Monday, March 9, 2009

The abnormal forms

Durkheim, Emile. Division of Labor in Society
Book 3 Chp2 and 3

In Book 3, Durkheim discusses the abnormal forms. In chapter 2, Durkheim discusses the abnormal form of division of labor – forced division of labor. According to Durkheim, assigning the lower class roles that are not according to their will and not satisfied with creates conflicts. This therefore requires change social order so that one does something agreeable to him. He argues that for the division of labor to create social solidarity, it is not enough that everyone have a task but the task must be agreeable to him. If the division of labor produces unrest, it is because the distribution of social functions does not correspond to the distribution of natural abilities. Constraint binds people to their functions, and only a troubled form of solidarity can exist (311). From my perspective, Durkheim assumes that people have no capacity to act on their external environment. People make choices and constraints alone cannot confine people to their undesired functions. People can influence the environment to obtain a desired situation although the external environment can also directly impact of them, which could be constraining.

He goes further to assert that normally, labor is divided according to the distribution of aptitude in society. The division of labor produces social solidarity when it arises spontaneously (312). Perfect Spontaneity corresponds to absolute equality in the external conditions of struggle for a position in the division of labor. Constraint occurs when this struggle becomes impossible (313). Perfect spontaneity cannot exist in any society. Inequalities build up through time. For instance, the hereditary transmission of wealth makes the external conditions of the 'struggle' very unequal. The 'higher' the society, the less these inequalities exist (313-4). I disagree with Durkheim’s statement that the higher the society, the less these inequalities exist. In industrialized society, inequalities still exist due to unequal access to means of production. I totally disagree that wealth is hereditary. Even those born by poor families learn better ways to survive in society. Later in the books he argues that injustice causes birth of the poor and rich but this does not solely explain cause of social inequalities. Social structures are contributing factors.

Durkheim assets that in an organic society, the sentiments held in common do not possess a great deal of strength to keep the individual bound to the group. Subversive tendencies emerge more readily than in mechanical societies. Hence, in organized societies it is indispensable that the division of labor attains the goal of spontaneity. These societies should attempt to eliminate all external inequalities. They cannot sustain solidarity unless their constituent parts are solidly linked (315-6). Equality in the external conditions of the struggle is needed to secure each individual to his function and to link these functions with each other (316). This argument draws Durkheim into a discussion on the importance of equality in contracts. He states that contracts necessarily develop with the division of labor. There is a consensus of a certain kind that is expressed in contracts and represents an important factor of collective thought in higher societies. He goes ahead to state that contracts are a regulatory system and can enhance solidarity only if there is justice among parities in exchange.

Durkheim also contends that 'there can be no rich or poor by birth without there being unjust contracts' (319). These injustices are found less often in less advanced societies, where contractual relations are less developed. Yet as labor becomes more divided up and the social doctrine weakens, these injustices become more unbearable and people start creating contracts to make relationships fairer. Therefore contracts regulate social life so that people do not take advantage of each other. Regulation generates liberty and equality.

In chapter 3 of book 3, Durkheim discusses the last abnormal form in industrial society, which is wastage. This occurs when there is lack of coordination of functions, leading to disorder. The ‘organs’ of the system do not function smoothly and continuously together to furnish efficient production of social solidarity. Although the division of labor might be highly developed, it is very poorly integrated. This does not always occur because there is a lack of a regulatory organ, but because the regulator does not distribute work in such a way that each individual is kept sufficiently busy to increase the functional activity of every worker (324).

Every increase in functional activity can create an increase in social solidarity. When functions of each organism become more active, they become more continuous. When all functions of the organisms become even more active, continuity of each one of them increases even more, creating solid ties and thus increasing solidarity. He states: As actions are more solidly linked to one another, they become more dependent on one another (326). The more individuals work in a society, the more each individual will specialize. At the same time, each worker must increase his activity to meet the needed amount of product. Hence, a second reason for why the division of labor fosters social cohesion: 'It fosters the unity of the organization by the very fact that it adds to its life (328).'

