Organic Solidarity in Sociology: Definition & Examples

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


Key Points

  • Organic solidarity is a term used by sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the cohesion that results from the interdependence of people in a society. Unlike mechanical solidarity, which is based on similarity and homogeneity, organic solidarity is based on difference and complementary needs.
  • Durkheim believed that as societies become more complex, the division of labor increases and people become more dependent on each other for survival. This interdependence gives rise to organic solidarity.
  • Organic solidarity can be seen in any society where there is a high degree of specialization and people are dependent on each other for essential goods and services.
  • For example, in modern industrial society, people specialize in different occupations (e.g., manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, finance, etc.) and rely on each other to produce the goods and services they need.

What Is Organic Solidarity In Sociology?

In sociology, organic solidarity is a state in which members of industrial societies integrate through the interdependence of all individuals, as opposed to being isolated from one another.

According to Durkheim, this solidarity of difference operated because of the complexity of industrial societies, in which no one individual could hope to provide everything needed for life. Individuals were therefore bonded together by their need for each other.

Organic solidarity is typically found in societies with high levels of technological development, where people often specialize in different tasks and depend on each other for the completion of projects.

For example, in an industrial society, workers in the steel industry will depend on workers in the coal industry to provide them with the raw materials they need to produce steel. Similarly, farmers will depend on transportation workers to get their crops to market, and so on. This interdependence creates a strong sense of solidarity among members of such societies.

It should be noted that organic solidarity does not necessarily imply that all members of a society are equal. There can still be class divisions and other forms of social inequality within a society with organic solidarity.

However, the level of solidarity is typically much higher in societies with organic solidarity than in those with more isolated individuals.

There are a number of reasons why organic solidarity develops in some societies and not others. Besides technological development, in large societies, there are typically more people who specialize in different tasks, which again leads to interdependence and organic solidarity.

Finally, organic solidarity is more likely to develop in societies that are geographically mobile. This is because people who move around frequently are more likely to come into contact with different people and learn new skills, leading to increased interdependence.

Who Developed The Idea Of Organic Solidarity?

The idea of organic solidarity was first put forth by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his book Division of Labor in Society, which was published in 1832.

In the book, Durkheim argued that organic solidarity is a product of the division of labor, which he saw as the main distinguishing feature of modern societies.

Durkheim believed that the division of labor leads to increased interdependence among members of society, as people come to rely on each other for the completion of tasks. This interdependence eventually leads to organic solidarity.

For Durkheim, organic solidarity was a positive force that could help to hold society together and make it more cohesive. In these societies — as with societies that rely on mechanical solidarity — interact in accordance with their obligations to others and society as a whole.

In doing this, everyone contributes to the smooth functioning of society, and receives recognition of their own rights and contributions within the collective. This recognition, what Durkheim calls social morality, is essential, in Durkheim's view, for solidarity between people to exist.

Durkheim saw "an apparent moral ambiguity concerning the relationship between the individual and society in the contemporary world." On one hand, with specialization and the highly developed division of labor, individuals develop their own consciousness, and are encouraged in to continue specializing.

On the other, there are also moral ideas embedded in every society that encourage people to be well rounded, of service to society as a whole. These two seem to be at odds with each other, and Durkheim is interested in determining the historical and sociological origins of both of these, as well as how they are reconciled in modern society (Giddens, 1971).

It should be noted that Durkheim did not see organic solidarity as the only type of solidarity that could exist in a society. He also believed that there was such a thing as mechanical solidarity, which is a state in which members of a society are relatively similar to one another and share a common culture.

In these societies, people interact with each other in accordance with shared values and beliefs.

Nonetheless, while Durkheim saw both types of solidarity as necessary for the proper functioning of society, he believed that organic solidarity was more important in modern societies, due to the increased level of specialization that comes with the division of labor (Ritzer, 1992).

Examples Of Organic Solidarity In Society

Urban infrastructure

One example of organic solidarity can be seen in the way that urban infrastructure is built. In order for a city to function properly, a number of different specialists are required to build and maintain its infrastructure.

Architects design homes, construction workers build homes, electrical engineers set up the electricity, and inspectors make sure the home is safe and properly built before the home can be sold.

