Q232. Durkheim lived in an age when the role and existence of “god” as ultimate source of right and rule and order was under question. Rather than choose between “the human” and “the divine” Durkheim stared religion in the face, so to speak, and showed how what we think of as divine/sacred is in fact human (social). How do the following passages convey Durkheim’s theory of the special power of social norms and his idea about society as god and the notion that the individual, with norms and values of society internalized, can be a source of social order?

Durkheim, “Collective Representations” from Elementary Forms

“An individual or collective subject is said to inspire respect when the representation that expresses it in consciousness has such power that it calls forth or inhibits conduct automatically, irrespective of any utilitarian calculation of helpful or harmful results” (50.8).

“The ways of acting to which society is strongly enough attached to impose them on its members are for that reason marked with a distinguishing sign that calls forth respect” (51.1).

“Because social pressure makes itself felt through mental channels, it was bound to give men the idea that outside him there are one or several powers, moral yet mighty, to which he was subject” (52.1).

“In the midst of an assembly that becomes worked up, we become capable of feelings and conduct of which we are incapable when left to our individual resources” (52.5).


Add a New Comment