Sociology 101 Durkheim definition of sociology & social facts

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  1. Durkheim’s definition of sociology
    • the science of studying the social, more precisely the social fact; the science of institutions, “all the beliefs and modes of behavior instituted by the collectivity.” (Preface 45)
    • scientific rationalism. everything is social but not everything can be studied through sociology
  2. Social fact
    Durkheim is referring to facts, concepts, expectations, tendencies that come not from individual responses and preferences, but that comes from the social community(Society) which socializes each of its members.
  3. Three Types of Social Facts
    • Morphological facts (related to the morphology of a society): urbanization, population density, intensity of communication
    • Demographic facts: fertility rate, mortality rate
    • All social institutions: education/upbringing of children, marriage, paternity/maternity, law, economic organization, religion.
  4. Characteristics of social fact (3)
    • external, coercive and sui generis
    • External: social facts come from society, they are general because they are taken from the group collectively
    • Coercive: social facts are obligatory, the posses a morally coercive force which we don’t feel at all
    • Sui generis: In a class or group of its own; not like anything else
    • Society is autonomous: It has a life and logic of its own, independent from the intentions and the motivations of individuals
    • This idea of sui generis can be looked at as similar to Elias’ theory on manners and habitus.
    • It is engrained in social facts and invisible to us; it is similar to Elias’s explanation for the way we develop manners and how it transforms throughout history. we internalize these norms so deeply that we don’t realize that it comes from the external and from society.
  5. characteristics of a social fact (6)
    • collective - true to majority
    • internalized - socialization of behavior
    • external - outside of individual
    • objective - patterns/facts, measurable
    • coercive - pressure
    • constructed - societal creation of ideas
  6. Tied to Mauss: the notion of total social fact
    • Looking at the process of gift exchange as a holistic process, it creates a cycle: this means it is not only the individual’s behavior but it is a part of a larger collective, so think of gift exchange as an institution: there are ties between economic, symbolic, and social
    • Individuals are acting in a way that there is collective power that they are coerced by; gift exchange as a ritual in itself; idea of the gift is the way society is able to circulate and exchange within itself through different types of goods, prestige, honor and family ties. so even before the market existed this is the way people were able to exchange with each other (recall Adam Smith)
  7. General v Collective
    • social facts cannot be reduced to the individual
    • collective creates general, general can't create collective
    • collective conscious can change over time
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Sociology 101 Durkheim definition of sociology & social facts
sociology 101
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