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Individual Beings and Social Beings

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Durkheim held that "...man is double." He said that each of us is composed of "an individual being and a social being." Judging from what you've read, what do you think he means by this? What is this social part of a person's "being?"


The Individual and the Social Being

Mark Smith

Durkheim believes that society can hold a strong influence on individuals. Unlike Kroeber, Durkheim recognizes an importance of individuals as well as society as a whole. For if it were not for the individuals there would be no society. The individual being is what inherently makes each person unique in some way—like the analogy of no two snowflakes being alike. Of course, although individuals are unique, they are still humans who share a complex system of social interactions (i.e. no two snowflakes are alike, yet they are all still snowflakes). Within this system are invisible yet strong regulators that shape the individual. Although individuals have the free will to do what they please, it is at least subconsciously assumed that there are societal repercussions for being too out of the “norm.” In essence, the social part of a person’s “being” is the part of a person that recognizes the implicit regulations that keep society in check. The individual, to the extreme, would be a person with no realization of the societal “laws” that others follow in society.



social people

emma roberts

Durkheim talks about the "collective consciousness" of society and how it encompasses individual conciousness. He talks a lot about social facts and how they become a natural reaction for us as we are socialized into our respective societies. When he writes that each of us is composed of "an individual being and a social being" I believe he is talking about ourselves stripped of these social facts. He writes, "I do not feel the pressure they exert upon me, but it is revealed as soon as I try to resist them" (75) - the individual being is this idea of resisting the norms set by society. We all experience this need and desire to resist, because I believe it is in human nature to, at one time or another, question even the most insignificant aspects about how our society runs. The part of Durkheim's essay I find to be particularily interesting is when he states, "air is no less heavy because we do not detect its weight" (75). The social part of a person's being is the "air's weight" felt upon them to follow the norms.



Social Beings

Erin Neill

Durkheim writes of mans struggle between his own internal being and the forces and influence of his social being. Their seems to be a significant conflict between the two. Durkheim recognizes that the external constraints of society create tension between the individual's choices and the norms of society. In the context of a society, the norms that dictate actions are the most influential on the development of the social being. The social being seems to be best described as the reactionary part of man that conforms to and learns of "society's" appropriate behavior as part of ones growth. Important influences on the social being include historical norms, morals and laws (77). As one becomes accustomed to these facts, the begin to stop feeling the constraints put on their individual will. Durkheim describes these influences and ones responses to them as "independent of individual will" (73.) The social part of man is not independent, rather it is shaped by society and becomes part of a much larger organism. The individual being continues to exist, but at great opposition to the social being as it is difficult for the two to co-exist as strong forces within man.


Two Beings

Tyson Johnson

Durkheim argues that “social facts” play an important role in shaping individuals. He argues that human beings are conditioned to act and think in certain socially acceptable ways from the moment they are born. These societal norms are so pervasive that individuals are incapable of escaping their influence. Durkheim explains, “they come to each one of us from without and can carry us away in spite of ourselves” (75). The influence of social facts creates a situation in which each person exists as two beings—an individual being and a social being. The individual being is the person at their most fundamental level. The way the individual being acts and thinks is characteristic of that individual and that individual alone. In essence, the individual being is unique. The social being is the individual who has been conditioned to behave and think a certain way by the society in which he or she lives. The social being is the filter that ensures the individual being acts in a socially acceptable manner. However, the influence of social facts in shaping the social being can be so prolonged and powerful that the individual is unaware of its influence. The social being and the individual being often function in conjunction at a subconscious level to instruct the person on how to act and think. However, if a person attempts to rebel against social facts and act in a socially unacceptable manner then the individual being and the social being come into conflict. Durkheim explains that the pressure of social facts is “revealed as soon as I try to resist them” (75).


