Emile Durkheim’s Division of Labor and the Egyptian Revolution

Emile Durkheim’s Division of Labor and the Egyptian Revolution

Dating back to the origin of mankind, the first society described in the Holly Book and myths was divided into different workings levels, thus proving that the division of labor has been in existence for a very long time. However, either the importance of this subject was accidentally overlooked, or people deliberately ignored the power that dictated who performed the specific duties, helping to shape the society, but the issue of labor division has been underestimated. According to Alexander and Smith, Adam Smith’s noble quest to explain the theory behind the division of labor was the first documented work ever from which the present understanding of the complexities of the subject has been derived. Although labor is mostly attributed to economic significance, the effects of its division spill over to every aspect of life, including morality and societal solidarity (Elwel). Durkheim notes that the effects of the division of labor spread to political, judicial, administrative, and scientific fields as well (Brym and Lie). Consequently, the division of labor doesn’t apply only to human societies, but also to biological organisms (Durkheim et al.). In his arguments in favor of the latter assertion, Strenski cites material from Philosophy of Biology, documented by Wolff and Milne Edwards. Durkheim notes that they had broken down their concepts into a multitude of distinct subjects, each of which held specificity with regards to the methodology and ideas outlined. This paper analyses Durkheim’s views on division of labor, explaining the concept of organic and mechanic solidarity, normal and pathological states, and anomie. Toward the end, it discusses the relevance of this subject as evidenced during the 25th January Egypt revolution that occurred in 2011.

 

According to Smith’s assertion , the division of labor is a natural law that raises a moral question in regard to how dubiously it is applied. That is, there is a question of whether everyone has to comply with the distribution of labor, or if they can reject it, as well as whether or not it can be considered as the man’s duty in becoming self-sufficient (Macionis). According to Durkheim, these questions lead to an ambivalent end. On the one hand, the division of labor was always seen as a moral rule where a person must fulfill their predetermined function (Durkheim). From a practical point of view, this maxim encouraged a scientist to do science, a farmer to be a farmer, and people to do other activities in order to survive. On the other hand, the subject endorsed specialization. That is, in terms of the previous example, a scientist should stick to his field of study and work his way up to perfection (Brym and Lie). Durkheim aimed at resolving this limbo by determining the functions of the division of labor, the factors that cause it, and pointing out all of its adversities.

The role of the division of labor undoubtedly focuses on improving the skills of a worker and boosting production power in the long run. However, Durkheim chooses a different twist in explaining this maxim. People like those who are similar to them, and they are also attracted to those different from them, for the very reason that they are indeed different (Alexander and Smith). According to such a viewpoint, mutual attraction can be derived from differences as much as it can be earned from likeness. Durkheim states that in resolving this paradox, it must be understood that only distinct kinds of dissimilarities can attract. These dissimilarities must complement each other. Moreover, individuals seek from others what they lack in themselves, and associations are molded whenever this exchange occurs — specifically, associations are formed whenever the division of labor occurs.

From this point of view, the economic impact caused by division of labor is rendered trivial compared to the moral effects involved (Jones). Thus, the actual need which it corresponds to is the sensation of solidarity that burns between two or more people. Herein, Durkheim aims to bring out the division of labor as not only a tool that fashions society, but as an excellent way to uphold it (Jones). However, social solidarity can not manifest itself fully due to the obstacles put in place by people. Thus, to understand the complexities involved in achieving social solidarity, it is imperative to comprehend the characteristics of laws that guide social structure. Durkheim names those characteristics as sanctions. Consequently, each precept of law can be efficiently mapped to a decree of sanctioned conduct, and penalties are interlaced with the intensity of precepts attributed to them. According to Brym and Lie, these sanctions fall into two categories. The repressive sanctions lead to suffering of a person they are applied to, depriving them of something they value. There are also restitutive sanctions, which aim to revert the matters to the original state without punishing the person.

Repressive sanctions form mechanical solidarity, and because the deeds calling for these sanctions are defined as crime, enquiry into the nature of this kind of solidarity is a criminal investigation. Mechanical solidarity refers to the social integration in the society due to the fact that the public shares common beliefs and values (Jones). These values and beliefs are stipulated in law. In short, any breach of these rules leads to what is considered a repressive sanction. Therefore, all individuals are guided by a collective conscience that enhances cooperation, just like the synergy is enjoyed by molecules in a solid matter (Jones). In other words, crime is an act that violates collective conscience.

Restrictive sanctions, on the other hand, stimulate cooperative relations which form organic solidarity. Unlike mechanical solidarity, which is derived from the concept of collective conscience, organic solidarity stems from the idea of division of labor (Durkheim et al.). This maxim is underpinned by the fact that as the former focuses on the resemblance among individuals, the latter concentrates on their differences, and as the former is possible when a person’s personality conforms to that of the entire collective, the latter is only formed in an environment where everyone is different (Durkheim and Halls). Durkheim argues that the more primitive societies are, the more indistinguishable its members.

