THE DURKHEIMIAN TRADITION
This is sociology's core intellectual tradition because it postulates the 'society' as a coherent unit of analysis
- Social order is not the temporary resolution of conflict or interests, but a self-sustaining entity, much like an organism
- The Durkheimian tradition has been influential in both anthropology and sociology, especially whenever the ideal type of a 'society' is either a tribe or the nation-state: i.e. a geographically and historically localized region of human population
- The Durkheimian tradition is most evident in the composition of introductory sociology textbooks, which focus on your country as 'society' and talks about differences between 'normal' and 'deviant' behaviour, and how these are maintained and reproduced
- Although Durkheim himself was French, in 20th c. Anglo-America, the Durkheimian tradition is most often encountered as 'functionalism'
The Durkheimian tradition has some intellectual links to both the conflict and rational/utilitarian traditions
- When Freud and Weber talk about social structures 'sublimating' or 'rationalizing' emotional or unconscious aspects of our being (especially in a positive manner), this gets us close to Durkheim, except Durkheim focuses more on the resulting structures than the underlying processes
- When rational/utilitarian theorists define a 'field of play' within which strategic action occurs, they are usually referring to rituals and structures that Durkheim would claim gives meaning to strategic action
Durkheim was self-conscious about founding a science of sociology that would have its own laws, methods, objects, etc.
- He was a pioneer in the use of statistical data (which he did not himself collect) to show that the most seemingly individualistic act, suicide, was intimately related to the deterioration of social bonds.
- Durkheim held that social order was directly proportion to the intensity of social interaction which tended to increase and specialize as populations grown: i.e. there is an ultimate physical explanation for social life
- In that sense, Durkheimian sociology is a natural science of society, not simply a 'human science' focussed exclusively on the study of texts and other meaningful human artifacts
- It is clear that Durkheim's notions of normal and deviant behaviour drew on organic analogies common in the medical science of his day (1890s).
Durkheim’s Legacy to Macro-Sociology: Functionalism
- Talcott Parsons (Harvard) was probably the most important institutional presence in 20th c. sociology: portrayed Weber and Durkheim as the founding fathers, both against Marx.
- His ‘structural-functionalism’ stressed the naturalness of social cohesion to such an extent that he defined all conflict as transitional between two ‘social equilibria’: i.e. when the old and new orders temporarily clash
- E.g. Nazism explained as incomplete modernization (i.e. democracy and technology wedded to mythical notions of nationhood);
- E.g. 1968 student revolts explained as incomplete socialization (i.e. adulthood delayed because of increased schooling)
- Not surprisingly, this added up to a politically conservative image of sociology, in which (in Robert Merton’s terms) the ‘manifest function’ of conflict (express disagreement) served the ‘latent function’ (reinforcing order).
Durkheim’s Legacy to Micro-Sociology: Anthropology
- Durkheim influenced by his teacher, Fustel de Coulanges, who argued that the social bond is based on religious ritual
- Rituals are ‘means of emotional production’ (vs. labour as means of material production)
- Rituals tend to divide societies into those who control and are controlled by the rituals; source of stratification, conflict and revolution
- Durkheim generalized this thesis, arguing that rituals are the basis for a society’s conception of space, time and causation
- Structural anthropology (Levi-Strauss) sought to define the limits of human thought by mapping the logic of symbolic action, esp. myths
- The legacy is most clearly felt in Levi-Strauss’ book, ‘Totem and Taboo’, which refers to how societies assign deep conceptual significance to social hierarchy (totem) and exclusion (taboo): Mary Douglas’ grid-group theory.
- A modern version of ‘totem and taboo’ may be found in how differences in thought and action are read into psychological and psychiatric categories (‘deviance’)
- Erving Goffman showed how conversation as an ‘interaction ritual’ reinforced modern American sense of individuality, even if the people involved don’t care/know much about each other.
- ‘Individuality’ is the sacred object on which conversants are fixated (like Mass as a ritual to demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit, with which the celebrants are infused)
- NB: While this ‘impression-management’ view of the self is cynical, there is no hint of critique or that it should be otherwise; in fact, it’s presented as ‘functional’
- Durkheim Updated: Basil Bernstein (IOE, London) on ‘Class Codes’
- Bernstein, the most influential sociologist of education in the Anglophone world, distinguished between ‘elaborated’ and ‘restricted’ codes, pertaining to the linguistic abilities of school children
- Bernstein observed that this distinction marked both a vertical (more v. less articulate) and horizontal (more v. less networked) arrangement of people
- Nowadays the horizontal arrangement is called ‘social capital’, but Bernstein was criticized in the 1960s and ‘70s by cultural relativists who objected to the vertical arrangement
- Mixed response to Bernstein highlights the normative ambiguity of the Durkheimian tradition: Is the maintenance of social order inherently good?