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David Emile Durkheim

The Cultural Logic of Collective Representations

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Solidarity and the Division of Labor
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Emile Durkheim (1912)


Emile Durkheim was heavily influenced by religion in thought as well as practice since his life was structured around religion considering his family’s strong ties. Durkheim saw the society as an inherent product of facts and experiences consequence of collective life. He takes a closer look at the collective representation within the society through a religious lens and tries to explain why religion plays a role in all this collectiveness of social organization. He states that if religion has given birth to all that is essential in society, it is because the idea of society is the soul of religion. Following are some main if not essential arguments and claims that Durkheim’s theory of collective representation includes they are as follows:



        It has been long known that up until a relatively advance moment of evolution, moral and legal roles have been indistinguishable from ritual prescriptions.

        All religions, even the crudest, are in a sense spiritualistic: for the powers they put in play are before all spiritual, and also their principle object is to act upon the moral life.

        Whatever has been done in the name of religion cannot have been done in vain: for it is necessarily the society that did it, and it is humanity that has reaped the fruits…..

        Definition of the sacred is that it is something added to and above the real.

        Collective life awakens religious thought on reaching a certain degree of intensity.



         A man does don not recognize himself; he feels himself transformed and consequently he transforms the environment which surrounds him.

         In a world above the real world where his profane life passes he has placed another which, in one sense, does not exist except in thought, but to which he attributes a higher sort of dignity than to the first.

         For a society to become conscious of itself and maintain at the necessary degree of intensity the sentiment which it thus attains, it must assemble and concentrate itself.

         A society can neither create itself nor recreate itself without the same time creating an idea.

         Above the real world where his profane life passes he has placed another which, in one sense, does not exist except in thought, but to which he attributes a higher sort of dignity than to the first.

         The idea society is not outside of the real society, it is apart of it.  The society above all is the idea which it forms of itself.

        The conflicts which break forth are between two different ideals, that of yesterday and that of today, that which has the authority of tradition and that which has the hope of the future.



        Thus the collective idea which religion expresses is far from being due to a vague innate power of the individual, but it is rather at the school of collective life that the individual has learned to idealize.

         The personal ideal disengages itself and becomes an autonomous source of action.  But if we wish to understand this aptitude so singular in appearance, of living outside of reality, it is enough to connect it with the social conditions upon which it depends.

        In order that the former may appear, a synthesis sui generis of particular consciousness is required.

        This synthesis has the effect of disengaging a whole world as sentiments ideas, images, which, once born, obey laws all their own.

        Every time that we ape in the presence of a type of thought or acting which is imposed uniformly upon particular will or intelligences this pressure exercised over the individual betrays the intervention of the group.



        It is unquestionable that language and consequently the system of concepts which it translates, is the product of a collective elaboration.

        Society as a whole represents the facts of experience.

        There is a great deal of knowledge condensed in the world which I never collected and which is not individual… in which we mean to say that concepts are collective representations.

        It concepts were only general ideas, they would not enrich knowledge a great deal, for as we have already pointed out the general contains nothing more than the particular.

        Each of us sees them after his own fashion.  There are other of which we perceive certain aspects only.  There are even a great many which we pervert in holding for as they are collective by nature, they cannot become individualized without being retouched, modified, and consequently falsified.

        Durkheim believes that we all fall in the trap of deceiving and lying to one another because we all use the same words without giving them the same meaning.

        Logical thinking is always impersonal thinking and is also thought sub species ternitutis – as though for all time.

        Impersonality and stability are the two characteristics of truth.

        It is under the form of collective thought that impersonal thought is for the first time revealed to humanity; we cannot see by what other way the revelation could have been made.

        Thinking by concepts is not merely seeking reality on its most general side, but it is projecting a light upon the sensation which illuminates it and transforms it.

        The concept of totality is only the abstract form of the concept of society: it is the whole which includes all things, the supreme class which embraces all other classes.


Durkheim, E. (2004). The cultural logic of collective representations. In C. Lemert (Ed.), Social theory the multicultural and classic readings (pp. 90-99). Wesleyan University: Westview Press.