Durkheim’s Mechanical and Organic Solidarity

By Charlotte Nickerson, published April 03, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD

Key Points

  • Durheim believed that societies need to create a sense of social solidarity — making individuals feel as if they are part of something bigger and teaching them the standards of acceptable behavior.
  • In mechanical solidarity social cohesion and unity arise from the homogeneity of individuals, just as most people behave in the same way. People feel connected by the same work, education and religious upbringing and lifestyle, which is often based on family relationships in family networks.
  • Organic solidarity is social cohesion based on the mutual trust of individuals in more advanced societies. It is based on the interdependence that results from work specialization and complementarity between people.
  • Mechanical solidarity occurs in relatively small societies where individuals take on many similar tasks. Meanwhile, organic solidarity develops in societies where people have highly specialized and differentiated tasks.
  • While the common values of these societies can change overtime, this process is usually slow. This means that these values tend to be appropriate for the historical period they reside in (Merton, 1994). 

Mechanical Solidarity

People in pre-industrial societies generally lived in small rural village communities characterized by mechanical solidarity. This means that people within social groups strongly identified with each other, and their sense of belonging to society (social integration) was very strong.

Before the industrial revolution (1760 – 1840) people were successfully socialized into the rules of societies by their families and religious leaders. Moreover, they had such a great sense of belonging to society that conformity to the greater good was valued more than individualism which was viewed as dangerous and deviant.

Early societies tended to be small scale settlements localized in villages or rural areas with a limited division of labor usually based on age or sex. In this type of society, people are similar to each other. Because people carry out similar tasks, people can share the type of work that they carry out and mutually support one another (Merton, 1994). 

Conformity to social norms and values was also strengthened by fear of social controls such as the extremely harsh punishments when members of society broke the rules of society.

In these early societies bound by mechanical solidarity, Durkheim argued that legal codes or the system of law tends to be either repressive or penal law. If there is a crime in society, that is to say that the crime is an offense to all because it is an offense to the common morality - the shared system of values that exist. Because most people are offended by this offense, severe punishment is likely to result regardless of how serious the crime actually was.

Penal law itself, in these small mechanical solidarity based societies, is concerned only with sanctions, and there is no mention of obligations.

Punishment can consist of death or dismembership. The moral obligation and duty is not stated in the punishment because it is generally understood unsaid (Merton, 1994). 

Organic Solidarity

Emile Durheim agrued that modern industrial urban societies were characterized by organic solidarity, and social cohesion was based upon the interdependence individuals have on each other.

Consequently, both value consensus and social integration have grown weaker in industrial society. People are less likely to agree and identify with one another. Consequently, people in modern industrial societies are likely to live in neighborhoods in which community ties, duties and obligations are weak.

  • Value Consensus means that a majority of society agree with the goals that society sets to show success.
  • Social integration means that people have a strong sense that they belong within society. There is a sense of community.

Durkheim believed that the complex development of the division of labor (the net sum of all the occupational roles or jobs) meant that the collective consciousness would decline in a society. In this situation, each individual begins to have a different set of tasks that they are engaged in.

There are now thousands of jobs in urban society and although individuals perform different tasks and often have different values and interest, the order and social solidarity of society depends on their reliance of each individul to perform their specified tasks.

These different and specialized tasks lead to a different set of experiences for each individual. The homogeneity of individuals which created the common collective consciousness and mechanical solidarity is disturbed, and individuals no longer feel connected through common experiences, such as work, family, or religious beliefs.

Instead, they have different settings that each lead to a different, individual consciousness (Merton, 1994). The new solidarity that forms in this situation is organic solidarity, which is characterized by the dependence of individuals on each other within a division of labor and by cooperation as a result.

Nonetheless, there are still commonly shared values within societies, but they become generalized, a more general underpinning for social practices. Durkheim notes value consensus continues to exist in modern societies but in a weaker form because industrialization resulted in people having greater access to a greater variety of knowledge and ideas, e.g. through the mass media and science.

Thus, social institutions have been weakened by industrialization because the division of labor has become more specialized and complex. Traditional agencies of socialisation and social control such as the extended family and religion are no longer as influential as they were in the past.

Durkheim considered punishment to be less important in modern penal codes. Indeed, society is more concerned in modern societies with the restoration of the original, crime-free situation rather than exacting revenge on an offender.

This is to say, in societies that do not have a highly developed division of labor, the primary function of punishment is to protect and reaffirm the collective conscience in the face of acts which question its sanctity. Repressive or penal law can result.

Durkheim suggested that modern industrial societies were consequently characterized by moral confusion or ‘anomie’. This means that some members of society were more likely to challenge and reject shared values and norms of behavior and this ‘normlessness’ often resulted in crime and deviance.

About the Author

Charlotte Nickerson is a member of the Class of 2024 at Harvard University. Coming from a research background in biology and archaeology, Charlotte currently studies how digital and physical space shapes human beliefs, norms, and behaviors and how this can be used to create businesses with greater social impact.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Nickerson, C. (2022, April 03). Durkheim’s Mechanical and Organic Solidarity . Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/Durkheim-Mechanical-and-Organic-Solidarity.html


Durkheim, E. (1893). The division of labor in society. The Free Press, New York.

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Merton, R. K. (1994, March). Durkheim's division of labor in society. In Sociological Forum (Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 17-25). Kluwer Academic Publishers-Plenum Publishers.