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Emil Durkheim - Essay Example

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Emil Durkheim was born in France on April 15, 1857. He was the son of a rabbi who studied Hebrew and the Old Testament. He was known to be a Catholic for a short period of time, but later became an agnostic. With all these background, it would not be surprising if Durkheim turned out to be philosophical and quite analytic about social issues (Coser 1977, page 143),
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Download file to see previous pages A change in any part is seen as leading to a certain degree of imbalance, which in turn results in changes in other parts of the system and to some extent to a reorganization of the system as a whole. The development of functionalism was based on the model of the organic system found in the biological sciences. (Theodorson and Theodorson 1969, page 167)
Accordingly, the three elements of functionalism are: 1) The general interrelatedness, or interdependence of the system's parts; 2) The existence of a "normal" state of affairs, or state of equilibrium, comparable to the normal or healthy state of an organism; and 3) The way that all the parts of the system reorganize to bring things back to normal.
In analyzing how social systems maintain and restore equilibrium, functionalists tend to use shared values or generally accepted standards of desirability as a central concept. Value consensus means that individuals will be morally committed to their society. The emphasis on values is the second most important feature of functionalism. As such, it contrasts directly with the other major macro-sociological perspective, the conflict theory. Whereas functionalism emphasizes the unity of society and what its members share, conflict theorists stress the divisions within a society and the struggles that arise out of people's pursuits of their different material interests. (Wallace and Wolf 1999, page 19)
The Collective Conscience (later called Collective Representations). Another key theory that Durkheim developed was The Collective Conscience. In his own words -
Of the totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society that forms a determinate system which has its own life, one may call it the collective or common conscience (Durkheim [1893] 1947, pages 79-80).
People are born into the collective conscience, and it regulates their perceptions and behavior. What Durkheim was denoting with the concept of collective conscience, then, is that social systems evidence systems of ideas, such as values, beliefs, and norms that constrain the thoughts and actions of individuals. Durkheim was concerned with morality and moral facts. This area is now termed culture.
Durkheim was concerned with the systems of symbols - particularly the norms, values, and beliefs - that humans create and use to organize their activities. In the course of his analysis of the collective conscience, Durkheim conceptualized its varying states as having four variables: 1) Volume, which denotes the degree to which the values, beliefs, and rules of the collective conscience are shared by the members of a society; 2) Intensity, which indicates the extent to which the collective conscience has power to guide a person's thoughts and actions; 3) Determinateness, which denotes the degree of clarity in the components of the collective conscience; and 4) Content, which pertains to the ratio of religious to purely secular symbolism in the collective conscience.
Functionalism in action. Functionalism is macro-sociology. An airport is an example of the interrelatedness expressed within the functionalism framework. There are the pilots, maintenance crews, air traffic controllers, baggage handlers, and ticketing and reservation personnel .What could cause "disequilibrium" of the airport ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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