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Organic solidarity and Contractual Solidarity

This is an overview of chapter 7 (Organic solidarity and Contractual Solidarity). It highlights some of the key issues in this chapter. However it lacks an in-depth analysis of the issues raised by Durkheim and Spencer.

In this chapter, Durkheim criticizes Spencer’s conceptions of organic solidarity and contracts. This critic forms the basis of Durkheim’s discussion. Spencer claims that industrial solidarity is spontaneous and that there is no need for a coercive apparatus to produce or maintain it. Social harmony is simply established of its own accord. Durkheim asserts that, were this is the case, the sphere of social action would diminish greatly because it would no longer be needed except to enforce negative solidarity (149). I argue that human beings are dynamic and their actions are influenced by external events. In the free capitalists’ society, external measures actively influence people’s action. Thus social occurrences may not be spontaneous but are driven by other external forces like political and economic factors.

Spencer also argues that the normal form of exchange is contract. For this reason, the extent of central authority diminishes. As freedom of action increases, contracts become more general. This general social contract requires the free agreement of human wills and is irreconcilable with the division of labor. However, Durkheim argues states that this type of spontaneous, general social contract has never existed. Societies are spontaneously contractual only to the extent that an individual chooses to remain in the society in which he was born, and hence he abides by that society's rules. For Spencer, society would be no more than the establishment of relationships between individuals exchanging the products of their labor without any social action intervening to regulate that exchange (152).

Durkheim disputes Spencer by claiming that social intervention is on the rise. The legal obligations which society imposes on its members are becoming more and more complex. restitutory law is growing. If social intervention no longer has the effect of imposing certain uniform practices on everybody, it consists more in defining and regulating the special relationship between the different social functions (153).

Spencer agrues that not every kind of control has decreased, just positive control. However, Durkheim asserts that positive control is far from disappearing; in fact, restitutory law is continually growing (154). In the current situation, Durkheim and Spencer could be right but their arguments are context specific. Currently, with the increase in deviation from ‘normal behavior’, restitutory law is increasing. In Uganda were Kinships still prevail, repressive law still manifests to control people cord of conduct. However, restitutory law still dominates; people are forced to comply with government systems which may not be according to their own will. This could confirm Durkheim’s argument.

Durkheim next states that although Spencer is correct in claiming that contractual relationships are multiplied as society is divided up, he has failed to note that non-contractual relationships are developing at the same time (155). Durkheim argues that 'private law,' typically contractual, is really quite public. For instance, marriage and adoption, although private matters, were formerly endorsed by the church and are now endorsed by civil authority (155). As domestic obligations become more numerous, they tend to take on a private character. The role played by contract is continually decreasing, and social control over the way obligations are regulated is increasing. This is due to the progressive disappearance of segmentary organization. Everything segmentary is increasingly absorbed into larger society.

The contracts that remain are entirely removed from the sphere of individual negotiation and are submitted to the regulatory force of society. Contractual law exists to determine the legal consequences of our acts which we have not settled beforehand. It expresses the normal conditions for attaining equilibrium and constrains us to respect obligations for which we have not contracted. It is the role of society to determine what contractual conditions are capable of being executed, and if necessary, to restore them to their normal form (162). And just as society plays a role in shaping contracts, contracts play a role in shaping society. An extensive network of relationships which contribute to social solidarity can stem from contracts.

Social life is derived from a dual source: the similarity of individual consciousnesses and the social division of labor. The similarity of consciousnesses gives rise to rules, which under the threat of repressive measures, impose uniform beliefs and practices. The more pronounced the similarity, the more completely social life is mixed up with religious life. On the other hand, the division of labor gives rise to legal rules that determine the nature of a divided up society, but punishment for law breakers in this case involves only reparative measures which lack any expiatory character (172). In organic society, members' dependence on the state continues to grow. As a result, they are continually reminded of their common solidarity.

