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Conscience Collective

Page history last edited by Robert Goldman 15 years, 4 months ago

 

 

    Emile Durkheim's idea of the conscience collective was largely based off of the German sociologist, Schaffle's work.   For Schaffle, society is an historical phenomenon that exisists both before and after the current people involved and, as such, has its own consciousness and destiny.  Durkheim follows this by using the term conscience collective in order to describe the collective beliefs, desires and values of society as a whole.

 

The collective conscience is a set of values or beliefs built over time in a given society.  The collective conscious simultaneously reflects and shapes the morals attitudes and ideologies held by the members of the given society.  This shared belief system serves to create solidarity among members of society.  

  

Durkheim argues that before the division of labor the conscience collective was strongest because members of society had similar rituals, goals, and practices which produced a fairly homogenous system of beliefs. Durkheim calls this form of collective consciousness mechanical solidarity. It acted as moral hegemony and was often religious in nature however it mostly relied upon labor division.  Durkheim argued that as long as people did similar work and that there was no differentiation between people, their work and the state, then the collective morals and values would be at their strongest as people saw the world through the same perspective.  

 

However, with the unavoidable rise of the division of labor, members of society faced different challenges and formed different interests and values. The corrosion of a mechanical solidarity gave way to organic solidarity, a weaker form of collective consciousness based on interdependence of in the division of labor and individualism.  Durkheim argues that modern collective consciousness is marked by the 'cult of the individual', an ideology based the sanctity of the individual that has come to define collective consciousness in modern Western society. 

 

Durkheim introduced the concept of the conscience collective as tool for understanding the relative development of societies.  The level of social solidarity, though, he recognized as an 'internal fact'.  Internal facts are not directly observable or measurable, and thus Durkheim used legal codes as an external index that could be used as a substitute for identification of the level of social solidarity. Using a directly observable trait to measure social solidarity would allow Durkheim to use test/discuss his theory on a practical level Durkheim divides legal codes into repressive and restitutive sanctions.  He identifies repressive systems as indicative of a high level of social solidarity; restitutive systems, organic solidarity.  

 

Repressive sanctions entail punishment of those who commit a transgression.  They consist of taking the liberty, or life of someone, perhaps inflicting pain on those who violate social codes.  Repressive sanctions are most closely conceived of as crimes: violations of social norms that are held generally by the population.  A repressive system will not enumerate rights and obligations, but will hand out heavy punishments for those who violate codes of conduct.  Societies with high degrees of social solidarity do not need to specify the obligations of members: they are generally known to the population.  Durkheim continues by arguing that repressive systems often give punishments much harsher than the crime.  A transgression of moral codes held by all is a transgression against all those who create and respect the moral whole of society.  Anthony Giddens sums it up: "The primary function, therefore, is to protect and reaffirm the conscience collective in the face of acts which question its sanctity" (75).   

 

Restitutive systems, indexed for societies with a dwindling conscience collective, are characterized by the attempt to deal with transgressions by reparation.  Legal codes function to restore the parties involved in transgression to their state before it happened.  Social disgrace does not come with punishment, and the rights, obligations, and potential punishments faced by an individual are specified in a legal code.  Notice that the focus of restitutive punishment is on the individual, whereas the system under repressive punishment highlights the importance of the way a crime affects the whole of a social community.  The locus of "rights" in a restitutive system is in the individual; for repressive, the social whole.  

 

Durkheim's analysis explains traits of punishment systems that otherwise may be unclear.  Many people support the idea that repressive sanctions exist in contemporary society only as a deterrent.  Durkheim contends, instead, that if repressive sanctions were meant to be deterrents, then the punishment for crimes would have to be created based on the motivation to commit a crime, not on the gravity the crime committed.  Accidental murder and candy theft carry very different punishments - Durkheim argues that in a deterrent system, the candy thief would be the bearer of a much stricter punishment.  

 

Durkheim's analysis on crime gives an easy tool for the extension of the concept of social solidarity into contemporary manifestations.  Modern discussion over the validity of the death penalty could easily be informed by application of Durkheim's model.  A government or society would need to approach a question like capital punishment's validity by first determining the goal of the legal system: restoration or punishment.  Then, policy makers and social theorists could turn to matters of how to achieve the articulated goals. 

 

The Collective Consciousness can be separated into four dimensions of analysis:

 

1. Volume: The degree that attitudes held by individuals are comprable to everyone else.  High volume = heavily shared collective consciousness, low volume = greater individuation.

 

2. Intensity: The degree to which attitudes held are influenced by emotions.

 

3. Rigidity: How clearly the required beliefs and practices are defined by the Collective Consciousness. If the Collective Consciousness is weaker, rigidity will be weaker which will allow more flexibility. 

 

4. Religion: In the early stages of Collective Consciousness, the content to analyze is religion. Later, the content becomes moral individualism (the Cult of the Individual), weak rigidity = anomic, or insufficient moral regulation

 

 

 

Comments (1)

Anonymous said

at 8:47 am on Dec 16, 2008

Hey all so I know that whoever has been working on the Durkheim page has done some really good work on the conscience collective but i thought it would be nice to have a separte page for it... therefore i wrote something up (feel free to add) and was wondering if we wanted to combine the information at all... i copied and pasted the end bit from the Durkheim page to this one because I thought it worked well and I liked how it was written. If this isnt ok then feel free to change it...

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