Without organic solidarity, it would be very difficult for cities to function properly. This is because each specialist relies on the others to do their jobs correctly in order for the city to function as a whole. If one group of workers did not do their job properly, it would have a ripple effect throughout the city, leading to problems with housing, transportation, and a number of other essential services.

Lawyers and Criminals

Another example of organic solidarity can be seen in the relationship between lawyers and criminals. In most societies, lawyers are needed to represent criminals in court, and criminals need lawyers to help them avoid jail time or get a reduced sentence.

This is an example of organic solidarity because the two groups exist in the same society and have a relationship based on interdependence. The criminal provides income to the lawyer, and the lawyer provides legal services to the criminal.

Organic solidarity is necessary in this instance because it allows each group to specialize in their respective areas. Lawyers are able to focus on providing legal services, and criminals are able to focus on committing crimes.

If there was no organic solidarity between these two groups, then either lawyers would struggle to find clients, and criminals would have more difficulty finding a legal representative advocating for lighter punishments.

Organic Solidarity vs Mechanical Solidarity

Organic solidarity and mechanical solidarity are two different ways in which members of a society can interact with each other.

Mechanical solidarity is a state in which members of a society are relatively similar to one another and share a common culture. In these societies, people interact with each other in accordance with shared values and beliefs.

The most common ties in societies with high levels of mechanical solidarity are those of kinship. Organic solidarity, on the other hand, is a state in which members of a society are specialized and have a high degree of interdependence on one another.

This type of society is more common in modern times, due to the increased level of specialization that comes with the division of labor.

Indeed, Durkheim thought that mechanical solidarity is more prevalent in ‘inferior civilizations,' and he linked the kind of solidarity to the amount of division of labor: The society and, in particular, the individuals of a group with a rudimentary division of labor tend to look more alike.

Durkheim believed that the character of people in these societies lacked originality and individuality. Conversely, among what Durkheim considered to be "superior" societies, the division of labor is at its peak, and individuals are very different from one another.

Aditionally, Durkheim characterized how law and order differ between societies with organic and mechanical solidarity. repressive and punitive law intended to maintain cohesion characterize societies with mechanical solidarity, while organic solidarity implies restitutive law and injuries compensated through more specialized institutions.

Modern anthropologists have refuted this argument, saying that law and order are universal to all societies. The Trobriand Islanders, for example, had no law in the sense of a state institution but governed their relationships with one another through reciprocity (Malinowski, 1926).

In a society with a high degree of mechanical solidarity, everyone may share the same values and beliefs, but there is little need for people to rely on each other to get things done. In a society where people are becoming less and less connected by blood or relationship ties, this eventually leads to low social cohesion.

Although Durkheim makes the argument that organic solidarity is replacing mechanical solidarity in modern societies, he also believed altruism is essential to any kind of social life: in order to be able to live together, people must make mutual sacrifices.

Because this altruism is essential but lacking in organic solidarity, he suggests that mechanical solidarity never completely disappears (Deliege, 2001).

There are several advantages to organic solidarity. Firstly, it allows for individuals to specialize in their own skills and talents. This increases productivity overall, since each person can focus on what they do best. The individual is vitally important, even sacred, and is the focus of rights and responsibilities. Durkheim called this reverence for individuals and their contributions the "cult of the individual."

Second, organic solidarity creates a sense of community and cooperation among members of society. People rely on each other to get things done, and this creates a strong social bond.

In traditional societies, people are self-sufficient, and therefore society has little need for cooperation and interdependence. Institutions that require cooperation and agreement must often resort to force and repression to keep society together.

Traditional mechanical solidarity may thus tend to be authoritarian and coercive (Alpert, 1940) Thirdly, Durkheim believed that organic solidarity was connected to equality within a society. He argued that it grows out of the division of labor, but only if the latter happens “spontaneously.”

Inequalities in social status create roadblocks to such unpredictability because they distort pricing, making them appear unjust, and they reduce opportunities for equality of opportunity (Durkheim, 2010).

Finally, organic solidarity leads to greater innovation and creativity. When people are working together towards a common goal, they are able to progress faster and with a greater breadth than those limited by an ingroup with preexisting knowledge. Thus, organic solidarity is more adaptable than mechanical solidarity.

