Emile Durkheim and the Collective Conscience Essay

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Emile Durkheim and the Collective Conscience Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) was a French sociologist who strongly influenced the discipline of sociology. It was apparent to Durkheim that since the French Revolution, the nation had been wracked by conflict and moral crisis (Stones, 2008). At the individual level, rising suicide rates reflected a growing sense of malaise. Durkheim’s goal was to develop a sociology that would help France overcome this continuing moral crisis. By tracing the influences on Durkheim to his predecessor August Comte and the German scholars of experimental psychology, it is possible to understand how Durkheim came to the conclusion that society is greater than the individual, and how his idea of a collective …show more content…
Stones (2008), concludes that numerous later studies have repeatedly confirmed most of Durkheim’s basic findings. Thomson (2008) states that Durkheim was of the belief that modern society needed a religion or collective conscience, and Mathewmann, West-Newman and Curtis (2007) trace this belief to Durkheim’s study of the Arunta; an Australian Indigenous people. Durkheim concluded that the all-pervasive nature of religion in simpler societies produced social solidarity and a source of moral unity. Durkheim described this as an aspect of mechanical solidarity based on a powerful collective conscience (Pope and Johnson, 1983). Modern society needed a set of collective beliefs and practices that had special authority, and in modern society Durkheim believed this was the cult of the individual. According to Stones (2008), Durkheim believed that the mechanical solidarity evident in more primitive societies was transformed as societies grew in size. There was an increasing intensity in the struggle for resources, producing specialization and a division of labour. Individuals and institutions began to relate to each other on the basis of complementary differences that make them mutually dependent on each other. The collective conscience becomes weaker and more abstract, permitting the development of greater individuality and freedom. Stones (2008), concludes that this division of