Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Durkheim and Social Anthropology as discussed by Evans Pritchard

The writings of Emile Durkheim  had a greater and more direct influence on social anthropology.He is the central figure in the history of its development both on account of his general sociological theories and his application with remarkable insight to the study of primitive societies.According to Durkheim social facts cannot be explained in terms of individual psychology if only because they exist outside and apart from individual minds.A language is there before an individual is born into the society which speaks it and it will be there after he is dead.He merely learns to speak it as his ancestors did and as his descendants will.It is a social fact which can be understood in its relation to other facts of the same order, as part of a social system and in terms of its functions in the maintenance of that system.


Social facts are characterized by their generality their transmissibility and their compulsion.All members of a society in general the same habits and customs,language and morals and all live in the same common framework of legal,political and economic institutions.All these things form a more or less stable structure which persists in its essentials over great period of time being handed down from generation to generation.The individual merely passes through the structure as it were.It was not born with him and it does not die with him for it is not a psychical system but a social system with a collective consciousness quite different in kind from individual consciousness.The totality of social facts  which compose the structure are obligatory.The individual who does not abide by them always suffers penalties and disabilities of a legal or moral kind.Usually he has neither the desire nor the opportunity to do other than conform.

In emphasizing the singularity of collective life,Durkheim has been criticized for holding that there is a collective mind but although his writing is sometimes rather metaphysical he certainly he certainly never conceived of any such entity.By collective representations he probably meant common body of values,beliefs and customs which the individual born into any society learns,accepts,lives by and passes on.Durkheim influenced the writings of A.R Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski who shaped the social anthropology.

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