Everyone has probably been in a situation when he/she was attracted to the person who was completely different in terms of character, temper, cultural background etc. At the same time, people can feel strong antipathy to someone who is different from them. Often an individual that a particular person feels sympathy for complements them in some way, having qualities that they lack. It appears that this situation can resemble the concept of division of labor, described by French sociologist Emile Durkheim.
The basic principle of the division of labor can be described by the fact that everyone can’t own absolutely all goods, services and means of production that he/she needs. Durkheim wrote: “If one of two people has what the other has not, but desires, in that fact lies the point of departure for a positive attraction”. This statement implies that work relations between people are based on mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services. This exchange in its turn is stipulated by the division of labor.
Durkheim’s theory of labor division is relevant not only in economical, but also in the social sphere. He believed that major benefit of division of labor is creating and maintaining solidarity between people. Therefore, his analysis has much wider meaning than simply defining the degree of specialization in the economic institution. According to Durkheim, “solidarity is cohesion of human groups into a social unity”. He specified two types of solidarity: the organic solidarity and the mechanical one.
Mechanical solidarity creates bonds between people with similar background, views, and interests. In these social unions possibilities for development of one’s individuality are very limited and division of labor is almost absent. In such society not only actions but even thoughts and feelings of its members are very similar. In this case “solidarity can grow only in inverse ratio to personality, because personality is what distinguishes one person from another”.
Unlike mechanical solidarity, organic solidarity is caused by division of labor. In other words, if one person performs some operations in a process of creating goods or services while another person performs other operations, together they collaborate in order to achieve their common goal. “Durkheim saw the mutual dependency that specialization produced, and he recognized this as a kind of social force that bounds the members of a society together to form a more or less harmonious of functioning whole”. On the other hand, organic solidarity, caused by the division of labor, has an impact on individuality of society members and increases social differentiation.
Durkheim defined this social factor related to mechanical solidarity as the “conscience collective – the totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average citizens of the same society”. In the modern society, which can be characterized by organic solidarity, collective conscience is weak and members are dependable on each other due to their specialization on particular parts of production process.
If collective conscience in a society is strong, members of such society have less individuality. They are self-sufficient in the production process and they take after each other. According to Durkheim, groups of people with mechanical solidarity are called “hordes”. Members of horde are dependable on each other and connected through their common life style and beliefs. Unions of hordes are called clans.
As it was mentioned above, with evolution of a society, mechanical solidarity is replaced by organic solidarity. “Organic solidarity does not come from the collective conscience, but rather, from the division of labor. While mechanical solidarity is possible only when personality is submerged in collectivity, organic solidarity is possible only when individuals are specialized and different”.
However, thinking logically the following question arises: if members of a society are strong individuals, should not solidarity between them be weaker? The sociologist argues otherwise. According to Durkheim, in a society with organic solidarity, its members are forced to rely on each other because in case everyone is responsible for a part of the whole job, they become dependent on the overall result in order to satisfy their needs. Thus, such situation leads to strengthening of organic solidarity between members of a society when each individual acts as an organic part of the whole system. “This interdependence causes not only more solidarity, but also a more pronounced moral character, wherein individuals feel responsible for one another. Durkheim believed that all social evolution tended towards this moral perfection”.
Increase in specialization occurs due to an increase in moral or social density of society. The process depends on division of labor in direct ratio. Moral density for Durkheim is a “function of a number of social relations in a society, which are formed through a process involving mental representations”. Durkheim believed that there are two factors that have an influence on the increase of moral density. These factors are social volume and material density. Social volume refers to the number of members in a society, while material density is a reduction of material distance between them.
Members of a more primitive society are set apart from each other. They are self-sufficient and do not need to collaborate. However, as material density and social volume grow, these parts of society start to collaborate and contact each other, which results in competition between them. Consequently, this causes an increasing division of labor.
Practical meaning of Durkheim’s theory of division of labor can be explored with a help of the law that evolved together with a society. In simpler societies with mechanical solidarity penal law and rules with repressive sanctions prevailed. On the other hand, in modern societies, which are based on organic solidarity, rules with restitutive sanctions and different forms of cooperative law are used. These include constitutional, administrative, civil, and commercial law, which are aimed at ensuring compliance with regulations and standards in society.
“Durkheim believed that social life takes a definite and organized form and the best indicator of this organization is law. Repressive law, which focuses on punishment, is diffused throughout an entire society, imbedded in the conscience collective, and reflects the morals of the society”. According to Durkheim, evolution from repressive to restitutive law characterizes the progress of a society through mechanical to organic solidarity.
Critics of Durkheim’s theory claim that “he used the Hebrew Torah, the Twelve Tables of the ancient Romans, and the laws of early Christian Europe to form his argument about repressive law, but neglected the highly restitutive components of their legal codes” (Collins, 1994). “Durkheim downplayed not only the restitutive aspects of “primitive” law, but he also downplayed the repressive aspects of modern law, disregarding its punitive side”..
The negative side of the increase of division of labor is that although it makes people more dependent on each other, it does not guarantee high degree of consensus in a society. In fact, when each member of a society is an individual with his own way of thinking and acting, he does not become completely devoted to the common corporate union. “Thus, while in one sense highly specialized persons are locked into a web of functional dependency upon others, they are at the same time isolated in a psychological sense as specialization lead them to develop greater and greater individuality”. One more consequence of labor division is growth of contractual and more formal relations between people as well as an increase of individual heterogeneity.
Further, Durkheim expressed an opinion that in some circumstances division of labor can result in pathological forms opposite to social solidarity. Strikes, protests, riots, and even commercial crises and depressions are examples of downsides of labor division in the modern society.
Thus, the very division of labor that creates harmony up to a point contains the seeds of social disharmony if it is pushed beyond a certain point. Durkheim called such state of disharmony “anomie”. Anomie is pathology of the social organism that occurs when division of labor becomes elaborated to a point where individuals are not capable to effectively relate themselves to others.
In other words, as society becomes more and more complex and its members become more and more preoccupied with their own individual pursuits and development, they lose the ability to identify with and feel themselves as part of their community. Eventually they become collectivity or psychologically isolated individuals, who interact with one another but are oriented inward and are bound together primarily by contractual ties. Similar situation can be observed in a modern society nowadays.
Durkheim focused on three abnormal forms of division of labor, considering them to be the most important. The first one, anomie, was already described above. Thesecond one is so called forced division of labor, when lower social classes are dissatisfied with their economic and social situation as well as with a position granted to them by a custom or law that can potentially lead to a civil war. The third one is uneven distribution of functional activity, where one employee performs greater number of more complicated tasks than his colleagues.
Consequently, it is possible to derive a practical meaning from Durkheim’s deviant forms of division of labor definition: “the first concern of intelligent, scientific management will be to suppress useless tasks, to distribute work so that each worker is sufficiently occupied, and thus to maximize the functional activity of each social organ. Increased activity in turn produces greater continuity, an augmented sense of the mutual dependence of the parts on one another, and stronger bond of solidarity”.