Mechanical Solidarity in Sociology: Definition & Examples

By Charlotte Nickerson, published August 30, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Key Points

  • Mechanical solidarity is a term used by sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the type of social bond that exists in pre-industrial societies. It is based on similarity and the idea that people are held together by shared values, beliefs, and traditions.
  • In these societies, people tend to have a strong sense of community and social cohesion.
  • Often, in societies where mechanical solidarity is predominant, there is a division of labor based on age, gender, and status. People have a common way of life and work together for the good of the community.
  • Examples of mechanical solidarity can be seen in traditional cultures where there is a strong emphasis on family, religion, and social customs.
  • Although less often the primary organizer of societies, elements of mechanical solidarity, such as altruism, remain essential to the function of the modern world.

What Is Mechanical Solidarity In Sociology?

Mechanical solidarity refers to the ways in which members of a society are bonded together by shared values and beliefs, and a sense of collective consciousness. In other words, it is the extent to which people feel a sense of belonging and identity with their society.

In sociology, mechanical solidarity is a state in which members of traditional agricultural societies remain integrated through indivuduals indentifying with each other because they fundamentally experience the same things in life.

According to Durkheim, this solidarity of sameness was the way social life was made possible in traditional rural societies, where people have similar lifestyles and work closely together. This means that they are more likely to share the same values and beliefs. Such societies are usually based on kinship ties and have existed for thousands of years (Durkheim, 1893).

One modern example of such a society is the Amish community in Pennsylvania, which is based on religious beliefs and a simple way of life. The Amish people live apart from the rest of society and do not use modern technology. They value hard work, family, and community.

In contrast, industrialized societies are typically more heterogeneous, with people living in different areas and often having different occupations. This can lead to greater social division and conflict.

Mechanical solidarity decreases as societies become more complex and diverse. This is because people are less likely to share the same values and beliefs when they come from different backgrounds and have different lifestyles. In today's world, mechanical solidarity is often replaced by organic solidarity.

However, even in industrialized societies, there can be pockets of mechanical solidarity, such as close-knit communities or families.

In addition, people may identify with a larger group such as their country or religion, which can provide a sense of belonging and community.

Who Developed The Idea Of Mechanical Solidarity?

The French sociologist Émile Durkheim developed the concept of mechanical solidarity in his book The Division of Labor in Society (1893). He saw mechanical solidarity as a product of two things:

  • the extent to which people shared the same values and beliefs,
  • the degree to which they were interdependent on each other.

Durkheim distinguished between two types of solidarity in society: mechanical and organic. The first of these expresses the similarity and the community of feelings that unite the members of a group.

The second, on the contrary, consists of interdependence, in a division of labor, as each member contributes to the whole according to his or her capabilities.

The role of the individual is central to Durkheim's conception of solidarity: according to him, the crucial element in mechanical solidarity is that individuals do not exist as individuals, but are completely subsumed in the collectivity (Durkheim 1893).

Durkheim conceived of societies that have mechanical society as "inferior" or in an earlier stage of development than those characterized by organic solidarity. The reason for this is that, in his view, mechanical solidarity is based on similarity, while organic solidarity is based on complementarity. Similarity leads to rigidity and a lack of adaptability, while complementarity allows for flexibility and change.

For Durkheim, the Division of Labor is what drives the transition from mechanical to organic solidarity. As the division of labor increases, so too does the interdependence of individuals, leading to a more complex form of social cohesion.

In today's world, it is difficult to find examples of societies that are purely based on mechanical solidarity. This is because most societies have undergone industrialization and are therefore more heterogeneous.

The industrial revolution provoked many western societies to transition from mechanical to organic solidarity for a few reasons. Firstly, it led to a greater division of labor, as people began to specialize in different occupations. This increased interdependence, as people became reliant on each other for goods and services.

Secondly, the industrial revolution led to urbanization, as people moved from rural areas to cities in search of work. This led to greater social diversity, as people from different backgrounds and with different lifestyles began to live in close proximity.

