Tag Archives: Durkheim

Food for Thought: Functionalism in a Liquid Modern World

Pavlich (2011) provides an overview of Durkheim’s theory of law, with an emphasis on the links between repressive and restitutive forms of law and mechanical and organic forms of solidarity. For Durkheim, there are essential links between law, morality, and the division of labour in a given society at a given point in time. Put differently, we could say that Durkheim encourages us to appreciate context.

Consider our current socio-historical context. We live in what many sociologists (ex. Giddens) describe as ‘late modernity’ or ‘liquid modernity’ (ex. Bauman) . Liquid modernity is characterized by (among other things) interconnectedness, global flows of capital and commodities, increased diversity, and increasing – perhaps pervasive – uncertainty.

For this week’s Food for Thought question, I would like to think about whether and to what extent Durkheim’s ideas about law, the division of labour in society, and social solidarity are applicable in the context of late modernity.

Food for thought:

Write a post that:

  • Begins by briefly outlining the characteristics of ‘late modernity’ or ‘liquid modernity’. You will need to do some research. I recommend the works of Anthony Giddens, Jock Young, and Zygmunt Bauman. Your overview does not have to be too long – just long enough to give your reader a general sense of the concept. You should use hyperlinks to point your readers towards useful resources for further reading.
  • Answers the following question: What is the role of penal (repressive) law in a context of late / liquid modernity? Does it / can it function to foster social solidarity, as envisioned by Durkheim? Explain your response.
  • Answers the following question: What is the role of restitutive law in a context of late / liquid modernity? Does it / can it function to foster social solidarity, as envisioned by Durkheim? Explain your response.

Your response should give equal attention to each of the above components.

To further clarify, I would like us to think about whether Durkheim’s ideas about law and society can be said to ‘work’ in the context of an interconnected, globalized world.

Feel free to contact me with questions about this food for thought post. It may look abstract and challenging at first, but I think it will be really interesting once you get started.

Posts written in response to this food for thought question must be submitted before the start of class on October 7.




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Food for Thought: Durkheim, Law, and Solidarity

This week’s class was devoted to a review of the work of Emile Durkheim. Durkheim regards law as a ‘visible symbol’ of social solidarity – a representation of a society’s collective consciousness and, simultaneously, a mechanism for responding to violations of group norms and settling disputes. Generally, he argues that law functions to promote collective solidarity.

Pavlich (2011) invites us to critically examine this claim. He asks:

Does law ever function in ways that stifle, rather than promote, collective solidarity?

This will be our food for thought question for the week. 

Write a post that (a) responds to Pavlich’s question and provides one or more illustrative examples, and (b) discusses the implications of your argument in relation to Durkheim’s theory of law. Be sure to write your post with a public audience in mind.

Responses must be submitted before 19:00 on October 16. 

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Prohibition Laws by Durkheim and Marx

The paper I am writing about will be on laws governing prohibited substances.  Laws prohibiting illegal substances have been created and repealed many times throughout our society, with the infamous alcohol prohibition in the early 1900’s to the recent legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.  Both Durkheim and Marx provide differing opinions on this issue and what the causes and effects are.  For Durkheim, his belief is that law shapes society, meaning that our society’s norms are reflected in our laws.  Marx suggests the contrary, that our society is what shapes law.  This is in regards to his beliefs that society’s common interests must arise from our methods of production.  A State does not directly form a society; rather it develops based on the social conditions at the time.  He argues that a society cannot be based on old laws that were created from previous social conditions.

Durkheim’s theories of society and its structures covered a broad range of topics, but “he was mostly concerned with social solidarity, or how society is held together” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 73).  This social solidarity can be separated into two different categories dependant on the type of society: ‘Mechanical solidarity’ and ‘Organic solidarity’.  Mechanical solidarity occurs when “a certain number of states of consciousness are common to all members of the same society” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 77).  In this type of solidarity exists a ‘repressive’ system of punishment (e.g. criminal, penal).  The reason for this type of punishment is because of the strong collective morality that is offended by a crime.  Organic solidarity is a modern type of society where it is comprised of several independent systems that all work together in cohesion.  With this society comes a new type of ‘restitutive’ punishment (e.g. civil, administrative).  This involves “a complex division of labour that generates disputes around individual property rights, commercial transactions, torts, administrative regulations…” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 77).

