Division of Labour

  • David Brown
  • Michael J. Harrison
Part of the Macmillan Business Management and Administration Series book series


The sociologist seeks to make generalisations about societies. This is one of the central difficulties which preoccupies sociological methodology. Human societies and the individuals within them have a persistent tendency to vary, to be unique, to such an extent that such generalities cease to be either significant on the one hand, or indeed true on the other hand. For example, the generalisation that ‘all men must eat to live’ is true, but is so trivial that it lacks significance. The statement that ‘all men must work and produce in order to live’ is significant but unfortunately untrue since human societies produce many examples of whole classes of persons who have a positive disdain for work and the production processes yet manage to ‘live’ on a much higher standard than those who actually do produce. If generalisations concerned with the very crude conditions necessary for human existence are so prone to difficulty, then one can imagine the dilemmas inherent in generalising about apparently more complex social phenomena. The sociologist is faced with a dilemma concerning his function as a generaliser. Does he seek to make generalisations concerning the nature and condition of all men, to seek the essence of humanity, or does he describe the unique and individual in all its concreteness, thereby abandoning his attempts to generalise? A pioneer sociologist, Emile Durkheim, put the dilemma in the following manner: ‘It seems, then, that social reality must be merely subject matter of an abstract and vague philosophy or for purely descriptive monographs’ (Durkheim, 1962, p. 77).


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Suggested Further Reading

  1. Jesser, C. J. (1975) Social Theory Revisited, chap. 7 (Hinsdale, Ill.: The Dryden Press).Google Scholar
  2. Parsons, T. (1966) Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey : Prentice-Hall).Google Scholar


  1. Alpert, H. (1939) Emile Durkheim and His Sociology (New York: Columbia University Press).Google Scholar
  2. Cohen, P. (1968) Modern Social Theory (London: Heinemann).Google Scholar
  3. Douglas, J. D. (1967) The Social Meaning of Suicide (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  4. Durkheim, E. (1962) Rules of Sociological Method, ed. G. Catlin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).Google Scholar
  5. — (1964) Division of Labour, chaps 1 and 2 (New York: Free Press).Google Scholar
  6. — (1968) Suicide: A Study in Sociology (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).Google Scholar
  7. Friedmann, G. (1961) The Anatomy of Work (New York: Free Press).Google Scholar
  8. Giddens, A. (1972) ‘Four Myths in the History of Social Thought’, in Economy and Society 1, no. 4 (Nov).Google Scholar
  9. Gouldner, A. (1967) Introduction to ‘Socialism’ by E. Durkheim (London: Collier-Macmillan).Google Scholar
  10. Lukes, S. (1973) Emile Durkheim, His Life and Work: a Historical and Critical Study (Harmondsworth, Middx: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press).Google Scholar
  11. Parsons, T. (1951) The Social System (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Brown and Michael J. Harrison 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Brown
  • Michael J. Harrison

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations