Sunday, June 29, 2014

Division of labor theory: Smith, Marx and Durkheim - summary

The division of labor, the process by which members of society perform ever specified types of work, has received much theoretical discussion in social thought. Here is a summary of three important theories regarding the division of labor by Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim.

Adam Smith's theory on the division of labor
Adam Smith saw the division of labor as a positive source of growing productiveness of industrial capitalist markets. In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations Smith ties the division of labor and the differentiation of skills with increased productivity. Smith gives the example of a pin, when a single worker capable of producing a lesser number of pins per day on his own compared with a much greater number of a single task which is a part of the process when taken apart to different components.

Karl Marx's theory on the division of labor
Karl Marx agrees with Adam Smith on the notion that the division of labor is a central part of capitalism, but he disagrees on how favorable this process is in social terms. Marx argues that the division of labor brings about alienation, with the worker no longer feeling associated with the product of his own labor. In addition, Marx held that the result of the growing division of labor is the workers become less skilled, being able the perform only specific tasks which do not amount to a whole products, thus making them less autonomous and more dependent on their employer who gains leverage. On this ground Marx ties the division of labor with social mechanism of control. For more see our summary on Marx's Perception of History in The German Ideology: praxis, property and the division of labor.

Emile Durkheim's theory on the division of labor.
In accordance with Smith, Durkheim also views the division of labor as characteristic of industrial capitalist societies. Durkheim even saw the division of labor as a natural law that also governs other organisms. But like Marx, Durkheim pointed out, in his book Division of Labor in Society, to the negative aspect of the process which turns people more interdependent yet increasingly different from each other, resulting in a disability to share their view of the world and form ontological solidarity.     

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Karl Marx – dialectical materialism – summary and definition

One of the most basic concepts of Karl Marx's theory is the of "dialectical materialism". Marx thought of the dialectical nature of society and especially history is built on the tradition of G.W.F. Hegel which viewed history as a process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, with each force in history creating an opposite one, driving society forward. But while Hegel was concerned with dialectical idealism, one of spirit, ideas and beliefs, Marx was more concerned with the material-economic side of social reality.

Marx developed his theory of dialectical materialism in the elaborate manner in "The Capital", but his views on the contradiction that propel society forward can be found already in his renown Communist Manifesto (and in The German Ideology). Marx bases the study of society on the study of inner contradictions. Contradictions within society are what, according to Marx the view of dialectical materialism, drive society forward. While Hegel thought the these contradictions are ideal, meaning that they are contradictions between different views and forms of thought, Marx held that they are in fact contradictions with material substance (hence "dialectical materialism").

According to Marx history can be described as an ongoing conflict between classes over the means of production. Nowadays, under the capitalist mode of production the main contradiction is between the needs of capitalists to profit and the needs of the worker to survive by retaining some of the profit. This conflict according to Marx originates from economic circumstances but is manifested in the realm of ideology, a product of the relations of production which serves to grant justification to the existing state. But under the approach of dialectical materialism, the class conflict will undoubtedly bring about change when the social structure can no longer sustain the burden. Dialectical materialism drives social change through the reciprocal relations between contradicting social factors, factors which have to do first and foremost with material considerations of economy and class, with ideology is a product of these considerations.  

Suggested reading:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Emile Durkheim - Moral Education - summary and review

Emile Durkheim was a big believer in education and possibility of moral education as a means for social reform. Is "Moral Education" Durkheim builds on his elsewhere established theory of society as a source of morality. Emile Durkheim sees the state of being associated with social structures as the source of ontological perception, moral judgment and rules of behavior. In "Moral Education" Durkheim describes morality as comprised of three elements on which morality is constructed: discipline, attachment and autonomy. According to Durkheim discipline restraints egoistic tendencies and impulses, functioning to mediate aggressive self centered behavior. Attachment is the degree to which one is willing to be committed to a social group and autonomy is self accountability and responsibility for one's actions. The triadic relation between discipline, attachment and autonomy builds morality as code that is abided through complimenting and interdependent sources of action.       