He would explain prohibition laws as performing collective functions for the benefit of society.  In general, he argues that crimes would inform individuals of what not to do and act as a deterrence.  Crime is an inevitable part of our society, so naturally we would need laws based on social norms to prevent it.  However, there would need to be a shared value among individuals that illegal substances are against the norm which Durkheim calls ‘social facts’.  It is best to look at this issue with a functionalist perspective as Durkheim would do.  In this perspective, laws would be analyzed to gauge their social impact in two ways.  Laws can either perform restitutive affects or reinforce the norms of a society.  What prohibition laws could do with this perspective is force offenders to make some sort of amends for their crime(s).  Also, if this were a regulatory society (i.e. organic solidarity), we would be able to reduce the occurrence of illegal substance use due to increased sanctions that could possibly make obtaining these substances more difficult.  Another method that drug prohibition laws could change society is by reinforcing the collective norms against that illegal behaviour.  More specifically, it could strengthen the bond between individuals to reaffirm their social norms.

On the other hand was Karl Marx, who believed that law is a product of society and not the other way around like Durkheim suggested.  One major difference between Marx and Durkheim was that Marx focused more on the economy and politics in his ideas about society.  In particular, he focused on ‘materialism’ or the production of our needs society.  He viewed this economic system as a constant struggle between the capitalists, who own the land and employ the workers, and the working class.  The legal system comes into play to uphold the capitalists’ means of production.  In particular, criminal law exists to keep the capitalist class stable against any sort of organized revolution against them.

Crime, in a Marxist approach, occurs as the result of the conflict between the opposing classes.  Marx would explain prohibition laws as being based on the social conditions during the time they are enacted.  He would suggest that these laws came into place in an effort to control the working class.  By the capitalists imposing social control over the working class, they would be able to continue their means of production.  In essence, law and the State are one and they reflect the current economic state.  Moreover, Marx would also suggest that the legal substances today that used to be illegal, such as alcohol, are accepted because of the financial gains the capitalists make from it.  To them, alcohol is a profitable business, which is why it is in their best interests to keep it legal.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.

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Crime: A must have!

Who would have thought that Communism and Homosexuality would have something in common?  Like extensive surveillance and misconceptions on security and blackmail.

Because of the secrecy surrounding homosexual identification the RCMP felt that they would be more susceptible to communist insurgents.  The secrecy was mainly because of societal pressures and especially the negative pressure by the RCMP.  The RCMP’s reasoning was that because they had something to hide, etc. homosexuals could be blackmailed by communists because of character defects (Hainsworth 2011).

According to Durkheim, crime is a normal part of society and is necessary and universal (Pavlich 2011).  But what does this mean?  Crime is the othering of some of its community members. “Commie, pinko, fag” (Kinsman and Gentile 2010) where what the author described his experience of othering during his schools days.  “A type of cutting out operation” (Kinsman and Gentile 2010).

For instance, a murder is committed.  Because murder is deemed outside of majority holder’s social norms there is a punishment attached to the commission of the perceived crime.  In layman’s terms – because the majority deem murder as ‘wrong’ those who murder are brought to answer for their transgressions before the law courts.  Now these are only viewed as ‘criminal’ because such action is taken.  Take the attempt to legalize marijuana in Canada.  Since many law enforcement officers have not charged those carrying the drug it has helped with the acceptance in the community by the general community in conjunction with the changing prevailing attitudes concerning its consumption.

Durkheim’s terminology of mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity could also be applied here.  With mechanical solidarity, Durkheim means “a social solidarity…which arises because a certain number of sates of consciousness are common to all members of the same society”, as quoted by Palvich (Palvich 2011 pg. 77).  The main religion from the 1950s till at least the 1980s in Canada was some amalgamation of Christianity: Catholics, Presbyterian and so forth.  There is strong opposition in the Christian community against homosexuality (Kantor 2009).  Because of similar beliefs different influential community members banded together and instigated belief that to hide something is more a chance of blackmail.  Organic solidarity is now introduced as “interdependent systems” (Palvich 2011 pg. 77).  Meaning that everyone is dependent on other systems for support.  Take, for example, the computer your reading this on.  To use this computer, you first had to get to it, via transit, car or walking.  The store intern relied on trucks to ship the product to their store, employees to open and prepare the store and the systems can interconnects at miniscule levels.  Essentially someone else is relied upon to help complete their task or to make the items that helps them to complete their task.

