(1893) Emile Durkheim and Grouped Specialisation

To recreate social systems, I have to model individuals and the institutions formed by their networks. Individuals are part of multiple networks and can thus keep multiple institutions alive. Individuals are connected to clubs, to administrations, to markets and to infromation resources – all with each other, side by side, and through each other. (In short: all legally valid legal entities are institutions and are supported by members, citizens, consumers and readers.)

Not all networks are institutions, but all institutions are networks. Durkheim published a book on how they arise and survive in 1893. He called it The Division of Labor in Society. He lived in a time when the organization of and in societies had been transitioned by industrialization. This left large white spots on the map that would arise if you only color in the areas with well-functioning institutions. These white spots are characterized by anomie, the absence of (sufficiently supported) standards. Anomie is a core concept for Durkheim. It’s related, I think, to what I myself might call social entropy. The question is whether this is now again a core concept, at a time when our societies are being transitioned by computerization and the pandemic.

Durkheim’s work provides many clues for modeling social systems in their development. In his book he proceeded by looking at forms of economic institutionalization as they have developed throughout history. He noticed that the lack of anomie in a social system takes various forms.

Durkheim positively formulates the absence of anomie as the presence of solidarity. He recognizes two types: the mechanical and the organic solidarities. Mechanical solidarity is generated through similarities (between members of the same fan club, citizens in the same political party, consumers from the same type of company, researchers from the same discipline) and organic solidarity is generated through additional value of cooperation (such as between the networked organs in a club, in a government, in a shopping center, in a human body).

Fig. 1 Indexing evolving institutions with time, 2 solidarities and 4 dreams

In Fig 1, I take a tour de force by showing at one glance three aspects of the evolution of institutions. First, the spiral timeline. It starts in the middle. Second, a coordinate system formed by mechanical (horizontal) and organic (vertical) solidarity. Third, the four dreams that coincide with the ends of the solidarity axes. (They are inspired by Mary Douglas’s group-grid model, but that is about the characteristics of individuals, not about the dreams they can pursue in institutions). Here I am using concepts put on the map by Durkheim and Rée to have a working method that helps to constrain what to model in my toy worlds and what not. After all, it will be necessary to look for limitations. Fig. 1 helps me with that.

An example: if I would model how the influence of legal practice has been evaluated during the course of the pandemic in the Netherlands, I would use Fig. 1 to select relevant institutions for my toy world and choose the moments to check whether they exhibit adaptive behavior. I begin with those institutions that were important in the Netherlands, at the time (February 8, 2020) that two emergency hospitals were built in Wuhan to be able to cope with the exponentially growing need for IC beds and fans in the fight against a new coronavirus of which the existence had been reported to and by the WHO at the end of 2019.

So on February 8, we could see the pandemic coming. At that time, relevant institutions for / in the Netherlands were: (i) the WHO, (ii) the Dutch Ministry of Health, (iii) the legislator, (iv) the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), (v) the European Commission (EC), (vi) the press, and science as represented by four disciplines: (vii) virologists, (viii) sociologists, (ix) lawyers and (x) economists. Finally, we have (xi) the Dutch citizen. Oh yes, and (xii) Dutch health care, of course. We have 12 institutions that did not do much on February 8 and which only started to move on March 3, when the first infection in the Netherlands was established.

This is not yet the place to elaborate on using Fig. 1 in the modeling of a Dutch toy world. However, following the line in our imagination, we can indicate that the 12 different institutions would soon form mutual networks with specific tasks and that the press together with the citizens and their influencers would soon become prominent information sources (social media).

It should be noted that the political climate on February 8 was one of ‘don’t panic‘ and ‘maybe it will all blow over for us in Europe as it has happened with SARS.’ Note also that a transition towards an attitude of full blown panic was imminent, and that no one was yet thinking of a possibly relevant role for the judiciary.

This means that I must be able to model the emergence or becoming relevant of institutions (and the reverse). Even of conspiracy-theory believers as fueled by influencer sources that work the social media. Fig. 1 helps me with that.


One response to “(1893) Emile Durkheim and Grouped Specialisation”

  1. […] thinking, but because it gives, avant la lettre, a negative moral assessment of Durkheim’s mechanical solidarity as the force that binds through showing similar characteristics. The second quote completes […]