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Comparison of Weber and Durkheim

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3009 words Published: 6th Jul 2018

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Anomie and forced division of labour for Durkheim and rationalization and bureaucracy for Weber summed up the problem of industrial societies. Discuss.


Emile Durkheim

Max Weber




Anomie represents a concept that was introduced by Emile Durkheim (1997, pp. 303-304) in “The Division of Labor in Society”, which was first printed in 1893. Durkheim (1997, pp. 303-304) utilized the word to describe the deregulation of society whereby the rules representing how people should behave with respect to their interaction with each other was breaking down thus creating confusion as to what in what others expected from one another. In said book, Durkheim (1997, p. 184) advises that that term is where the moral and social norms are not clear, and the removal of behavioural limits represented a path to deviant behaviour. Durkheim is credited with turning sociology into a science as well as its installation as part of the academic curriculum on France, and is considered by many to be the father of sociology (emile-durkheim.com, 2006).

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Max Weber (cepa.newschool.edu, 2007) is also recognized as one of the founders of sociology. He advises us on many instances that in the world of modernity, that the gods have deserted us (Turner, 1993, pp. 115-117). As Durkheim focused upon a set of social features that represented the subject of sociology, Weber essentially is considered as defining sociology (Marxists Internet Archive, 1999). This exercise shall delve into concepts and terms with respect to how anomie and forced division of labour under Durkheim, and rationalization and bureaucracy for Weber summed up the problem of industrial societies.


In defining sociology as an academic subject, Durkheim separated sociology from psychology, philosophy as well as economics and other disciplines through stating that sociologists study features of group life (About Sociology, 2007). Durkheim defines solidarity as representing the cohesion of society’s human groupings into social unity, which can consist of mechanical as well as organic (Durkheim, 1997, p. 13-14). Mechanical solidarity represents a condition whereby the individuals within a society are linked via a ‘conscience collective’ (Durkheim, 1997, pp. 61-65). The preceding represents a condition whereby the belief systems and the sentiments that are common in the citizens within the same society (Durkheim, 1997, pp. 31-33). Thus, the individuals within the society are connected, or linked to each other as a result of their common beliefs, thereby belonging to society as opposed to belonging to themselves (Durkheim, 1997, pp. 31-33). A horde is what Durkheim (1997, pp. 126-127) termed a group or collection of people whereby their cohesiveness is founded in resemblances. Such a group, horde, has no organization or form, and within this group the collective membership look upon each other as kin, whether or not such a relationship exists by blood or union (Durkheim, 1997, pp. 126-127). Within such a group, horde, punishments and responsibility are collective in action and nature and represent the more primitive, or non evolved societal types whereby individual personalities are submerged in the collectivity of the group (Durkheim, 1997, pp. 126-127).

As individuals come to rely upon others, outside of themselves for various aspects of life, they have, or are moving towards an organic solidarity (Durkheim, 1997, pp. 69-71). People become and are reliant upon each other whereby individuals have parts to contribute to society as a part of the whole, whereby responsibility to others is a trait as well as moral character (Durkheim, 1997, p. 77). The foregoing is important in understanding the interactions within society that he termed as the moral density (Durkheim, 1997, p. 201). The preceding, moral density is proportionately linked to the division of labor within a society (Turner, 1993, p. 3). Moral density represents an important factor in understanding what causes increased division of labor.

Durkheim’s (1993, pp. 113) believes in this revolved around two facets that he thought were responsible for the preceding, material density and social volume. The former, Durkheim states is (Turner, 1993, p. 113):

“Social life is based on a substratum whose size and form alike are determined. It is made up of the mass of individuals that constitute society, the manner of their geographical distribution and the nature and configuration of the whole range of phenomena that affect collective relations. The social substratum varies in relation to the size or density of the population, to whether it is concentrated in towns or scattered in rural areas, to the layout of the towns and houses, to whether the space occupied by the society concerned is large or small, to the kind of frontiers by which it is bounded, to the transport links which run the length and breadth of it, etc, On the other hand, the makeup of this substratum directly or indirectly affects all social phenomena, in the same way as all psychic phenomena are in mediate or immediate relation to the state of the brain. So these are all problems that are patently concerned with sociology and which, as they all refer to the same object, must be part of one science. It is this science we propose to call social morphology.”