As McCarthyism rose in the States, the thoughts of an unknown person who could be manipulated to the communist’s side was frightened to the RCMP and other officials.  So in addition to what was explained above there was also a ‘brain drain’ (Burrows 2010).  Those with technical knowledge and skills where forced out of their jobs.  Howard Mackenzie believed that this “affected policy formation regarding the Soviet Union” (Hainsworth 2010).  “In their research, Kinsman and Gentile found repeated tales of surveillance, illegal searches, interrogations and attempts at blackmail by police who attempted to force queers to out others so they could be targeted as well.” (Hainsworth 2010)  By 1977 an openly gay woman, Private Barbara Thornburrow, was discharged from the army.  The armies excuse, she was “not advantageously employable” (Hainsworth 2011).  Thornburrow poigently counters with “if I’m open about it, how can I be blackmailed?” (Hainsworth 2011).  A few years later Gloria Cameron, part of the navey, was discharged after an 9 hour long interrogation where she was found to be loyal to Canada but still discharged because she was gay.  “Despite the admissions you have made openly and notwithstanding that your loyalty to Canada has not been questioned, a potential hazard to security remains,” Dextraze said.” (Hainsworth 2011)


Burrows, M. (2010, March 18). Gary Kinsman’s book Canadian War on Queers takes on gay issues in government | Vancouver, Canada | Straight.com [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.straight.com/article-298209/vancouver/book-takes-gay-issues-government

Hainsworth, J. (2010, January 1). How Canada tried to purge its queers [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.xtra.ca/public/Ottawa/How_Canada_tried_to_purge_its_queers-8065.aspx

Kantor, M. (2009). Homophobia: The state of sexual bigotry today. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Kinsman, G. W., & Gentile, P. (2010). The Canadian war on queers: National security as sexual regulation. Vancouver, B.C: UBC Press.

Pavlich, G. C. (2011). Law & society redefined. Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.

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The Importance of Crime for the Sake of Social Evolution

“Aside from the fact that crime is important because it keeps me employed… I take a look at how its normality emerges through social evolution…”

Emile Durkheim’s proposal that crime is a normal paradigm within society stems from his key concept of social solidarity; especially, mechanical and organic solidarity (Pavlich, 2011). Embracing social solidarity allowed society to view crime as a violation of the collective morality or norms that have been established and internalized within a society. As a result, law and punishment were the mechanism used to preserve and assure the universal status quo (morality).

He viewed crime from a functionalist perspective. Crime served a purpose in regards to evolving social life and morality. It provides us a moral framework to work with and allows society to push the moral boundaries over time. It gives us the ability to illuminate what normality is and establish acceptable behaviour. As a result, Durkheim saw crime as impossible to get rid of and supported the notion that crime was healthy for society since human evolution would always create new complex problems and contradictions to the social norms (Pavlich, 2011). He knew that social cohesion could weaken when societies were transitioning from primitive to modern (Pavlich, 2011). Social behaviour correlates with the changes in the social structures that are present; thus, transitional societies will develop new values and new norms that may create strain among the collective conscious (Pavlich, 2011). Durkheim described this in his concept of dynamic density and understood that it would loosen social solidarity, which would be a precursor for anomie and deviance (Pavlich, 2011).

We can relate this concept to the current class system around the world. As societies became modern, the division of labour changed significantly as certain individuals exceeded in certain skills and became more individualistic. This resulted in the collective consciousness to weaken as social structures put people in different economic and social positions. Hence, Durkheim proposed that societies with weak social solidarities would allow individuals to have different opinions on whether certain laws are just, which could lead people to justify criminal acts (e.g. white collar crime) (Hamlin, 1999).

