Bowdoin College

Mechanical vs. Organic Solidarity

Durkheim discusses two different kinds of  “positive” solidarity; one in which the individual is directly linked to society though collective beliefs and ideas and one in which the individual is linked to society because he is dependent on other people in the same society.

The first type of solidarity is only possible if there exists a strong homogeneity of personalities in the society. Durkheim points out that there is an inverse relationship between this type of solidarity and one’s individuality because the stronger this type of solidarity becomes, the weaker our individual consciousness becomes because everything becomes enveloped by the collective. We become a “collective being” rather than striving to be our own person. In this type of society, division of labor can only operate in its simplest forms. Durkheim uses the example of Indian tribes in North America, where nearly everyone has the same social capital and works towards the same goals. He coins this type of solidarity “mechanical,” because “the individual consciousness is simply a dependency of the collective type, and follows all its motions, just as the object possessed follows those which its owner imposes on it. (p. 84-85) The society is the owner, and the individuals become objectified, almost in comparison to robots.

The second type of solidarity only works when individuals ARE unique from one another. People become specialized in one particular area, and are linked to other people and consequently the society through dependency. This is where division of labor thrives; since people are only able to do one particular thing, they depend much more on the rest of society to do other things. “Here, then, the individuality of the whole grows at the same time as that of the parts.” (85) An example of this is a symphony orchestra. The more skilled each musician is at his or her respective instrument, the better the orchestra will sound as a whole. However, this also indicates that the collective consciousness grows stronger as well. If the two consciousnesses have an inverse relationship to each other, how can they both increase at the same time? Durkheim believes the division of labor enables this to happen. ”Yet social progress does not consist in a process of continual dissolution-quite the opposite: the more we evolve, the more societies develop a profound feeling of themselves and their unity.” (122)

This ties in with his quote on page 133. Division of labor increases as societies develop. The “frame that it hedges itself in” can be thought of as a less developed, homogeneous society in which the mechanical solidarity exists. If the individual consciousness belongs to the collective that division of labor stays stagnant. Durkheim argues that this mechanical solidarity must disappear so that organic solidarity can take its place.

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