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Durkheim, Morality and Modernity: Collective Effervescence, Homo Duplex and the Sources

of Moral Action
Author(s): Chris Shilling and Philip A. Mellor
Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 193-209
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The London School of Economics and Political
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Chris Shilling and Philip A. Mellor

Durkheim, moralityand modernity:collective

effervescence, homoduplexand the sources of
moral action

The issue of moralityhas lost its positionof importancewithinthe discipline,yet

a growing number of sociologists interested in the ambivalentcharacter of
(post)modernityhave returnedto this subjectin recent years.This articleexam-
ines the revivalof interestin moralityand suggestsit would benefit by engaging
creativelywith Durkheim'swritingson homoduplwx,collectiveeffervescence,and
the social constructionof moralorders.Afterexaminingthis relativelyneglected
part of Durkheim'swork,developed most fully in his (1995 [1912]) TheElemen-
tar Formsof ReligiousLife,we focus on two of the most influentialcontemporary
commentatorson morality,Bauman and Giddens. Having evaluatedthe limi-
tations of their respectiveapproaches(which associatethe sources of morality
respectis7elywith a methodologicallyindividualisticbodily impulse of 'beingfor
the other'^andwithan increasinglyglobalcognitivereflexivity),we analyserecent
writingswhich have attempted to transcendsuch difficultiesby engaging with
some of the tensionsin Durkheim'saccountof sacredmoralorders.These high-
light those featuresof Durkheim'sworkwhichcontinueto offera productivebasis
on which to developfurthera thoroughlysociologicalappreciationof morality.



In the context of a recent revival of sociological interest in morality, Levine

(1995: 100) reminds us that questions concerning the sources of moral
action were central to the foundation of the discipline. A strong sense of
the secularization of modern societies amongst sociology's founding figures
only increased the importance of such questions (Nisbet 1993 [1966]:
3-20). In subsequent sociological analysis, however, the consideration of
what constitutes 'morality', and of what enables humans to avoid acting
purely in terms of 'appetitive or expedient dispositions', became marginal-
ized (Levine 1995: 100, 284-97). This marginalization was reinforced by
movements in the late tzrentieth century towards the fragmentation of soci-
ology; movements which cast doubt on the very possibility of generalized

Brzz.Jnl. of Sociology Volume no. 49 Issue no. 2 June 1998 ISSN 0007-1315 t I.ondon School of Economics 1998
194 Chrwis
Shilling and Philip A. Mellor

conceptions of moral action (Horowitz 1993; see also Eisenstadt and Cure-
laru 1976; Ossowska 1970; Gouldner 1970). For commentators such as
Levine (1995: 2), this situation left sociology in danger of relinquishing the
possibility of offering any authoritative insights into the nature of human
Despite these tendencies, the issue of morality has been subject to
increased scrutiny in recent years from sociologists interested in the con-
temporary purpose of the discipline and in the ambivalent character of
(post)modernity (e.g. Selznick 1992; Stivers 1994; Smart 1996).1 One of the
most interesting features of these commentaries is that while their concern
with such matters as 'inhumanity' (Lyotard 1991; Tester 1995), 'post-
modern ethics' (Bauman 1993), 'dialogical democracy' (Giddens 1994a),
and 'decivilizing processes' (Burkitt 1996) attempts to move beyondclassical
sociology, it also returns sociology to the moral questions which faced its
In this paper, we suggest that contemporary considerations of morality
and modernity can benefit by engaging with one of the most important
'founding figures' of the discipline, Durkheim. Interest in Durkheim's
(1995 [1912] ) TheElementaryFormsof ReligzousLifehas grown with the publi-
cation of a new edition of this work (Smith and Alexander 1996). This is
particularly significant since TheElementaryFormscan be seen as the key text
in what Collins (1988) refers to as the 'underground wing' of Durkheim's
writings. Despite often being portrayed as a positivist, Durkheim developed
a deep concern with society as a moral, religious force which stimulated in
people an effervescent 'propulsion' towards actions productive of either
social cohesion or dissolution (Bougle 1926; Caillois 1950; Collins 1988).
While recognition of an 'underground wing' of Durkheim's work is not
new, the relationship between homoduplex,collective effervescence and dis-
tinctive forms of sociality which resides at its core remains marginalized
within contemporary sociology.
It is our argument that TheElementaryFormsprovides a multidimensional
approach towards morality, by understanding the construction of moral
orders as mediated by collectivities of embodied individuals both cogni-
tively and emotionally engaged with their social world, and that this com-
plexity has been lost in the most influential recent writings on the subject,
and needs to be recaptured if sociology is to provide convincing analyses of
morality. In light of this endorsement of Durkheim's approach, we turn to
two of the most influential contemporary commentators on relationships
between (post)modernity and morality, Bauman and Giddens, and high-
light the partiality of their accounts.
Bauman and Giddens make for interesting comparison as they have radi-
cally divergent approaches toward morality. While their work shares much
in its diagnosis of modernity, it is based on very different views of the moral
capacities of embodied individuals (views which have been relatively
neglected in the secondary literature on these authors). Whereas Bauman
emphasizes the bodily impulsessupportive of moral inclinations towards
Durkheim,moralityand modernity 195

