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Classical Sociology

Durkheim's theory of modernity: Self-regulating practices as constitutive orders

of social and moral facts
Anne Warfield Rawls
Journal of Classical Sociology 2012 12: 479
DOI: 10.1177/1468795X12454476

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JCS123-410.1177/1468795X12454476Journal of Classical SociologyRawls

Special Issue article

Journal of Classical Sociology

Durkheims theory of 12(3-4) 479512

The Author(s) 2012
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DOI: 10.1177/1468795X12454476
practices as constitutive orders jcs.sagepub.com

of social and moral facts

Anne Warfield Rawls

Bentley University, USA

An important and innovative conception of constitutive practices plays a key role in Durkheims
theory of modernity as outlined in De la Division du Travail Sociale (1893), his first book.The idea of
self-organizing constitutive practices presents a vision of a modern differentiated society that can
be flexible, strong, and egalitarian; supporting individual freedom and equality between individuals;
while at the same time facilitating coherence and social solidarity without exerting authority or
constraint. In 1902 Durkheim added a second preface to underscore and clarify the essential role
played by constitutive practices in differentiated modern contexts of work and occupations. In
spite of the importance he placed on constitutive practices, however, and the foundational role
he argued they would play in modernity, the point has been largely overlooked. Instead, Durkheim
has been interpreted as a conservative thinker, lacking an adequate approach to modernity. The
oversight has left sociology without an explanation for how social facts could be effectively shared
in modern contexts. The consequences have been serious both for the appreciation of Durkheim
and for the development of sociology. This paper offers a reassessment.

Constitutive rules, Durkheim, ethics, ethnomethodology, Garfinkel, justice, morality, occupational
practices, practices, social facts, social theory

In his famous work De la Division du Travail Sociale (The Division of Social Labor),1
first published in 1893, mile Durkheim proposed that it is the development of consti-
tutive practices in modern society that makes possible a degree of individual freedom,
scientific truth, and justice not characteristic of societies based primarily on traditional

Corresponding author:
Anne Warfield Rawls, Bentley University, Department of Sociology, 175 Forest Street, Waltham MA, 02452,
Email: arawls@bentley.edu

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480 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

collective practices. This development of constitutive practices, he argued, presents a

fundamental challenge to existing explanations of modern society. The need to mutually
constitute social objects in a modern differentiated context places a new set of require-
ments on social action and renders social objects in new terms. With this argument Dur-
kheim launched a line of thought that would culminate in the mid-twentieth century in
the focus by Garfinkel and Goffman on the special constitutive requirements of social
objects (and the self as a social object). The argument constitutes an epistemic break
with earlier theorizing: the epistemic object and the individual self are treated now as
the result and not the starting point of social action. The constitutive requirements also
ground Durkheims important argument about morality.
In The Division Durkheim criticized the tendency to treat the order properties of tra-
ditional and modern societies as if they were the same, along with the tendency to treat
the individual as a given, arguing that these tendencies were responsible for creating the
illusion of problems in modernity that are not actual. He saw the Myth of Individualism
that dominates modern social thought as an obstacle to the understanding of modernity
and argued that although individualism and individual freedom have increased, and the
cult of the individual has become important for sustaining both belief and practice, con-
ventional thinking about what has made this possible is mistaken. While the popular idea
is that the individual has broken free from society as cultural consensus has weakened,
Durkheim argues that this belief results from a failure to appreciate the role of self-
regulating constitutive practices in modernity. For Durkheim, individualism (and the
belief in individualism) itself is a social creation through constitutive practices. His argu-
ment turns on the distinction he makes between constitutive practices and traditional
forms of social practice. His idea that the development of constitutive practices makes
both individual freedom and social coordination possible at the same time is revolution-
ary. The argument has important implications for ethics, economics, law, and politics, as
well as for social theory. The functional prerequisites of constitutive practices dictate
new moral parameters, and Durkheim advises that since the social foundations of indi-
vidual freedom lie in constitutive practices, it is necessary to understand the social pro-
cesses involved in those practices in order to protect and strengthen individual freedom.
This, he argued, made imperative the creation of a new discipline of sociology that would
treat constitutive practices as fundamental.
While many social thinkers have argued (and have interpreted Durkheim as arguing)
that the division of labor results in a disintegration of both social and moral solidarity
(because it reduces social consensus), what Durkheim proposed in The Division was
that a new form of social practice that does not require consensus (which he refers to as
constitutive, spontaneous, and self-regulating) can develop in a differentiated social
context. This form of social practice works in an entirely different way than traditional
social forms. The benefit of the new constitutive form of practice is that it facilitates the
coherence and moral solidarity of a highly specialized and differentiated division of
social labor while at the same time increasing individual freedom and justice. It does
this by facilitating the organization of the work practices of science and occupations so
that they can remain independent of formal organizations, the state, and constraining
belief systems.