Finally, the industrial revolution resulted in the development of new technologies, which further increased the division of labor and social diversity (Ritzer, 1992).

All of these factors made it difficult for people to be exposed only to those who share the same values and beliefs, and mechanical solidarity began to decline.

In its place, organic solidarity started to develop, as people became more reliant on diverse individuals, geographically and skillset-wise, to provide the goods and services they use to survive.

Examples Of Mechanical Solidarity In Society

One example of mechanical solidarity can be found in religious groups. People who share the same religious beliefs often have a strong sense of community and belonging.

This is because they share the same values and beliefs, which unite them. Mechanical solidarity is beneficial for religious groups because it allows them to maintain a cohesive purpose, and transmit common morals.

In the Hasidic Jewish communities in various cities throughout the world,  there is a great deal of mechanical solidarity. The reason for this is that these communities rely on shared values and traditions to maintain their cohesion.

For example, Hasidic Jews dress differently from members of the general population, and this helps to identify them as part of a group. They also follow traditional gender roles, with men and women occupying different spheres within the community.

This separation of genders reinforces the sense of unity within the group, as members are reminded of their shared customs every time they interact with each other (Deliege, 2001).

Another example of mechanical solidarity can be found in traditional societies, where people often have similar lifestyles and are reliant on each other for goods and services. This type of solidarity is most commonly found in small-scale societies, such as hunter-gatherer tribes.

Finally, mechanical solidarity can be found in families. Families typically share the same values and beliefs, and are interdependent on each other for emotional and practical support.

Because even big families are unable to  meet all of their own needs through specialization, individuals must take on many roles at once, and these roles may be distributed equally among members of a certain type.

For example, in a large, extended family in a traditional culture, all women may take on the roles of cooking, caring for children, and weaving.

The cohesion between the women in this family group exists because they share the exact same roles, rather than the fact that they could be independently relying on each other to fill very specialized roles.

With mechanical solidarity comes security. People know their place in society and what is expected of them. There is a clear social hierarchy, and people are unlikely to challenge it. This can lead to a more stable society, as there is less competition and conflict.

People who live in communities with strong mechanical solidarity often have a strong sense of belonging. This is because they are united under a shared sense of identity (Deliege, 2001).

A lack of specialization in the division of labor also leads to less competition. In a society where everyone is expected to do the same thing, there is no incentive for individuals to compete with each other.

This can lead to a more harmonious society, as people are not striving to outdo each other. Mechanical solidarity can exist in a large array of places, such as those with a low population density or limited technologies for communication and transportation.

This is, in large part, why mechanical solidarity generally characterized societies prior to the 19th century (Deliege, 2001).

One disadvantage of organic solidarity that mechanical solidarity avoids is alienation from labor. In an industrial society, people often feel alienated from their work because it is repetitive and they do not feel like they are contributing to the greater good.

This is especially true in situations where each worker must take on a limited number of hyper-specialized tasks, with no clear connection to the end product. In a traditional society reliant on mechanical solidarity, where everyone has a role to play, there is a sense of purpose and community that can be lacking in an industrial setting (Petrovic, 1963; Giddens, 1971).

Although Durkheim generally considered societies reliant on mechanical solidarity to be "inferior," he nuanced his argument by contending that some consequences of mechanical solidarity — such as altruism — are essential to the functioning of society.

Altruism is essential to the functioning of society because it allows people to care for others, without expecting anything in return. This type of selflessness is necessary for the survival of society, as it ensures that people are willing to help others in times of need (Durkheim, 1893).

Finally, mechanical solidarity can be beneficial because it encourages people to be self-sufficient. In a society where everyone is expected to contribute equally, people are less likely to become reliant on others. This can lead to a more independent and resourceful population.

Mechanical solidarity is beneficial for groups because it allows them to maintain a sense of cohesion and purpose. However, it can also lead to rigidity and a lack of adaptability, as people are less likely to challenge traditional values and beliefs.