Social volume, Durkheim states is (Turner, 1993, p. 116):

“…as the various elements constituting the group grow more numerous, yet without at the same time ceasing to be closely connected, individuals can only hold their own if they become differentiated, if each chooses a task and a lifestyle of his own in this enlarged battlefield, where the intensity of the struggle grows in keeping with the number of the combatants. The division of labor thus becomes the primary condition of social equilibrium. And indeed, this simultaneous increase in the volume and density of societies is the major new element distinguishing the nations of today from those of former times; this is probably one of the principal factors dominating history as a whole; at any rate, it is the cause which explains the transformations which social solidarity has undergone.”

Durkheim (Turner, 1993, pp. 98-99) brings together the facets of anomie, organic solidarity and “the abnormal forms of the division of labor” through “distinguished three pathological forms: the anomic, the enforced division of labor, and ‘another abnormal form’, which might be termed lack of internal organizational coordination”. With respect to the foregoing anomie “is expressed in economic crises, the antagonism between capital and labor, and anarchy in science, arises at times of rapid change, during which new organs and functions develop without a corresponding development of rules of cooperation and therefore of social ties” (Turner, 1993, p. 98). Anomie, represents the rapid as well as radical change in social conditions that presents itself as “the lack of regulation or deregulation” Turner, 1993, p. 98). Durkheim (Turner, 1993, p. 98) explains that the foregoing does not represent a “fundamental crisis of the system, but rather a crisis of adaptation, and continuous contact will eventually produce new rules and a new functional equilibrium between the divided functions, thus assuring social integration”.

Whereas “anomie can be eliminated by the gradual development of new rules, in the case of the enforced division of labor it is ‘these very rules themselves which are the cause of the ills” (Turner, 1993, p. 98). The preceding represents when the rules and underpinnings of society are not responsive to the underlying changes in the fabric of society, and thus the established order is retained by force (Turner, 1993, p. 98). This represents the abnormal form of the division of labor that is representative of privileged positions being held by birth and social standing as opposed to abilities and talents Turner, 1993, p. 99). The condition, asserts can be alleviated through the adoption of “formal equality of opportunity …” as well as “… freedom to choose a profession” (Durkheim Turner, 1993, p. 99).

Max Weber

Breiner (1996, p. 26) advises that the critics of Weber’s approach to social science have issues with his reduction of “all socially interpreted activity to instrumental rationality”. Those who interpret him in a sympathetic manner see “his focus on the interpretation of the meaningful conduct of social agents a strong argument in favor of the subservience of explanation to the rules or everyday understandings under which actions are intelligible” (Breiner, 1996, p. 26). Turner (1993, p. 4) advises us to be circumspect with regard to Weber’s approach to modernism and rationalization as “he remained highly ambiguous about the content and consequences” with regard to the foregoing. The preceding, Turner (1993, p. 5) states that the preceding is a result of “Weber’s ambiguities over capitalism were also expressed in his ambivalent attitudes to socialism as a rational planning of the market”. He, Weber, argues that “socialism was another step in the growth of rational management of resources; socialism represented a further development of the second serfdom—to calculation, planning, and instrumental rationalism” (Turner, 1993, p. 5). Turner (1993, p. 5) further informs us that “main issue in Weber’s political sociology is the absence of any analysis of the processes of democratization, about which Weber remained skeptical, if not dismissive”. He (Turner, 1993, p. 5) supports the preceding in stating that “In this respect, Weber was significantly influenced by Robert Michels’s theory of ‘the iron law of oligarchy’, which suggested that all mass-party organization would come to depend on an elite”.

To further understand Weber’s meaning, before we delve into the preceding further, we must understand vocational politics, which represents a vocation, stating that “For everything that is striven for through political action, operating with violent means and following an ethic of responsibility, endangers ‘the salvation of the soul” (Breiner, 1996, p. 6). Weber continues:

“If, however, one chases after the ultimate good in a war of beliefs, following a pure ethic of absolute ends, then the goals may be damaged and discredited for generations, because responsibility for the consequences are lacking and those diabolic forces which enter into play remain unknown to the actor. These [forces] are inexorable and produce consequences for his action and even for his inner self, to which he must helplessly submit, unless he perceives them”.

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His “ambiguity over whether he is giving an impartial general account of the logic of methodical action or a subjective situation-bound account of the multiple logics that constitute the different terrains of action” along with vocational politics have bearing on his concept of rationalization as it tends to skew his view against democracy “by appealing to objective standards of feasibility while maintaining that commitment to either form is a matter of personal choice” (Breiner, 1996, p. 10). The foregoing has direct bearing upon Weber’s concept of rationalization (Breiner, 1996, p. 10).

