With no clear or common goal, it is hard for people to work and live in harmony. If a company or society lacks a cohesive identity, there is likely to be anomie as no one knows in which direction the organisation is heading or what to expect from one another. Another Durkheim idea was that of division of labour. Its primary aim was to increase efficiency and output by giving specialised tasks to clearly defined sections of the workforce. Sir William Petty was probably the first to write about it two centuries earlier.
He noted its existence and how useful it was in Dutch shipyards.Originally, ships would be constructed one after the other, with workers doing several different tasks and completing ships one by one. However, they then changed to “task specialisation” so that multiple ships could be produced at any one time. This is much more common today with production lines and people repeating the same task on multiple items.
Whilst for some workers this may become repetitive and monotonous, it usually does lead to optimal production. However, this process of task specialisation means that Marx’s concept of alienation is very relevant today.Marx wrote that “with this division of labour”, the worker is “depressed spiritually and physically to the condition of a machine”. He said that it may be technically necessary that both pleasant and unpleasant jobs must be done by a group of people, but he added that it does not mean that an individual must do any particular job. He believed that if certain people get to do the unpleasant jobs and others the pleasant jobs, “this cannot be explained by technical necessity; it is a socially made decision, which could be made using a variety of different criteria.The tasks could be rotated, or a person could be assigned to a task permanently..
.. ” In contemporary employment a labour specialisation hierarchy is almost inevitable, for the simple reason that no one individual can do every job required in a company. However, hierarchies in a company can be formed in many different ways. A relatively new Western concept is that of meritocracy where a company is structured, based on the ability of employees so that those with the best qualifications, most experience and ability are likely rise to higher positions within the company.So, to some extent, Marx and Durkheim’s ideas continue to have relevance in understanding contemporary employment.
However there are many other dimensions which have not been explored. For example, the simple fact that classical sociological theory is based on the writers’ experiences at the time of writing, meant they could not, and had not, taken into account the modern workplace. One prime example is that advances have meant that fewer jobs are done manually nowadays due to the increased use of machines and technology. This has meant that there are fewer mundane jobs which lead to division of labour, alienation and anomie.While their underlying principles are still applicable to certain jobs, it is likely that their ideas are not applicable to nearly as many jobs today, whilst modern managers try very hard to keep the workforce motivated and involved. Contemporary supporters of Marx argue that his analysis of social class and commodities is still useful as his critique of capitalism can be applied to the current global situation and that alienation is still a problem.
However, employers have recognised that it is necessary for employees to work as a team to achieve specific goals and that there is a need for a sense of ownership of the project they work on.So, more and more companies are making a conscious effort to reduce alienation. Anomie, however, is still perhaps present, because companies give their employees more autonomy over the job they do and how they do it. This means there are fewer rules and regulations which may lead to uncertainty about how a particular task should be carried out. In conclusion, classical sociological theory still helps us to understand how best to deal with complex employment situations and how to re-order society to give the workforce more status and involvement.It must be noted, however, that there are limitations to the theories because of the way the workplace has changed since Marx and Durkheim’s time. Their theories can be used as a basis for analysis, but not as definitive guides to understanding contemporary employment.References Alaniz, R.
(2003). “The Communist Manifesto and its contemporary relevance”. Durkheim, E. (1893). “The Division of Labour in Society”. The Free Press Krahn, H. J. and G.
S. Lowe, Work, Industry, and Canadian Society, second edition, Scarborough, Nelson Canada, 1993. Marx, K. (1848).
“The Communist Manifesto”.