others, Giddens espouses a more contractarian view of morality dependent

upon reflexivity and rationalthought.These approaches also make for con-
structive comparison as they incorporate strong reactions to strands of
Durkheim's thought. Giddens sought to overcome the weaknesses in
Durkheim's sociology by writing the NewRulesof Sociological Method(1976)
in response to Durkheim's (1952) RulesofSociological Method. Bauman's con-
demnation of modernity as a totalizing system opposes Durkheim's nor-
mative view of society as a bounded social order (Nisbet 1993 [1966]).
Furthermore, his (1993: 13, 35) interest in the relationship between moral-
ity and the 'primeval' human condition of 'beingforthe other' can be seen
as a systematic inversion of Durkheim's, partially asocial, homoduplex. While
Bauman and Giddens say much of value about (post)modernity and moral-
ity, we argue that neither theorist is ultimately able to explore how the con-
struction of morality is thoroughly sociologzcal, in that it is dependent on
collective experiences which shape both the emotions and the thoughts of
human agents.2
In view of these concerns we turn, in the latter stages of this paper, to the-
orists who have developed the moral dimensions of Durkheim's work by
focusing on the return of the sacred in contemporary societies. Writers like
Maffesoli (1996) and Mestrovic (1991, 1993) have applied Durkheim's
insights to the close of the twentieth century by examining the effervescent
revitalization and devitalization of modern socialities. Such approaches
highlight the potential of applying Durkheim's analysis of morality to new
times. Missing from them, however, is the ambivalenceessential to
Durkheim's framework. Durkheim insisted that the effervescence of social
gatherings could lead to a 'bloody barbarism' (as in the French Revolution)
as well as a socially beneficient solidarity, and it is the ambivalence of this
section of Durkheim's work which we conclude can most usefully be devel-
oped in current discussions of morality.


Kant was the first secular philosopher in the West to reject the possibility
that criteria for the good are grounded in the natural properties of humans,
and to seek instead a rationalfoundation for absolutely and uncondition-
ally valid moral laws (Kant 1964 [1785] ). While Durkheim followed Kant in
recognizing the need for individuals to 'reach beyond' their natural selves
if they were to become moral, however, Durkheim viewed moral rules as
emotionally groundedproducts of society.In TheRulesof Sociological Method
(1982: 50-2), for example, Durkheim associates moral rules with 'social
facts'; phenomena which are social because they arise through collective
sentiments, and come to hold a compelling and coercive power over the
individual consciousness.3 For Durkheim, morality has its basis in a social
engagement with the 'natural properties' of humans rejected by Kant,
however 'rational' it may subsequently appear.
196 ChrisShilling and Philip A. Mellor

Durkheim's understanding of the effervescent origins of morality is

closely related to his conceptualization of homodupleNthe idea that embod-
ied individuals are internally divided between their egoistic impulses and
their capacity for 'reaching beyond' these asocial passions to the realm of
conceptual thought and moral activity held in common by a society
(Durkheim 1973 [1914]: 151; 1995 [1912]: 223, 438). As Fields (1995: lv)
notes, 'moral' is often synonymous with 'social' in Durkheim's work, while
'individual' stands opposed to 'moral' because Durkheim's 'individual'
denotes the body's egoistic passions and Ksensualities.This is reflected in
Durkheim's comment that 'what is moral is everything that is a source of
solidarity, everything that forces man to . . . regulate his actions by some-
thing other than . . . his own egoism' (Durkheim 1984 [1893]: 331). Soli-
darityisnoteasilyachieved,however,andDurkheim (1973 [1914]: 1534)
suggests 'we are never completely in accord with ourselves for we cannot
follow one of our two natures without causing the other to suffer'. Conse-
quently, the normative order of this social world, expressed in its conscienfe
is the achievement of an embodied, collective life which has trans-
formed the naturalworld dominating individuals into a socialand moral
world dominated by people (Durkheim 1984 [1893]: 319).
Durkheim is concerned, then, with both the asocial capabilities of the
embodied individual, and the potentialities of embodied humans at the col-
lective level. The means by which people become moral does not eschew
bodily emotions, but provides us with a sensual link frequently missing in
contemporary discussions of morality. It is the collective effervescencestimu-
lated by assembled social groups that harnesses people's passions to the
symbolic order of society. This emotional experience does this by structur-
ing those sense representations in 'perpetual flux', and allowing individuals
to interact on the basis of concepts shared and 'shielded' from the 'dis-
turbance' characteristic of individual sensory impressions (Durkheim 1995
[1912]: 434). Collective effervescence, then, has the potential to substitute
the world immediately available to our perceptions for another, more
moral world (Durkheim 1984 [1893]: 319) .
Durkheim's account of collective effervescence is valuable as it captures
the idea of social 'force' at its birth; when embodied humansfeelthemselves
and aretransformed through an emotional structuring of their sensory and
sensual being. As Gane (1988: 5) notes, Durkheim's theory makes 'collec-
tive the decisive formative moments in social development'.
This force is experienced mentally and physically, and binds people to the
ideals valued by their social group; a process examined in most detail in
Durkheim's (1995 [1912] ) study of religion, but which is also central to his
studyof moral education (Durkheim 1961 [1925] ) and his writings on pro-
fessional ethics and civic morals (Durkheim 1958). The consequences of
this 'binding' can be dramatic or mundane (Durkheim 1982: 53). In revo-
lutions, people are 'stirred by passions so intense that they can be satisfied
onlyby violent and extreme acts: by acts of superhuman heroism or bloody
barbarism'(Durkheim 1995 [1912]: 215). During less dramatic day-to-day
Durkheim,moralityand modmnity 197