Durkheim argues that altruism is not Spencer's conception of an ornament to social life, but it is the fundamental basis of social life. Every society is a moral society, because men cannot cohabitate without agreeing and cooperating. Hence, even societies characterized by organic solidarity and the division of labour are moral because cooperation has an intrinsic morality. This morality grows as the individual personality grows stronger (as opposed to in mechanical solidarity when morality depends on common sentiment) (173-4).

There are 'two great currents of social life.' The first has origins in social similarity and is segmentary. It gradually becomes overshadowed by the second type of society, which is composed of individual differences and organic cooperation. Nonetheless, the segmentary structure never completely disappears (174).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Chapter 2 Mechanical Solidarity or Solidarity by Similarities

In this chapter, Durkheim argues that repressive law reflects a society characterized by mechanical solidarity. In mechanical society, solidarity results from similarities between people. People act and think alike with a collective or common conscience that allows social order to be maintained. Deviation from the norm in a mechanical society is considered a crime and it is subject to punishment. Penal rules express the basic conditions of collective life for each type of society (32). Crime disturbs those feelings that in any one type of society are to be found in every healthy conscious (34). In 'Lower forms' of society (those most simply organized) law is almost exclusively penal or repressive e.g. religious law. The unchangeable character of penal law demonstrates the strength of the resistance of collective sentiment to a given crime and the reverse is true. Panel rules are presented with clarity and precision while purely moral rules are fluid. According to Durkheim, collective conscience or common consciousness is the totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a society that forms a determinate system with a life of its own. Durkheim defines an act as criminal when it offends the well defined state of collective consciousness (39).

It is actually public opinion and opposition which constitutes the crime. An act offends the common consciousness not because it is criminal, but it is criminal because it offends that consciousness. A crime is a crime because we condemn it (40). All crimes floe directly or indirectly from the collective conscience (43). The role of an authority with power to govern is to ensure respect for collective practices and to defend the common consciousness from its 'enemies.' In lower societies, this authority is greatest where the seriousness of the crime weighs the heaviest. Here the collective consciousness posses the most power (43). Primitive people punish for the sake of punishing causing the offender to suffer solely for the sake of suffering. However, nowadays society punishes in order to instill fear in potential criminals (46). Yet, punishment has still remained an act of vengeance and expiation (atonement). What society avenges, and what the criminal must expiate, is the 'outrage to morality' (47). It is the attack upon society that is repressed by punishment.

Punishment is a 'reaction of passionate feeling, graduated in intensity, which society exerts through the mediation of an organized body over those of its members who have violated certain rules of conduct' (52). Punishing crime sustains the common consciousness. Two consciousnesses exist within humans: one which represents individual personalities and the other which represents the collectivity. The force which is shocked by crime is the result of the most vital social similarities and its effect is to maintain the social cohesion that arises from these similarities (61).

Punishment publicly demonstrates that the sentiments of the collectivity are still unchanged (despite the deviant ways) of the offender and thus the injury that the crime inflicted on society is made good. Therefore the criminal should suffer in proportion to his crime. In fact, the primary intent of punishment is to affect honest people (63). In this chapter, Durkheim shows that a social solidarity exists because a certain number of states of consciousness are common to all members of the same society. This is the solidarity which repressive law embodies.
On the other hand, in industrial society, division of labor is complex. People are allocated in society according to merit and rewarded accordingly. In order to maintain social order in industrial (organic society), moral regulations were required due to massive violation of human rights. Such societies use restitution laws to bring order in society. Durkheim believed that transition from mechanical or organic society brought social disorder, crisis and anomie.


Chapter 1: The method of determining this function

In chapter one, Durkheim establishes the role of division of labor. Division of labor increases both the productive capacity and skill of the workman, it is the necessary condition for the intellectual and material development in societies. Labor it has a moral character which is very important to society. Durkheim states that immoral actions (such as crime and suicide) tends to increase in industrial society and do not contribute to credit of civilization. Thus morality is very important in society and society can not live without it. Division of labor can promote morality and its true function is to create a feeling of solidarity between two or more people (17). Durkheim elucidates that similarity and dissimilarity can cause mutual attraction. Dissimilarity causes attraction because of complementarily. Different people are inclined to unite because we possess different qualities that complement each other.

