Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mechanical and Organic Solidarity.

Mechanical and Organic Solidarity.
Solidarity is the integration, and degree and type of integration, shown by a society or group with people and their neighbours. It refers to the ties in a society or social relations that bind people to one another. The term is generally employed in sociology and the other social sciences. What forms the basis of solidarity varies between societies. In simple societies it may be mainly based around kinship and shared values. In more complex societies there are various theories as to what contributes to a sense of social solidarity. The principle aim of this paper is to show with concrete examples from a particular culture and explain the meaning of the terms mechanical and organic solidarity. It will start with a brief introduction followed by the main body and then end with the conclusion.

Durkheim ( 1933:226) says "Social life comes from a double source, the likeness of consciences and the division of social labor, and therefore solidarity is a manifest of specialization in the meeting society needs." Mechanical Solidarity is a social cohesion based upon the likeness and similarities among individuals in a society, and largely dependent on common rituals and routines. Common among prehistoric and pre-agricultural societies, and lessens in predominance as modernity increases. This mechanical solidarity as he called it occurred when all members of a society performed the same or nearly the same tasks as all others in a society. If one person were to die and not be replaced, the society would not change, because all other members did exactly the same thing as the member that died. The collective conscience of a mechanical society is identical among all members, and the bond derives not from dependence on other individuals, but from the dependence on the total social system. Organic Solidarity refers to a social cohesion based upon the dependence individuals in more advanced society have on each other. Common among industrial societies as the division of labor increases. Though individuals perform different tasks and often have different values and interests, the order and very survival of society depends on their reliance on each other to perform their specific task. Durkheim's primary interest was what happened as societies begin to modernize, when they begin to industrialize and labor becomes increasingly specialized. Durkheim calls the new form of solidarity resulting from modernization organic solidarity. In modern, industrial societies, labor is tremendously divided. Individuals no longer perform the same tasks, have the same interests, nor necessarily share the same perspectives on life. But Durkheim quickly points out that this does not cause a society to fail or disintegrate. Organic solidarity is formed. Like the organs within an animal, individuals perform certain specific functions, but rely on the well-being and successful performance of other individuals. If one organ fails, the rest of them fail as well. A body--or in this case a society--cannot function at all if one part crumbles. This reliance upon each other for social (and even physical) survival is the source of organic soldarity, according to Durkheim.

Etymologically, the concept of solidarity is related to other aspects of life like in physics, chemistry and biology especially of molecules. "The social molecules that cohere in this way can act together only in so far as they have no action of their own, as with the molecules of inorganic bodies. That is why we propose to call this form of solidarity 'mechanical. In societies where this type of solidarity [mechanical] is highly developed, the individual is not his own master...Solidarity is, literally something which the society possesses.” Giddens (1972:139). There is then, a social structure of determined nature to which mechanical solidarity corresponds. What characterizes it is a system of segments homogeneous and similar to each other. Quite different is the structure of societies where organic solidarity is preponderant. They are constituted, not by a repitition of similar, homogeneous segments, but by a system of different organs each of which has a special role, and which are themselves formed of differentiated parts. In one case as in the other, the structure derives from the division of labor and its solidarity. Each part of the animal, having become an organ, has its proper sphere of action where it moves independently without imposing itself upon others. But, from another point of view, they depend more upon one another than in a colony, since they cannot separate without perishing."