interactions,however, people still experience a certain 'rush of energy'

evident in acts 'that express the understanding,esteem and affection'
characteristicof positive neighbourly relations (Durkheim 1995 [1912]:
The incidence, intensity and scope of collective effervescence varies
accordingto the relationshipsand activitiescharacteristicof social groups
(Collins 1988). Furthermore,the effects of collective effervescence are,
since they are rooted in emotion, characterizedby a certain ephemerality
and must be recharged if they are to have enduring social significance.
Durkheim'sview of modernity,however,is characterizedby a 'devitaliza-
tion' of societyarisingfrom a neglect of its effervescentbasis (Nisbet 1993
[1966]: 300). This is reflected in Durkheim'sanalysisof the division of
labourwhichsuggestsa weakeningof collectivesentimentsleadingto a pro-
liferationof anomie and suicide (Durkheim1984 [1893]: 294), and in the
spreadof contractualrelationshipswithin modernity;a phenomenon with
only a contingent connection with morality(Durkheim1984 [1893]: 302).
The sociallyand morallydestructivepotential of these conditions high-
lights Durkheim's(1995 [1912]) warningthat sIf the idea of societywere
extinguishedin individualminds,and the beliefs,traditionsand aspirations
of the group were no longer felt and shared by the individuals,society
would die' (Durkheim1973 [1914]: 149). The significanceof this is that
once the structureof societydissolves,people are no longer forced to pay
morallybindingattentiontoothers (Durkheiml984 [1893]:331).Such
worriesare also reflected in Durkheim'sespousalof professionalorganiz-
ations as modern associationalforms which might perform the morally
binding functions previously undertaken by religion and the family
(Durkheim1984 [1893]; 1958).
Thus, despite Durkheim'schoice of totemismas the centralfocus for his
argumentsin TheElementaryForms (1995 [1912], togetherwith his distinc-
tion between 'mechanical'and 'organic'forms of solidarityin TheDivision
ofLabour(1984 [1893]), he is not proposingthat premodernand modern
societies have totallydifferent characters,but that in modernitythe pro-
cessesof effervescentvitalism,the 'recharging'or 're-fuelling'of socialand
moral orders, have become problematized.4These concerns have, more-
over, become importantwithin contemporarysocial theory; a tendency
prominentin the writingsof two of the most influentialcommentatorson
(post)modernity,Baumanand Giddens.Their work shares certain affini-
ties, as well as constitutingimportantresponsesto the legacyof Durkheim,
but also provides us with radicallydifferent conceptualizationsof the
relationshipbetween moralityand modernity.


Bauman(1993:135) approvesof Durkheim'scritiqueof the moralfragility

of modern societyand notes the connection Durkheimmakesbetween this
198 ChrisShilling and Philip A. Mellor

fragilityand the loss of 'creativeeffervescence'.For Bauman (1993: 135),

modernityinvolves'the ruthlessassaultof the profane againstthe sacred,
reason against passion, norms against spontaneity, structure against
counter-structure,socialisationagainstsociality'.Like Durkheim,Bauman
is critical of the Kantian 'law of duty', which sublimatesthe emotional
dimensions of human experience evident in its rationalisticemphaseson
the importanceof duty above 'spontaneoussentiment' (e.g. Alberoniand
Veca 1990:77). Baumandepartsfrom Durkheim,however,in his identifi-
cation of the sourcesof moral action. While Durkheim (1995 [1912]: 209)
locates the source of moralityin society's collective engagement with the
sensory and cognitive capacitiesof people, Bauman(1993:13, 35) rejects
modern society as a source of moral action and posits the individual's
sensual, emotional body as a bulwarkagainst the immoral, rationalizing
impulsesof totalizingsocial orders.
This difference rests on divergent understandingsof the relationship
between rationaland non-rationaldimensionsof human experience, and
on a contrast between Bauman's methodological individualism and
Durkheim'scollective constitutionof morality.Bauman'swritingson moral-
ityinvolvean inversionof Durkheim'sthoughtson moralsociety;a society
whichfor Durkheimis moralbecauseit standsoverandaboveindividualized,
sensualselves.In contrast,the modernworldfor Baumanis a rationalizing
worldimplicatedin dehumanizingactsof violence preciselybecauseof the
abilityof bureaucratizedinstitutionsto operateirrespectiveof people's indi-
vidualemotional responsesto others (Bauman1989). People are not made
cruelby modernity;but modernityinvented 'a wayin which cruel things
could be done by non-cruel people' by removing them from face-to-face
confrontationswith the consequences of their actions (Bauman 1995:
As Smith (1992:759) notes, Baumandrawson the workof Adorno and
Horkheimerin tracingthe inhuman consequencesof modernity's'forced
categorizations'which produce a proliferationof 'dangerous others' in
needof elimination.It is in this context that modern ethics,codes thatpre-
scribeuniversalrules of correctbehaviour,are seen by Bauman (1995: 11)
asstifling moral action;reflecting no more than 'imaginedcommunities'
(Anderson1991)in an analysiswhich,in this respectat least,resonateswith
Durkheim's(1984 [1893]) stresson theweaknessof socialcontractslacking
appropriatepre-contractualfoundations. Nevertheless, while Bauman
(1995:66-71; 1989) is suspiciousof anytotalizingsystemof ethics (which
incorporate'closure' and 'finality'and have the potentialityto be associ-
atedwith 'final solutions'), Durkheim (1995 [1912], 1958) suggests that
totalizingethicalstandardsare a recurrentand, in manyrespects,desirable
productof societies. Thus, for Bauman,communitarianism,for example,
standssforthe group's power to limit individualfreedom';a powerwhich
wouldsubstitute social engineering for individual moral responsibility
(Bauman1996: 81; cf. Lash 1996b). In opposition to 'totality',however,
Baumanis on the side of 'infinity';a responsibilityto the 'Other' which,
Durkheim,moralityand modernity 199

