Population decline and contemporary Durkheimian theory*

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Swati Shirwadkar
Tom Segady
Robert Szafran


Of the "classic" sociological theorists, it was Durkheim who established as a central concern the challenge of moral development in the face of rapid modernization. In traditional societies, characterized by mechanical solidarity, Durkheim saw religion constructing the basis for collective representations. The moral dimension of traditional societies was centralized and enforced with repressive laws. With the transition to organic solidarity, as a result of Durkheim's largely unstated assumption of the changes brought on by population growth-which he equated with 'moral density'-the centrality of religious beliefs declined. From religion to law to social contracts, the foundations on which societies rest shifted dramatically. In postmodern societies, with declining populations and rapidly-evolving technological capabilities, the relationship between moral development and the basis for organic solidarity becomes less clear. Population growth and an increasing division of labor no longer foster the type of social integration and moral density that Durkheim posited. The shifting modalities of moral development that are emerging in postmodern societies were, however, anticipated by Durkheimian theory, and out of this several propositions for further investigation are outlined.

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