The preceding thus permits us to explore Weber’s approach and concepts of modernisation within what Turner (1993, p. 12) calls “a Weberian conceptualization of modern social change”. Within modernity the social as well as cultural facets of life do not point us towards an orderly life, but instead “a number of life spheres whose demands are objective and not influenced by the subject” (Breiner, 1996, p. 59). Each of these spheres is represented by “its own logic of action” (Breiner, 1996, p. 59). Turner (1993, p. 16) advises that “In bureaucracy, rationalization produced a system of reliable, dependable decision-making for the realization of public goals”. Weber argues that “Secularization had liberated human beings from the magical world of the ancients”, and that “the very same processes of rationalization threaten to subordinate imagination and inspiration to the demands of standardized routines and technical procedures” (Turner, 1993, pp. 16-17). Turner (1993, p. 17) continues “they threaten to produce a new characterology of soulless, machine-like robots”. The preceding is contained in context in Weber’s address of September 1919 (Turner, 1993, p. 17).

“The fate of our age, with its characteristic rationalization and intellectualization and above all the disenchantment of the world is that the ultimate, most sublime values have withdrawn from public life, either into the transcendental realm of mystical life or into the brotherhood of immediate personal relationships between individuals. It is no accident that our greatest art is intimate rather than monumental, nor is it fortuitous that today only in the smallest groups, between individuals, something pulsates in pianissmo which corresponds to the prophetic pneuma which formerly swept through great communities like fire and welded them together”


The bureaucratic maze sees “the projects of political actors may collide not only with the maximizing logic of economic actors seeking power over the market but also with the logic or bureaucracy, which undermines this economic logic” (Briener, 1996, pp. 115-116). In order to overcome the preceding, Weber explains that the political actors “may have to mobilize masses of citizens under party machines” (Briener, 1996, p. 116). Turner (1993, p. 92) explains that under “patrimonialism, at each stage of the tax-gathering exercise and at each level of the bureaucracy, the tax-yield was progressively creamed-off by the bureaucracy”. The bureaucratic nature of the new state systems utilized bureaucratic level to administer programs that were overseen by inefficient levels of management and response to the public good, thus creating a tax based support system that stood upon the back of its supporters (Turner, 1993, p. 93). The preceding stifled creativity and innovation within the system as those in power seeking to maintain their power acted out of their own self interests and political interest first, as opposed to a view to the future that would have benefited their nation as a whole. This defensive posture of holding onto the popular and or accepted views in face of better approaches is a hallmark of bureaucracy which dehumises the human element in support of its own well being and safekeeping.

The bureaucracy nature of industrial societies is still in force today, whereby the conforming to the norm represents the belief systems for the majority of its populations thus making Weber’s “soulless, machine-like robots” Turner, 1993, p. 17)a reality for the lower and middle classes. An upper class still does exist as defined by educational attainment and or family heritage, and this can be found throughout the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and other industrialized nations whereby the founders of major corporations have the heirs and or appointees installed as the operative heads of these machines of capitalisation.

This brings us back to Durkheim’s forced division of labor (Turner, 1993, pp. 98-99)which still exists and is a control factor in modern industrialized societies as indicated by the aforementioned educational and heritage facets. The existence of unions and associations to obtain rights and conditions for workers is proof of the foregoing, for if the machinery of society were in fact skewed to all of its individuals, then the need for these types of organizations would not be necessary. This is brings us to what Durkheim (Turner, 1993, p. 98) stated as a “fundamental crisis of the system, but rather a crisis of adaptation, and continuous contact will eventually produce new rules and a new functional equilibrium between the divided functions, thus assuring social integration”. Privileged positions are to a large degree still a factor of one’s birth, with specialised higher education and contacts representing a path to the upper echelons. Thus Durkheim and Weber were prophetic in their analysis and understandings on some facets.


About Sociology (2007) Emile Durkheim. Retrieved o 27 May 2007 from http://www.aboutsociology.com/sociology/Emile_Durkheim

Briener, P. (1996) Max Weber & Democratic Politics. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., United States

cepa.newschool.edu (2007) Max Weber, 1864-1920. Retrieved on 27 May 2007 from http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/weber.htm

Durkheim, E. (1997) The Division of Labor in Society. Free Press. New York, United States

emile-durkheim.com (2006) Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). Retrieved on 27 May 2007 from http://www.emile-durkheim.com/

Marxists Internet Archive (1999) Max Weber: Definition of Sociology. Retrieved on 27 May 2007 from http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/weber.htm

Turner, S. (1993) Emile Durkheim: Sociologist and Moralist. Routledge Publishers, New York, United States

Turner, B. (1993) Max Weber: From History to Modernity. Routledge Publications, London, United Kingdom


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