followingLevinas,knowsno limits (Bauman1995:67-8), and is associated

with what Bergson (1954 [1932]) has termed 'open' rather than sclosed'
Bauman's'postmodernethics' is not based on orders and rules, but on
a sensuallygrounded, individualimpulse of 'beingforthe other' (Bauman
1993: 13). This 'impulse'constitutesan ontological preconditionof social
existence even though it has been ordered, categorized and somewhat
anaesthetizedwithin modernity (Bauman 1993: 249). As Bauman (1993:
35) insists,in a passagewhich showsjust how differenthis position is from
that of Durkheim, '[i]t is the primal and primary"brutefact" of moral
impulse, moral responsibility,moral intimacythat supplies the stuS from
which the moralityof human cohabitationis made.' Bauman'spositing of
ontologicallygroundedimpulse (althoughthisimpulseis under-
a pre-social,
stood to have social consequences) draws again on the philosophy of
Levinas(1987, 1985),yet Baumanalsowantsto demonstrateempirically that
there can be something other than self-interestedaction. He does this, for
example, in discussing the difficulties fascists experienced in getting
Germansto killJewsthey knewas neighbours.Whetherthis constitutesevi-
dence of a pre-socialtendency towardmoral concern is, of course, debat-
able. ForDurkheim (1995 [1912]), it could be the interactionsbetween
people that generated a certain 'warmth of fellow feeling'. Bauman's
methodologicalindividualism,however,leads him to see bounded collec-
tivitiesas a threat to the conscience of individuals:it is collectivitiesthat
serve to prioritize'rulefollowing'over 'consciencefollowing',and disguise
the fact that ' [i]t is society,its continuing existence and its well-being,that
is made possible by the moral competence of its members- not the other
wayaround' (Bauman1993:19, 32).


Bauman and Durkheim recognize the precariousnessof moralitywithin

modernity, but possess markedlydivergent understandingsof the con-
ditionswhich supportmoral actions.Giddens's(1991, 1994, 1995) analysis
of the 'sequestrationof morality'in modernityis also awareof this pre-
cariousness,but offers a third model of the sourcesof moral action.While
Baumanprioritizesthe inherent potentialitiesof human sensuality,as the
'rawmaterial'of moral action, Giddenshas a far strongerfaith in ration-
ality'sabilityto constructtotalizing,globalizingethical systems.
Giddens argues that modernity is based on controland refZexivity and
sequestrates moral questions into the back-regions of life (Giddens 1991:
202): it is not a moral order in the sense highlighted by Durkheim.This
sequestrationis associatedwith the internally-referential characterof mod-
ernity;an order which has 'dispensed'with traditionand ultimate truths,
and promoted circumstancesin which claimsto 'moralauthority'are held
only 'until further notice' (Giddens 1994: 79, 87, 93). As Giddensargues,
Shilling and Philip A. Mellor
link the individuallifespan
contactwith eventsand situationswhich and fleeting' (Giddens
'direct are rare
broadissues of moralityand finitude life may be secure in Weber's
8-9, 169). While large tractsof daily
1991: of action', 'the very routines
of providing'calculableenvironments (Giddens1991:167,156).
providesuch securitymostlylack meaning' reflect the biographical
Ithas been suggested that Giddens's anomic\\;esternindividual,in
of the economically secure but
experiences and totalitarianism
comparison with Bauman'ssensitivityto the violence both writersoffer
of EasternEurope (Smith1992). However,
has marginalizedmoral questions,
analysisin which modern rationality
an to the non-rationalneeds of
has shown itself to be limited in relation whereasBauman (1993: 35)
human life (Wallerstein1996). Nevertheless,
moral impulse of 'being for the
faith in the abilityof our 'primal'
places (1991: 185) suggestsit is
other'to re-emergewithin modernity,Giddens
environmentsthat stimu-
rationality'sfailure to care for our socio-natural
which have to be responded
a 'returnof repressed'moral questions rationality(Giddens 1994;
lates of
toby a furtherextension and globalization
Smith, 1992:762).
emotional body in his account of
While Giddens does not neglect the only
modernity, people are essentiallymindsfor most of their livesand tend
responses aftera breakdownin their
tobe shaped by their sensual bodily with the world (Shilling and
reflexive attemptsto understandor engage
mayfit nicelywith Giddens's
Mellor 1996). This prioritizationof the mind
times', yet creates a major
broaderview of modern times as 'reflexive
(1991; 1992;1994) concern to recog-
problem.In opposition to Giddens's
modernity,this dominance of cog-
nizethe importanceof moralitywithin
sensualor emotionaldimensionsof
nitivereflexivitymarginalizesthe more modern people's lives (e.g.
those moral concerns which characterize or collective effervescence
Gusterson1991). There is no 'moral but, at most, a reflexiverecog-
a 'moral order' for Giddens
a rationalturn to moralquestions.The
nitionof the limitsof modernityand
of contingencyand deathwhich allows
intimationthat the 'bracketingout'
on 'thin ice', represents,at most,
usto 'carryon' with our lives is founded destructiveof sociallife and to
anemotionalexperienceof 'dread'
be overcome (Giddens1991). sensualityor emotions,then, but
Giddens(1992) does not ignore human
from a rationalisticviewpoint,even
viewsthem in discursiveterms, and (Jaryand Jary 1995). Indeed, in
when it comes to personal relationships
emotions and violence, an analysis
highlighting the links between strong and 'masspsychology'theorists
previouslyprominentamong 'masssociety' his strong commitment to
(Richman 1995), Giddens reemphasizes the potentialvolatilityof the flesh.
modernistidealsof rationalcontrolover
resurgenceof morality(a concern
Despite his initial concerns about the
clashing ethical systems),he soon
based on the dangers associatedwith a 'globalcosmopolitanism'might
turnsoptimisticallyto the possibility
principles' and 'universalvalues' (Giddens1991:
lead to 'universalethical
and modernity 201

