“Man social embeddedness (1897). As marriage and family
become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above
him to which he belongs. To free him from all social pressure is to abandon him
to himself and demoralize him.” (Durkheim E. , 1897)
analysis of social solidarity has held enormous sway in the sphere of sociology
since his publication of The Division of Labour in Society in 1893. The central
premise underlying Durkheim’s work is that individuals are inherently egoistic,
yet the collective values and beliefs of society bind them together, resulting
in social integration (Durkheim É. ,
In this way, the psychologies of individuals are constrained by values, norms
and relationships they share within society. This essay will explore this idea
throughout. Firstly Durkheim’s analysis of social integration will be
discussed. Secondly this essay will look at the social structures and
conditions which form the mainstays of social solidarity. Thirdly and finally
this essay will examine the relevance of social solidarity in modern society,
contrasting integration today with that of traditional societies.
integration, as Berkman et al put it, is a measure of social embeddedness and
connectedness (Berkman, Glass, Brissette,
& Seeman, 2000).
Durkheim posits that all societies are governed to some extent by common
values and beliefs, though the extent to which these influence individuals
differs from society to society. He calls this common conception of morality
“collective consciousness.” He then furthers this, stating how integrated
people feel within their societies is a reflection on the strength of those
common norms, beliefs and values (Durkheim É. , 1893). The more
interconnected with others an individual is, the more likely they are to hold
views in line with their society’s moral code (Thorlindsson & Bernburg,
it is difficult to explore the concept of social integration within normally
integrated societies, and so looks to extremes to demonstrate his theory. Most
notably, Durkheim explores ‘the act of suicide’ and seeks to prove suicide is
socially patterned. He theorises that suicide rates within societies tend to
correspond to other measures of social embeddedness (1897). As marriage and
family tend to be a clear sign that a person is socially embedded and
interconnected (Kyung-Sook, SangSoo,
Sangjin, & Young-Jeon, 2018), Durkheim chooses to
examine the marriage rate alongside the suicide rate. Durkheim finds that
married men were significantly less likely to commit suicide than unmarried
men. Additionally, he finds that immunity to suicide seemed to increase with
family size. He found these correlations to be constant across a broad range of
societies, and concluded thus that suicide is affected by the level of
interdependence within society, as indicated by opt-in socially integrative
institutions such as marriage and family. This social pattern, he says, has
more impact than the pathology of individuals (Durkheim E. , 1897).
of anomie would seem to confirm Durkheim’s theory (Thorlindsson & Bernburg,
Durkheim defined anomie as an individual’s sense of isolation from society, perhaps
resulting from a lack of social rules in the individual’s life (Durkheim É. , 1893). Writers such as
Thorlindsson and Bernburg write further on this, expressing it as “characterized
by unrealistic aspirations and expectations that often cause conflict between
means and ends and leave individuals with feelings of meaninglessness and
hopelessness and a sense of injustice.” Thorlindsson and Bernburg study adolescent
delinquents in Iceland and using hierarchical linear regression, show that
individuals who are less engaged with education and other predictors of
solidarity are more likely to engage in socially deviant behaviour (2004). Additional studies
demonstrate that adolescents with strong social ties to conventional
institutions are less likely to associate with delinquent friends and develop
such behaviours (Thornberry, 1987).
to the effects of social integration on health would also seem to confirm
Durkheim’s theory of social integration. Social integration, alongside
socio-economic status, has long been considered a determinant of health (Laporte, Nauenberg, &
Having strong ties to family and friends, being married, and associating with
social and religious institutions has been reversely associated with mortality (Syme &
Though interestingly there seems to be a moderate difference in how likely a
very socially integrated person or unintegrated person are to get liver disease
(perhaps as alcoholism, a deviant act, can act as a factor in this), generally
the more psychological an illness is, the likelier it is to vary based on
integratedness (Gove, 1973). Criticism of this
idea offers that it is not simply anomie that causes illnesses, but rather that
anomie affects how likely people are to access resources and supports relating
to their health (Berkman, Glass, Brissette,
& Seeman, 2000). A person with fewer interpersonal ties
is less likely to have supports in the form of other people to prevent them
from engaging in deviant behaviour such as drinking (Hughes & Gove, 1981), and less likely to
find people encourage them to seek out health care when they need it, where
married people with families might. Thus it is not necessarily an individual’s
devotion to “collective consciousness” which mediates such behaviour, but
rather mechanical processes too. That being said, plausibly the people who
intervene to offer such supports may themselves be acting out of solidarity, in
line with the social norm or belief that people ought not drink, or ought to
seek medical aid when sick. Thus this criticism is merely mitigatory, and not
wholly incompatible with Durkheim’s theory.
