Benefits and Risks of Modernity
Emile Durkheim is considered as being the father of sociology by many people. He is endorsed with developing sociology to a science, as well as having introduced it in the curriculum of the French. According to him, instead of restricted to specific individual actions, sociology should be aimed at studying facts accredited to society at large. In his entire profession, he was primarily apprehensive with the way the society could sustain its coherence and integrity in the modern epoch, when it is impossible to assume such things as ethnic background and shared religion. Besides, he was also apprehensive with the realistic connotations of scientific knowledge, (John, 2005). Durkheim concurs with Marx and Weber that modernity has both positive and negative implications on the society. The Scope of this essay will be limited to the analysis of the key benefits and risks that have been associated with modernity according to Durkheim.
According to both Durkheim and Marx, the modern era is seen as being troubled. However, they both agreed that the benefits of modernity overshadowed its negative attributes. As per the views of Durkheim, growth of industrialism would create a fulfilling and harmonious social life, which is amalgamated through a blend of individualism and division of labor. Precisely, Durkheim argued that industrialism was responsible for the emergence of modern society. The modern society is characterized by the division of labor. With division of labor, individuals undertake specialized and distinguished responsibilities which are usually structured as per the social function.
One of the key benefits attributed to modernity is social economic progress. As mentioned above, modernity is characterized by industrialism in which division of labor and specialization. Unlike in the pre-modern society, where individuals performed almost every role, in the modern society individual focuses on a single role on which they suit best. This has the effect of increasing output as the rate of production per an individual improves significantly, (Tim, 2004). This is mainly because people becomes specialists in certain areas, thus, speed of production is improved considerably. Modernity is also signified by advancement in technology based on the fact that machines are employed in almost all the entire production system. Thus, it becomes cheap to produce goods and services. In the long run, improved production leads to an improvement of the quality of life or rather our social welfare.
Another benefit of modernity is that, it has led to some extent, a higher degree of cohesion in the society. Durkheim asserted that in the pre-modern society there existed a mechanical kind of cohesion. However, with the emergence modernity organic kind of cohesion emerged. In this case, due to the fact that people are specialized in different areas, there is some kind of interdependence. Precisely, in to survive individuals will depend on other people for what they do not produce. This interdependence creates a certain cohesion among individuals in the society; hence, promoting co-existence in the society, (Tim, 2004). Besides, unlike in the pre-modern where people were guided by the objectives and goals of the society as a whole, in the modern world every individual has his/her own goals and objectives that he/she aims to achieve. Collectively, individual goals lead to advancement or rather growth of general welfare of the society. Therefore, the interdependency that exists between individuals in the society provides a favorable environment for people to continue working and living together in the society as a community.
Although modernity is seen to be beneficial in a number of ways, it also has its dark side. To begin with, Durkheim argued that modernity promoted the growth of individualism within our societies. In general terms, modernity is responsible for the change in people’s live and the organization of the society. Unlike in the pre-modern society where people acted and behaved taking into consideration the objectives and goals of the whole society, in the modern society individual are driven by their own goals and objectives, (Mustafa, 2003). This marked the beginning or rather the origin of social classes that are observed in our modern society. Notably, today the society is organized in low, middle, and high income classes. Arguably, modernity is responsible for the destruction of small town values as well as the old family in our current society.
Unquestionably, modernization is signified by increased specialization and division of labor. Although specialization is attributed to increased and quality production, it is the core source of stress that is experienced by most individuals in the modern society. For instance, with specialization it means that one has to undertake the same task in the production now and again. Therefore, it becomes monotonous to do routine work leading to stressful life. According to. Additionally, with specialization the quality of life generally declines. This is due to the fact that there is no variety of tasks that an individual can explore, (Nigel, 1999). Moreover, mass production becomes wearisome besides the challenges that people have to be overcome. People cannot achieve much as they can never know everything. Generally, there is no flexibility in life due to the fact that if an individual decides to try another different task, retraining is inevitable in order to fit into that particular area.
According to Durkheim, modernity is the main course of anomie. He used this terminology to imply the dangers that are associated with modernity. Precisely, the term is used to refer to dysfunctional features of modernity. This concept was developed to explain how changes might take place in the modern society if individualism takes roots. Anomie makes people to lose the feeling of ‘self’ and ‘belong to’; hence, causing some degree of psychological uneasiness. Based on the study of suicide rates in different countries, Durkheim observed that suicide rates were low traditional countries as compared to developed countries, (Edward, 2009). Generally, the negative features of modern life such as alcoholism and suicide are attributed to anomie.
Finally, both Durkheim and Marx concur that the benefits of modernity overshadow its negative attributes. According to Durkheim, industrialism marked the beginning of the modern society. Industrialism is characterized by division of labor and specialization, the key factors that contributed to kind of life that is experienced in the modern society. Arguably, the key benefits of modernity includes: improvement in of the quality of life, increased production, and creation of an interdependent society. On the other hand, risks of modernity include: anomie, disintegration of strong social cohesion that existed in the pre-modern society, (William, 1996). It seems that that, the worry of Durkheim is that the same specialization that brings together people in the modern society, will be the one to pull it apart in the long-run
Edward, A. T. (2009). For Durkheim: Essays in Historical and Cultural Sociology. Boston:
Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
Mustafa, E. (2003). Emile Durkheim: Sociologist of Modernity. Illinois: Wiley-Blackwell.
Nigel, D. (1999). Social Theory and Modernity. Illinois: Wiley-Blackwell.
John, J. M. (2005). Society: The Basics, Volume 1. Washington: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Tim, N. (2004). The American Paradox: Applying Durkheim’s Critique of Modern Society to the
current “Moral Values” Debate. New York: Foundations of Sociology New School for Social Research
William, W. M. (1996). Durkheim, Morals and Modernity. New Jersey: McGill-Queen’s Press.