231; 1994:252-3) . In other words,the resurgenceof moralquestionswhich

reflects the limitationsof modern rationalitycan ultimatelybe overcome
through an extensionand development of that rationality.For Giddens,it is
throughthe spreadof 'dialogicaldemocracy'thatthe existentialdifficulties
of individualsand the chronic reflexivityof globalized modernity can
become reconciledinto a universalmoralorder;a viewwhich marginalizes
the non-rational sources of moral action prominent in the work of
Durkheimand Bauman.


We have criticizedBauman and Giddens because of their respectiveten-

dencies to viewsensualimpulsesas both individualand necessarilybenefi-
cent, and to marginalizethe sensualsignificanceof humans.In the context
of Durkheim'swritings, Giddens prioritizes the cognitive pole of homo
duplexand implicitlydevalues the sociological significance of emotional
experience. Bauman, in contrast, values these dimensions against the
rationalismof modernity,and sees withinthem a moralimpulse,but associ-
ates their origillswithinindividualratherthan collectivelife. Consequently,
for Bauman,a societymight expressor repressthe moralimpulsesof indi-
viduals,but it does not create and transformsuch an impulse. In the work
of both writers,then, the collective,effervescentand inherentlysociological
originsof moralityare absent;an absencealso reflectedin the marginalrole
of religion in their accounts.
If there are problemswith these influentialanalysesof the relationship
between (post)modernityand morality,what are the alternatives?Several
sociologistshaveutilizedaspectsof Durkheim'sattentionto the ambivalent
social consequencesof effervescentemotions.These writersbuild in differ-
ent wayson three central aspectsof Durkheim'swork.First,they develop
his suggestionthat modernityappearsto be demandingever greatersacri-
ficesofself-control (Durkheim1973 [1914]: 163);apointsupportedindis-
tinctivewaysby the laterwritingsof Freud (1961 [1930]), Elias (1978, 1982
[1939]) and Marcuse (1962). Second, they build on a tension in
Durkheim's (1995 [1912]) workbetween the permanentnature ofthe
sacred,and thus of the moral, on the one hand, and on the devitalization
of these within modernityon the other (Moscovici1993;Durkheim1995
[1912]; cf. 1984 [1893]). Third, they seek to develop the analyticaldiffer-
ence Durkheim(1995 [1912]) introducesbetweenthe Churchand the cult
to supportthe idea thatwhen effervescentmanifestationsof the sacredare
manifestwithinsectionalgroups, they can resultin virulentconflict rather
than overallsocial cohesion.6It is our argument,however,that these con-
temporarydevelopmentsof Durkheimtend to overlookat leastsome of the
ambivalencesthat characterizehis analysisof the outcomes of effervescent
. . .

socla ltles.
Caillois (1950: 171), for exaulple, has constructeda theory of morality
202 ChrisShilling and Philip A. Mellor

