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Views &Theories; of Marx, Weber, and

Durkheim of Social Identity


Historical change would occur when the exploited masses of the proletariat
refused to tolerate their oppression and revolted in order to achieve equality.
Until then, individual freedom and the ability to develop one's identity
outside of work are severely limited. Marx argued that all social conflict is
class-conflict, the "bitter struggle between those who own the means of
producing wealth and those who do not" (Robertson, 1987, p. 14).

Emile Durkheim viewed society as a reality in its own right. He posited that
individual members of society are born, live, and die, but a "certain pattern to
their experiences exists independently and perhaps mechanistically" (Hess,
Markson, and Stein, 1989, p. 12). The social structure which Durkheim
recognized was one in which individual lives are played out in a society with
a preexisting set of rules governing economic activity as well as family life.
These rules and economic constraints or privileges directly influence identity
development. Durkheim argued that individual identity becomes eroded in a
capitalist and elite-controlled society, "By putting himself under the wing of
society, individuals make themselves also, to a certain extent, dependent upon
it" (Giddens, 1971, p. 117). There is only so much individual freedom or
expression of identity such a socially-dependent scenario permits.

Durkheim also recognized that feudalism was giving way rapidly in the face
of the Industrial Revolution, but saw that revolution as far more potentially
liberating than did Karl Marx. He rooted much of his social theory and his
concept of the effects of the division of labor in the notion of anomie.
Anomie - literally "without norms" - refers to what Durkheim perceived as an
increasingly characteristic trait of man in urban industrial society (Anderson,
1971, p. 58). The individual (i.e. identity), he argued, had been torn from the
community-binding norms of traditional society...
(which possessed an organic solidarity replaced in the Industrial Revolution by a more
mechanistic form of solidarity) and then thrown into a highly fluid, increasingly, prosperous, and
secularized urban society. The result of this shift, according to Durkheim, was deregulation and
increased frustration of expectations among individuals leading to greater anomie in identity (i.e.
deviant behavior).

Durkheim also argued that urban, industrialized (and capitalist) man had been "pulled away from
the stabilizing groups of his own social milieu, and thrown back on his own psychological and
material resources for survival" (Anderson, 1971, p. 58). This further eroded identity and limited
individual freedom. Durkheim was, in large measure, more