To explain how the division of labor contributes to feelings of solidarity, Durkheim uses an example of a married couple. Men and women are attracted to each other because they are different, therefore, seek each other with passion. He claims that if the division of labor between the sexes were reduced to a certain point, material life would disappear, only to leave behind sexual relationships. The division of labor goes beyond purely economic interests; it constitutes the establishment of a social and moral order sui generis. Durkheim acknowledges that in marriage people are also bounded because of their similarities. In this sense, they are bonded outside the division of labor (22).

Durkheim asserts that great political societies cannot sustain their equilibrium save by the specialization of tasks; the division of labor is the source…of social solidarity. Durkheim states here that Comte was the first to point out that the division of labor was something other than a purely economic phenomenon. Comte argued that it was the 'continuous distribution of different human tasks which constitutes the principal element in social solidarity' (23). The division of labor has a moral character because the needs which it fulfills for social solidarity, order, and harmony are moral needs (24).

According to Durkheim, the most visible symbol of social solidarity is law and claims that solidarity and law are linked. He defines law as the organization of social life in its most stable and precise form. Life in society can not increase without legal activity. Thus all the essential varieties of social solidarity are reflected in law (25). We can classify different types of law to see which types of social solidarity correspond to them. Two types of law exist. The first type is repressive (covers penal law), which imposes some type of 'damage' on the perpetrator. The second type is restitution, which does not necessarily imply any suffering on the part of the perpetrator but consists of restoring the previous relationships which have been disturbed from their normal form (covers civil, communal, procedural law). Custom is not opposed to law and it forms the basis for it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Insights into the communist manifesto

In the communist Manifesto, Marx argues that capitalism creates two classes i.e. the Bourgeoisie and the proletariat, classes live in antagonism. The bourgeoisie possess all the means of social production while the proletariat do not own any means of production. This creates social inequalities since the resources are concentrated in a few hands Marx discusses the process of advancement of capitalism. With the dissolution of the primeval communities, people who were involved in small or middle businesses were swept away and became part of the proletariat. The feudal society under went revolution with advancement from small to giant modern industry. This evolution was accompanied by the political advance of the bourgeoisie class. In the capitalist society, man is never free and is reduced to exchange value. The bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat, fostered by political and religious notions.

According to Marx, the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionalizing the instruments of production and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society (476). The constant demand for products keeps the bourgeoisie in ever changing social relations with the globe, creating relations between the producers, consumers and other participants in the market chain. The bourgeoisies centralize production and monopolize the market, compelling all nations to adopt the bourgeoisie mode of production. Currently, this can been observed in the multi-national corporations that have dominated the value chain right from production to consumption. Their businesses are constantly moving across nations in search for cheap and other means of production to maximize profits. In the process, local laborers are being exploited. Since government and trade policies tend to favor capitalists, they, are better placed to take advantage of cheap labor.

With the extensive use of machinery and division of labor, the work of the proletarians has loses all individual character. Man becomes an appendage of the machine, his value diminishes and his exchange value is restricted to the means of subsistence. Marx predicts that the ever expanding union of workers, facilitated by improved means of communications, will empower workers to revolt and battle the bourgeoisie class. However, organization of the proletariat into political party is constantly weakened by competition among workers themselves. Marx advocates for abolition of private property and increase in social status in production. Marx predicts that in future, capitalism will be ruled out and replaced with socialism and communism. With abolition of bourgeoisie, individuality will be abolished; together will freedom under the bourgeoisie condition (free trade, free selling and buying). Although Marx predicted abolition of bourgeoisie property, we note that current governments are still capitalistic and even those that tried to adopt communism failed to achieve it.

Tucker, R. c. 1978. 1972. The Marx-Engels Reader. Second edition.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Social Power

What is the nature of social power?

A dictionary definition of power is the ability to do or act, or the possession of control or command over others. Power is a measure of a person's ability to influence the environment around them, including the behavior of other people. Social power is the ability of an actor to change the incentive structures of other actors in order to bring about outcomes. Thus social power can constrain other people’s action and on the other hand, it can facilitate action in a given context. In social processes were we are involved with other people, our ability to satisfy our desires is determined by our ability to influence people with power or resist their efforts to influence us in ways we do not want. The ability to influence or resist is social power.

There are several forms of power and these include:
1. Economic power - to control production, resources and labor; to buy or control things with money or credit; and to influence consumption, production, prices, wages or other market conditions.
2. Government power - to formulate rules and policies that govern people’s action and behavior.
3. Physical or coercive power - to coerce behavior of others e.g. through use of force or violence. Although coercive power tends to be the most obvious, it is not effective because it causes resentment and resistance within the target audience.
4. Knowledge power - built by being well-informed and up-to-date with information. Possession of knowledge fosters persuasion of others.
5. Personal power - power of an individual in a given position and duties of the holder of the position within an organization. This is the most obvious and also the most important kind of power.

Nature of social power
Social power is transmutable and fluid because it can be changed from one form to another in a given context. For instance, governmental power can be easily changed by war. Other forms of power in local communities such as kinships in Uganda may not be easily changed due to cultural or institutional norms that govern election of kings (a king rules a kingdom for as long as he is alive). However, it also flows across generations. This implies that social power is not static but flows among individuals, generations, and within and across institutions.

Social power can be active or passive. Individuals that recognize the power they have use it to influence others. However, individuals who fail to realize what power they have tend to be passive for example citizens who do not vote.

Social power does not come in separate pieces. Social power is organized into systems or structures of power such as organizations, family, community, religion, interest group, class, movement, political party, etc. All components or individuals within a given social organization influence or are influenced by a given form of power. Consequently, this influences the outcomes of the system.

Social power influences people’s freedom to satisfy their desires and the reverse is true. For example, people with lots of money (such as capitalists) can successfully influence other people (e.g. the workers) who may not have as much money. Marx discusses how capitalists use money to manipulate workers. Marx argues that money can transform an individual and their identity from bad to good. Money turns man’s powers into something which in itself is contrary. Therefore, the more power one has the less freedom the other party has to realize their desires. To be able to resist influence from people with power, it is important that we are conscious and aware of our desires and of possibilities for expressing and fulfilling them. We need the means and opportunities for satisfying our desires and address restrictions, coercion and, other factors that hinder self-determined realization of our desires.

Social power influences realization of democracy. Societies or social organizations were some people have more power as compared to others lack of democracy. This leads to unequal distribution of resources and opportunities thus generating social inequalities. To minimize social inequalities, social power should be equitably distributed among members of social organizations. I use the term equitable because practically it is difficult to realize equal distribution of social power.

In conclusion, social power is of significant importance to communities or social organizations due to the fact that it enhances social change and development. However, this can only be achieved in communities with equitable power distribution. Foucault noted that there is no society without power relations. A society without power relations can only be an abstraction.


Monday, January 26, 2009


1. What is Alienation and what do you know about it at an experiential level (have you experienced /seen/felt of) and does reading Marx make you think or feel about alienation differently?

What is Alienation?

A dictionary definition of the term alienation is “withdrawing or separation of a person or his affections from an object or position of former attachment” or, in the case of property, “a conveyance of property to another” or transfer of ownership of title” (Webster, 2002). Marx develops the term Alienation by using the notions of separation and transferring something to a new owner. According to Marx, alienation is the separation of work or labour from the worker, and separation of the products of labour from the worker. The worker does not own his labor and the products of his labour. Both his labour and the product are owned and controlled by the employers (capitalists). Marx argues that alienation is manifested not only in the result of human labour but also in the act of production i.e. within the producing activity itself (73).