According to Durkheim education provides children with these three aspects of morality required in order to function in society. School, for example, demands of children both discipline ("sit down and be quiet"), attachment ("love your country") and autonomy ("do your homework"). And id education is the source of morality then this means the morality can be changed through education, and society reformed.

The reformation of society through moral education for Durkheim is conducted not only and not necessarily at the level of content of education (i.e. what is being learned) but also and maybe predominantly at the level form. As described by Durkheim in works such as "Division of Labor in Society", attachment might be regarded as one of the weak points of morality, due to low levels of social cohesion characteristic of modern societies with high division of labor. Moral education will therefore focus on the sense of belongingness to a group. For example, Durkheim suggests that even adults can acquire moral education by associating themselves to various associations (such as occupational ones). 

Additional article summaries by Emile Durkheim:

Anomie according to Durkheim 

Suggested reading:   


Emile Durkheim - Elementary Forms of Religious Life - summary and review

"Elementary Forms of Religious Life" is one of Emile Durkheim's most notable and complex pieces of writing. The article relates to the sociology of religion but also sets forth Emile Durkheim's complex theory of human knowledge. According to Durkheim, at the basis of all religions, be it primitive or modern, stands the distinction between the sacred and profane (for a more detailed account see our summary of Durkheim's "The Sacred and the Profane"). For Durkheim the sacred is generated by means of rituals the created social cohesion and tie individuals to society. These bonds, which are articulated in moral terms, shape the categories through which we understand our social reality.

The differentiation between the sacred and profane takes shape not only in beliefs and rituals, but is also institutionalized in the structures of a church. This systemization of the distinction which forms "the elementary forms of religious life" is especially important for Durkheim since it is the rituals and churches which connect the individual to social structures. They are the source of knowledge regarding what is sacred and profane and the manners in which one should act to maintain this distinction. Durkheim gives the example of the Totem (elaborated in his The Genesis of the Totemic Principle of Mana) as a primitive form of such an organizing function. According to Durkheim the Totem is the material representation of the nonmaterial existence of the clan and its collective consciousness.  

In summary, the key point in Durkheim's "Elementary Forms of Religious Life" is the relation he offers between social structure of religion and what can be described as ontological structure of reality itself. The form religion takes is the form of social life which echo in each other, correlating meaning and belief to law and order through rituals and religious institutions.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Division of Labor in Society by Emile Durkheim - summary and analysis

Emile Durkheim's "Division of Labor in Society", as the title suggestes, engages with the topic of the division of labor and its relations to social cohesion and solidarity.
Economists prior to Durkeheim's times, such as Adam Smith or Karl Marx, considered the division of labor and its progress to be a natural law of human societies.  Without it, human societies would never progress, or so the economists believed.
Durkheim tried to take this a step further to argue that the division of labor was not just a natural law, but a moral rule.  That is, he argued that the division of labor created greater social cohesion or solidarity.

