Conscience Collective – The Shared Beliefs and Values of a Group or Society

Conscience collective is a term coined by Durkheim to refer to the shared beliefs, values and moral attitudes of a group or society. It includes everything from social norms to laws, and can be influenced by factors such as religion, culture, politics and history.

Understanding the conscience collective of a group or society is important because it helps us comprehend why people act the way they do, and how their actions are shaped by the beliefs and values that they hold.

Conscience Collective – the source of a society’s morality

Durkheim’s belief that conscience collective is the source of morality stems from his understanding of how individuals in society come to share a common set of values and beliefs. He argued that these shared beliefs and values are not simply a product of individual choice, but rather they are the result of socialization processes that occur within society.

According to Durkheim, the conscience collective provides individuals with a sense of right and wrong by creating a moral framework that guides their behaviour. By following this moral framework, individuals act in ways that are consistent with what is considered to be acceptable or not within their society. These standards are enforced through various forms of social control, such as informal sanctions like disapproval or ridicule, or formal sanctions like laws and punishment.

Criticisms of the Concept of Conscience Collective

While Durkheim’s concept of conscience collective has been influential in shaping our understanding of the role that shared beliefs and values play in shaping society, it has also faced criticism for its limitations.

One major criticism is that the concept of conscience collective tends to focus on the group rather than the individual. By emphasizing the importance of social norms and values, Durkheim’s theory downplays the influence of individual agency and choice in shaping behavior. Critics argue that this approach overlooks the ways in which individuals can challenge or resist societal norms, and can lead to an overly deterministic view of human behavior.

Additionally, one could argue that Durkheim’s conception of conscience collective is too static, as it does not allow for change or evolution over time. While he recognized that societies do indeed evolve, his theory places a strong emphasis on preserving traditional values and beliefs as a means of maintaining social order. This approach fails to account for how societies can adapt to changing circumstances or incorporate new ideas and values.

Despite these criticisms, Durkheim’s concept of conscience collective remains an important framework for understanding how shared beliefs and values shape society. However, it is important to recognize its limitations and consider alternative perspectives that place greater emphasis on individual agency and adaptability in response to changing social conditions.

Mechanical Solidarity vs Organic Solidarity

Durkheim’s theory of social solidarity distinguishes between two types of social cohesion: mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity.

Mechanical solidarity is based on the idea that individuals in traditional, pre-modern societies are bound together by a shared set of beliefs, values, and customs. This type of solidarity is characterized by a high degree of homogeneity, where individuals have similar experiences and share common norms and rules. In such societies, there is little differentiation between individuals in terms of their roles and responsibilities.

Organic solidarity, on the other hand, is based on the interdependence between individuals who perform different roles within society. As people specialize in different occupations or fields of work, they become increasingly dependent on one another for goods and services. This creates a sense of interdependence among individuals that is necessary for maintaining social order.

As societies become more complex and differentiated, there tends to be less reliance on mechanical solidarity and more emphasis on organic solidarity.

While mechanical solidarity relies on a shared set of beliefs and values to maintain social cohesion, organic solidarity relies more on mutual dependence among individuals who perform different functions within society.

Overall, Durkheim’s distinction between mechanical and organic solidarity highlights how changes in social structure can affect the nature of social cohesion within a society. While traditional societies rely heavily on shared beliefs and values to maintain order, modern societies tend to rely more on mutual dependence among individuals who perform different roles within society.

Collective Representations

As Durkheim’s work progressed, he began to recognize that the concept of mechanical solidarity was limited in its ability to explain social cohesion in more complex societies. In response, he developed the idea of “collective representations,” which allowed for a greater degree of variation in the conscience collective within a society.

Collective representations refer to the shared beliefs, values, and symbols that exist within a society and are used to create a sense of social cohesion. These can take many different forms depending on the specific context and history of a given society. For example, in some societies, religious beliefs may play a central role in creating collective representations, while in others it may be political ideology or cultural traditions.

Durkheim argued that these collective representations allow for different permutations of conscience collective within a society. This means that even in complex societies with high levels of individualism, it is still possible for individuals to share common understandings and values that contribute to social cohesion.

In this way, Durkheim’s later work expanded on his earlier ideas about mechanical and organic solidarity by recognizing that social cohesion can take many different forms depending on the specific context and history of a given society. By emphasizing the importance of collective representations, he was able to develop a more nuanced understanding of how social order is maintained in complex societies with diverse populations and multiple sources of identity.


Durkheim’s concept of conscience collective provides a valuable framework for understanding how social cohesion is maintained within societies.

Whether through shared beliefs and values in traditional societies or mutual dependence among individuals in modern ones, the conscience collective plays a crucial role in creating a sense of social order.

Moreover, Durkheim’s later work on collective representations shows that even in complex societies with high degrees of individualism, it is still possible for individuals to share common understandings and values that contribute to social cohesion.

By studying the conscience collective and its various permutations across different societies, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the ways in which humans create meaning and maintain social bonds.

Related terms:

Social cohesion: The bonds that hold a group or society together.

Socialization: The process by which people learn the norms and values of their culture or society.

Norms: Rules or expectations that govern behaviour in a particular group or society.

Values: Beliefs about what is important or desirable.

Mores: Norms that are considered to be essential for the survival of a group or society.

Folkways: Norms that are not essential for survival, but still govern behaviour.

Taboos: Norms that are so important that they must not be broken, or else there will be severe consequences.

Sanctions: Punishments or rewards that are used to enforce norms.

Proscriptions: prohibitions, or things that are forbidden by norms.

Prescriptions: things that are required by norms.

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