basedon a distinctionbetweenthe forcesof cohesion and dissolutionwhich

can arise from the sacred.For Caillois,the transformativepotentialitiesof
collective effervescencebring about an increase of puissance,power and
vitality,which threatensestablishedorders of moralityand slices brutally
through the routines of day-teday life (Caillois 1950: 227). At the same
timeShowever,collectiveeffervescenceis also an emotional and cognitive
renezvalof a differentform of morality;a revitalizationof sacredsocial life
(Caillois1950:171).In other words7collectiveeffervescencestimulatessoli-
darity,but is also productiveof social conflict. Cailloisbuilds his provoca-
tive analysis, in part, thrsugh a creative exploition of the tension in
Durkheims workbetween the permanenceand diminutionof the sacred.
Caillois'sworkis limited in understandingthe contemporaryrevitalization
of moralconcerns,however,as he associatessuch periodsof 'stirringeffer-
vescence'withnon-modernsocieties,and felt therewaslittle room for them
in complex, highly rationalizedsocieties except in periods of extreme
tension and war (Caillois1950:225, 228). In contrastto Durkheim,then,
Callois'sworkis of limited value in examining the ambivalentmoral con-
sequences of effervescencein modernity.
Maffesoli(1996) in contrast,discussesthe 'reinvigoration'of paissancein
contemporarysocieties;a revitalizationof the sacred, the appearanceof
new formsof sociality,and the returnof an emotionally-groundedcategory
of the moral.Maffesolihas suggestedthat contemporarymoralityis shaped
byan 'ethic of aesthetics'basedon the bodyand experiencedthroughfleet-
ing participationin various 'neo-tribal'groups (Maffesoli 1991, 1996).
Bauman(1995:187) agreeswithMaffesoliin suggestingthere is no mileage
to be gained from searching for abstractlaws of duty amongst diverse
peoples. Maffesoli'sownwork,however7displaysa sociologzcal interestin the
diversewayspeople 'keepwarm'togetherwhich does not relyon Baumans
methodologicallyindividualisticfaith in 'being for' the other (Shields
1996). Whatis relevantfor Maffesoli(1996: 18) is how collectivitiescan be
predicatedon whatis emotionally sharedbetweenindividuals.People find this
warmthby meeting in fluid 'affinity'groupingsbased on common interests
(be they sporting, religious, shopping or holidaybased associations)and
can even experience intimations of warmth through brief recognitions
between spassingstrangers'resultantin a fleeting transcendenceof self.
Maffesoli'sanalysissuggestssocietystimulatesin people a moraldesireto
be with others (Maffesoli1991:14-15); stemmingfrom the sensual'empti-
ness' and rational 'meaninglessness'of large tractsof modernity.Accord-
ing to Maffesoli, moral questions previously addressed in terms of a
mind/body split (characteristic,for example, of Giddens'swritings)need

'Neo tribes' are fashioning an ethic, perhaps disquieting for us, but
equallyas solid as those thathavegone before . . . at issuehere is whetherS
afterhomo politicusand homo economicus,we are not confrontedwith
the arrivalof homo aestheticus?.(Maffesoli1991:19)
Durkheim,moralityand modernity 203

In order to understand this re-enchantment,sociologists have to move

beyondrationalistcriteriaand studythese moralphenomenain the context
of 'specificgroupingsfor the exchange of passionand feelings' (Maffesoli
1996:42). Maffesoliroots this in a deep vitalismapparentnot only in the
greatchangessweepingthroughWesternsocieties,but also 'in the smallest
detailsof everydaylife livedfor their own sake and not as a function of any
sortof finality'(Maffesoli1996:32). This accordswithDurkheim'sassertion
that the spread of effervescentvitalism,and its effects on social solidarity,
occurs irrespectiveof utilitarianconsiderations(Durkheim 1995 [1912]:
Maffesoli's(1996) work provides us with a suggestivedevelopment of
themes explored initially by Durkheim, though he tends to neglect
Durkheim'sconcern for how collective emotion can support,ratherthan
simplychallenge, more rationaldimensionsof human experience. Collec-
tiveeffervescencestimulatesvariouscollectiverepresentationsof sociallife,
including various symbols,myths and ideas, through which 'individuals
imagine the society of which they are members and the obscure yet inti-
mate relations they have with it' (Durkheim1995 [1912]: 227). In other
words,the cognitivedimensionsof social life, includingrationality,cannot
simplybe opposed to collective emotion, since they are created and nur-
turedthroughit. Sociallife is 'morallife' for Durkheimwhen the individual
and collective, emotional and cognitive, dimensions of the homoduplex
achieve a kind of communion in the vitalismof collective effervescence
(Durkheim1995 [1912]:434). This does not precludeconflict,or violence,
however,as effervescencecan havehighlyambivalentsocial consequences;
an ambivalencecrystallizedin Hertz's (1960) distinctionbetweena deviant
and threateningleftsacredassociatedwith death and malevolentforces,and
a consecratedrightsacredaligned with power and order.
Maffesolialso tends to jettison from his work Durkheim'semphasison
the contrastingsocial consequences of effervescentmanifestationsof the
sacred,and therebyneglects the potentiallyviolent characteristicsof effer-
vescentvitalismdweltupon by other writers(e.g. Caillois1950;Hertz 1960,
1994 [1922], Bataille 1962, Girard 1995 [1972]) . Maffesoli's (1996)
'keeping warm together' is a process which one-sidedly shields people
againstthe impersonalityand 'coldwinds'of modernity.Referringus to the
workof Brown(1982), Maffesolisuggeststhis has affinitieswith earlyChris-
tianity;a time when smallgroupsheld their ritualsand sharedtheir beliefs
in secret,awayfrom the threatsof Romansociety.This is all verysuggestive,
but Maffesolioverlooksthe fact that sensualassociationsmaynot involvea
'keepingwarmtogether', but mayresultin 'getting burnttogether' and an
enjoyment of 'burningotherstogether'. As Shields (1991: 183) notes,
Maffesolispends little time on the dangersof 'neo-tribalgroups';a silence
that is especiallysurprisinggiven the importanceof religion, xenophobia
and racismtodayin France.
Maffesoli'soverlypositiveviewof effervescentgatherings,and his identifi-
cation of malls,sportsclubs and barsas spatialopportunitiesfor this social
204 ChrisShilling and Philip A. Mellor