Marx argues that as the worker becomes poorer, the more wealth he produces, and the more his production increases in power and range. The worker becomes cheaper as he creates more commodities. As the value of the products increases, the more the worker is devalued. Therefore, the object that labor produces (labor’s product) confronts the worker’s labour as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labour is labour and it is expressed in form of an object which becomes material. Thus labor produces not only commodities but also produces itself and the worker as a commodity. The products produced by the worker become alien to him because the worker does not posses them. Thus the worker is related to the product of his labour as to an alien object. Alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labour becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power of its own confronting him (71).

What do you know about alienation at an experiential level?

When I read the notion of alienation, what came to my mind was the assembly line workers. In one of the classes I took last semester, we watched the movie “the assembly line” where workers in the textile industry were alienated from human nature and the products of their labour. Workers were subjected to too much work and there were no policies in place or norms to protect them. Workers were powerless and not valued. It was the end product of their hard work which was of value to the employers. Life seemed meaningless and their complaints were not heard. Workers were socially isolated, dehumanized and estranged from their products. The products were owned by the employers and sold to consumers. Alienation leads to loss of control over work, lack of meaning in work, and the difficulty of self-expression in work. I observed a similar situation in the meat packing plants in Iowa, which we visited during summer last year. The Hispanic workers are completely alienated from work. When we visited the plant, I had an opportunity to talk to one of the workers who expressed a high level of powerlessness, social isolation and lack of control of production.

Does reading Marx make you think or feel about alienation differently?

What I feel about the notion of alienation is that it is context specific and its manifestation is highly driven by structural organizations. Marx tends to concentrate on capitalisms or private property as the only causes of alienation, and puts less emphasis on other institutional factors that govern what we do. Issues such as values, attitudes, policies, race, ethnicity which influence social organization could possibly lead to alienation. I think that there are many other social relations that could have effects similar to what Marx discusses such as gender. Work and labor as alienating refer only to work done in the capital-labor relationship. But work in general and production may be alienating in some of the same senses as Marx discusses. For example in Uganda, you find that majority of women (especially the illiterate) do not own the fruits of their hard work such as agricultural produce. After harvesting, the husbands control the harvest and decide how to use the money without consulting the women. According to Marx, the solution to alienation seems to be removal of factors that cause alienation rather than reorganizing societies to benefit from capitalism.

Marx makes me feel that in the process of production, man is transformed into something else and takes up a different position. However, I think that in the process of production, all factors of production are interdependent and relate to each other. Factors of production do not operate in isolation. Feeling alienated stems from personal attitudes and it is what one feels about him or herself that creates a feeling of alienation. I also noticed an element of male dominance in Marx’s discussion about alienation. He uses the word man and does not show the variations in alienation among different sexes.

2. What of the Marx reading in Tucker did you find really hit home?

When Marx emphasizes that labor is external to man and man does not own it. I agree with him especially in the capitalist community. He further goes ahead to stress that labor does not belong to man but in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another. A result, man loses his human nature and feels himself as an animal. When man is at work, he does not feel at home but he feels at home when he is outside work. In Uganda, when people are subjected to hard work by their employers, they (workers) are referred to as donkeys. When such workers are away from work, they claim their employees treat them like donkeys because donkeys are over worked and fed only at the end of the day. This implies that when at work, workers feel dehumanized and treated like animals. They are expected to contain all the hard labor and stress as though they have no human senses. I think that when one buys your labor, they lose a sense of humanity and decide to exploit or manipulate you so as to recover the money invested in you.

What left me fuzzy?

I very much wanted to see variations in the level of alienation among different categories of the population such as the elites. To what extent are professionals such as professors alienated? The fact that elites can have control, meaning, and opportunities for self-fulfillment in their roles, to what extent can they be alienated and how? Towards the end of the section on estranged labor, Marx attempts to draw a cause - effect relationship between private property and alienated labor. On one hand, Marx indicates that private property is the product of alienated labor and on the other hand, he claims that private property is a means by which labor alienates itself. I think he did not come up with a clear relationship on what leads to what.


Tucker, R. c. 1978. 1972. The Marx-Engels Reader. Second edition.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English language unabridged, Merrian-Webster Inc. 2002