I believe Durkheim is correct about crime being normal within society, especially with the correlation of social solidarity and social evolution. Among modern societies, Durkheim described certain problems that affected solidarity. One was anomie, where quick economic development can lead to unprepared social structures (justice system) to produce regulations (Pavlich, 2011). As a result, the collective agreement on what is illegal behaviour may not be set fast enough for people to inherently understand; thus, creating confusion on what the new norms should be (Pavlich, 2011). An example is the white collar crime issue. White collar crime became difficult to punish as there was issues on how to measure the harm done. Courts did not know how to punish the harm done as victims were not physically injured and intention became hard to prove (Hamlin, 1999). This ties in perfectly with Durkheim’s anomie problem. Societies were evolving at a fast pace economically and social norms were shifting to a more materialistic/individualistic tone. Social solidarity began to weaken and thus the opportunity for a new wave of crime arose (Hamlin, 1999). At the same time, people could not fully grasp what white collar crime was as society had linked crime with damage to an individual or possession. Consequently, the white collar crime phenomenon establishes evidence on how crime will always exist and can be functional for society as it allowed us to expand the boundaries of morality and acceptable behaviours. New norms are created to punish new criminal behaviour and the collective consciousness for understanding the new behaviour is internalized for that specific moment (Hamlin, 1999). As a result, new legislation was developed for white collar crime (Hamlin, 1999). However, societies will keep evolving and as Durkheim claimed, organic social solidarity will produce new complex issues towards social norms (Pavlich, 2011.) This cyclical process is why crime will always exist and will allow societies to remodel social norms.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

The Normality of Crime: Durkheim and Erikson. Retrieved from: http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/4111/Durkheim%20-%20Division%20of%20Labor_files/The%20Normality%20of%20Crime.pdf

Understanding White-Collar Crime: Definitions, Extent, and Consequences. Retrieved from: http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/43839_2.pdf


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Durkheim’s views crime as normal.

As for this week’s reading, Durkheim’s sociology of law proposes that crime is a normal part of society, and that it is necessary and indispensable. To better understand what Durkheim is proposing, I will break his statement into a twofold. First, I agree with Durkheim in stating that crime is a normal part of society. The reason being is that it is difficult to point to a place or a period of time where crime has not been committed. Although the definition of crime has changed over the years, nonetheless, crime has always been part of the society. For instance, historically, individuals were accused of witchcraft crime. Rosen (2005) explains that, “[t]hree months went by, during which many women and few men were accused of witchcraft…[t]he first of what would come known to be known as the Salem Witch Trials took place June 2, 1962. The defendant, Bridget Bishop, was found guilty [and was] hanged on June 10” (p.14).

I will now shift my focus towards discussing why crime is necessary and indispensable. I believe crime is necessary and indispensable because it allows a social and legal change to occur. I will incorporate the example of September 11 attack upon the United States in New York and Washington. Although as heinous as it was, I believe that the September 11 attack had brought a substantial and immediate change in some of the policies such as the foreign policy. As stated, “ United States foreign policy changed in some very noticeable ways after September 11, 2001…[t]he most noticeable change in U.S. foreign policy is its focus on preventive action, not just preemptive action. This is also known as Bush Doctrine” (Jones, n.a). Because the changes in the foreign policy would ensure that the society in the future would be better protected from the crime such as terrorism, I agree with Durkheim’s viewpoint that crime is necessary and indispensable. In other words, “…crime is necessary because it is ‘fundamental’ to social life, and it is ‘indispensable’ to ‘the normal evolution of morality and law’” (Pavlich, 2011).

The question I would like to raise, however, at this point is ‘How is crime defined? And Who defines crime?’. The reason I propose this question is because according to me there are many types of crime which are not defined in the legal text but continue to harm an individual and society at large. The first type of ‘crime’ that comes to my mind while addressing the above noted question is of ‘poverty’. Even a social reformer, Mahatma Gandhi believes that, “[p]overty is the worst form of violence”(Poverty Quotes, n.a.) .It is important to acknowledge that this type of crime is not committed by the individual but by the society towards an individual. In short, poverty is a crime that continues to inflict the lower class individuals by the upper class society due to the uneven distribution of resources. Pavlich (2011) notes the following: “…law provides a justification for the bourgeois state. This helps to make law and state appear as absolute, independent forces, but both are products of bourgeois attempts to structure people’s consciousness in ways that legitimate an underlying capitalist mode of production” (p.97).  I would like to end by sharing the following quote in Durkheim’s own words: “[t]here is no society known where a more or less developed criminality is not found under different forms. No people exists whose morality is not daily infringed upon. We must therefore call crime necessary and declare that it cannot be non-existent, that the fundamental conditions of social organization, as they are understood, logically imply it”.  (Durkheim, Emile Quotes, n.a.).