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Rawls 481

Although it is popular to credit Durkheims later Elementary Forms of the Religious

Life (1915 [1912]) with articulating a social epistemology based on social practices, the
argument is a constant across his publications and is evident from the beginning in The
Division. While the cult of the individual is an important unifying idea in modern society,
no general idea is sufficient to facilitate the close coordination of social practices required
of participants in modern situated action. In fact, Durkheim has a great deal to say in The
Division about the problem of generalization and its problematic relationship to constitu-
tive practices, which always require detail and specialization.2 Furthermore, while the
development of constitutive practices facilitates the creation of a set of core beliefs that
Durkheim identifies with individualism, the mutual coordination of constitutive prac-
tices does not depend on these beliefs. Rather, constitutive practices in coordinated
details largely come to replace beliefs as the foundation of social solidarity and coherence
and he argues that the persistent experience of individual freedom is produced by them
not the other way round.
Durkheims argument that social and moral coherences come to depend on constitu-
tive orders of practice is an important precursor of more contemporary approaches to
constitutive orders of rule by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953, 1958 [19331934]), John
Austin (1962 [1955], 1979 [1939]), C. Wright Mills (1940), Harold Garfinkel (2006
[1948]), John Rawls (1955), Peter Winch (1958), and John Searle (1964).3 Their argu-
ments elaborate problems with conventional assumptions about rules and accord a spe-
cial epistemological status to constitutive rules and the social objects constituted with
reference to them. Some versions accord constitutive rules important moral implications
(that is, obligations to observe them involve the Kantian principle of not contradicting
the practice on which your action depends). Constitutive rules are those that constitute a
practice such that without a detailed orientation to them the actions and objects recogniz-
able as comprising the practice would not exist (for example, chess rules and moves in
chess, movements at the scientific workbench, actions taken to form a queue, and so
on).4 There are other rules (variously referred to as formal, traditional, and summary)
that do not constitute the coherence of action and objects in the same way. While these
traditional rules represent important traditions, they can tolerate a great deal of variation
and are often broken without consequence. This is not the case with constitutive rules: a
failure to recognizably orient constitutive rules renders the action in question unrecog-
nizable and mutual intelligibility is not achieved. Cooperation at least in the instant
fails. The consequences are immediate: both meanings and objects are lost. The failure
to adequately distinguish between the two types of rules (and the actions and forms of
society corresponding to them) has been endlessly problematic for sociology. That
Durkheim was himself proposing such a distinction is quite important.
While, for Durkheim, constitutive practices were necessary for the creation of the
coherence of social practices in modernity, his focus on practices of work and science has
led a number of scholars to conclude that these practices are instrumental and therefore
not eligible to ground a discussion of morality (not disinterested in the required sense).
Durkheims argument is, however, fundamentally contractarian, not utilitarian, and
meets Kants criteria for moral action. Without a commitment to constitutive practices,
the ultimate ends of social (conceptual) coherence and personhood cannot be achieved in
modern contexts which lack shared beliefs. The Kantian argument with regard to duty

