As a cause and as a symptom of social hierarchies, division of labor is an integral part of the structuring of society. Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim both give very different interpretations to the effects causing, evolving, and caused by this division of labor. On one hand, Marx typically vilifies the process, finding it in large part responsible for the oppression of one group by another. On the other hand, Durkheim treats it as a unifying social force, one necessarily maintained for the betterment of all. With such contrasting viewpoints, it is difficult to decide whether this process is necessarily good or bad. In effect, the argument is how far must individual needs be sacrificed for the benefit of society, or how much society must be
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Durkheim argues that the societies that depend most on this intense division of labor spawn more unified society. He argues that because of the intense specialization, each member of society cannot survive without the contributions of others, “they cannot separate without perishing,” (79). Durkheim likens this relationship to that of an organism where the individuals are organs without which the body (society) would perish but together create something greater than the sum of their parts. As long as man is contributing to society he can find personal satisfaction in that he is rallying and promoting something greater than himself rather than feeling alienated from the product of his labor.
Interestingly enough, Marx and Durkheim describe division of labor very similarly; their disagreement comes from their differing interpretation of its effects. They both describe the division as a process through which specialization in labor occurs and fosters interdependence among its members. However, Marx believes that this interdependence weakens the individual and the specialization alienates the worker from his labor and himself. Durkheim, on the other hand, believes that the specialization allows individuals to more freely pursue their interests and passions and the interdependence forges stronger community bonds. The two philosophers are able to reach these very different conclusions from the same body of evidence by