Re: Durkheim (resend)

From: Keo Ormsby (
Date: Tue 29 Mar 2005 - 22:56:51 GMT

  • Next message: Agner Fog: "Re: Durkheim"

    "Kate Distin" wrote:

    > Durkheim: social facts as memes?

    Although Durkheim identified social facts (analogous to Dawkins' cultural units) that can be best analyzed as acting independently from the individuals that carry them (analogous to Dawkins' selfishness in genes and memes), he does not account for the evolution of these social facts over generations. As you point out, it is a one-generation theory. This makes it impossible to apply Darwinian selection theory to Durkheim's social facts theory. All versions of memetics imply Darwinian evolution in one way or another.

    Other points:

    > Sociology is another area to which meme theory might be applied. For
    > over sixty years, critical reception to Émile Durkheim's theory of
    > "social facts" has almost always been adverse. By contrast, the thirty
    > years since Richard Dawkins first introduced memes have yielded
    > generally favourable criticism of his hypothesis. ...

    Oh! how I wish that were true. Have you ever tried to explain memetics to established academics? Fortunately there is enough common sense in the general population and in some brave and accomplished academics to keep the memetic approach alive.

    > "A social fact is every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of
    > exercising on the individual an external constraint; 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."

    Sounds reasonable that social facts are memes, but I would doubt that all memes are social facts. Specially if he thought that:

    > Such phenomena are "social facts", distinct from and existing
    > independently of both biological and psychological facts.

    Most people would agree that memes are determined by biological and psychological factors, as well as social, but the relative weight of each factor varies with each author. Although I am guessing that given Durkheim's historical context, he said this to stress the point that it is more informative to study the social fact from its interactions between individuals (social point of view), than from the point of view of the individual or the biological species. In this sense he is in agreement with memetics.

    > The claim that there exist social facts, independent of the members of
    > society about which they are facts, may be received with incredulity.
    > Such "facts" can seem rather mysterious and unconvincing.

    But alas, this also happens with genes. What do we mean when we say that a gene "exists"? Does it necessarily have to have a manifestation in an organism? I can download a sequence from GeneBank and change an aminoacid that I reasonably know will not hamper its expression, but might have phenotypic effects. Is this a new gene existing only in cyberspace? Or it is not a gene until someone synthesizes it and puts it in and organism? It is clear (at least to me) that genes exist independently from pirimidines and purines, in the same way that social facts exist independently from individuals. It is only *relevant* to study them if they are expressed in some way.

    Keo Ormsby

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