“Durkheim, Emile Quotes – Quotations Book.” Welcome to Quotations Book – The Home of Famous Quotes. Retrieved from http://quotationsbook.com/quotes/author/2178/

Jones, S. (n.a).  “US Foreign Policy After 9/11.” Welcome to About.com US Foreign Policy. Retrieved from http://usforeignpolicy.about.com/od/defense/a/Us-Foreign-Policy-After-9-11.htm

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and society redefined. Canada: Oxford.  Print.

“Poverty quotes.” Find the famous quotes you need, ThinkExist.com Quotations. Retrieved from http://thinkexist.com/quotations/poverty/

Rosen, F. (2005). The Historical Atlas of American Crime. United States of America: Facts On File. Print.

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Durkheim and Social Solidarity

Food for thought: Durkheim

Durkheim was one of the very first theorists to conclude that there was no society that did not have crime but instead every society has crime and is normal. When looking at Durkheim’s sociology of law that proposes that crime is normal part of society, and that it is necessary and indispensable, we must look at Durkheim’s definition of social solidarity and social facts. Durkheim’s definition of crime is an individual diverging from the collective norms and may exhibit a criminal character (Pavlich, 2011). Durkheim viewed crime as a collective function which was important for reinforcing social norms and increasing consensus (Pavlich, 2011). He also suggested social solidarity is seen as the focus on how society is held together and must be independent from the people it shapes (Pavlich, 2011). Unlike other theorist, Durkheim examined social facts such as ways of acting, thinking and feeling that are collective and not individual (Pavlich, 2011). Durkheim believed that society serves as a function and leads us to higher states of law and morality and establishes shared norms and vales. Crime is a normal part of society because without crime, there can be no sense of what is normal and what is not (Pavlich, 2011). In addition, it is a “visible symbol” of social solidarity and the embodiment of morals and norms (Pavlich, 2011).

Durkheim was also one of the first theorists to look at suicide and what social indicators made people want to kill themselves. This was very influential in his time because before Durkheim key thinkers such as Lombroso looked at the “born criminal” and believed crime was in a person and they needed to be fixed (Simpson, 2000). He looked at such social indicators that included relationship status, where the person lived and their economic status. I believe Durkheim’s theory is correct because the outcome of the study showed that individuals fail to be integrated into society and into the collective norm and gave theorists a new method to how crime can happen through social matters (Simpson, 2000). Durkheim also supported his theory by looking at the divisions of labour. In his book, The Division of Labour in Society, he pointed out contradictions in society which firstly try to increase individualism and secondly value efforts collectivity to follow the same ideals (Pavlich, 2011).

If Durkheim was to look at our society today, would he call it an organic solidarity? According to Durkheim, organic solidarity are forms of restitutive law and are common in advanced societies and point out social cohesion (Pavlich, 2011). Criminal law is no longer seen as a punishable crime, but instead are here to restore the status quo by using administrative agents (Pavlich, 2011). This can be seen in our society today with restorative justice and community reintegration playing a big role when offenders are released from prisons. However, an opposite direction to this approach for example can be shown in the criminalization and charges of cyber bullying in Canada. Recently in the news we have seen the horrific tragedy of a young girl, Amanda Todd, who committed suicide due to bullying. This is not the first suicide due to bullying and has been an ongoing issue since the first big case in 1997 of the Reena Virk Murder. If you were to ask anyone in society, society’s collective view on bullying is that it needs to be stopped and why is it still occurring with programs and education about bullying implemented in schools. Furthermore, recently on the cbc news website, an article on bullying involved 8 Ontario girls being arrested for cyber bullying. I believe societies collective view on bullying is that it is negative, harmful and needs to be stopped; however paying fines is simply not enough. Thus, increasing laws regarding cyber bullying. The question then becomes is youth imprisonment for cyber bullying going to stop this social phenomenon?


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.

Simpson, S. (2000). Of crime and criminality: The use of theory in everyday life. Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press.

Cbc News Article:



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