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482 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

applies. As long as the primary commitment is to the practice and only secondarily to the
immediate practical objective, the action counts as a moral action.5 Even questions of
utility take on contractarian moral implications in contexts of constitutive rules, or prac-
tices (J. Rawls, 1955).
In The Division Durkheim identified constitutive rules with both occupational and
scientific practices.6 The argument for constitutive practices in science appears in Book
III, Chapters 1 and 2, while the discussion of the development of constitutive practices in
occupations appears in the Second Preface of 1902. The distinction between the general
and the situated in the occupations and sciences that Durkheim insists on and which the
work of Goffman and Garfinkel on the difference between institutional orders and
Interaction Orders elaborates is essential. Whereas if the violation is sufficiently severe,
the violation of traditional or summary rules might weaken a particular society over time,
as the disintegration thesis maintains, individual cases of institutional rule violation often
occur with little consequence.7 The same is not true for the constitutive rules that com-
prise what Goffman referred to as interaction orders. The violation of constitutive prac-
tices creates instant confusion (loss of meaning, relevance, recognizability) and loss of
social objects (including personal identity, social objects, scientific objects). Participants
take immediate action to repair problems in the mutual coordination of constitutive prac-
tices, and if they do not succeed, the resulting troubles self-sanction. The rule that can be
broken without loss of meaning or social objects is not constitutive in Durkheims sense.
The conception fits Kants argument with regard to promising: that to violate a promise
negates the practice of promising. Criticism of Kants argument based on the continued
existence of the practice of promising after a violation misses the point. The practice
continues to exist. But in actual situations, to break a promise or to be known as a person
who has broken a promise either nullifies or modifies ones attempt to engage in the
practice: objects and meanings are lost. The arguments of Garfinkel and Goffman offer
an important corrective to the conventional interpretation of both Durkheim and Kant in
this regard.
The argument that there is no freedom in this sociological vision of modernity because
the need to orient rules constrains the individual involves a misunderstanding. Constitutive
practices are not norms and they do not constrain participants. They are tools for persons
to use in mutually coordinating the sense they make for one another. As rules cannot be
followed, we do not follow them (and I have used Garfinkels word orienting to indi-
cate that we keep constitutive practices in view and exhibit the relationship between our
actions and the rules).8 We can participate in practices or not, and understand that when
we do participate we can make sense together with others in a practice only by orienting
the rules of that practice in some seeably/hearably marked way that others can recognize.
How we orient rules can be endlessly creative. But in practice it would be exhausting to
make creative use of them with any regularity. In the absence of a cultural consensus and
without constitutive rules, we would not be able to make sense or coordinate activities
with others. Therefore, in a modern differentiated society without constitutive rules we
would live in a state of anomie. Durkheim argues that under these conditions we would
be without conceptual thought or reason: we would not even be recognizably human (for
elaboration, see Callegaro, 2012; Karsenti, 2012; Plouviez, 2012).

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Rawls 483

That Durkheims theory of social order in modern society rests on the characteristics
of constitutive rules has important implications for both social theory and methods. It
means that the conventional discussion of Durkheims functionalism is misconstrued
and explains the relevance of Garfinkels ethnomethodological (EM) studies of constitu-
tive practice to a social theory of modernity.9 EM studies examine how social objects are
created by participants through the coordinated use of constitutive practices. There are
both practical and moral implications. Garfinkels characterization of such constitutive
practices as having members and his empirical demonstrations of the need for what he
calls Trust as a presumption underlying this process are central to a social theoretical
explanation of social solidarity and coherence consistent with Durkheims position. On
this view, constitutive practices sit at the center of modern social order where beliefs
and values, culture and religion used to sit.10 A large number of sets of such practices
(both overlapping and separate) characterize modernity. Not recognizing this aspect of
Durkheims position has left his interpreters trying to explain how modern societies can
be sufficiently coordinated on the basis of a single remaining collective idea: individual-
ism. Although that idea is important and widespread, it cannot on its own be the basis of
coordinating finely detailed situated occupational and scientific practice. The unity
gained through the idea of individualism must be supplemented by a unity constituted
through practice. The argument as Durkheim makes it is that as societies become increas-
ingly differentiated and solidarity can no longer be maintained through shared beliefs
and collective representations, a new way of coordinating social action through constitu-
tive practices becomes necessary in order to produce coherence and solidarity.
Durkheim made this argument in 1893 and continued to elaborate it over the course
of his career. He strengthened it considerably when he added the famous Second Preface
on occupational groups to The Division in 1902. That preface focuses squarely on con-
stitutive practices in occupational groups and argues that they need to be self-regulated
and spontaneous. Because diversity of all kinds increases as occupations specialize,
solidarity based on sameness (belief, religion, culture, language, race, nation, and so on)
is no longer an option. Durkheim proposes that producing solidarity in occupations
under these new conditions of diversity requires practices with constitutive properties
of rule which can accommodate both difference and the contingencies of detail. Whereas
collective ideas necessarily become increasingly vague, constitutive practices are very
precise. In place of timeless beliefs attempting to exert a unifying influence on the
whole society from a distance, there is a transition to sets of locally relevant constitutive
practices that everyone participating in a practice orients in minute detail. These consti-
tutive practices require total attention in the moment. But they are limited in scope. One
leaves them when one leaves the situation. Again there are important moral implica-
tions. Not only is the individual person free to move between them, but these constitu-
tive properties require an openness of participation, voluntarism, and equality of
opportunity that Durkheim calls justice. They must be self-regulating because they can-
not be regulated by authority, general ideas, formalized rules, or from a distance. They
must be egalitarian because of the degree of mutual reciprocity and Trust required.
This argument for justice is the major underlying theme of The Division. The Original
Introduction (removed in 1902) explained that the purpose of sociology would be to
examine the new moral requirements of modern society and its constitutive rules

