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What are social facts?

In sociology, social facts are the values, cultural norms and social structures which transcends the individual and are capable of exercising a social constraint. According to Durkheim social facts are that facts which are related to collective consciousness and are free from personal consciousness. Thus, for him, sociology is nothing but study of social facts. And social facts must be considered as things and the task of sociologist, in order to reveal laws of social structure is to search for correlation between social facts. The sociologist can then determine whether a given society is “healthy” or “pathological” and thus prescribe appropriate remedies. Within social facts Durkheim distinguishes between material social facts – those deals with the physical social structure which influence the individual. Another is non material social facts -these are values, norms and conceptually held beliefs..

 

Definition and Meaning of Social Facts

Durkheim introduced the term social facts in his book “The Rules of Sociological Method”. He defines social facts as

“Social facts are that side of behaviour whom inspection is possible in form of subjective and which forces for a special behaviour”.

At another place Durkheim writes

“Social fact is that method to feel, to do work and think, in which described specialities to keep the existence internally from personal consciousness”.

For Durkheim society is a reality ‘sui generis’. Society comes into being due to  the association of individuals. Hence society represents a specific reality having its own characteristics. Social reality has an independent existence of its own, which is over and above the individual. According to Durkheim, social facts is that way of acting, thinking or feeling which is more or less general in a given society. He treated Social facts as things which are real and are capable of exerting constraint upon them. In other words, social facts are coercive in nature which exist in their own right and are independent of individual manifestations. So they are inherent in society. Also they are not the growth of personal consciousness of human but, the result of collective consciousness

Types of Social Facts

1. Structural or Morphological social facts :

These are the facts relating to the overall density and the size of the population of society and the complexity of its social and institutional structure. In this category, the distribution of population over the surface of territory, the forms of dwelling, nature of communication etc are included.

2. Institutionalised Social Facts

They are more or less general and widely spread throughout the society. They represent the collective nature of society as a whole. Under this category fall the legal and moral rules, religious dogma and established beliefs and practices prevalent in the society.

3. Non institutionalised social facts

These facts have not yet been crystallized by the society and fall beyond the institutionalized norms of society. These facts do not have independent existence and their externality  to and ascendancy over the individuals is yet not complete. For example, sporadic currents of opinion generated in a specific situation, enthusiasm generated in a crowd etc.

All these above mentioned social facts form a continuum and constitute social milieu of society. Durkheim has made a distinction between normal and pathological social facts.

4. Normal Social Facts

Normally social fact is that which is similar to the granted norm of society and increase the health of sociological life. It can be understood with the example of the body. When body is in normal form this makes the weather favourable and become healthy. In this healthy state, the morbidity is low.  Thus in society in which arrangements are already made, then social fact is normal to continue keeping. In this condition, the vyadhikiya pathological facts are in low quantity. Similarily social facts are normal when it is generally encountered in a society of a certain type at certain phase of its evolution.

5. Pathological Social Facts

These facts are opposite of granted norms of society. These bring morbidity in society and are harmful for its health. Crime, suicide, robbery etc are the pathological social facts. Thus, When there is increase in such facts in society then the normal life of society comes to an end. Durkheim says for defining the subject matter of sociology these two types of facts should be merged.

Characteristics of Social facts

The main characteristics of social facts are

1. EXTERNALITY

Social facts exist outside individual conscience and are not affected by the ideas and action of humans. For example civic or customary obligations are defined externally to the individual in laws and customs. Religious beliefs and practices exist outside and prior to the individual. Social facts are already given in society and remain in existence irrespective of the birth and death of individual. For example, language continues to function independently of any single individual.

2. CONSTRAINT

It is the specialty of sociological fact that its compliance is forceful for human as its growth is not from any personal consciousness but these are the result of collective consciousness. For example, the institutions of law, education, beliefs etc are commanding and obligatory for all. So, the social facts are endowed with the power of coercion by reason of which they exert control.

3. UNIVERSALITY

Social fact is universal so its vogue can be seen in all groups and society. All understand these in one mean and comply to it. Examples are beliefs, feelings and practices of the group or society taken collectively.

4. TRANSMITTED FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION

Sociological facts teaches from the medium of socialization, old generation transmits them to new generation. How to celebrate festivals like Deepawali, Rakshabandhan, Janamashtami, what to cook on this day, what type of clothes to wear etc . All these things a person accepts from its society and family and slowly all these becomes a part of his life and gets mixed with habits and behaviour of individual and he further transmits it to new generation.

5. SOCIAL FACTS ARE LEARNED

Social facts is the growth of society to teach the method of socialization. Although, Education is a powerful source of socialization, a person is taught sociological fact by the medium of formal and informal education. The people of the family teaches individual to behave and how to wear clothes  etc and the educational institutes provide knowledge about laws, beliefs etc. Hence to learn the behaviour which is accepted by the members of any society or group comes in the category of social facts.

To sum up, the social fact is specific. It is born of the association of individuals and represents a collective content of social group or society. It differs in kind from what occurs in individual consiousness.


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