Born in France, Durkheim descended from a line of rabbis. In his youth, however, he disavowed his Jewish heritage. For this, he was regarded by many as an agnostic. Religion, however, plays an important role in Durkheim's mind. He thinks of religion as a "form of sociology." No society can exist independently of religion, or of an idea of "sacredness." Every society distinguishes between the sacred and the profane, as he writes in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life." It is this knowledge which contributes to social solidarity and cohesion, the defining moral order. Structural-functional analysts derive much from Durkheim's study of religion.
Durkheim has been regarded by many as the "father of modern Sociology" because of his perceptive insights into society. In his doctoral dissertation, he outlined the mechanics of division of labor, which suggested that increasing specialization of labor and skills was accompanied by rapid industrialization in Europe. Today, this correlation is still widely held as binding.
Industrialization, however, has a price. With it comes a "breakdown" in the rules that govern behavior, leading to anomie or a condition of "normlessness." The term anomie is one of Durkheim's lasting contributions in the study of deviance. In brief, anomie = Lack of Regulation / Breakdown of Norms. He defines it as a condition where social and/or moral norms are confused, unclear, or simply not present. Durkheim felt that this lack of norms--or preaccepted limits on behavior in a society--led to deviant behavior.
"Industrialization in particular, Durkheim believes, tends to disolve restraints on the passions of humans. Where traditional societies--primarily through religion--successfully taught people to control their desires and goals, modern industrial societies separate people and weaken social bonds as a result of increased complexity and the division of labor. This is especially evident in modern society, where we are further separated and divided by computer technology, the internet, increasing bureaucracy, and specialization in the workplace. Perhaps more than ever before, members of Western society are exposed to the risk of anomie." (From: http://durkheim.itgo.com/anomie.html)
Anomie, in turn, is responsible for four kinds of suicide: 1. altruistic, 2. egoistic, 3. anomic, and 4. fatalistic. (see G. Ritzer for their meanings and explanations.) "Man is the more vulnerable to self-destruction the more he is detached from any collectivity, that is to say, the more he lives as an egoist." (1972, p.113 [exceprt from Moral Education])
Other contributions of Durkheim:
- Mechanical vs. organic solidarity. Mechanical Solidarity - Social cohesion based upon the likeness and similarities among individuals in a society, and largely dependent on common rituals and routines. Common among prehistoric and pre-agricultural societies, and lessens in predominance as modernity increases. Organic Solidarity - Social cohesion based upon the dependence individuals in more advanced society have on each other. Common among industrial societies as the division of labor increases. Though individuals perform different tasks and often have different values and interests, the order and very survival of society depends on their reliance on each other to perform their specific task. (From: http://durkheim.itgo.com/solidarity.html).
- Division of labor. "...Social harmony comes essentially from the division of labor. It is characterized by a cooperation which is automatically produced through the pursuit by each individual of his own interests. It suffices that each individual consecrate himself to a special function in order, by the force of events, to make himself solidary with others." (Durkheim, 1933, p.200)
- Social facts. 1. Those social facts relevant to the organism of society as a whole. Its population, its technology and its territory/environment. These social facts are those that form the basic conditions of existence of a given society. Indeed these social facts could be said to form the 'environmental context' of a society. 2. The social facts underlying the social institutions within a society. The institutions of the state, education and family for example. 3. The facts relating to the norms, the values and the moralities of a society. What Durkheim called the `collective representations' of a society which constituted a society's culture. (From: http://www.sociologyonline.co.uk/soc_essays/DurkEssay.htm)