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484 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

scientifically. Without appreciating the strong connection between justice and

Durkheims argument for constitutive practices, his belief that modern society requires
justice and also supports increasing individual freedom has led to confusion. His discus-
sions of constitutive practice have often been treated as involving instrumental action
without inherent relevance for moral questions. But the constitutive practice argument
requires that there be essential moral obligations of reciprocity, attention, and compe-
tence necessarily involved in orienting practices in sufficient details (A.W. Rawls,
2010). The moral ends (achievement) of reason and personhood are at stake. Durkheim
proposed sociology as the study of constitutive practices, their moral requirements, and
the theoretical parameters for their scientific study.
This article is organized as follows. First, a summary of Durkheims distinction
between constitutive and traditional orders is presented. Second, difficulties in the orga-
nization of Durkheims text are considered which may have impacted the reception of his
argument (with a focus on Book III, the Second Preface, and Original Introduction).
Third, Durkheims argument that detail and specialization require constitutive orders is
examined. Fourth, consideration is given to the importance of detail and specialization
in creating and sustaining scientific and occupational coherence is examined. Fifth, dif-
ficulties with the conceptions of constitutive and constitution are analyzed. Sixth,
Durkheims argument about morality and its relationship to constitutive practices is
examined. Seventh, attention is directed to the argument that the potential of modernity
has been obscured because prominent thinkers have not focused on the new form of
social order (constitutive practices) and have instead embraced the Myth of Individualism.
Finally, eighth, Durkheims position on anomie is reconsidered in the context of his argu-
ment for constitutive practices.

Constitutive vs traditional orders

Like the order of traditional society, those constitutive orders of practice that comprise
the backbone of modern society involve rules and regulations. All social facts involve
something like rules. Constitutive rules, however, work differently from traditional rules,
beliefs, and values, and Durkheims introduction of them is important. Constitutive order
is a bottom-up kind of social order that cannot be produced by authority or constraint.
Constitutive rules do not describe a broad tradition of action the kind of rule that is said
to be followed (but that actually cannot be followed). Rather, constitutive rules describe
the actual details of the actions that accord with them.11 Action in constitutive modern
contexts that does not accord with constitutive rules will not be recognizable to partici-
pants in those contexts. Such action remains purely individual and does not achieve
mutual intelligibility.12 Unlike traditional values, which in being centralized necessarily
become vague and abstract, constitutive practices are specific and closely aligned with
the detailed requirements of enacting them. This is one of the reasons why they cannot
be regulated by beliefs or from a distance. As labor and knowledge continue to special-
ize, Durkheim maintains (1933 [1893/1902]: 362363), regulations produced at a dis-
tance will necessarily be too general to be relevant to the details of coordinated action,
work, and scientific practice (this is the big problem with policies like best practices in
business). Regulations must emerge from within practices and be self-administered by

