An Analysis of Durkheim’s Views on Division of Labor


Durkheim is a renowned sociologist in the advancement of the division of labor in society. He tried to explain why human beings were more united as one body in the beginning, in a society he referred to as a primitive society. Here, Durkheim invoked to the collectiveness of the people as mechanical solidarity. On the other hand, in the modern society, with the spontaneous occurrence of the division of labor, there is a shift from the societal benefits to individual benefits. In ensuring that the individuals work for the better of the whole society, therefore, consent is required to attain organic solidarity. Thus, the paper will analyze why the division of labor leads to social inequality as opposed to social integration and give an account of the differences between Durkheim’s understanding of inequality and Marx’s propositions.

Evolution of Division of Labor and Its Effect on Solidarity

To begin with, the transition from the primitive societies to the modern societies characterized by the division of labor poses challenges to social integration. Durkheim argues that if the people are left to carry out their tasks in line with their talents in furtherance with the division of labor without any form of coercion, it is likely to yield organic solidarity (Jones). It is at this point that Durkheim refers to the normal division of labor as being spontaneous. He further says that a normal or natural division of labor arises as a result of natural inequalities of a human being. In this sense, what he means is that all people are born with different talents and abilities which drive them to do different things with each other. These differences can, however, be harmonized to correspond to the unity of the society through maintaining equity of the external forces. Here external forces appeal to rules and regulations as well as other forms of coercion imposed to gain unity or organic solidarity. At the same time, social inequality invokes to the differences in human beings brought about by the social definitions. These differences occur due to the classification of the individuals based on race, gender and class and how these people are arranged to tap the benefits of the labor market and access the sources of income. In a normal or spontaneous division of labor, therefore, social disparities must correspond to natural inequalities in an atmosphere where external forces become equitably maintained.

Social and Natural Equality

From the above discussion, according to Durkheim, social inequality differs from natural inequality in the sense that the former refers to the differences in human beings arising from their social definition based on class, age, and gender while the later appeals to the differences in abilities and talents amongst individuals (Jones). Social inequality, therefore, impacts the distribution of income in society as well as access to the labor market by different groups of people. Organic solidarity refers to the manner in which individualistic interests of human beings deriving from the division of labor are made to align with the societal norms and unity. The word organic originates from the body parts of a human being. In that just like the body parts of a person work in harmony with each other for the survival of the whole body, people must use their different God-given talents and abilities to benefit all members of the society. Social inequality, therefore, compromises organic solidarity as the individuals use their talents and abilities to promote their selfish interests as opposed to the benefits of the society. If human beings are, however, allowed to specialize in tasks which are appropriate to them without any form of coercion, it is possible to achieve organic solidarity.

Effects of Spontaneity and Non-spontaneity of Division of Labor on Organic Solidarity

Spontaneity refers to the voluntariness of an action. In the perspective of Durkheim, human beings should endeavor to carry out tasks suitable to them without any force (Jones). Organic solidarity is, therefore, a product of spontaneity of division of labor as opposed to the non-spontaneity. One way in which spontaneity occurs is through embracing contractual relationships between people in the carrying out of their tasks. On the other hand, non-spontaneity arises from coercion, through a setting of rules and regulations to govern human beings in the fulfillment of their duties. The rules and regulations which are an external force promote external inequality which is a hindrance to organic solidarity. The maintenance of equity of external forces assists human beings to find a task of function that is suitable for them and, thus, preserves solidarity in society. When an individual gets forced into performing specific tasks in society, however, he is likely to rebel and, therefore, hinder organic solidarity. When everyone is satisfied with his duties in society, however, there will be no need to use rules and regulations to achieve organic solidarity.

Possibility of Organic Solidarity

Organic solidarity is only possible when the social inequalities are compatible with natural inequalities. It is, however, impossible to achieve when external forces determine organic solidarity through coercion or non-spontaneity. Durkheim refers to forced division of labor as abnormal because it does not give human beings an opportunity to carry out tasks and functions suitable for them (Jones). When rules are used to determine the duties and responsibilities, the resentment from the people cannot allow the growth of organic solidarity. Nonetheless, not all kinds of inequality are incompatible with organic solidarity. When social inequality stems from natural inequality, without the application of any external force, organic solidarity grows.

Comparison between Durkheim and Karl Marx

According to Karl Marx, inequalities in society arise due to capitalism as opposed to Durkheim’s proposition that they occur due to the division of labor. Karl Marx says that capitalism gives rise to classes of people whom he categorizes as the bourgeoisie and the proletariats (Fuchs and Dyer-Witheford). The bourgeoisie refers to the upper class in the society who own all the modes of production while the proletariats are their slaves or the low class in the society. The bourgeoisie controls all the economic, social and political functions of the society. The Bourgeoisie uses their modes of production and control over the economic factors to cement their political positions. To ensure equality in society, therefore, there is a need for a proletariat revolution (Fuchs and Dyer-Witheford). The idea completely differs from Durkheim position, since according to him; equality results from the elimination of the external forces (Jones). For Marx, the proletariat revolution would break the classes which are a source of discrimination and inequality. In as much as both Durkheim and Marx emphasize on social change, they advocate by different means. Durkheim believes that change is an evolutionary process while Marx believes that to attain social change and equality, a revolution is inevitable (Jones). According to Karl Marx, the fact that the bourgeoisie controls the economic, political and the social functions, they also control the law making process and, therefore, making it difficult for the proletariat to attain equality (Fuchs and Dyer-Witheford). As a result, a revolution is the only medicine. However, both sociologists agree that the state and the law are a function of all the people rather than a preserve of the bourgeoisie. The main difference between the two scholars is the fact that Durkheim uses religion to explain social change while Marx uses material factors or alienation to explain the social change.


In conclusion, the idea of organic solidarity as presented by Durkheim is affected by several inequalities, including natural and social inequality. When the division of labor is, however, left spontaneous, solidarity is achieved rather than when there is the use of force or coercion. Organic solidarity, therefore, is reached when the social inequality arises from natural equality in a state where there are no external forces. Durkheim and Marx, however, advocate for social change but in different perspectives. Marx advances inequality from a class perspective which needs a revolution to attain social change as opposed to Durkheim’s evolutionist process.