Compare and Contrast Marx’s Idea of Class and Durkheim’s Division of Labour?

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The essay will explore and compare Marx’s concept of class and Durkheim’s division of labor. It begins by introducing the perspectives of Functionalism and Marxism, focusing on Emile Durkheim’s theories and Karl Marx’s philosophies. It will then discuss the transition from feudalism to capitalism, highlighting the significant changes that occurred during a time of revolution and rebellion.

Finally, the text will compare and contrast Marx’s concept of class and class conflict with Durkheim’s theory on the Division of labour. The Functionalist perspective is primarily associated with sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), who was born in France and established the European Department Of Sociology. Durkheim’s numerous influential theories contribute to sociology being considered a social science. Functionalists examine the requirements that must be met for society to function effectively, including how social institutions fulfill and contribute to those needs.

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Functionalists believe that society operates effectively when all of its components are functioning harmoniously. They contend that society is bound together by a social consensus or cohesion, indicating that individuals within a specific society collaborate to uphold the greater good of the society as a whole (Fulcher & Scott:1999). Conversely, the Marxist viewpoint, formulated by Karl Marx (1828-1883), a German Philosopher, emphasizes the significance of social change and class conflict during the industrial era in nineteenth-century England.

Marx argued that society’s survival depends on conflict. In capitalist societies, two classes emerge: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. These classes constantly engage in power struggles and conflicts as individuals pursue their goals at others’ expense (Cohen & Kennedy:2007). Medieval Britain was governed by feudalism.

The social hierarchy, known as estates, was characterized by the ownership of land, which distinguished one estate from another. The higher-ranking estates, who had control over land ownership, enjoyed more privileges and legal rights compared to those in the lower estates. The individuals in the lower estates were legally bound to fulfill certain obligations to those in higher positions. Land ownership was predetermined at birth, leaving little room for social mobility. This led to a rapid and significant transformation in society.

Introducing new machinery reshaped society, leading to the emergence of prominent industrial and capitalist societies. This transformation marked the first instance of widespread factory work, characterized by division of labor and managerial oversight. During this era, referred to as modern societies, the expansion of capitalism highlighted the growing exploitation faced by workers, as argued by Marx. He contended that a revolution among the proletariat workers was the only means to eliminate exploitation, oppression, and alienation.

According to Marx, if the means of production are collectively owned, class divisions would disappear and workers would no longer be exploited or oppressed. This would create a new social order called communism. Marx believes that capitalism’s competitive nature leads to class conflict and alienation. He argues that alienation is a result of the working class being exploited and oppressed. In the capitalist era, individuals become disconnected from private ownership.

According to Marx, the worker’s creativity is stifled by the tedious and repetitive nature of certain tasks. This leads to a sense of alienation and division among workers, which Marx attributes to society’s construction of the concept of alienation. In capitalist societies, this separation between individuals becomes more pronounced as the working class depends on the bourgeoisie for their livelihood (Jary & Jary: 1991). Conversely, Emile Durkheim holds that in “primitive” societies, social order is maintained through the collective consciousness and shared values of individuals.

According to Durkheim, the impact of the division of labour on workers differs from Karl Marx’s perspective. Durkheim believes that the division of labour leads to a new form of interdependence among capitalist workers, fostering cooperation and harmony (source:

In contrast, Marx’s class theory focuses on two classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie, or ruling class, own the means of production and determine wages for the proletariat. According to Marx, the proletariat only possess their labor power, which they sell for a meager wage. This relationship results in domination and exploitation as the bourgeoisie extract significant profits from their labor while paying them disproportionately low wages. This wage disparity, known as ‘surplus value,’ allows companies to benefit from worker labor (source: Fulcher & Scott:1999).

Marx referred to the dominant ideology in society as the ruling ideas, where the law served to protect only the ruling class and religious institutions acted as a soothing influence on the proletariat, convincing them to accept their assigned roles by promising a better afterlife. The bourgeoisie seemed to have effectively indoctrinated the proletariat, which Marx referred to as a ‘false consciousness’ (Browne: 1998). On the other hand, Durkheim diverges from Marx’s belief in societal conflict and instead emphasizes the importance of social actors’ roles.

Durkheim’s theories emphasize the harmony that actors in social institutions contribute, rather than the conflict they create. Durkheim’s main focus is on the factors that unite people and he strongly believes in the existence of solidarity among individuals. According to Durkheim, solidarity is crucial for the proper functioning of society, and he considers Marx’s idea of conflict as abnormal and pathological. Durkheim categorizes social integration into two types: mechanical and organic solidarity. In societies governed by organic solidarity, cohesion is maintained through economic interdependence and mutual contribution.According to Durkheim, the growth of interdependence among people results in the substitution of collective values and shared beliefs. This interdependence is facilitated by the division of labor. Durkheim identifies societies with a low division of labor as having mechanical solidarity, which is characterized by a collective consciousness and shared norms. Mechanical solidarity plays a crucial role in upholding social order. Individuals connected through mechanical solidarity frequently have similar professions and shared experiences.

According to Jary & Jary (1991), violations of social norms are often highlighted through punitive punishments. Marx’s perspective asserts that social structures are comprised of unequal and disadvantaged groups, whose interests are in continual conflict with one another. Inequalities arise from the ruling classes’ domination and exploitation of the disadvantaged groups within society. Marx strongly criticizes capitalism for its inherent unfairness and injustice, as it primarily benefits the bourgeoisie and middle classes.

According to Fulcher & Scott (1999), Marx envisioned a future where the working class would overcome their exploitation and oppression through the establishment of trade unions. This would help to diminish the exploitation imposed by the ruling classes. Marx’s belief in revolution, power, and change sets him apart from Durkheim. Marx firmly believed that the oppressed class in society would eventually overpower the ruling class through revolution, viewing it as the only means of bringing about significant and radical change.

Durkheim’s belief in evolution and the improvement of things over time centered around his emphasis on maintaining social order and allowing natural adaptation. Both Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim shared a structuralist, positivist approach to understanding society from a macro perspective. They focused on structures and groups rather than individuals (Fulcher & Scott: 1999). The transition from feudalism to capitalism was undoubtedly a challenging period for many.

During this period, the emergence of social classes and the establishment of labor division occurred. Marx argued that the bourgeoisie took advantage of the proletarians, resulting in conflicting interests between the two classes. On the other hand, Durkheim believed that labor division would foster a fresh interdependence and a sense of collaboration among workers. By comparing and contrasting Marx’s class concepts with Durkheim’s division of labor, it becomes apparent that these two theorists held highly contrasting views, almost on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Marx and Durkheim had different perspectives on society and social classes. According to Marx, conflict is essential for maintaining social order, as societies and social classes operate through this conflict. On the other hand, Durkheim believed that everything in society has a purpose and works together harmoniously. He argued that inequalities can be overcome through a shared value consensus. In contrast, Marx believed that the only way to eliminate oppression and exploitation is by creating a new system and allowing communism to take over society.

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Compare and Contrast Marx’s Idea of Class and Durkheim’s Division of Labour?. (2017, Mar 25). Retrieved from

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