Chapter 5

Chapter 5:
Durkheim and Weber
© 2014 Mark Moberg
• Marx represented a radical tradition in 19th-century social theory,
emphasizing class struggle and revolutionary change. Emile Durkheim’s
ideas stemmed from the more conservative tradition of Comte. Much of
Durkheim’s work implicitly answered Marx to show why modern society
would not fly apart.
• Primitive societies are held together by mechanical solidarity, where all
people engage in similar work and subscribe to the same values. Does the
growing division of labor in industrialized society undermine solidarity?
No—in modern society mechanical solidarity gives way to organic
solidarity, where social cohesion arises from interdependence between
people occupying distinct yet complementary roles in the division of labor.
• The function of social facts (sociocultural rules that have a binding effect
on the individual) is to enhance social solidarity, regardless of what a
member of society might describe as their function. Solidarity plays a role
in Durkheim’s cross-national study of suicide.
© 2014 Mark Moberg
• He noted that suicide rates were lower in Catholic than in Protestant regions:
Catholics enjoy a clear understanding of what is needed for salvation, but
Protestants stand alone before God and must decide matters on their own.
The result can be egoistic suicide, arising from a lack of integration with
• Unlike Durkheim, Weber adopts a “naturalistic” mode of analysis that does
not privilege the social scientist’s priorities (e.g. solidarity), but analyzes how
a particular cultural setting gives rise to the individual’s desires and beliefs.
• Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism touches upon the same
themes as Durkheim’s Suicide, but grounds them in theological debates
arising during the Reformation. John Calvin was associated with the doctrine
of predestination, in which an individual’s eternal fate was sealed at birth.
Because worldly goods were a sign of God’s favor, Protestants worked to
amass wealth as proof that they were among the “elect.” This work ethic—
born of the individual’s desire to uncover his eventual fate—fueled
investment and the rise of capitalism, which arose first in the Protestant
regions of Europe.
© 2014 Mark Moberg