Two Faces



I believe by saying "man is double" and each human being is composed of "individual being" and a "social being" Durkheim meant that humans have two faces. The individual being would be when one is manifesting its individuality and social being would be when one is conforming to the society and acting accordingly to social fact. Social fact as described by Durkheim is "every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual and external constraints; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations." There are certain rules that people follow unconsciously or public opinion that controls people's mind. The social being behaves according to the society’s opinion or rules sometime unconsciously as it was imposed during childhood through education. For example, one is expected to form a line when there is one instead of cutting the line. One individual being would want to cut the line, but one social being would stay in line to not offend the others. The social fact leads one to a collective behavior and thoughts and if ones individual manifestation is stronger one would be considered crazy or rude.



Re: Two Faces

Lindsey Scott


I agree with what E says in her post.  Each person acts appropriately in different situations.  When put in a more formal setting, most people will conform and be ont heir best behavior, following all the rules applied to that social fact.  But get the same person alone with a group of friends, or observe them on their own, and you will see a completely different person from the one in the formal setting.  This is of course all because of the social facts set forth by society.  Without them, there wouldn't be an individual or social being.  There would be only one, but with these social facts put in place, it is important for us to act accordingly in order to fit in.


The Social and Private Man

Sara Ray


I think this is a really interesting question to consider, especially in terms of the relevance of the "individual being." Essentialy, Durkhiem theorizes that social facts scupt the people we are and determine our attitudes, our beliefs and our predispositions. The collective consciousness of a society dictates that way that an individual-- from birth-- is able to understand his or her surroundings and, consequently, matures into a social being. I think the interesting thing to wonder is what exactly the individual being is. Is it just a totally blank slate? Are we totally formless and without ability to function without the context of collective consciousness? And, perhaps more intriguingly, why does it matter? Why does an individual who exists outside of the context of society matter? To me, I think that Durkheim means that the collective consciousness forms the person but only to an extent. That the "individual being" isn't a TOTALLY blank slate, but that there are natural predispositions and that free will and the gift of intellect allow people to exist, even if within limit, outside of their social context. In that realm, the individual being is interestin because it allows us to consider what parts of ourselves are resistant to cultural persuasion. On the flip side there is the social being and, by that, I believe Durkheim means the person that we present to be a part of the organic solidarity of culture. The person that has a distinct role to play within culture and society and is molded to that role by the extensive web of social facts that are embedded in society. Essentially, the individual being is interesting from an intellectual standpoint, but the social role of a person's "being" is that it is what allows the person to progress and develop within society. In addition, it really is the more interesting piece of the study of anthropology since the individual being is both limited and without context.


Re: Man is Double

Sara Coburn


I am not sure if I think that the individual is the person least contaminated by society. I also do not think that it is possible to be without external pressure from society influencing how he should act, think, feel, etc. I think, rather, the social self is the outward appearance in society, and perhaps the individual is representative of the nuances of a society. The individual perhaps is the person who can not necessarily breathe free of society, but rather embraces society to make it into his own identity.



Alexandra Gagne


Durkheim believed that the actions of men are not determined by their own will. He argued strongly that it was society which held a tight grip on individuals. While this is true, Durkheim still realized that will came into play sometimes- that is, one does not blindly follow the rules of one's society, but one has the chance to decide one's behavior. Therefore, man has his personal opinions and feelings, while having strict social laws which keep that individual in check. Durkheim's idea of man as a double shows that he does in fact acknowledge and place importance on the individual. The social part of our "being" are the socially constructed norms that surround us daily. He mentions that it is sometimes hard to recognize the social constraints because they do not offend you. However, he implies that with careful reflection, a man can see that his world is confined by his social being. If a you choose to break these rules, you will be inevitably faced with intense ridicule, if not legal penalty.