criticism of Durkheim’s mediations on health is that the kinds of groups within
which individuals become integrated affect the likeliness of that integration
positively affecting their health. That is to say, due to homophily, people
find it easier to form ties to people with whom they share characteristics such
as race, gender, or religion (Louch, 2000). Thus it is these
shared values and beliefs to which they conform. Durkheim would argue, and
others would agree (Ibarra, 1993) (Gallo, 1982), that such ties are
good for health. However, given minorities can often be isolated from the
dominant group, they may struggle to integrate into the group at large,
negatively impacting health, as Kim posits (Kim, 2001).
examine next are the social structures and conditions conducive to social
integration. Durkheim conceptualises what normal integration looks like by
pointing to its converse, the abnormal within society (Durkheim E. ,
Turner (1981) extrapolates from
Durkheim’s work the principles which are underlying within normal social
integration. Turner posits four conditions: firstly that individual passions
are constrained by the sharing of cultural symbols, secondly that individuals opt
into rituals and mutually reinforcing gestures, thirdly that both norms and
political structures regulate behaviour, and fourthly that inequalities within
society are accepted and seen to correspond to talents of individuals. These
conditions, and the structures they entail must be considered next.
cultural symbols must be considered. Durkheim writes of religious dogma in
particular. He notes that amongst Jews and Catholics, the suicide rate is considerably
lower than amongst Protestants (Durkheim E. , 1897). Durkheim attributes
this to the fact that Protestantism has fewer shared values and beliefs than
Judaism and Catholicism. Indeed he notes, the freer inquiry within
Protestantism is “the only essential difference between Protestantism and
Catholicism.” For Durkheim then, it is not the religious dogma itself which
makes suicide more or less likely, but rather that Judaism and Catholicism are
richer in dogma, and particularly amongst Jews who faced hostility from other
faiths, that this dogma is held to be true.
As Turner writes (1981), this essentially
proves that the number of shared cultural symbols an individual believes in,
and the strength of their connection to them affects how likely they are to be
essay must examine rituals and gestures. Social rituals and institutions are a
method by which individuals opt into society, causing increased interdependence
upon one another. The converse is egoism, in which people are unattached to
collectives through such rituals and gestures (Turner, 1981). Religion provides an
example again, this time in terms of community. Religion provides collective
goals for individuals to strive towards (Thorlindsson & Bernburg,
Such goals can prevent feelings of hopelessness and isolation. Furthering this,
Durkheim considers different religious communities and the levels of social
integration within them. Durkheim posits that another reason for the disparity
in suicide rates between Protestants and Jews and Catholics is that unlike Judaism
and Catholicism, Protestantism has an individualistic focus rather than a
collective one (1897). Notably this
argument can also be applied in the case of other institutions such as family
or country (Umberson, 1987). Through such shared
activities as prayer rituals and services, individuals seem to become more
bound to the rules of society.
essay must look at norms and political structures used to regulate behaviour. As
Thorlindsson and Bernburg write (2004), “the school is a
central institution in the life of contemporary adolescents.” Through
educational institutions, a sense of obligation and conformity is fostered. Students
obey rules about attendance, clothing and homework and are taught to value
these. The rituals carried out within schools, and the sentiments disseminated
within them, have a significant controlling effect on adolescents. In this way,
such institutions as school promote a sense of shared obedience and conformity
to social rules.
essay will explore acceptance of inequality. Durkheim posits that as people
strive and seek betterment within their lives, they may be deflected from the
role most suitable to them. In this way, a forced division of labour occurs. He
writes “the attention of each individual is distracted in too many directions” (Durkheim É. , 1893). Durkheim posits
that integration was stronger in pre-industrial times, where people had more in
common and less opportunity to be distracted by the potential for social
mobility. This, however, Durkheim accepts as natural.
contrasting modern and traditional society, we see most clearly the impact of
these factors. As Durkheim says, the more modern society becomes, the weaker
and more generalised integration becomes accordingly (Durkheim É. , 1893). Likely the rise of
capitalism has played a large role in this, through which individuals strive
for betterment more than before. As workers grow further apart, they relate
less and less to shared cultural symbols, and participate less in rituals. Perhaps
an example of this is the anomie which occurs among businessmen during booms
and depressions of the economy, contributing to a rise in suicide rates (Johnson, 1965). Additionally, through
capitalism the preferences of the individual are often held above the welfare
of the collective, as the economy begins to have more import than social
institutions such as religion (Thorlindsson & Bernburg,
extremely noteworthy as a theorist, and his work still holds extraordinary weight
since its first publication. This essay has sought to give a broad discussion
of Durkheim’s theory of social integration. It has explored Durkheim’s method
of using suicide rates to measure solidarity, given a comprehensive overview of
the factors necessary for integration, and given a contrast between the
integration of industrial and pre-industrial times. Without doubt, Durkheim’s
thoughts on social integration will be discussed for many decades to come.
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