Durkheim opens his argument with the question of what is the function of the division of labor?
Adam Smith might answer, "To get the advantages of civilization."
But Durkheim responded:  If so, then it's not a moral rule since suicide and crime greatly increase with the division of labor.
He continued by noting that civilization, by itself, has no intrinsic value.  It's only value consists in fulfilling certain human needs.  Fulfilling needs would not mean anything if the needs were created by civilization itself.
Durkheim proceeds in asking if the division of labor satisfy any needs that it didn't create itself?
Durkheim says that to answer this question, it is useful to consider the old saying, "differences attract,"  but, he twists it to include only those differences that complement each other instead of exclude.  [Nationalities might exclude, whereas male and female, in many cases, complement each other (at least in D’s eyes… see Lehmann’s critique elsewhere.]
 "we seek in others what we lack in ourselves, and associations are formed wherever there is such a true exchange of services -- in short where there is a division of labor."
The function, then, of the division of labor is primarily moral, not economic (though there are, of course, economic results as well);  it's the feeling of solidarity created in two or more persons which it creates.
Then Durkheim moves on, asking to what degree does the solidarity produced by the division of labor contribute to the general cohesion of society?
To answer this question, Durkheim used an external symbol of solidarity, since it is otherwise “too indefinite to easily understand” (27) - Law.
Laws, Durkheim argued, can be categorized by type of sanction:
a)  repressive sanctions (penal laws):  with these laws, some loss or suffering is inflicted on the agent
b)  restitutive sanctions (civil, commercial, administrative law):  these sanctions just seek to return things to the way they were before the infraction.
These two types of sanction corresponded with the two types of solidarity:
a)  Mechanical Solidarity - characterized by repressive sanctions.
-        This type of solidarity is based on the attraction of like for like.
in-group solidarity, out-group hostility
repressive sanctions because offenses offend/shock our our conscience collective [defined as the "totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average citizen of the same society. " (DL, p179)]
-        “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” (40)
-        We react aggressively against those ideas and sentiments which contradict our own.  This links the individual to the social order - by virtue of his or her resemblance to others.
-        MS is solidarity “deriving from resemblances, bind[ing] the individual directly to society” (61)
-        Anything that offends collective sentiments in turn offends the collective itself, weakens society – that’s why even “victimless” crimes need to be punished (e.g., food laws) (62)
-        Punishment needed not just to deter actors, but to (re)affirm the power of the CC
-        Punishment protects society by producing atonement

b)  Organic Solidarity - characterized by laws with restitutive sanctions
-        Laws with restitutive sanctions must not have a strong source in the collective conscience.  Instead, they have a source in the division of labor.
-        Goal is to restore the status quo
-        Presumes the differences of individuals - there has to be a sphere of action peculiar to the individual for these sanctions to exist [self-interest].
-        That is, the conscience collective must leave part of the individual conscience untouched.  The more the individual conscience is expanded, the greater the cohesion produced from this kind of solidarity.
For any particular society, then, the ratio of laws with repressive sanctions to those with restitutive sanctions should be the same as the conscience collective to the division of labor.
More "civilized" societies, Durkheim found, did, in fact, have fewer repressive sanctions - except for those types of repressive sanctions that protect the individual.
Thus, the individual becomes the new religion - the last remaining piece of the collective conscience is the sanctity of the individual.

More differences… (83-84)
1)     MS links individual to society w/o intermediary; OS, individual depends on society b/c depends on parts that constitute it
2)     MS: society is composed of beliefs and sentiments common to all; OS: society is system of different and special functions united by definite relationships (AND, these societies are not 2, but really one)
3)     MS: can be strong to extent idea/tendencies common to all exceed in number and intensity those of the individual – solidarity at max when CC squeezes out the individual – 2 opposing forces, which cannot increase together: “if we have a strong inclination to think and act for ourselves we cannot be strongly inclined to think and act like other people” (84); OS: assumes that individuals are different from each other, CC leaves some space in individual consciousness, so that special functions can emerge, free of CC regulation.

Changes in structural features of societies:
The horde:   This structure was seen in mechanical societies and is characterized by a homogeneous mass of indistinguishable parts.  This structure was never seen in reality, but the clan had been.  This was when the horde became a part of a more extensive group - basically, a number of hordes interacting with each other.  The clan also was internally homogeneous and based on resemblances, not differences.
Organized type:  This structure was seen in organic societies.  It was coordinated around a central organ [regulative action.  Individuals place in this structure was determined by occupation instead of kin-group.  This structure also was not anywhere observable in its true form.
Causes of the Division of Labor:
- not the desire for happiness [Durkheim wanted it to be sociological, not psychological].  Are we happier than those in more mechanical societies?
- Instead it was due to an increase in dynamic or moral density:
a)  smaller geographic distance b/w members of a society
b)  smaller technological distance b/w members of a society
c)  sheer social volume of a society.
These factors make the struggle for existence more acute.  The only way to survive, Durkheim might argue, is differentiation/specialization - > then we each need different resources.
Durkheim also discussed Pathological or Abnormal forms of the division of labor (Anomic and forced).  These however, will be more easily discussed based on his next work - Suicide.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Emile Durkheim - Division of Labor in Society - summary and review

Emile Durkheim's "Division of Labor in Society" is considered to be one of his most influential works regarding the structure of society and makings of social solidarity. In "Division of Labor in Society" Durkheim attempts to show how formations of labor division serve to facilitate social interdependence and a sense of solidarity in society. In a sense, Durkheim argues that the division of labor influences and in fact creates the experience of being a part of society.