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Rawls 485

members of those practices to themselves and others in the practice in order for coher-
ence and mutual intelligibility to be possible. Failure is an immediate consequence of
inadequacy in the enactment of constitutive practices: a self-regulated form of punish-
ment. As Goffman and Garfinkel describe them, interactional failures are immediate and
repeated failure can lead to shunning and stigma. The fragility of constitutive action and
the objects it produces in turn fosters both solidarity and creativity: solidarity because
members orient the same rules; creativity because they can orient them in new ways and
can (and must) interpret. This is what Durkheim means by the spontaneity (1893: 351:
spontan), internal solidarity (1893: 351: solidarit interne), equilibrium of wills
(1893: 376: quilibre des volants), and self-regulation or self-maintenance (1893: 377:
se produit donc et se maintient de soi-mme) of constitutive practices.
Constraint, Durkheim argues, will need to become a thing of the past because it
doesnt work as a way of regulating constitutive practice. This is important. There has
been a tendency to consider all rules to be forms of constraint and thus to interpret
Durkheims emphasis on rules and self-regulation in constitutive practices to mean that
constraint is intrinsic to constitutive order in modern differentiated society. This confuses
constitutive rules with formal laws and rules, and as a result creativity and innovation
seem to be problematic. But for Durkheim the opposite is in fact the case. According to

The rules which constitute it do not have a constraining force which snuffs out free thought; but
because they are rather made for us and, in a certain sense, by us, we are free. We wish to
understand them; we do not fear to change them.

(1933 [1893/1902]: 408)13

Constitutive rules are changed and interpreted continually, and, as Durkheim points out,
it is when those contexts are free of beliefs that creativity is most likely to occur (A.W.
Rawls, 2009, 2011). Self-regulation is not constraint, and it is self-regulation that is
characteristic of constitutive practice.
Constitutive practices impose special moral and performative obligations. These are
analogous to the obligations involved in games (sportsmanship, reciprocity, and fair play
although constitutive practices of work and science are not games). Constitutive rules
enable participants in a practice to produce social actions that can be recognized by other
participants in the practice as actions of a particular sort. The rules constitute the mutual
coherence of objects in the practice and enable participants to coordinate their actions,
and mark the relevance of those actions to the practices and their obligations to it so that
others can see and interpret that relevance. (Robert Brandoms [1994, 2000] approach to
analyzing practices of justification, discussed by Lemieux [2012], illustrates the point.)
Knowing what practice an action is part of enables participants to recognize and interpret
the significance of the action and identify the social object to which it is relevant.
Thoughts and feelings can be publicly exhibited for others in this way. This mutual coor-
dination in accord with rules enables a high degree of mutual understanding in commu-
nication. As research in conversation analysis (CA) has shown, the vast number of
constitutive rules (preference orders in CA terminology), their degree of detail, the

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486 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

degree of mutual attention they receive, and the level of mutual cooperation they make
possible are amazing. Participation in constitutive practices enables persons (as members
of practices) to achieve a degree of mutual coherence, harmony, and solidarity that
(although not taking the form of permanent community or culture) can be very fulfilling
and, as Durkheim maintained, can create even stronger attachments and more precise
meanings than the solidarity of traditional societies.14
Social order will need to work from the bottom up, rather than from the top down, in
modern differentiated contexts. The harmony that characterizes constitutive orders must
come from a relationship of fit between the parts of daily work practices.15 It cannot be
regulated from above. The rules of constitutive practices must be suited to the skills and
interactive requirements of the work in details: Thus, as Durkheim says,

we cannot adjust these functions to one another and make them concur harmoniously if they
do not concur of themselves. What gives unity to organized societies, however, as to all
organisms, is the spontaneous consensus of parts. Such is the internal solidarity which not only
is as indispensable as the regulative action of higher centers, but which also is their necessary
condition, for they [higher centers] do no more than translate it into their language and, so to
speak, consecrate it.
(1933 [1893/1902]: 360, emphasis added)16

The point here is critical. The spontaneous internal consensus of parts characteristic of
constitutive practices has become a necessary condition for the success of the formal
organization of the modern society that rests on it. The top-down order that Durkheim
posits as typical of traditional societies has been reversed. The formal narrative and rit-
ual consensus, maintained by a central authority (or the authority of a group), that was
formerly the backdrop against which everything was organized is no longer effective.
Now (that the form of social organization has changed) formal organizations can only
translate (traduire) the order that is constituted below them. In this new form of dif-
ferentiated social order, formal political and social organizations will necessarily come
to rest on a foundation of constitutive practices. This needs to be taken into account
before law and social policy can be consistent with the actual needs of modern society.