'vitalism', can be interpreted as a sign of the limited opportunities that

modern people have for experiencing that 'rush of energy' in acts 'that
express the understanding, esteem and affection' characteristic of neigh-
bourly relations (Durkheim 1995 [1912]: 215). The rather ephemeral
nature of these examples of positive effervescence can be contrasted with
the proliferation of those rationalized tracts of modernity which encourage
indifference to one's neighbours; a view propounded by analysts of modern
'communities' as morally vacant spaces marked by fast moving populations
who cycle into and out of 'single stranded' relationships (e.g. Baumgartner
1988; Sennett 1994).
In opposition to Maffesoli's optimism, Mestrovic (1991, 1993, 1994) has
focused on the opportunities modernity has provided for the spread of
effervescent manifestations of fear and hatred. Like Maffesoli, Mestrovic's
(1991, 1993) analysis is rooted in a Durkheimian framework, but Mestrovic
argues that the sensual and cognitive experience of effervescence in
modern societies is bound up with ethnic and racial conflict (Mestrovic
1993,1994) or with the individualized experience of emotions which 'bubble
up' around the bodies of people lacking the resources to make 'positive
sense' of their feelings (Mestrovic 1997) . In this respect, Mestrovic (1994: 2)
observes a scenario which is not confined to North America when he notes
the race riots that spread from Los Angeles to many other cities in the
USA in April 1992 led many commentators to remark . . . that America
suddenly seemed like the Balkans . . . they could not believe that the U
S of A could be racked by ethnic conflict this late in its historical develop-
Events like these may heighten people's fears and lead to an intensifica-
tion of efforts to achieve what Bell terms 'insulating spaces' (Bell 1973: 314) .
The pervasiveness of emotional fears, however, means that insulating spaces
have to be everywhere, and can never be entirely effective. As Geertz (1986:
112) notes, 'foreigness does not start at the water's edge but at the skin's'.
In these conditions, previously culturally and racially marginalized groups
may now be deemed formally full members of society, but can still suffer
discrimination from those institutions and symbols that continue to define
them as corporeally polluted (Mestrovic 1994; Pateman 1988).
Mestrovic (1993:278) concludes that such phenomena show us that
modern rationalism has misunderstood the power of human emotions, and
that we must now recognize that 'enlightenment cannot contain the forces
of barbarism'. He therefore criticizes the modernist, cognitive assumptions
of writers such as Giddens who are unable to account satisfactorily for the
upsurge of this barbarism (Mestrovic 1993: 70). With regard to Bauman,
Mestrovic (1993: 51-2) praises his sensitivity to the impossibility of the
Enlightenment's desire to conquer nature, but dismisses his hope that a
postmodern rebellion will produce the tolerance of human diversity that
the Enlightenment could not achieve. This criticism of Bauman reflects
Mestrovic's own focus on the darker side of human potentialities; he has
Durkheim,moralityand modernity 205

made good use of Durkheim's analysis of 'virulent effervescence' and the

possibility of the church-cult separation, but has neglected the sociologic-
ally optimistic possibilities that are also central to Durkheim's writings.


