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ways. Social patterns bring people together, make them interdependent, cause them to understand one another, and even make them feel as one. Almost all sociologists have described the role of social patterns as the foundation for social order in one way or another—although they do not always call them social patterns.

Emile Durkheim shows us how both culture and structure bind people. Culture is especially important in simpler societies. Here, a common moral and value system is what binds people together. Durkheim called this “mechanical solidarity.” People tend to be the same in such societies. Common beliefs, values, and norms are the glue. Crimes in such societies are regarded not as transgressions against other individuals so much as crimes against the whole of society and its common culture.

Punishment and public executions serve to reaffirm this culture and give people the assurance that its truths, values, and morals are right. The worship of a common god and other sacred objects (objects that are symbolic of society) is also important because, according to Durkheim, this too serves to bind people together and assures them that their culture is valid. Durkheim called society’s culture its “collective conscience” or “collective consciousness.” The conscience (morality) and consciousness (awareness, understanding) of each individual are produced by the collective.

Mechanical solidarity is based on a common culture.  

All societies have a common culture, and this pattern always holds societies together. Developed societies—particularly modern industrial societies—create complex social structures where people occupy different positions in society. Such differences between people replace the sameness that characterizes simpler societies. Industrial societies develop a complex “division of labor,” where occupations are increasingly different from one another. We work at various jobs. We specialize. Some of us become corporate executives, and some teach the families of corporate executives; some grow food, some transport it, and some prepare it for others.

Such a society needs a common culture to some extent—after all, even if we are all different, we must agree on some things or we would not be able to trust one another. However, it is a solidarity based on social structure that becomes increasingly important. Durkheim calls this “organic solidarity” because society increasingly takes the form of an organism with many different parts, each part making a contribution to the whole.

Structure unites society by making us all interdependent, where human differences ultimately contribute to the welfare of everyone. When a common culture becomes less and less central to social solidarity, and when people become increasingly different from one another, there develops more tolerance of individuality and less severe punishment for those who are defined outside the law. Modernization, in this sense, brings with it a more humane approach to establishing and maintaining social order.

Copyright © 2005 Mount Vernon Nazarene University Adult and Graduate Studies

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