This can make it difficult for societies to progress, as innovation is stifled and the creation of any good and service is limited to those that belong to an "in '' group.

A lack of interaction and integration of those from other backgrounds and skill sets can create isolation and further cultural divisions that make it difficult for those from societies dominated by mechanical solidarity to integrate into those where organic solidarity is at the forefront (Ritzer, 1992).

Another disadvantage of mechanical solidarity is that it can lead to a lack of personal freedom and independence. This is because people are expected to conform to the norms of their group, and deviations from these norms are often not tolerated.

This can result in a loss of individual identity, as people are not able to express their own unique personalities.

Organic solidarity, on the other hand, presupposes the existence of the individual; here, all individuals have a number of actions they can take that are all in some way influential and worthy of acknowledgment.. They also are characterized by their own personality. The individuals here are necessarily different from one another (Deliege, 2001).

Furthermore, the movements that lean on mechanical solidarity and see organic solidarity as a threat – such as nationalism, can exclude large numbers of those not considered part of the in-group when they take over a culture previously dominated by organic solidarity.

For instance, during the Bosnian war, the Serbian Orthodox church justified the massacre and expulsion of Bosnian Musilms in Serbia through emphasizing their own mechanical solidarity — and how the outgroup did not belong in it (Ritzer, 1992).

Additionally, in societies where mechanical solidarity is strong, people typically do not own much personal property. Instead, all belongings are seen as belonging to the group, and this can lead to a feeling of lacking privacy and insecurity among individuals.

Mechanical solidarity can also lead to rules with harsh and repressive sanctions. These societies may see the primary purpose of the law as punishment. This can result in a society that is excessively punitive, and which does not rehabilitate offenders (Ritzer, 1992; Deliege, 2001).

FAQs

Are there many instances of mechanical solidarity in today’s society?

There are some instances of mechanical solidarity in modern society. For example, many people identify strongly with their nationality, and this can lead to a sense of cohesion and purpose.

However, globalization and the increase in individualism have led to a decline in mechanical solidarity in recent years. Societies today preserve elements of both organic and mechanical solidarity.

The world has increasingly become more globalized, with people from all over the world furnishing the goods and services that people use on a daily basis.

Nonetheless, people still participate in religious and community structures where they take on broad roles and rely on shared identities.

Mechanical solidarity, although no longer the most prevalent mode of societal organization, still provides a sense of shared identity among small groups and subcultures (Durkheim, 1893).

How does the idea of collective consciousness relate to mechanical solidarity?

Collective consciousness is the shared beliefs, values and norms that members of a group share. It is what allows them to identify with each other and to work together towards common goals.

Mechanical solidarity is based on collective consciousness, as it relies on people feeling a sense of cohesion and purpose in order to function.

The idea of collective consciousness relates to mechanical solidarity in that it emphasizes the importance of the group over the individual.

This is because collective consciousness is based on the shared values, beliefs and norms of a group.

People who live in communities with strong mechanical solidarity often have a strong sense of belonging, as they are united under a shared sense of identity (Giddens, 1991).

How can mechanical solidarity develop into an organic solidarity?

Mechanical solidarity can develop into organic solidarity in several ways. The introduction of transportation and communication, a greater density of people, and breaking down barriers to interaction between societies can all lead to the development of organic solidarity.

The introduction of transportation and communication makes it easier for people to connect with each other and to share information. This can help to break down barriers between different groups of people, and to create a more cohesive society.

A greater density of people can also lead to increased interactions between different groups, which can help to create a sense of unity.

Finally, breaking down barriers to interaction between different societies can help to promote understanding and cooperation between different cultures, as well as introduce technologies that must be produced in collaboration between disparate people (Durkheim, 1893).

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, Aug 30). Mechanical Solidarity in Sociology: Definition & Examples. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/mechanical-solidarity.html

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