Meaning of Division of Labour. What is Durkheim’s view of Division of Labour

Emile Durkheim wrote the book The Division of Labour originally in French in 1893. It was his major published work and the one in which he introduced the concept of “Anomie” or the breakdown of the influence of social norms on individuals within the society. In the book he discusses how the division of labour is beneficial for the society as it increases the reproductive capacity, the skill of workmen, and it creates a feeling of solidarity between the people. The Division of Labour goes beyond the economic interest and establishes social and moral order within the society. The theme of the book is relationship between individuals and society or the collectivity.

It is indeed a classic study of social solidarity. In his book he reacted against the view that modern industrial society could be based simply upon agreement between individuals motivated by self-interest and without any prior consensus. He agreed that the kind of consensus in modern society was different from that in the simpler social systems but he saw both of these as two types of social solidarity. He has also tried to determine the social consequences of the division of labour in the modern societies.


The concept of division of labour can be used in three ways

1. In the sense of technical division of labour which describes the production processes

2. As sexual division of labour that describes the social divisions between men and women

3. Durkheim social division of labour, that refers to differentiation in the society as a whole.

What is Durkheim’s View of Division of Labour

The theory of division of labour has several key aims.

Firstly, Durkheim wanted to make a distinction between social division of labour and the economic division of labour.

Second, he wanted to study the social links that connects individuals with society and the social bonds that connects individuals to each other.

Third, he wanted to examine the origin of social links and bonds to see how they are related to overall system of social cohesion in society, and the extent to which this cohesion was formed within the social groups he studied.

Fourth, he wanted to see how the system of these social links change as there is change in society that is, when the structure of society becomes more complex and gets subjected to changes in division of labour.

The term “the division of labour ” refers to the process of dividing labour among individuals in a group so that variety of economic and domestic tasks are performed by different people for collective maintenance of society. The process of division of labour begins as soon as individuals form themselves into groups. They cooperate collectively by dividing their labour and by coordinating their economic and domestic activities for the purpose of survival. Durkheim believed that division of labour emerged out of their collective choice and it is not the result of the private choices of individuals or the result of organic traits that emerged during the process of evolution.

He made a distinction between the “social division of labour” and what Adam Smith called “economic division of labour “. Smith has described the process of economic division of labour as division of labour during the manufacturing in production process which increases productivity. This kind of division of labour tends to accelerate the rate of production in industries. However Durkheim’s social division of labour describes the social links and bonds that develop between the individuals of society who enters into cooperation for carrying out joint economic and domestic tasks.

These links and bonds formed a system of attachment to the society which Durkheim referred to as Social Solidarity. According to him social cohesion acts as “social cement” which creates attachments between individuals in society and these attachments exercise an emotional hold over them by making their bond more intense and cohesive. Social solidarity and social cohesion manifest themselves into two very broad and distinct ways

1. Mechanical Solidarity

It depicts social cohesion based on common roots of identity and similarity.  Here individual is linked directly to society through various points of attachment which binds the members together collectively. Here members are obliged towards each other. These societies have a rudimentary economy based on hunting and gathering with some agriculture which leads to simple division of labour.  Their social links and bonds tie the individual directly to society without private life or other forms of social separation.

2. Organic Solidarity

In societies with organic solidarity individuals are grouped according to the role they play in organisational structure. The economy is industrial in nature and complex division of labour patterns the social activity. Organic Solidarity is characterised by an increase in the density of society due to the expansion of the population, the growth of cities and development of means of transport and communication. Thus with the growth of population, personal bonds become weak and rare. Mutual obligation of one individual towards the other disappears and are replaced by bonds of contract and contractual obligation. At this stage individual has more autonomy and becomes the object of legal rights and freedoms.


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