Theorising Society, the Self, and Culture
Question 4: “It not only supposes that individuals are not consigned forcibly to performing certain determined functions, but also that no obstacle whatsoever prevents them from occupying within the ranks of society a position commensurate to their abilities. In short, labour only divides up spontaneously if society is constituted in such a way that social inequalities express precisely natural inequalities.” (1893/1997, p. 313) Is it wholly fair to brand Durkheim as an advocate of an elitist system?
The entire objective of Durkheim’s pursuit, is solidarity. The unification of society, be it through a collective consciousness or interdependence. He insists though, on moving towards the latter, but it is hard to come by one whose size does not exceed its responsibilities, in today’s context that is. Through the division of the available roles required for the society to function, the individuals would be forced to rely on one another to go in with life. It may sound forced, but this encourages bonding and it helps the society grow. In the days of Durkheim however, there existed these societies whose people were contended with doing the same as one another. To solve this problem of unequal roles and people in the modern world, there came about specialization, the creation of new roles to fulfill. With specialization though, a new problem of hierarchy arose and elitism was brought to light.
What is elitism? Elitism simply refers to the belief that there exists a superior and an inferior and the power is concentrated within the former. The individuals in the former group are filtered out from the masses through their traits and capabilities, that is meritocracy. This process of division of labour “allows the potentially qualified and deserving individuals and equal and fair chance of achieving success on their own merit” (Tan, 2008, pg. 8). Due to the numerous amount of roles, this system of categorization cannot arise naturally and the duty of preserving social order between the different classes of merit is taken upon by as Durkheim mentions, “That organ is the state or government” (1893, pg. 280). However, there is this negative connotation that lingers around the word elitism. Considering that people are given the chance to prove their merit, and hence move up the social ladder, it seems like it is a fair concept of distribution.
He believes that as long as there is no constraint, that is, as long as the individual is given a chance to fight for a place in society, the system is fair to all. What meritocracy fails to see is that there might be inherent advantages or disadvantages that are scattered unequally among the society. This means that the “natural inequalities” (Durkheim, 1893, pg. 313) are not considered when allocating the various roles available. Whether it is because of natural gift or special training that that individual could attain through means unavailable to others, some people are...