How Society Can be Defined in Different Ways

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Updated: Jun 06, 2023
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Category: Cognition
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Society can be interpreted in many ways from a community where people live in to being what shapes every individual. Emile Durkheim is a sociological theorist who defines society as a ‘thing’ or as he would say “solidarity sui generis.’ For Durkheim, social fact was one important thing when it came to society and argues that the division of labor is the most important social fact. He explains how the division of labor causes collective consciousness and differences in legal systems.

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However, the structure of our society now relies on mass media and religion rather than the division of labor.

Firstly, to Durkheim social fact was one important thing when it came to society. A social fact is any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the individual an external constraint; or: which is general over the whole of a given society whilst having an existence of its own independent of its individual manifestation’. It is something that is coercive and widespread and is the basic unit of our society. There are two types of social facts material and non-material; material can be religion or laws and non-material that are non physical such as our beliefs, values and morals. Durkheim gives an example and argues that a social fact is something that people follow without questioning. ‘Every individual drinks, sleeps, eats, or employs his reason, and society has every interest in seeing that these functions are regularly exercised. If therefore these facts were social ones, sociology would possess no subject matter peculiarly its own, and its domain would be confused with that of biology and psychology’. Social fact is important because it shows how people do similar things since they are influenced by their society.

In addition, the division of labor is what Durkheim argues is the most important social fact. There are two parts in the division of labor known as mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Solidarity is what makes members connected in a society, how strong and connected they are to the collective consciousness. Collective consciousness is the shared norms, ideas and belief within our society and is passed from generation to generation “one that we share in common in our group, which is consequently not ourselves, but society living and acting within us;…”(pg. 232) For example, laws are collective consciousness that helps our society stay in order.

The first form of solidarity is mechanical solidarity; this is seen more like in rural areas where people who interact with each other are very similar to one another. These are places with low division of labor and where work is very similar to many households. Some examples of mechanical solidarity is like a clan, horde or segmental societies. In mechanical solidarity people are bond together with similarsites what Durheim calls ‘collective consciousness.’ An example of this is like a small farm, since there is a low division of labor people feel more connected to one another because they see themselves as the same. What I mean by this is that if a farmer has a conversation with another person who also is a farmer, they will have very similar beliefs and fears. It is a form of social solidarity with low division on labor that makes people share many things in common.

Furthermore, organic solidarity is more of a modern type of society meaning that there are not a lot of similarities between traditions, culture, or beliefs. In organic solidarity there is a high division of labor and its purpose is to increase individualism. Durkheim explains organic solidarity as a ‘system of different organs, each of which has a special role, and which are themselves formed of different parts’. It is a system he compares as an organ where every individual is needed in order for a body to function. For example, in a restaurant there are many different jobs such as a waiter, cook, receptionist, etc. In order for it to function more efficiently it needs every individual to do their job; in contrast, if only one person was doing all of the things to serve a customer their meal it will not be efficient. By this Durkheim is saying that because in organic solidation there is high division of labor, there is more individualism but depend on one another in order to function as a whole.

Mass media is now one of the major things that influences our society today. According to Robert Sylwester, ‘[the] dramatic shift in media emphasis is an excellent recent example of how mass media helps to shape our shifting concerns and beliefs. It is a powerful thing that allows people communicate in a more easy and rapid pace. Due to mass media people are able to get more influence with things such as advertisement, by putting one’s own ideas or sharing what is going around the world. Sylwester explains that media can even ‘exploit areas of strong emotional arousal to help shape our knowledge and opinions'(Sylwester, 2016). For example, Osama bin Laden became a media figure where people developed certain opinions because of it.

Mass media also influences people to behave a certain way and can influence a society to change norms, beliefs or values. In a mechanical solidarity or low division of labor, there are many people similar to each other and is based on homogeneity. Since many people in this solidarity are alike they rely on collective consciousness; however, with mass media it allows our global society be connected in some way. With mass media it influences people to behave, dress and value similar things to others.’Things occurring anywhere are now quickly known everywhere. Mass media both overwhelm us with information, and help us to sort it out’. It allows people to be more aware of many things and can ultimily have a big impact on their norms.

Mass media allows many messages to be shared throughout the world. The problem with this is that messages can be interpreted in many ways and may even cause conflict. This can be with any government news, or simple thoughts about something in our society. In addition, social media is something that is getting more popular over the years, this is a media that has a huge impact on individuals and can affect a society. With social media is can cause people to go into depression by people gaining jealousy and being unhappy with their lives. This is because social media allows everyone to see the life of an individual and makes people compare it to themselves. For this reason, social media has a big impact in our society and can even make people portray a life they do not have.

Religion is another major thing that influences our society today. This is because it is highly influential in many cultures and is practiced for many years. Religion in many cases is what determines what is accepted in society. For example, in the Catholic religion the LGBTQ group are not accepted by them. People in this religion are influenced in believing that being LGBTQ is a sin. This is information that can be shared in their gatherings and influences many to believe it is true. In conclusion, mass media and religion is what influences our society and constructs new ideas and values. Emile Durkheim’s theory of division of labor has been replaced with mass media and religion that allows people to be open to new ideas based of what they see and learn.

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How Society Can be Defined in Different Ways. (2022, Jun 29). Retrieved from