By a social fact, Durkheim is referring to facts, concepts, expectations that come not from individual responses and perferences, but that come from the social community which socializes each of its members. Although we might embrace the normative community behavior and share its values, we are constrained by its very existence. “When I fulfill my obligations as brother, husband, or citizen, when I execute my contracts, I perform duties which are defined externally to myself and my acts, in law and in custom.” (At Farganis, p. 63, col.1.)
Durkheim describes the constraint as “the public conscience exerciis{ing] a check on every act which offends it by means of the surveillance it exercises over the conduct of its citizens, and the appropriate penalties at its disposal.” (At Farganis, p. 63, col. 2.)
Notice how this language seems to fit with the descriptions we have discussed of dominant discourse. Durkheim brought consideraable understanding to the concept that our agency, in matters of social fact, is severely limited by the structural context in which we find ourselves. He recognized the cost of non-conformance, and the ability of the social group to enforce its normative expectations. There’s a good summary of this: “Here, then, is a category of facts [social facts] with very distinctive characteristics: it consists of wqys of acting, thinking, and feeling, external to the individual, and endowed with a power of coerccion, by reason of which they control him.” [At Farganis, p.64, col.1.]

Social facts should be considered as things – in Durkheim’s view, they are things, meaning they are “sui generis,” peculiar in their characteristics: they are the effect or creation of human activities, actions or agency but they are not intended; they are not the product of conscious intentions – they are the unanticipated consequence of human behavior/agency.
Social facts are things because they are outside us, they are not a product or creation of the present generation; they are a given, pre-existing condition for human agency and they cannot be known by introspection, by reflection.
The human agency that produced the social facts we confront is not ours; it was exercised in the past, by collective agents pursuing collective, not individual goals.
Social facts are external to all individuals now living; they are givens, the context or condition for thinking and action; they are constraining upon individuals for they pressure individuals to act in established, predictable ways.
Social facts offer resistance to individuals’ will; they exert power over individuals’ beliefs, forms of consciousness, behavior and cannot be modified by individuals’ actions or changes in their beliefs, consciousness, attitudes.
These characteristics of social facts allow us to identify and study them. Examples of social facts: institutions, statuses, roles, laws, beliefs, population distribution, urbanization, etc. Social facts include social institutions, social activities and the substratum of society or social morphology.
Social facts are ways of acting and thinking – they comprise institutions, beliefs, practices, which eventually cristallize and limit the possible forms of individuals’ actions and forms of consicousness.
Social facts also include social currents, group experiences, emotions that transcend the individual and emerge only in the context of collectivity, where they force individuals to act in ways they would not have consider possible if acting individually, isolated from others.
Social reality constituted by three kinds of phenomena:
social morphology, institutionalized or “cristallized” ways of acting and thinkings, and social currents.
The pressure social facts exert upon individuals is not material but resides in the prestige or power? of some (which? the dominant?) – they are mental in nature. i.e., representations, the sets of rules that determine behavior.
The nonmaterial nature of most social facts raises the problem of identification. Durkheim indicates that we can identify social facts by establishing whether or not they are sanctioned. If the context within which individuals act takes notice of whether or not individuals behave in established ways, following instituional injunctions, and rewards or punishes according to whethere or not individuals are compliant, then we can be sure that we have identified a social fact.
Sanctions can be formal (e.g., law) or informal (e.g., social control, shaming, exclusion, etc.).
This mode of identifying social facts makes it difficult to identify non-institutional or pre-institutional phenomena like social currents and gives primacy to institutionalized, routinized social facts (e.g., legal systems, codes, regulations, statues and roles within established institutions, etc).
The types of society can be identified on the pasis of their composition, the characteristics and number of parts and the mode in which these parts are interrelated.
Social types are important because the significance of social facts varies accoreing to their context; this means that the same phenomenon can have different causes in different conditions; for example, small family size can reflect the practices of nomadic societies in which child spacing is crucial for children have to be carried through long distances, or the conditions of capitalist societies in which children are a cost to parents, rather than a source of labor and income. Sociology vs. Psychology
Durkheim was always concerned with establishing the specificity of sociology as a scientific discipline different from biology and psychology
Sociology = science of society; Psychology= science of the individual.
Individuals have a dual nature; their mental process contain individual characteristics mingled with the effects of collective representations; most of the representations within individual minds have been collectively produced. Collective representations are not the creation of individuals’ intentions or of the sum of individuals’ thought. These collective representations arise from the interaction of innumerable minds considered as a totality, as a whole from whose activities these representations emerge.
Collective representations have collective origins, collective functions and they are sanctioned. There is the expectation that the collectivity will approve or disapprove of individuals actions. The existece and expectation of sanctions operates to generate similar patterns of individual reasoning and thinking; it introduces social elements into individual mental processes and transform us into social beings.
Collective representations are not, therefore, product of a single mind or of the simply addition of single minds; as a totality, they are greater than the sum of its parts.
Emergence vs group mind Durkheim uses the analogy of chemichal compounds to make his point about the sui generis nature of social facts; the compounds (e.g., water) has different properties from its component elements. Humans are more than their component elements, whether considered chemically or physiologically. they are a reality sui generis.
Society = reality sui generis; subject matter of sociology= collective representations whose importance and significance is signaled by social sanctions
Sociologists should look for the causes of social facts in their social conditions or social context, not in individual intentions when individuals are considered in isolation.