According to Durkheim the fact that different people engage in different tasks and function creates a situation in which no one is self-sustainable and therefore each and everyone in society is dependent on other people.

Durkheim is especially concerned with the manner in which the division of labor changes over time and across societies, changing also the manner in which people feel they are a part of their group and their view of society as a whole. For Durkheim societies in which the division of labor is small (meaning everybody engages in similar activities) are characterized as having "mechanical solidarity" which is relatively strong. Societies with high division of labor (modern societie) are referred to by Durkheim as having "organic solidarity" which has a weakening effect on collective conscience. These different types of societies are characterized by different types of laws, with mechanical solidarity enforced by repressive law while organic solidarity being dependant on restitutive sanctions.

Although Durkheim's thesis in "Division of Labor in Society" might seem to be economic in orientation, following the lines of previous thought into the matter of the division of labor (like Adam Smith or Karl Marx), or as a theory of social structure, it is in fact a theory of empathy. According to Durkheim being engaged in similar tasks makes you feel more connected with people and more able to have a sense of a shared fate. modernity, which brings about a higher division of labor makes more indifferent to other people that turn into functions rather than human counterparts. 

see also a more detailed summary and analysis of "Division of Labor in Society" by Durkheim 

Suggested reading:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Emile Durkheim / What is Social Fact? – summary and review

Emile Durkheim's ground breaking article "What is Social Fact?" is one of the better known articulations of the "building blocks" of functionalist and structuralist sociology. Durkheim defines social facts as predominantly "things", that is real agents, that should be at the focal point of the study of society. For Durkheim social facts are everything of social or cultural nature which work to determine an individual's life. Social facts can be social norms, values, conventions, rules and other social structures.

Social facts according to Durkheim exist outside and regardless of the individual which only works to sustain them by yielding to their power on him (similar to Durkheim's Totemic Principle). This means that social facts are external to us, and they are acquired through society of coerced by it. Deviation from social facts can result in various types of sanctions. They function as "sui generis" generals, meaning ideas that are independent of their actual private cases.

At the basis of the thesis Durkheim set forth in "What is Social Fact?" lies the perception of the individual grossly conditioned by social realities that form the boundaries of accepted behavior.

Social facts are quite simply the things that you like brushing your teeth, voting, shopping, going to church, paying taxes, yielding to pedestrians and so on and so forth. None of these things are done on your account, they are done because they are social facts that must be abided and therefore have real power over you. The way we manage our lives according to Durkheim is "What is Social Fact?" is always related to the workings of elaborate networks of social facts.

Durkheim gives the example of suicide rates, found to be higher with protestant communities compares with catholic ones. The fact that denomination had to do with suicide was proof for Durkheim to the function of social facts because it demonstrated how even taking your own life dependant on society rather than individual choice.   

Additional article summaries by Emile Durkheim:

Anomie according to Durkheim 

Suggested reading on and by Durkheim:


Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Uncanny/Unhomely in Bhabha's "The World and the Home"

In his essay titled "The World and the Home" Homi Bhabha draws on Sigmund Freud's concept of the "Uncanny" ("unheimlich"). In its original sense, Freud's uncanny or "unhomely" refers to the estranged sense of encountering something familiar yet threatening which lies within the bounds of the intimate.

In "The Home and the Home" Bhabha uses Freud's concept of the uncanny to describe the somewhat dismal state of (post)modern sense of belongingness and the sense of "home". According to Bhabha the state of the "unhomely" is not a state of lacking a home, or the opposite of having a home, it is rather the creeping recognition that the line between the world and the home are breaking down. As Bhabah puts it: "In that displacement the border between home and world becomes confused; and, uncannily, the private and the public become part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting".

