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Why Social Facts Are Sui Generis (unique in Its Characteristics)

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Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) was one of the founding fathers of sociology as a vital and highly regarded academic discipline. According to Durkheim, social facts are sui generis, and must be studied distinct from biological and psychological phenomenon. In order to understand what he meant by his claims that social facts are sui generis or self existent, it is first vital to define what a social fact is and understand the approach that Durkheim undertook when creating his sociological methodologies and interpretations. Therefore, after a brief explanation of social facts and examination of Durkheim and his sociological practices, this essay will attempt to provide a valid explanation as to what Durkheim meant when he claims that social facts are self existent.

Social facts are specifically defined by Durkheim as "a category of facts which present very special characteristics: they consist of manners of acting, thinking, and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him." Social facts are characterised by two aspects. Firstly, they are external to the individual and secondly they must implement a control over the individual such as the existence of some predetermined legal penalty or by their reaction to those forms of individual belief and action which individuals perceive as threatening. No social fact can exist outside a well defined social organisation and the presence of social facts is easily determined by how widespread they are within the social group, while also existing independently of any particular forms they might assume. Social facts are made up of demonstration and action; therefore, social facts are clearly distinguished from organic and psychical phenomena, which have no existence, except through individual consciousness

It is logical to conclude that if a social fact is external to the individual it will exist before and after the individual is gone and will continue to be produced by the social group, therefore, Durkheim's claim that social facts are sui generis is a logical deduction as it exists with absolutely no reliance on the individual even though it can be argued that its existence was founded of human need and form part of our consciousness. Durkheim established that social facts could be "objectively measured, quantified and subjected to statistical analysis" and observed through the actions of the collective social group. In his book The Rules of Sociological Method, published in 1895, Durkheim outlined his primary methodological principle which essentially stated "consider social facts as things."

Social types of behaviour and thinking external to the individual are endued with a compelling and coercive power by which they become habitual and imposed upon the individual. The constraints are demonstrated most when the action is rebelled against and there is a reaction against the individual which will prevent further contravention of the approved social attitude. Each action has a reaction and most attempts to act independently of social factors are unlikely to be accomplished and the consequence may in fact invalidate the very action taken or impose a penalty if the result is irreparable. Not only does the wider social group restrict any act which contravenes convention through various observation methods over the conduct of group members, they are reinforced by the legal punishments that are established and vehemently enforced.

Durkheim believed that the main aspect of social facts is an analysis of the beliefs, predispositions and traditions of the social group considered



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