The concept was primarily developed in the non-positivist theory of Max Weber to observe how human behaviors relate to cause and effect in the social realm. For Weber, sociology is the study of society and behavior and must therefore look at the heart of interaction. The theory of social action, more than structural functionalist positions, accepts and assumes that humans vary their actions according to social contexts and how it will affect other people; when a potential reaction is not desirable, the action is modified accordingly. Action can mean either a basic action (one that has a meaning) or an advanced social action, which not only has a meaning but is directed at other actors and causes action (or, perhaps, inaction).

Ideal type (German: Idealtypus), also known as the pure type, is a typological term most closely associated with antipositivist sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920). For Weber, the conduct of social science depends upon the construction of hypothetical concepts in the abstract. The “ideal type” is therefore a subjective element in social theory and research; one of many subjective elements which necessarily distinguish sociology from natural science.
The ideal type is an abstract model created by Max Weber that, when used as a standard of comparison, enables us to see aspects of the real world in a clearer, more systematic way. It is a constructed ideal used to approximate reality by selecting and accentuating certain elements. Weber used it as an analytic took for his historical studies. Problems in using the ideal type include its tendency to focus attention on extreme, or polar, phenomena while overlooking the connections between them, and the difficulty of showing how the types and their elements fit into a conception of a total social system.
Weber himself wrote: “An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those onesidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified analytical construct… “[1] It is a useful tool for comparative sociology in analyzing social or economic phenomena, having advantages over a very general, abstract idea and a specific historical example. It can be used to analyze both a general, suprahistorical phenomenon (like capitalism) or historically unique occurrences (like Weber’s own Protestant Ethics analysis).
Therefore Weber, who is keenly aware of “Ideal Type’s” fictional nature, states that the “Ideal Type” never seeks to claim its validity in terms of a reproduction of or a correspondence with social reality. Its validity can be ascertained only in terms of adequacy, which is too conveniently ignored by the proponents of positivism. This does not mean, however, that objectivity, limited as it is, can be gained by “weighing the various evaluations against one another and making a ‘statesman-like’ compromise among them”, which is often proposed as a solution by those sharing Weber’s kind of methodological perspectivism. Such a practice, which Weber calls “syncretism”, is not only impossible but also unethical, for it avoids “the practical duty to stand up for our own ideals” [Weber 1904/1949, p. 58 in [2]]
Critics of ideal type include proponents of the normal type theory. Some sociologists argue that ideal type tends to focus on extreme phenomena and overlook the connections between them, and that it is difficult to show how the types and their elements fit into a theory of a total social system.

1. The methodology of the social sciences (Edward A. Shils & Henry A. Finch, Trans. & Eds.; foreword by Shils). New York: Free Press, 1997 (1903-1917). p.90.
2. (Max Weber, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
3 Weber, Max The Nature of Social Action in Runciman, W.G. ‘Weber: Selections in Translation’ Cambridge University Press, 1991. p7.
4 Fadul, J. and Estoque, R. A Textbook for an Introductory Course in Sociology. Lulu
5 MacKinnon, Neil J. and David R. Heise. Self, Identity, and Social Institutions (Palgrave, 2010), Chapter 4
6. Durkheim, E. The Rules of Sociological Method. 1895.
7. Durkheim, E. Suicide. 1897.

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  1. Pingback: Qualitative vs. quantitative debate or why facebook is not driving the debt crisis | #RMsGdansk

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