Double Dude

Dave Schatz

According to Durkheim, individual manifestations and social existence are two separate, yet connected, beings playing a part in the personal lives of members of a society. Throughout the entire discussion on social facts, we see many references to the social forces that act on individuals. They are observable in the collective nature of social phenomena, and Durkheim is convinced that they may reside in statistical evaluations. There are two agents at work here. Individuals are both the creators in some sense and the subject of social facts. Individual behavior is almost inherently guided by the collective, and thus the individual role is devalued. As he says on page 77, "Social facts are to be found in each part because it exists in the whole, rather than in the whole because it exists in the parts." Although the individual being is respected, the focus is most certainly the social being. Individual manifestations do exist, but they are partially social because they are reflection of the social structure itself.


Blindness of Choice

Chelsey Megli

Durkheims division between social and individual beings is very interesting. At first glance one might think that this concept contradicts his position on supraorganism and the inability for individual action, even that of rebellion, to be separate from society. His book, Suicide, especially makes this interpretation of the beings difficult. I think, however, that Durkheim's concepts are complementary. The social being is the role within a society that is fit, the awareness an individual has of their actions as members of society. I think of this being as the conscious awareness that a person has of the influence of society. Aspects like class, racial classification, laws and regulations, and even education manifest as the person's social being. The individual being is the agent that is not so simply determined - the more subconscious impact of socialization. A person may see their individual being as free will or choice, but I think what Durkheim was aiming for in his definition is the more nuanced aspects of a person in society that are not superficially equated with the society itself. Traits such as personality, job aspirations, ideas about reproduction, voluntary migration, etc are all often viewed as individualized because these choices are not made in groups or responded to by groups of others. Durkheim's division of the individual being from the social being is a recognition of this level of social action as unique, which is true. It is not a recognition of free will so much as the area of society that is seen as determined by free will, but, according to Durkheim, is still socially bound and determined.


Individual versus Social Being

Ojaswi Kafle

     In his paper, Durkheim looks at the relationship and interaction between individual actions and thoughts, and social actions and thoughts. When Durkheim said that each of us is composed ‘of an individual being and a social being’, I think he meant that there is an individual being who thinks and acts in his/her accord, and this individual being becomes a social being when the societal rules and laws are taken into account in his actions and thoughts. This distinction is very blurry because even when a person acts and thinks in his/her accord, society still exerts considerable amount of influence on the person’s actions and thoughts. Thus, there is always a relationship between an individual and the society he/she is a part of. He shows this in numerous ways, one being by looking at how a person feels the constraint of society when he/she does not fully conform to its rules.

    In response to Emma’s discussion, I would like to add that perhaps the ‘individual being’ isn’t always trying to resist when being an individual being. Perhaps it is not always a conscious effort to resist, but a taking into account ones own conclusions and thought-patterns that causes this lack of conformity.



Durkheim's Link to Postmodern Thought

Caitlyn Scherer

Emile Durkheim's notion of individual and social identities is certainly plausible.  In today's world, it would be difficult for one to argue that one acts entirely out of disregard for social or cultural rules, even while maintaining the uniqueness that makes one an indivual being.  He argues that culture is taught to children at a young age and that, regardless of how they act individually while attaining adulthood, they are nonetheless "contrained" by social facts that will "coerce" them into being members of society.  What struck me most about his argument, however, was not the differences between the individual and the social beings, but rather the connection between the two.  Durkheim writes, "It is generally accepted today that most of our ideas and our tendencies are not developed by ourselves but come to us from without" (p 88 in the older edition); furthermore, he states, when discussing common thoughts within societies, "...it is general because it is collective...and cetainly not collective because general.  It is a group condition repeated in the individual because imposed on him" (p 91 in the older edition).  The latter of these two quotes compliments the former quite well.  Durkheim believes that social facts are not products of individuals, but are imposed on them by society.  This idea leaves no, if very little, room for truly unique thought, an idea that would influence postmodernism decades later.  I believe that Durkheim makes a valid point about society by emphasizing the strong influence of external coercion on an individual.  His contribution to postmodernism, especially the belief that modern societal thoughts are a reworking of past ideas and are not entirely original, is apparent and valid as well.