For Bhabha the unhomely is expressed in the sensation that your home is not yours, and he broadens Freud's discussion from personal to political causes. Bhabha's unhomely appears through "holes" in the fabric of reality, things that remained unsaid, questions that remained unanswered, a place "where the relation of "object" to identity is always split and doubled" at the edge of the knowable.  The unhomely for Bhabha, like "the uncanny" for Freud, is the result of repression:  "To "un"-speak is both to release from erasure and repression, and to reconstruct, reinscribe the elements of the known. "In this case too," we may say with Freud, "the Unheimlich is what was once heimisch, home like, familiar; the pre-fix 'un' is the token of repression". It is the repression of certain expressed truth which has suddenly turned foreign. Bhabha concludes his discussion of the unhomely by arguing that "As literary creatures and political animals we ought to concern ourselves with the understanding of human action and the social world as a moment when something is beyond control, but it is not beyond accommodation".

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sigmund Freud – "The Uncanny" – summary and review

Sigmund's Freud's "The Uncanny" ("Das Unheimliche") was published in 1919 as part of his somewhat dismal account of the modern human condition (the Uncanny was complemented my Freud's "Beyond the Pleasure Principle", published a year later). Freud's notion of the uncanny draws on the lingual origins of the German word "Unheimliche", opposed to "heimlisch" which signifies "homely" in the cozy-intimate sense of the word. Unheimliche, translated as "uncanny" is not exactly the opposite of homely but rather a word that describes a sense of estrangement within the home, the presence of something threatening, tempting and unknown that lies within the bounds of the intimate.

Freud was not the first to tackle the notion of the uncanny, and in fact his article is a response to Earnest Jentsch account on the subject. Both Jentsch and Freud relate to E.T.A. Hoffman's short story The Sandman as an example of the uncanny, though they draw somewhat different conclusions.

At the beginning of "The Uncanny" Freud holds that the uncanny is that type of dread which returns to which is long familiar. The uncanny, in that sense, is something new that exists in something already known. But the uncanny for Freud in not simply something which is unknown that enters our consciousness.  After a long lingual discussion, Freud argues that the notion of Heimlich, "homely", relates to something which is known and comfortable on the one hand and hidden and concealed on the other. The home, for Freud, is a type of secret place, and the unhomely, the uncanny, is something which should have been kept a secret but is revealed. This means that the "canny-homely" and uncanny-unhomley are two opposites that bear each other's meaning. To give a concrete example: the mannequin is an example of something which appears to be familiar as a human figure, but is in fact lifeless and therefore a potential cause of dread as a result of this dissonance of not knowing at first glance whether we are looking at a human or a piece of plastic.

For Freud, if psychoanalysis is correct in holding that an emotional effect of any kind can turn into anxiety by means of repression it follows that there must be types of anxiety that are the result of something repressed that has resurfaced. Such a feeling of anxiety is the uncanny, which is something rediscovered only after repression has rendered it strange and unfamiliar – the uncanny, in other words, is something that should have been kept concealed but is discovered. Freud argues that we experience a sense of uncanny when a certain trigger brings back repressed childhood conflicts or primitive beliefs that we have overcome but suddenly, seemingly, receive renewed affirmation.

Freud's concept of the Uncanny is difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain, the best way to understand Freud's Uncanny is simply to read the short book:
More by Freud:
The Ego and the Id

Gaston Bachelard Explained

Gaston Bachelard might not appear on the short list of well known 20th century thinkers, but he is however a very interesting and inspiring writer with influence on contemporary thought which is not always recognized. With an interesting combination of epistemology, phenomenology and poetics Bachelard made some very interesting, beautiful and influential remarks about science, space, human psychology and the nature of our encounter with the world. Bachelard's most famous book today is "The Poetics of Space" but many of his other writings remain relevant.

