Social inequality is one of the major factors that have hindered the development of technology and society throughout the history of humankind. It has seriously contributed to such social problems as the increasing tension, hatred, aggression, and even acts of severe violence between different groups of people. The existence of such harms has led to the creation of various social movements that strived to provide everyone with equal rights and opportunities, regardless of their cultural or any other differences. People were divided into different social groups, based on such characteristics as skin color, gender, heredity, family background, etc. One of the major factors that has always produced social inequality is the unfair division of labor. The functionalist and socialist movements are the most prominent ones that provided the international community with a deeper insight into the core of the problem to assist in solving it and reshaping the structure of modern society. Their views on the issue and its possible solutions differed significantly but also had numerous similar elements. Therefore, it would be beneficial to review the works of Durkheim and Marx to analyze how the division of labor affects social inequality and contributes to the increasing tension between different groups of people.
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First of all, it is essential to identify the basic principles of Durkheim’s theory. His view on the issue of the division of labor is majorly based on such factors as equality and solidarity. According to Durkheim, there are two types of inequality: social and natural (Durkheim 312). The first one often occurs in our society and is caused by various factors, such as skin color, gender, family background, social class and a person’s status. Therefore, it is produced by the systems of values and beliefs, prejudice, social structure, and hierarchy that are common to a community. In other words, the degree of social inequality and its forms can differ significantly in various countries, based on their culture, but it is still present as a set of limits and restrictions that are imposed on a person by society. Regarding the division of labor, it can be applied to a situation when an individual is forced to take a certain position, based on the needs and opinions of a community, but not on his/her personal abilities, desires, and beliefs. The natural inequality, however, does not heavily depend on social standards and requirements. It is rather founded on personal traits, qualities and hereditary characteristics, such as the level of intelligence and physical features. Therefore, regarding the division of labor, natural inequality refers to a situation, when an individual can take a position in society that meets his/her desires and abilities, regardless of the public opinion.
According to Durkheim, there are two types of solidarity that determine the role of a person in society – mechanical and organic (Durkheim 312). The first one is a form of social interdependence that is based on a strict system of values and beliefs that are inherent to traditional communities. Regarding the division of labor, it implies that the majority of people are functionally equivalent and substitutable. On the one hand, society chooses the right place for a person in its organizational structure. On the other hand, organic solidarity is a form of social interdependence, that is assumed on skills and abilities that every individual can offer to benefit a community. It is common for developed societies and relies on a differentiated division of labor when certain specialists are not interchangeable. Therefore, people choose their position in society, based on personal characteristics and abilities, combined with professional skills, knowledge, and experience.
Additionally, Durkheim compares communities that are driven by organic solidarity to living beings and individuals to their organs that perform specific functions (Durkheim 312). Each of them is responsible for one of the processes that occur in a body. For example, the heart pumps blood through the organism, lungs perform breathings, eyes allow a living being to receive visual information about the surrounding world, etc. Each of these organs functions spontaneously and independently, and its functions cannot be substituted by others. Likewise, specialists in a developed society work in a specific professional sphere of operations. For example, engineers are responsible for designing and constructing buildings, scientists develop innovative technologies, teachers provide quality education, and artists enhance cultural heritage. Therefore, they act independently and choose their job spontaneously according to personal interests and desires. Regretfully, the social class and status of people produce a serious impact on their career opportunities and perspective because well-off families can afford to provide their children with quality education and a network of useful social contacts. This situation creates external inequality and contributes to the division of labor between different social groups. Therefore, it is essential to overcome the issue to achieve organic solidarity.
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The needs of society for specific specialists and the restrictions, imposed on their activities, contribute to the existence of external inequality. In other words, the community forces people to take positions that do not correspond to their personal desires and do not bring professional satisfaction. This situation is regarded to as the abnormal division of labor that occurs due to non-spontaneous inequality (Durkheim 312). It can lead to such negative consequences, as the deviant behavior of people that are not satisfied with their current position in the society. Additionally, the increasing isolation of certain specialists from a community, due to their specialized tasks can lead to the loss of sense of being a part of a whole and result in the anomic division of labor (Durkheim 314-320). This issue can seriously contribute to the increasing social tension and the overall failure of organic solidarity in society. Moreover, the forced division of labor can produce a negative impact on the psychological state of individuals and provoke deviant behaviors, including public aggression, acts of violence and even suicide.
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Nevertheless, certain social inequalities can exist along with organic solidarity in society (Durkheim 313-320). This statement can be explained by the fact that certain social positions, like politicians or business owners, are always considered to be more prestigious, but it does not mean that community can exist without people who perform simple but important tasks, like transporting and sorting goods. Therefore, the division into social groups in society does not undermine organic solidarity because all its members continue to perform operations that are essential for its efficient functioning.
Both Marx and Durkheim discuss serious problems that contribute to increasing social tension and hinder the development of humankind. Their positions have similar elements, but also differ significantly in certain aspects. Durkheim emphasizes on the importance of organic solidarity that can be achieved by eliminating external inequalities that contribute to the unfair division of labor (Durkheim 312). On the contrary, Marx pays exceptional attention to the issue of class struggle and the exploitation of proletarians by the bourgeoisie (Marx and Engels). The main difference in their views lies in the fact that Durkheim tolerates the idea of social and natural inequality, as long as it does not hinder organic solidarity, while Marx argues that all people should have equal rights and opportunities, despite their social status. Additionally, Marx supports an aggressive approach to reshaping modern society, including the active revolutionary attitude, while Durkheim votes for political stability and advocates for social change through developing public awareness and decreasing deviant behavior of individuals.
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To conclude, the fair division of labor is an essential element of stable and successful society. It also contributes to social equality and helps in keeping down the tension between different groups of people under control. Regretfully, such issues as external inequality and forced division of labor undermine organic solidarity of society. Therefore, reshaping modern social standards by allowing people to choose their position in community, according to their desires, skills and abilities, is essential for further development of humankind.