Gidens further says that "...Even where society relies most completely upon the division of labor, it does not become a jumble of juxtaposed atoms, between which it can establish only external, transient contacts. Rather the members are united by ties which extend deeper and far beyond the short moments during which the exchange is made. Each of the functions that they exercise is, in a fixed way, dependent upon others, and with them forms a solidary system. Giddens, (1972:226)
It should be noted that according to Émile Durkheim, the types of social solidarity correlate with types of society. Durkheim introduced the terms "mechanical" and "organic solidarity" as part of his theory of the development of societies in The Division of Labour in Society (1893). In a society exhibiting mechanical solidarity, its cohesion and integration comes from the homogeneity of individuals people feel connected through similar work, educational and religious training, and lifestyle. This can be manifested in most Zambian communities especially those in the rural through community work. Most people in the rural Zambia feel much connected to the operations of community work.
Similarly in Zambia, Mechanical solidarity normally operates in "traditional" and small scale societies . In simpler societies like that of a tribal, solidarity is usually based on kinship ties of familial networks. Organic solidarity comes from the interdependence that arises from specialization of work and the complementarities between people, a development which occurs in "modern" and "industrial" societies. It is social cohesion based upon the dependence individuals have on each other in more advanced societies. Although individuals perform different tasks and often have different values and interest, the order and very solidarity of society depends on their reliance on each other to perform their specified tasks. Organic here is referring to the interdependence of the component parts. Thus, social solidarity is maintained in more complex societies through the interdependence of its component parts. For example, farmers produce the food to feed the factory workers who produce the tractors that allow the farmer to produce the food).
Ideally, the Zambian solidarity kinds can be seen from the two types of solidarity that is distinguished by morphological and demographic features, type of norms in existence, and the intensity and content of the conscience collective.
Mechanical and organic solidarity
Feature Mechanical solidarity Organic solidarity
Morphological (structural) basis Based on resemblances (predominant in less advanced societies)
Segmental type (first clan-based, later territorial)
Little interdependence (social bonds relatively weak)
Relatively low volume of population
Relatively low material and moral density Based on division of labour (predominately in more advanced societies)
Organized type (fusion of markets and growth of cities)
Much interdependency (social bonds relatively strong)
Relatively high volume of population
Relatively high material and moral density
Types of norms (typified by law) Rules with repressive sanctions
Prevalence of penal law Rules with restitutive sanctions
Prevalence of cooperative law (civil, commercial, procedural, administrative and constitutional law)
Formal features of conscience collective High volume
High intensity
High determinateness
Collective authority absolute Low volume
Low intensity
Low determinateness
More room for individual initiative and reflection
Content of conscience collective Highly religious
Transcendental (superior to human interests and beyond discussion)
Attaching supreme value to society and interests of society as a whole
Concrete and specific Increasingly secular
Human-orientated (concerned with human interests and open to discussion)
Attaching supreme value to individual dignity, equality of opportunity, work ethic and social justice
Abstract and general
This table suggests that there are a number of progressive development of individualism, the dispersive effects of which can only be prevented for a time, and by artificial means by the action of the state, it is essentially a mechanical aggregate. In line with this view, Durkheim believed that Ferdinand Tönnies saw individualism as working against moral order, people become unattached like atoms flowing in space suggesting that the only thing holding people together, prevented relationships from fracturing, and holds people to society was the imposition of order and coherence of the state. Arguing that the life of social agglomerates is just as natural, and is no less internal as that of small groupings. Preindustrial societies are associated to mechanical and industrial societies as organic and this view is opposing Toennies theories by using opposite terminology. Although the bonds of mechanical solidarity were based on "a more or less organized totality of beliefs and sentiments common to all the members of the group," this gave way in industrial society to potent new forces that were characterised by heightened complexity and differentiation, an increased dependence on society, and, seemingly paradoxically at first glance, a growing level of individual autonomy.
Many countries experience solidarity and it should be noted that international solidarity is not an act of charity but an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objectives. Unlike solidarity, which is horizontal and takes place between equals, charity is top-down, humiliating those who receive it and never challenging the implicit power relations.
Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable. No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.
It can be concluded that the paper has discussed the subject matter with respect to the question. It was pointed out that mechanical Solidarity is a social cohesion based upon the likeness and similarities among individuals in a society, and largely dependent on common rituals and routines. Organic Solidarity on the other hand refers to a social cohesion based upon the dependence individuals in more advanced society have on each other. In Zambian, it is common among industrial societies especially in Lusaka as the division of labor increases.


Durkheim, E. (1933). The Division of Labor in Society Translated by George Simpson. New York: The Free Press.

Giddens, A. (1972). Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings. London: Cambridge University Press.
Jary, David; Julia Jary (1991), Collins Dictionary of Sociology, Glasgow: Harper Collins, p. 774, ISBN 0-00-470804-0

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