions, behaviors, and decisions negates the significance and influence of the society on the individual (Paoletti, 2004). Society provides the context in which the individuals can be thoroughly social but at the same has the agency that influences and controls the free choice. The problem remains on the context and limits of the society towards the individual and the individual’s extent and limits towards society.
Question #2: Examples of ‘Compelling and Coercive’ External Control
In a free-market society, while there is the notion of operating freely in society and deciding on the policies to pursue – one remains limited by the laws and regulations stipulated by the government. The free-market argument is compelling and essential in society but acts in a coercive manner that requires every individual to join in the productive activities of the society (Giddens, 1971). The lack of productivity prompts an individual to suffer the capacity to sustain basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. The freedom of choice and determination of the self-control is influenced by external factors of the society to meet the objectives that are socially outlined. Thus, the freedom of choice and determination in society does not sustain life; instead operates in a compelling and coercive manner.
Question #3: Why Society is Not the Sum of Individual Consciousness
Durkheim states that the social facts that influence social existence cannot be reduced to individual acts. The individual consciousness operates in a context in which every individual has their separate set of tasks that they seek to pursue, engage in, and partake in the society – culminating in the differentiation aspect. The collective consciousness evidently starts to decline in the prevalence of individual consciousness that is illustrated in the division of labor (Bames, 1977). The developments of the division of labor induce the context that every individual is different and unique from the other. The notion that society is the sum of the individual consciousness presents an ambiguous fallacy. The society cannot be the sum of the individual acts, behavior, and thoughts due to the prevalence of profound distinctions and differences in society.
The individuals need to operate in a cohesive manner to attain the collective wellbeing of the people in it. However, this does not imply that society is the sum of the individual consciousness. The society in itself has its own existence free from the individual. Rather, society acts as the phenomenon that influences individuals through norms, sentiments, values, social facts, as well as social currents. The individual actions start with the individual and affect the individual. Thus, it does not constitute the sum resulting in the constitution of society.
Barnes, G. M. (1977). Emile Durkheim’s Contribution to the Sociology of Education. The Journal of Educational Thought (JET)/Revue de la Pensée Educative, 213-223.
Giddens, A. (1971). Durkheim’s political sociology. The sociological review, 19(4), 477-519.
Paoletti, G. (2004). Durkheim and the Problem of Objectivity: a Reading of Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse. Revue française de sociologie, 45(5), 3-25.
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