Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school
The following lesson will compare the views of sociologists Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim and how they view a modern society. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check your understanding.
Durkheim & Marx on Modernity
Isn't it amazing that you're learning about something through a computer or mobile device screen right now? You're getting the information that was once reserved for the educated elite. In a more modern sense, you would have gotten this information by someone that needed to teach you in person by plopping a large textbook in front of you.
With the advent of technology, the society we currently live in is a modern one. It allows us to do things and improve upon a way of life that existed prior to these advancements. Two sociologists in particular see the move towards modernity, or the social patterns of society that resulted from large-scale industrialization, as a good thing.
However, they put their own unique twists of what exactly a move towards modernity enables a society to do. The two sociologists we will cover in this lesson are Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx.
Durkheim & the Division of Labor
Another great thing about living in a modern society is grocery shopping. At first, that probably doesn't sound like something great, but really, isn't it nice to go to the grocery store and pick up whatever you need to make dinner for that night? Or better yet, you can also go to your nearest fast food joint and order something to eat that's already made for you!
Imagine instead that if you wanted to make dinner, you had to raise the livestock and plants needed to feed yourself. This would be inconceivable to have to do every time you wanted a meal; and as a result, our society would look a lot different.
Luckily, with the advent of industrialization also came an increased division of labor, or specialized economic activity. This is the central point of sociologist Emile Durkheim's analysis of modernity. Durkheim viewed pre-modern societies as a time when everyone performed the same daily routines, whereas modern societies function by having people perform highly specific jobs.
Durkheim claimed that pre-modern societies were held together by mechanical solidarity, or shared sentiments and likeness, because everyone was pretty much doing the same thing. However, modern societies are held together by organic solidarity, or mutual dependency between people engaged in specialized work.
In modern societies, you could get more work done if you didn't have to do everything yourself, but rather had a system where people specialized in certain things and helped one another. For example, if you were to own a restaurant, you may be the best cook, but you wouldn't want to have to grow and raise your own food. Instead, chefs are able to buy meat and produce from farmers, and farmers, in turn, are able to go to restaurants to get a great meal.
Some people however felt that a move towards modernity, or a more 'natural'/'organic' system of social organization, would lead to a loss of meaningful bonds with people, which were largely characteristic of small villages. However, Durkheim instead saw organic modernization not as the loss of community, but rather a change from a community based on bonds of likeness, to a community based on economic interdependence. Durkheim viewed the mechanical solidarity of pre-modernity not as some whimsical value, but rather as something that kept society stagnant and too regimented.
That's not to say that Durkheim viewed modernity as perfect. While Durkheim was pretty optimistic about the effects of modernity, he did still fear anomie, a condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals. With society becoming so diverse and specialized, Durkheim felt that things might begin working too well and at the cost of our humanity. Durkheim did warn for modern societies to keep their strong moral norms and values, and not to become egocentric in placing their own needs above those of others. This, he believed, would lead to finding little purpose in life.
Over 79,000 lessons in all major subjects
Get access risk-free for 30 days,
just create an account.
Another sociologist, Karl Marx, agreed that modernity sharpened the division of labor within society. However, Marx took it one step further in seeing that a division of labor is part of a larger system. The system that Marx felt existed was an economic system that relied on free-market trade, called capitalism. For Marx, modernity was synonymous with capitalism. He felt that the Industrial Revolution was responsible for the movement towards modernity, and displaced the traditional ruling class of kings and barons to one controlled by the expansion of commerce and the middle class.
Nevertheless, Marx's interpretation of modernity saw the creation of a class society, or a society with pronounced social stratification. Because a capitalist economy pursues ever-greater profits, self-interest dominates society and weakens the social ties that once united small communities. In this regard, Marx can be seen as having some things in common with Durkheim, in that both felt that pursuing efficiency (which leads to profits) would also increase self-interest, and cause people to lose their sense of humanity and caring for one another.
Under capitalism, people are transformed into commodities, or a source of labor and a market for capitalist products. While modernity had gradually worn away the rigid categories that set nobles apart from commoners in pre-modern societies, the class society that capitalism created still has its own elites in the form of capitalist millionaires, and its own commoners in the form of the working class.
But again, Marx's hope was that this conflict would eventually sow the seeds of a revolution, in hopes that a society would arise and make everyone equal. Unfortunately, Marx's view of modernity never came to exact fruition; and those societies that did try to model themselves after Marx turned out to be as bad or even worse than capitalist societies.
Two additional views of modernity come from sociologists Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx. Durkheim, for the most part, approved of a move towards modernity in favor of what he called organic solidarity, or mutual dependency between people engaged in specialized work. He did, however, warn against anomie, or a condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals because they become too self-interested in their own lives and jobs.
Additionally, Karl Marx felt that specialized work in society had contributed to the rise of a capitalist society. According to Marx, capitalist societies have, in turn, given rise to class societies, or societies with pronounced social stratification. Because a capitalist economy pursues ever-greater profits, self-interest dominates society and weakens the social ties that once united small communities. Marx also warned, like Durkheim, that society needed to take care to not have self-interest come at the cost of our own humanity and moral values of helping others.
After finishing this lesson, students are prepared to:
Discuss Emile Durkheim's theory on the division of labor and emerging modern societies
Recall Durkheim's central concern regarding modern society
Explain Karl Marx's idea of class societies and his hopes for modern society
Compare and contrast the social theories of Durkheim and Marx
Did you know… We have over 200 college
courses that prepare you to earn
credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the
first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn
credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.