Collective Conscience or Collective consciousness as it is known as sometimes, refers to a sociological concept that believes in shared ideas, beliefs, knowledge and attitude which are common to a group of individuals, society or the community in general. Collective conscience gives individuals the sense of identity and most importantly their behaviour. Collective conscience as a concept was developed by founding sociologist Emile Durkheim to shed light on the question of how individuals are clubbed together into units like societies and communities.
How does Collective Conscience Hold the Society Together?
Starting with the very essential yet basic question “what keeps the society together?” This was the exact question that piqued Durkheim’s interest when he wrote on the industrial societies of the 19th century. Durkheim analysed documented customs, habits and traditional beliefs of the existing and primitive societies and compared them with everything that he observed from his life. He came to a conclusion that the reason why society exists is because of the sense of Solidarity individuals feel with each other. According to Durkheim, collective conscience is the source of this Solidarity.
Collective Conscience in Traditional and Primitive Societies – Mechanical Solidarity
Durkheim explains that in primitive and traditional societies, religious discourse, symbols, rituals and beliefs foster the collective consciousness. This is also known as mechanical solidarity – binding individual together automatically through their shared beliefs, values as well as practices.
Collective Conscience in Contemporary Industrialised Societies – Organic Solidarity
In industrialised societies like western Europe or the young US of A, collective conscience was fostered because of the mutual reliance groups and individuals have on each other in order to facilitate smooth functioning of the society – This is also known as Organic Solidarity. In organic solidarity, religion did play an important role in fostering collective conscience among groups affiliated with different religions. However, other modern structures and institutions played a bigger role in producing the collective conscience necessary for a society to function.
Through his research, Durkheim found that solidarity of any kind, whether mechanical or organic, can be achieved through a set of norms, rules and regulations. The disappearance or disintegration of these very norms that were prevalent earlier, leads to the social situation like Anomie.
Transition from traditional society to Modern society and the period of Anomie
According to Durkheim, Anomie is the social situation or the transitional period where the existing norms and values of a traditional society has become irrelevant but the new norms have not evolved enough to replace the existing ones. Individuals who live through this phase of anomie are often disconnected because the norms and values that used to make sense until a certain time no longer looks relevant to them. This often leads to the feeling of not belonging to a society in general, to feeling of hopelessness, deviance and at times leads to crimes. Periods of anomie are often rife with instability, chaos and conflicts because the societal force that provide stability to the norms and rules weakens or disintegrates completely.
Now that you have understood the concept of collective conscience, solidarity and anomie, let’s talk about why something developed in 19th century is still relevant today.
Relevance of Collective Conscience in Modern Societies
To understand this, you need a background on how the term “collective conscience” came into being. As you are aware already, collective conscience was explained by Emile Durkheim during a time when industrial revolution and French revolution were at their peak, bringing in an era of modernity, or the modern society we know today.
Unlike traditional or primitive societies, the collective conscience in modern societies is a direct result of organic solidarity, which made people become more individualistic, yet bound them together through interdependence. The social bond in turn saw a change from shared religious belief to inter-dependency for goods and services. Another example of how the theory of Collective conscience is relevant in modern societies is the increased focus on individuality. Individuality is one of the most important features of people living in the western world, for example, the United States of America, United Kingdom and Ireland. It is evident in our social and political thinking and we tend to focus more on personal rights and the belief that nothing is more important than the people who form a society. This sense of individuality is what binds the people of modern societies together.
If you want to know more about Durkheim’s theories on collective conscience, organic and mechanical solidarity and Anomie, you can write to our sociology expert or schedule a one-on-one consultation.