We began this paper by emphasizing that questions concerning the sources

of moral action were central to the foundation of sociology; a centrality
especially evident in the work of Durkheim. Following this, we outlined how
for Durkheim moral concerns are intimately related to collectivities of
embodied humans; issues he sought to grapple with through notions of
homoduplexand collective effervescence. Subsequently, we sought to
demonstrate the negative consequences of the marginalization of these
notions withill contemporary sociology through our suggestion that theo-
rists of the stature of Bauman and Giddens have offered only a partial
account of the resurgence of moral concerns, failing, ultimately, to deal
with the complex inter-relationships between individual and collective,
rational and non-rational, that constitute the sources of moral action in
Durkheim's integration of issues of embodiment into sociological analysis.
More positively, we also considered the attempts of other theorists to
utilize Durkheim's analysis to help explain contemporary moral develop-
ments. Although Maffesoli and Mestrovic offer starkly contrasting accounts
of a resurgent effervescent vitalism within contemporary societies, they both
return to Durkheim to help locate the non-rational foundations of social
life in the powerful, transformative emotions and sensations recurrent
within human sociality. Echoing Caillois's (1950) depiction of the sacred
reinvigoration of social life through periods of creative effervescence,
Maffesoli associates this resurgent effervescent vitalism with a new concern
for morality. Mestrovic (1991, 1993) also follows Durkheim in seeing the
sources of moral action in the embodied solidarity of effervescent
assemblies, but understands the disjunction between the arid rationalism
of the modern milieu and the emotional potentialities of humans to be so
great that the resurgence of effervescence in contemporary societies
unleashes a virulent and destructive barbarism.
Taken together, these writers convey the ambivalent characteristics and
social consequences of collective effervescence, and the ambivalence inher-
ent within the homoduplexnature of humans underpinning it. As Lindholm
(1990) and Richman (1995) argue, effervescent assemblies can have nef-
arious effects, stimulating violence, hatred and anger, but can also inspire
acts of self-sacrifice and moral concern for others. The fact that, individu-
ally, neither Mestrovic nor Maffesoli is sufficiently attentive to this ambiva-
lence, however, indicates the sociological closure of their accounts; there is
no need for sociological investigation as the outcome of such research is
predetermined by their initial assumptions about the consequences of
effervescence. This closure means that neither is well placed to analyse the
Shilling and Philip A. Mellor
social and political dis-
moralpanics recurrent in much contemporary
1993; Blankenhorn 1995), nor
course (Bellah et al 1985, 1992; Etzioni
from being concerned with
explainwhy many social theorists have moved
on that of morality (Bauman 1993;
issue of postmodernity to focusing
1996; Tester 1997).
sociological explanation of the
Inseeking to offer a more satisfactory which goes beyond
resurgence of concern over moral phenomena, we suggest
with Durkheim,
Maffesoli'sand Mestrovic'spartial engagements are sig-
and collective effervescence
Durkheim's notions of homoduplex
that sociological signifi-
nificantnot only because they highlight the
for the transformation social
cance of collective experiences of emotion
sociological consequences
but because they illuminate the ambivalent
life, of
attention to the ambivalent nature
human embodiment. Durkheim's
of Despite his association
this respect.
thesacred itself is of particular note in
development of social and moral solidarity, he
the sacred with the
of to a malevolent form,
observes that the sacred can pass from a benevolent
changing its essential nature.
with different social consequences, without
of energy that spreads like a
Contact with what is sacred can release a rush
virusinto the object of its hostility:
by a virulent and noxious force, threat-
the infected subject is . . . invaded dis-
thereafter he inspires nothing but
ening to all that comes near him; or stain.
he was marked with a taint
tance and repugnance, as though
(Durkheim 1995 [1912]: 416)
focus on effervescent experiences
In conclusion, then, this paper's and rational phenomena
the reflexive
moralityis not meant to imply that part
such as Giddens are unimportant in understanding
discussedby writers a great deal more ambiva-
that things are
ofcontemporary social life, merely
suggest. Indeed, the turn to morality in social theory
lentthan such accounts the
1997), the increasing concern for
(Bauman 1993; Stivers 1996; Tester Maffesoli 1996; Mellor and
1991, 1993;
return of the sacred (Mestrovic
the now vast literature concerned with the decline, end
Shilling1997), and
we may be in the midst of a resur-
ortransformation of modernity, suggest
with this resurgence of concern
gence of effervescent vitality. In engaging
developed in Durkheim's last major
withmoral phenomena, the approach
considerations at the heart of social
work TheElementaryFormsplaces moral
a productive basis upon which to develop
and sociological theory, and offers
appreciation of moralitny.
further a thoroughly sociological
(Date accepted: May 1997)
Schoolof Social and HistoricalStudies,
Universityof Portsmouth,
PhilipA. Mellor,
Departmentof Theologyand Religious
Universityof Leeds
Durkheim,moralityand modernity

NOTES Consequently, although our analysishere 207

is concentrated principallyon TheElemen-
1. Theorists have, for example, exam- taryForms,we also draw upon sections of
ined the moral dangers associated with earlier works where these reinforce argu-
'grand narratives', and have investigated ments he developed more fully in his final
how rationalized bureaucracies can majorwork.
remove people from 'face to face' contact 4. TheElementaryFormshas been criti-
with the consequences of their actions cized for its use of ethnographic and
(Bauman 1989; Lyotard 1984). These anthropological materialsbut it is its theor-
studies have been complemented by a eticalframework which we are interested in
focus on the decline of moralitywithin the interrogating and developing in this
American polity (Hanson 1996); on the paper.
barbarisminherent within 'civilizing pro- 5. In this context, communitarianism
cesses' (Burkitt 1996); on the ability of reaches a point where it clearly becomes
modern media to make evil acts appear the defendant of a 'closed' society. As
banal (Baudrillard 1993); and on the Etzioni (1993: 158-9) argues in advocating
'inhuman' foundations of technologies communitarianism as a system closed to
which threaten to absorbpeople into their 'other' cultures, 'the fundamental religion
mechanized 'logics' of existence (Lyotard provides no sound, firm foundation for
1984; 1991). An air of pessimism pervades individual rights, tolerance or democracy
manyof these writingswhich is summed up . . . In short [communitarianism]will find
by Stivers's(1996: 12) suggestion that this little comfort in other major cultural tra-
renewed academic interest is coterminous ditions.'
with the social disappearance of morality. 6. Given its involvement in the daily
Nevertheless, authors have, at their most interactionsof people, it is the cultwhichis
optimistic, expressed the hope that moral of most importance to the sustenance and
analysiswill become part of an 'elaborated direction of sacred moralityfor Durkheim.
social reason' and that sociologists will act However, Durkheim (1995 [1912]) makes
as a 'catalystfor the public to think seri- clear that cults exist within a broader
ously about moral and social concerns' Church and that it is the Church that ulti-
(Seidman 1994: 137;Lash 1996a). matelydirects the activitiesof the cult. The
2. One of the themes of this paper is writers we are concerned with in this
that Durkheimprovidesus with an account section can be seen to be engaged in a cre-
of morality based on the embodied effer- ative magnification of this distinction in
vescence of particularforms of sociality.It their concern with how sectional group-
is worth noting here that this focus on ings construct their own moralitiesoutside
embodiment is quite different from that of and sometimes againstlargersocial con-
offered by much of the recent sociology of texts.
the body literaturewhich has tended, with
a few exceptions, to marginalize Durk-
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