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Emile Durkheim: Social Change Theory Essay

Emile Durkheim, the father of sociology, in his text the Rules of Sociological Method, has asserted that the disciplinal distinction between the social and natural sciences necessitates the differentiation in the variables and processes of analysis. This is why the idea of social facts was conceived, to refer to the intangibles that occur as product of social interactions between humans, who creates realities because of the constant cycle of agreement-disagreement, decision-making, and rationalization.

The observable, and sometimes unconscious, social occurrences and structures that operate in the society are what constitute social facts. The social facts are realities that are not stagnant and inflexible as they are constantly subject to social change. The social change theory is the understanding that the dynamic interactions in the social milieu create phenomena that is continual and constant – change. This change is hence the product of societal structures that determines processes and mechanisms that results in particular outcomes.

The Social Change Theory It is important to note that throughout history, different scholars offered different lenses in analyzing the reality of social change. How a particular thinker perceives the concept of change has often mirrored the social conditions of the era. Haferkamp and Smelser (1998) notes that it was during the French and Industrial Revolutions, periods of social dynamism, has ushered the focus and locus on the concept of social change in the understanding of the interaction and vibrancy of units of the society.

Philosophical thinkers had thus began the movement from the recognition of natural constants and the inclination to support contractual, natural occurrences, to eventually recognize the potentiality of social change as the theoretical angle in comprehension of social phenomena. The understanding of social change does not confine itself to the elucidation of the present, but also the explication of historical experiences of humans, like the ancient empires or the civilizations.

Meanwhile, the contemporary approach of social change theory develops itself into creating an order that is more generalized so as to illuminate the problems and processes of change in a broader view of the present and the past. According to Haferkamp and Smelser (1998), the theory of social must include three fundamental elements that relates and links up to one another: (1) structural determinants, (2) processes and mechanisms, and (3) directions and consequences.

Below is the graphical illustration of the elements of social change: The above representation may seem simple, but the social change follows the process, of mechanisms and social processes being dictated by structural determinants, which results into outputs and consequences that are accumulated. It is also important to note that although the social change theories are considered fundamentals in the sociological study and discipline, it is nevertheless wanting of more theoretical development.

Social change theories are in fact not devoid of problems. Although social changes is beyond the limits and often exceeds the explanations of single (mono-causal) theories, such theory is still consequential in explaining some realities. Such theories of course tend to disintegrate once confronted by changes that are unprecedented or when employed for purposes of prescription or prediction.

Meanwhile, the complex multi-causal theories encounters difficulty in harmonizing multitudes of variables and determinants that produces multiple outcomes, making it more difficult to construct. The prospects of social change theory are of course not to be denied, as it aptly explains the dynamic structures that operate in the social setting. The contribution of Emile Durkheim, which would be discussed in the subsequent paragraphs, contributed immensely in the crafting and development of the theories of social change.

Durkheim’s Theory of Social Change The air does not cease to have weight, although we do not feel that weight. –Emile Durkheim The contribution of Durkheim of the idea of “social facts” has contributed vastly to the sociological analysis during his and the contemporary period, as he poses the hypothesis that humans are essentially surrounded and enclosed in the countless facts and realities, which is in existence even without recognition or knowledge of such particular reality.

Similar to the person’s inability to always feel the weight of the air, it does not signify the absence of the weight or of the air; this illustrates how people are not always capable of discerning realities – social facts, whose presence in fact are never absent or lacking, as these facts constantly moves people forward and affect behavior and actions. It awareness only becomes apparent in situations where one deviates from it, like for instance, we become aware of the culture of respect/cleanliness when someone throws his debris on the street.

Social transformations are experienced in events where the unexpected and unprecedented is what transpires, and these are essentially the instances that advance the knowledge of the sociologist/philosopher. For Durkheim, social change is represented by transformations in the social morphology -or the structure of social relations that links individuals into a coherent entity, society- and the moral structure -or the body of laws, norms, and sanctions that regulate social life.

(Hadis, Sociology and Social Change) For Durkheim, the point of the study of social sciences if to focus on facts that are essentially dissimilar and varied from the subject of the natural science, which is why something as intangible as, for example, culture, is a point of discussion and analysis for Durkheim. Social science hence is a study that distinguishes itself from the natural science, and therefore necessitates recognition of facts that are products of human and social interaction – social fact.

Durkheim studies he reasons why suicide happens,w hich he concludes is a product of normlessness, which is a product of prevailing culture, which mirrors life of the individual – and what is more intangible than culture and life. Durkheim was concerned with anomie, a pathological -and, thus, temporary- characteristic of societies in which the division of labor does not evolve naturally, but may be forced by unequal social relations among classes.

(Hadis, Sociology and Social Change) Durkheim’s scheme of social change involves a contrast between a simple division of labor and a corresponding mechanic solidarity, on the one hand, and a complex division of labor accompanied now by what he called organic solidarity, on the other. (Hadis, Sociologya and Social Change) The anomie is in the society is used by Durkheim to defer to the declining morality of individuals, and it is something that confronts the individual when they are not bounded by moral constraints, therefore creating confusions between what is morally right or otherwise.

It is in the context of collective social morality that social change is most mirrored and become promising. In a society that gives premium to individualism, which is not morally bad (except for egoism), the solution is the formation of collective morality. The point of social change hence is that social facts are constantly subject to transformations and evolutions that are responses to existing values, situations, and structures that determine social outcomes and processes.

Durkheim uses differentiation in his explication of the social change theory; Alexander (in Haferkamp and Smelser, 1992) explains it clearly: He used differentiation theory to grope with issues that are generic to the study of social changes as such. Each of Division’s three parts represents one important way in which social change has been conceptualized: through the construction of general models, through developing accounts of social process, and through historically specific analyses of tensions and strains.

Durkheim’s problem, in other words, is an enduring one with which every perspective on change must come to grips. The problem of integration is one of the fundamental problems for Durkheim. In the reality of social change in how the labor structure is being organized, how is it therefore possible for the society to maintain order and stability? Durkheim has highlighted in his work how the perpetual action diversity has affected the society, and how the process and social structures has taken the perpetual cycle of bound and rebound.

The social change theory of Emile Durkheim gives the clear picture of how cultural determinants are strong factors for the change dynamics and outcomes in the society. Differentiation hence becomes important, as social phenomena are complex occurrences that are not capable of being confined by inflexible theories. The understanding of social change is a product therefore of the analytical accommodation to encompass and recognize the cultural and social facts that operates and dictates the transformations occurring in the social milieu.

References Durkheim, Emile. (1982). The Rules of Sociological Method and Selected Texts on Sociology and its Method. Steven Lukes, Ed. USA: The Free Press. Hadis, Benjamin. “Sociology and Social Change”. <http://www. chss. montclair. edu/~hadisb/dev3. htm> Accessed 22 January 2008 Haferkamp, Hans and Neil Smelser, Eds. (1992). Social Change and Modernity. USA: University of California Press. Noble, Trevor. (2000). Social Theory and Social Change. USA: Palgrave.

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