Bachelard was a predominantly preoccupied with epistemology and phenomenology which he laced with understanding related to psychoanalysis. This interesting mixture of theoretical orientations stood at the base of Bachelard's investigations into the human condition.

One example of Bachelard's thoughts in this regard, and an example of his subsequent influence, is his accounts on the psychology of science. He was the first one to suggest the scientific progress has to do with certain modes of thought and perceptions, and not just the accumulation of knowledge. Bachelard's concept of epidemiological break as a point of change in such perceptions will later echo in the highly known works of Louis Althusser and Thomas Kuhn.

Another notable area in which Gaston Bachelard has something important to offer is that of poetics (not always distinct from his writing about science). Bachelards' most famous work in this regard is "The Poetics of Space". In "The Poetics of Space" Bachelard holds a phenomenological study of private architecture and its relations to the "architecture of the psyche". Bachelard attempts to describe the private residence though the poetic conceptions of its different parts (what he calls "topoanalysis"). In other words, in "The Poetics of Space" Bachelard explores the inside of the house as the inside of the human soul. He views the house as "primal universe" of psychological existence and ascribes different meaning to various images relating to home and space in general.

Max Weber: Religious affiliation and social stratification –summary

In the opening chapter of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, titled "religious affiliation and social stratification" Max Weber notes how statistics show that in mixed religion societies protestant tend to rank higher in socio-economic stances. This for Weber links Protestantism with capitalism and he is seeking for an answer for the link between them. In other words, Weber argues that religious beliefs have to do with economic practices and socio-economic position (for additional elaboration see Max Weber's theory of stratification)

Throughout "religious affiliation and social stratification" Weber shows how differences between Catholicism and Protestantism can account for different professional and economical attitudes produced by different environments which are, as a result, more or less adapted to the capitalist system.  Weber tries to account for these differences as the basis for his whole theory in of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

One explanation offered for differences between Catholicism and Protestantism is that Catholic people are less concerned with material gains and are more focused on gains in the afterlife. But Weber thinks this does not fully account for the differences. He holds that the fact Protestantism works better with capitalism is due to an intimate connection between the two, making them two aspects of the same thing (hint: rationalism).  

From this point in "religious affiliation and social stratification" Weber attempts to show how different features of Protestantism are adapted to, in fact yielded from, capitalism. His main argument which will stand at the core occupation of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is that the characteristics of a certain faith can transform into conditions of economic (and not just economic) personal and social behavior. An additional aspect of this theory is how it can link personal belief and religious belongingness to social statues and stratification.   

Suggested reading:


Introduction to The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (PESC) was originally published by Max Weber in two parts in 1904-05.  Weber later revised and re-published the book in 1920 as part of a more comparative study, Economic Ethics of the World Religions. 

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is not only a theory of the rise of capitalism.   As Weber says it is more about the role of religion in economic life, which addresses only one part of the rise of capitalism. 

One very important aspect in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is its ideal (rather than material) perception. Weber is often opposed to Karl Marx in this regard. Marx argued that social existence shapes consciousness, not vice versa.  Weber's position is more complex and bilateral:
He holds that ideas and perceptions play neither a wholly autonomous nor a purely passive role in history and society.

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Weber wrote:   

"Not ideas, but material and ideal interests, directly govern men's conduct.  Yet very frequently the "world images" that have been created by ideas have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by the dynamic of interest".

The central ideas posed by Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism have to do with several important issues.

One aspect of the book has to do with Weber's notion of rationality and rationalization. Weber sees capitalism has a part of a wider strive to organize society and economic life in a rational manner. Protestantism comes into the picture as a parallel attempt in modernity to organize religious life in a rational manner.  

Another aspect of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is question of capitalism's justification. Weber finds the answer to this question in the three-sided relationship between modern capitalism (a system for organizing economic life), the spirit of capitalism (the set of ideas that grant modern capitalism justification), and the Protestant Ethic (a religious attitude toward this world and the next upon which the spirit of capitalism is based).

Suggested reading: