A Comparative analysis between Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx
Emile Durkheim was a great sociologist who originated from France. He lived between the year 1858 and 1917.To him the major role of any sociologists would be to give an account of the causes of all social phenomena and consequently explain what functions those social phenomena play in the society .It was his idea that society should never be explained with reference to individuals but it is the individual in any particular society who should be explained based on the society.
The reason behind this was that people’s behavior is in most cases dictated by a force if not an influence that can be traced back to either collective conscience on one hand or societal concern on the other. In his opinion any individuals action should never at any time be attributed to his/her personal characteristics .He argued that cumulative behavior gives rise to individual attributes .He went fourth to explain that the society determines individuals action.
His study in division of labor and suicide demonstrates the magnitude of social cohesion that exists in European societies. (Clark 36) Karl Marx was a chairman sociologist who lived between 1818 and 1883. His main interest was to understand all those major changes that were occurring in Europe during his time. His concern was to develop a society’s scientific theory.
He came up with the theory that explained the operations and the changes in these societies which were capitalistic in nature. This is the theory of class conflict or what can be referred in other wards as Marxist theory of stratification (Blumenberg 2000) These two classical theories share a lot in common in terms of their theoretical perspectives. It should also be noted that despite these commonalities they also differ on other issues as far as their theoretical perspectives and explanations on social phenomena is concerned.
This paper gives a brief outline of the theories of both classical sociologists (Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx) and compares the theorists and their theories.
In his theory of suicide, Emile Durkheim identified four major types of suicides; Altruistic, Egoistic, Anomie and Fatalistic. He explained that in those societies where there is too strong social integration there is a very high rate of suicide which is extrusive in nature .This is because in these societies individuals are forced to commit suicide for what they refer call collective good. They feel it is their duty to do so .The egoistic form of suicide mainly occurs in those societies where individuals are not integrated in their respective larger social units .They experience a sense of meaningless after realization of the impacts of the acts they commit and in order to escape from being embarrassed or punished they end up committing suicide .
The anomic suicide as Durkheim puts it is likely to occur in a society where regulation of power is disrupted .This disruption creates a norm less state as in times of war and as a result some people commit anomic suicide .Fatalistic suicide is usually committed as a result of excessive regulation in the society .Those people who are likely to commit these crimes are those whose futures are pitilessly blocked and whose passions are suppressed by oppressive discipline as the case of prisoners or slaves .He was out to search for ways to bring about cohesion and solidarity among their members of the society as a away of reducing rates of suicide.(Schneider 195) In his theory of division of labor he identified 2 phases in chronological manner depending of the humans’ history in labor activity, that is, mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Under mechanical solidarity individuals are more alike to each other in the society and thus creating a society of resemblance .They have same feelings ,values and culture ,in other words they are not only mentally homogenous but also morally homogenous .In organic solidarity any cooperation is basically attributed to consensus or what can be called the unit of the collectivity .This results to specialization according to the area an individual feels he/she is best at resulting to division of labor .Similarity is not an issue of cooperation. He gave an example of the modern industrialized society as an example of organic solidarity .
To him ,some societies have very advanced forms of division of labor as compared to others .He went further to explain that social phenomena can be explained based on 3 important factors ;volume, material density and moral density .The type of solidarity determines which type of law is used in that particular society. The two types of law include repressive law and Restitutive law .Those communities with little division of labor are held together by strong bands of intimate groups (mechanical solidarity) while those with great division of labor have weak bonds of intimate groups.(Schneider 194-196)
Karl Marx and the theory of class conflict
To Marx progress without conflict is just a dream. In other words conflict is a normal condition in social life. For him both conflict and social change can never be separated .He explains that economic production is the substructure upon which any society rests upon. The rest of the society is what he calls superstructure. The social institutions are highly dependent on the economic mode of production in the society. Any variations or even changes in the other social institutions are as a result of variation or even changes in economic production. He emphasized on the deterministic aspect of the economy. He stressed on the influence of forces which are as a result of material so much that his theory was referred to materialistic interpretation of history. He explained that the human society evolved through various stages. Each of these stages had its unique defined and well organized systems.To him technological development determines the mode of production and the relationship as well as the institution that constitute the economic system .Social order is in turn determined by the set of the relationships .During the evolution, any form of conflict between any two given stages results to a preceding stage(Brym, Lie 11).
The economic factor is the primary factor in the society. Struggle between different social classes will lead to an overthrow of the existing system and therefore lead to change. (Brym, Lie 11-12)
From the above theories by both Emily Durkheim and Karl Max the following similarities can observed. They both believed that the society evolved through various stages. This evolution however should be aimed towards society’s protection. However the two theorists give different stages through which the evolution occurs.
Both theorists believe that the society is dynamic but they differ on the issue of conflict and change. Marx believes that conflict is inevitable if social change has to take place but Durkheim believes that conflict is not a necessity for social change. Karl Marx goes further to explain that militant action is essential to overthrow poor governance as away to bring change in the society.(Koschman, Hall, Miyake 234) Both theorists emphasize that division of labor will result to increased production. They however differ in the view that the division of labor may have negative input to the society as Max views it while Durkheim views it as the most appropriate. To Marx most people are highly exploited by the owners of the means of production and the division of labor will worsen the matter.
Since the workers will have no power in the products they produce from their labor, in real sense, this will deskill them (Schneider 195).
Even though both believe that progress is healthy for any society Max introduces a new variable upon which he says the rest of the society is build-economic production. He gives it more weight while Emile Durkheim overlooks it. Marx gives a precise and also definite form to this concept he introduces as economic life by referring it to as a major factor in human society(Brym, Lie 11-12) These social theorists emphasize individuals relationship in the society as an important factor of sustaining the society .However they disagree in that where as Durkheim observes it to be harmonious Marx believes that there is a continuous struggle between them(Turner 258) Both visualize about a perfect society in the future where communism will prevail. They however differ in their explanation about how this stage will be achieved. For Marx, it will result from overthrowing the capitalistic bourgeoisie by the proletariat while Durkheim explains that it will be an harmonious process which will result from consensus (Carlton 7-9)
It should be noted that these two theorists represents both the conflict perspective and the positivist perspective. Emile Durkheim represents the positivists while Karl Marx represents conflict perspective. They both analyze similar social phenomena but their sociological eyes are highly determined by these two schools of thought. Being sociologists they deal on social issues and that’s why their theories have a lot of similarities.
Clark, Emile Durkheim: critical assessment, Taylor &Francis, 1999
Turner, Emile Durkheim: sociologist and moralist, Athens, Routledge, 1993
Engel, Marx, the communist manifesto, penguin classics, 2002
Schneider, the theory of premier: sociological guide, Row man and littlefield, 2006
Brym, Lie, Sociology: your compass for a new world, Thomsons wads worth, 2005
Koschman, Hall, Miyake, Cscl 2: carrying forward the conversation, Athens, Routledge, 2002
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