Re: social people

Lauren Deal


I'm choosing to respond to Emma's post because I also found this sections very interesting. She has done a great job with it so I will just jump in with my own two cents. I find it interesting how Durkheim's concept of the collective consciousness parallels the idea of ethos that Bateson presents. Taking ethos to mean world-view or a modus operandi for culture and society, the parallel can easily be drawn between as social pressure. In addition, both the bounds of ethos and these social pressures are only revealed through a break with the system. If the individual being is, in Durkheim’s mind, is the ability to act against this system, thus revealing its bounds, I wonder what a Batesonian equivalent would be? Ho could these parallels be furthered?


Two Beings?

Abigail Parker

I found it interesting that Durkheim emphasizes this dichotomy of the individual  and the social being.  I wonder if these two concepts are not in fact divorced from each other.  It has a whiff of Platonian reasoning, that is that there is this mystical pure form of the individual and another form of the social practices, forming a synthesis of public behavior.  On page 86 (third edition) Durkheim quesion "how can [most of our ideas] become part of us except by imposing themselves upon us?"  I would question further, that this imposition of ideas that we adopt then becomes our own, recontextualized and repackaged.


Conforming to the Collective Conscience

Estelle Charlu

Durkheim creates this term called collective conscience that I believe is the social part of a person’s “being.” Because the collective conscience originates in the individual’s interactions and experiences in society, what the individual is willing to show to this said society is his or her social side (or being.) Like what others have said, there is this collective conscience in a society which defines the social and behavioral norms. Therefore the individual needs to conform his or her individual being to this collective conscience of the society which creates the social being.



No Man Is An Island... (?)

Heddy Waters


I hope I do not end up reiterating what others have said, but it seems we are all generally in agreement.  Durkheim’s binary of being –that there is a ‘individual’ being and ‘social’ being- is typical for him, since he like to recognize dichotomies in many aspects of society.  The independent being is our organism.  We feel ourselves separate from society, we sense ourselves as a separate being, and we feel our own independent thoughts.  Social being, as said by many, is pretty much society’s influence.  We are not independent (although we like to tell ourselves that), and social facts and societal pressures often dictate everything we do and feel; from whether an emotion of elation is fitting in a certain context to whether we can go outside with this skirt today.  We act different in certain situations based on our surroundings, and Durkheim frequently mentioned the power and danger of the group.  In a group, we can change completely and individual will is lost.  These are all representations of our social being, which affect our sense of individuality, and are dictated by social facts.  It is rare moment, if not impossible, when we are truly individual.



Social Self versus the Authentic Self

Sara Coburn


I am going to use Erving Goffman in this response to the question about a man being "double." I certainly agree that man is comprised of a self as an idividual and a self as a part of society. Erving Goffman used 2 terms, social self and authentic self, to explain the mechanisms behind culture and how language forms identity, and I think his work is important in discussing Durkheim. Social self may be seen as the self that society expects you to be, or how society influencing you to act a certain way in a social encounter. The authentic self is the man behind the scenes who directs the "stage performer" and may consciously or subconsciously modify who he is according to social rules and social norms. This is a complicated question because how do we know that we are our actual authentic selves, and how do we know if we are not our individual selves that evolved from culture. Which comes first? The individual or the society? I think it's both.




Shayna H Cass

When Durkheim states that each of us is composed of “an individual being and a social being,” he’s referring to the “manners of acting and thinking” that society imposes upon the individual. People generally act differently in public than they would in private. In the public sphere, people are taught to act according to what society prescribes. In the confines of my home surrounded by close personal friends and family I may frequently burst into song in the middle of a sentence, but in the public sphere that kind of behavior would be inappropriate. According to Durkheim, the person who frequently bursts into song in the middle of a sentence would be considered my “individual being” and the person who abstains from doing so in public would be considered my “social being.”


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