When the division of labor changes, organic societies can change with it. This flexibility allows them to keep up with the times and avoid stagnation (Durkheim, 2010).

Economists, such as Adam Smith, argue that people have a tendency to, even if slowly and gradually, truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another. This gives rise to extensive differences between individuals that provide greater utility (Smith, 1937).

The disadvantages of organic solidarity include the increased competition among members of society. In a society with a high degree of organic solidarity, people are competing with each other for jobs, resources, and status. This can lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety, as well as social isolation.

Another disadvantage of organic solidarity is that it can lead to anomie, or the breakdown of social norms. In a society where everyone is focused on their own individual goals, there may be little room for shared values and beliefs. This can lead to a sense of rootlessness and alienation, as well as crime and deviance (Durkheim, 1893).

Additionally, organic solidarity can often be unstable and unpredictable. Because it is based on the division of labor, changes in the economy can cause widespread upheaval. This can lead to social unrest and even violence.

Organic solidarity is also more likely to develop in large, complex societies. This can make it difficult for smaller, simpler societies to transition to this type of social cohesion.

Additionally, organic solidarity requires a high degree of social interaction in a way that integrates those with diverse skills into the fabric of society. This may not be possible or desirable in all cultures, particularly when this socialization can lead to threats in the form of colonization.

Seemingly paradoxically, however, this apparent social interaction de-emphasizes the role of everyday interactions between individuals. In becoming detached from the producers of their food and goods, individuals are able to retreat from investing in others altruistically and personally (Durkheim, 1893).

One consequence of this alienation of consumers from the producers of their products is that, especially when organic solidarity extends to the global level, it can lead to the homogenity of goods and services.

As the production of products is left to fewer and fewer people, there is less variation in what is made and consumed. This can lead to cultural erasure. Finally, organic solidarity can lead to a greater gap between rich and poor.

Because it is based on the division of labor, those with more talent or resources, beginning from birth, will have an advantage over those with less. This can create a class system that is difficult to escape.

Those in power become depersonalized, which can lead to a feeling of powerlessness. This is because people no longer feel like they have control over their own lives or the production of the things they rely on.

Additionally, because organic solidarity is based on the division of labor, there is often a great deal of inequality within society. This can lead to feelings of resentment and frustration among those who are not able to access the same opportunities and resources as others (Durkheim, 1893).

FAQs

In which types of societies is organic solidarity most common?

Organic solidarity is most common in large, complex societies. Organic solidarity comes from the interdependence that arises from the specialization of work and the complementarities between people.

These systems of interdependence have existed, in some form, for thousands of years but proliferated during the industrial revolution, when the division of labor's hyperspecialization led to the mass production of consumer goods.

How does organic solidarity occur?

Organic solidarity occurs when people are specialized in different roles and need each other to function properly. This happens because no one person can do everything and people all have different skills.

People rely on others to supplement preexisting skills so that they can produce the things they need or want.

Durkheim believed that the division of labor that led to organic solidarity occurred because there was increasing contact among people as physical and social divisions disappeared. As a result, there is a greater density of contact, so people are led to specializing.

But it is because “the partitions dividing them [the segments] become more permeable. In short, there occurs between them a coalescence that renders the social substance free to enter upon new combinations”.

The division of labor emerges in different ways in different societies, leading to different forms of social solidarity.

The main factors that decrease these barriers to connection are higher densities of people, the formation of towns and cities, and transportation and communication.

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). Organic Solidarity in Sociology: Definition & Examples. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/organic-solidarity.html

References

Alpert, H. (1940). Emile Durkheim and the theory of social integration. J. Soc. Phil., 6, 172.

Deliege, R. (2001). Societies, Types of. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences.

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

Durkheim, E. (1951). Suicide [1897]. na.

Durkheim, E. (2010). From mechanical to organic solidarity. Sociology: Introductory Readings, 2(1).

Giddens, A. (1971). Durkheim's political sociology. The sociological review, 19(4), 477-519.

Malinowski, B. (1926). Myth in primitive psychology (Vol. 6). K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company, Limited.

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.

Ritzer, G. (1992). Sociological Theory. McGraw-Hill.

Smith, A. (1937). The wealth of nations [1776] (Vol. 11937). na.