There are four fundamental dualisms, (as listed above) described by Craib, and every social theory developed must explain both sides of the dualism. (Craib, 1997: 7). In this essay, a comparison is made of Durkeim’s and Weber’s approaches to Craib’s first essential dualism, between the individual and society. The crucial idea being whether the theorist holds the individual or society, to be their starting point of analysis, and/or to be more significant, in their theory.
Durkheim (1858-1917) a French classical sociological theorist was one of the main founders of Sociology. Writing after the French Revolution, during a time of mass industrialisation, and social transformation, there was a need for social order, as traditional society was rapidly modernising. Durkheim (1964 ) argued the case for a new sociological method in studying society based around ‘social facts’ (Durkheim, 1964 :1 ), which are the actions, thoughts or feelings that we have which conform to society’s norms, but are also:
…existing outside the individual consciousness. These types of conduct or thought are not only external to the individual but are, moreover, endowed with coercive power, by virtue of which they impose themselves upon him, independent of his individual will. (Durkheim, 1964 : 2)
Durkheim (1964 ) maintained that the existence of social facts, social structures, external and internal social forces, proved that society existed as a distinct reality apart from the individuals within it, furthermore, as society has multiple layers, it must be scientifically studied. Therefore, Durkheim’s starting point for analysis was society, holding society as more important than the individual throughout. Individuals are therefore shaped, controlled and regulated by their society. Moreover, the social groups which individuals may belong to, can have different actions, thoughts and feelings; to those of their individual components.
Durkheim (1964 ) suggests society is an entity itself, being greater than the sum of its parts, (as society existed before some of its current individuals were born). Durkheim’s (1964 ) new sociological method was a positivist/scientific, approach towards social phenomena, implying research should be done empirically, enabling observations of parallels between social facts, in the hope of uncovering the functions of the phenomena. Durkheim (1951 ) uses this approach in a study of suicide, which was chosen as is generally thought of as extremely personal. Durkheim (1951 ) looked at data such as suicide rates, within different groups, endeavouring to uncover the social fact that came before the suicide. Durkheim believed this led to the suicide rather than an issue in the individual’s consciousness. Concluding further ‘Anomic suicide’ (Durkheim, 1951 :241) was the leading type of suicide in his time, the cause being that: as individual freedom increases, the regulative power of a united group decreases, so suicide rates increase as individuals become more isolated from the once unified group. The two other forms of suicide: ‘Egoistic suicide’ (Durkheim, 1951 :171) - where an individual fails in a successful society, and ‘Altruistic suicide’ (Durkheim ,1951 :217) - where an individual sacrifices himself for the greater need of the group. In the latter two cases, when there is stronger solidarity, (traditional societies), suicide rates increase. Therefore, moral regulation and group integration are key determinants for suicide.
However, despite this, individualism was still central to Durkheim’s analysis, especially as traditional society faded, and society moved towards modernity.…