According to Durkheim, social facts can take normal and pathological forms. A crime can not be completely abolished, thus it can not become a norm. Contrary to the opposing views, Durkheim aims to bring out the reality instead of supporting the very existence of the offence. In his quest, Durkheim explains that crime can be found in all societies, higher and lower, basic and advanced alike, and the more civilized the society gets, the higher the crime rate is (Durkheim). Comparatively, each society has its own types and levels of crime which lead to according changes. In other words, the binding nature of the offence keeps replicating itself, forming an integral part of any healthy society. Crime is normal because the opposite — the existence of a clean, crime-free state — is absolutely impossible. That is, judging from the collective conscience tenets, people are always different, and forcing the multitude of individuals to conform to each other is wrong. Arguably, since all the people in a society can not feel the sentiments to the same degree, the society must differ as well (Durkheim and Halls). Moreover, if it got to a point where everybody became identical, according to Emile Durkheim, the society would only change more.

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Secondly, instituting strong repressive sanctions would result in similar strong reactions in regard to the insignificant deviant behavior. This fact leads us to the answer of what constitutes a state of anomie. This is generally a deviant condition resulting from a breakdown of the societal standards. According to Durkheim, suicide cases, which are considered anomie, resulted from a breakdown of societal values. In this case, the collective conscience might result in the lack of direction and in despair (Durkheim and Halls). Anomie has been observed to be severe for people deprived of the society accepted means of realizing individual goals.

The Egyptian Revolution Jan 25th 2011

The Egyptian Revolution that occurred on 25th January 2011 is one of the shocking mass actions witnessed in the 21st century that forced a head of the country to step down (White). Due to the socio-economic and political factors, the youth in the country filled the streets, demanding changes. Politically, people complained that the president had overstayed his term, characterized by fear, lack of free and fair elections, infringed freedom rights, and police brutality against activists, like in case with Khaled Said, which eventually became an example of the success of the Tunisian revolution. All these factors broke the society into parts, forming a highly disadvantaged group of the youth. As a result, the youth felt left out as the social ties got dissolved. Referring to Durkheim’s tenets, mechanical solidarity failed due to a loss of collective consciousness (Strenski). That is, some groups were being favored through corruption, and freedom rights were infringed.

The government contradicted collective conscious standards already established in the world, those to which people usually look up to for regulation. More often than not, excluding a few countries, like South Korea, human rights changed and accepted after the World Wars provide a standard upon which every single human being should orient themselves toward. In the highly digitized world, this information can easily be shared, making sure every human being enjoys their rights. The people of Egypt, in this case, felt left out after realizing that their system was segregated and underperforming compared to the international standards. In this regard, people started looking for a tool to break them out of the vicious leadership and political turmoil they were facing. The key point within this struggle involved people identifying that they were being treated wrongly by observing the international standards.

The Gini coefficient is the most prevalent technique in measuring inequality. It compares the income of an individual to the whole population, and the sum difference is divided into the number of people the data was taken from, as well as into the average income of the group. As a result, the figure ranges between two extremes, 0 and 1. The former signifies an entirely equal society while the later depicts the gulf between the rich and the poor, or where one person holds all the wealth. According to Adam Smith’s notion of division of labor, the rule dictates the conventional index of 80 – 20. A few individuals hold a majority of wealth — 80%, 20%. However, if this was true, Egypt would not have revolted against the leadership since the Gini coefficient in 1998 was 30%, and it stood at 33% nearing 2011. 

The analysis of the population growth and increase of economic activities prove that the quality of ife of poor people deteriorated. According to statistics at insurgentsia.com, despite the growth of Egypt’s GDP, more than a half of the population live on less than $2 a day (White). This scenario hence explains that the majority of resources is being held by wealthy people. According to Durkheim, a society that is characterized by efficient division of labor can not grow to such heights of despondency. First, by cultivating differences and by providing an organic structure, the informal sector, which forms the significant share of Egypt’s production, should have been able to keep the balance between itself and the formal sector in job provision. Thus, every individual, or at least the majority of people, would have been cared for. However, this was not the case in Egypt. The majority of individuals failed to secure a place in earning an income, and the inability of the government to meet their needs led to an anomic situation.

Those people who were jobless due to a failed labor division system felt left out. They were not a part of the whole Egypt because their values could not equal the values of the rich. According to Durkheim, this failure broke down the society, because individuals did not feel like they needed each other (Durkheim and Halls). In this case, those who felt left out united in regard to the identical problems they were facing. A common factor made them revolt against the government.

Also, as explained by Durkheim, the mass action to end Egypt’s government rule was normal. In this case, the change by revolution was not well advocated for. However, people used all possible means to protect their views. It could be compared to the sanctioned activity that most people resolve to do, making their actions have fewer repercussions or even being entirely accepted. In the case of Egypt, this was a well understandable course and it was generally accepted. A society has to be free in order to enforce changes. As Durkheim put it, it is normal for crime to exist within any society (Alexander and Smith). Such kind of a revolution is also acceptable.

Conclusion

The concept of division of labor is essential in regard to supporting the societal relations compared to economic value, as proposed by Adam Smith. Individuals should not be divided into groups and subjected to the confusion of learning all tasks in order to survive — they have to pick a particular task. While explaining division of labor, Emile Durkheim breaks the subject into understanding its functions and its causes. Two major tenets advanced by Durkheim include organic and mechanical solidarity. The former is defined by a society formed due to individual differences — division of labor, while the latter stems from the concept of collective conscience. Durkheim further explains that a society can not freely exist without crime. The author also presents an idea of an anomie using suicide as an example. The revolution witnessed in Egypt is well explained by the failed societal ties due to the poor division of labor. The values of some individuals, especially of the youth, could not equal the values of the rest of the society, thus breaking social ties between people. As a result, it became increasingly difficult for the youth to make a living, and they resorted to challenging the state power.   


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