SOC231H5 Study Guide - Final Guide: Southern Sociological Society, Social Fact, Double Consciousness
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Rather than look at society as based on individual psychology, Durkheim argued that society
exercises pressure on individual consciousness. He starts his discussion on the sociological
method with the concept of Social facts. These social facts are external to individuals and affect
how they act. They are external because people don’t become aware of them until they are
educated or socialized into them. Examples of social facts are the religions that people believe in,
the languages they speak, and the system of currency they use. All of these examples function
independently of the individuals who live within a society at a particular time.
They are not biological or psychological phenomenon; they are outside individual consciousness
and as such Durkheim discusses them as social phenomenon. Social life is imbued with values
which can be scientifically studied through a phenomenal reality that expresses these values.
Social phenomenon can be therefore studied objectively because individuals cannot alter them.
For example, laws are embodied in a legal code and data is statistically collected on social
activities. Fashion is embodied in clothing and taste is developed in works of art. The laws and
fashions of society exist independently of the consciousness of individuals.
Furthermore, he states that these social facts impose themselves on the individual through a
coercive power, so humans do not completely determine themselves. For example, legal and
moral rules, religious doctrines and financial constraints are social facts that constrain people and
affect the way they act, think and feel. People might also experience social facts through social
currents. Through these currents, social facts can take on collective dimensions as beliefs or
practices. One example of social currents is emotions developed in a crowd of people. Other
social currents include opinions on religious political or artistic affairs.
Durkheim states that these social facts have a practical purpose to serve as criterion for
distinguishing between a normal and unhealthy society. This way the science of social
phenomenon can shed light on practical problems. A way in which it is applied is through the
suicide rate which to Durkheim is a social fact.
- Lack of integration. For example, the protestants were more likely to commit suicide than
Catholics because their religion allowed them to be authors of their own fate and be more
individual in their judgement. This makes the religion have a weaker influence on people
and therefore protestants lack social integration.
- Politics and family allow the opportunity to decrease the rate of egoistic suicide.
Revolutions and elections create a collective environment that caters to social integration
as everyone has feels of patriotism and strive towards a common goal.
- As a result of too much integration. Durkheim divides this into three parts: obligatory,
optional and acute. Obligatory is when it is your duty to take your life. For example, in
some societies when a woman’s husband dies, she must take her own life as well and in
other societies people kill themselves to avoid old age. They see old age as a sign of
dishonor. Taking their own lives meant going to a beautiful place.
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