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Durkheim's Collective Conscience -- Research Starters Sociology

By: Howson, Alexandra;

2009 / EBSCO

Description

The French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, a scholar of social order and integration, developed the concept of collective conscience. Durkheim defined collective conscience as beliefs and sentiments common to members of a society, and observed that the character and content of collective conscience varied according to whether society was characterized by mechanical or organic solidarity. In the former, collective conscience was extensive and strong, ranging far and wide into people's lives, controlling them in detail through various religious or other traditional means of sanction (Marshall, 1994). In the latter, the character and content of collective conscience changed to a more abstract form; one that required a system of law to ensure people complied with established legal codes. In mechanical solidarity, individualism became more important and society increasingly specialized and differentiated; thus, the form and content of collective conscience shifted toward the provision of principles and justifications (as a form of civil religion) rather than providing an integrated set of ideas and beliefs to which all members of society subscribe. While Durkheim's work has been criticized for being, with a small number of exceptions, largely theoretical, contemporary scholars have developed his approach to examine the character of contemporary collective conscience and how collective conscience is socially produced.