Some difficulties in the organization of the text

One of the difficulties with Durkheims presentation of the argument is that in The
Division, as in others of his manuscripts (such as the Elementary Forms), he uses a three-
book format in which the first two books set up a complicated foundation for an argu-
ment that is consummated only in the third and final book. This format seems ironically
to have focused attention away from the third and most important book in which
Durkheim presents his own argument, with the result that scholars have typically felt free
to ignore Durkheims theory of modern society as presented in Book III of The Division.
The first two books have generally been treated as the argument, while the third has been
interpreted as a rather curious appendage. The fact that the main interpreters of Durkheim
in France and England were anthropologists (Mauss, Malinowski, Lvi-Strauss, and

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Rawls 487

others) who were themselves interested in pre-modern society and therefore focused
almost exclusively on Durkheims argument about traditional social solidarity (and col-
lective systems of symbolic representation) has enhanced this effect.17 That these theo-
ries made their way back from anthropology into social theory and the humanities after
the Second World War (as structuralism, post-structuralism, postmodernism, and varia-
tions on semiotics) and gained credence as theories of modern society (entirely replacing
Durkheims argument regarding modernity, and doing so in his name) has added an addi-
tional level of confusion. The result has been a series of deep misunderstandings creating
the appearance that Durkheim contradicts himself. This is easily sorted out by examining
his focus on constitutive practices in the advanced division of social labor and his insis-
tence on the importance of the distinction between traditional and differentiated forms of
social order.
There is a further difficulty with The Division because Durkheim removed much of
the Original Introduction in the second edition of 1902, leaving the argument of Book III
(that there will be an increasing necessity for justice in modern society as a constitutive
order of solidarity develops) without adequate introduction and/or connection to the
overall argument. Ironically, this also left the very important Second Preface, which it
was removed to make room for, without adequate foundation. It was in that Original
Introduction that Durkheim discussed what he meant by justice and contrasted his social
approach to questions of morality with the classic arguments of Kant and Mill. Without
that introduction, the moral implications of the third book lack grounding. This has been
unfortunate, as the heart of Durkheims argument about constitutive practices in Book
III, as well as the important argument of the Second Preface about the development of
constitutive practices in differentiated occupational groups, loses much of its signifi-
cance without the argument about morality and its connection to constitutive practices.
The Second Preface on occupational groups was Durkheims attempt to offer an
explanation of how a network of separate constitutive orders that essentially organize
themselves could become sufficiently interconnected to support a stable political organi-
zation so that modern contexts do not experience the constitutive lack that he argued
was responsible for anomie in modern society. Although he identified constitutive prac-
tices with specialized occupations (and science), he considered the new type of order
they produced to be foundational to social relations everywhere in a differentiated soci-
ety. According to Durkheim, Such a constitutive lack is evidently not a local evil, lim-
ited to a region of society; it is a malady totius substantiae, affecting all the organism
(1933 [1893/1902]: 29):18 this not in spite of, but because of the local and specific nature
of constitutive practices.
Corporations are a problematic conception introduced in this Second Preface.
Durkheim champions what he calls the corporation as the home of the new constitutive
form of social solidarity. We now know corporations as formalized legal and state-backed
forms of solidarity. But Durkheim was attempting to describe a new form of constitutive
order that was spontaneous, self-organizing, and self-regulating. He explicitly distin-
guished corporations from formal legal and state-backed social institutions and main-
tained that a dependency on the backing of state regulation would negate the constitutive
character of corporations. The idea was that corporations would develop into powerful
constitutive forces in a new multi-cultural and differentiated modern context. Durkheim

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488 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

realized even in 1902 that the idea of corporations as constitutive orders would not be
popular and he discusses at some length problems with saying that corporations should
have the required constituting function (1933 [1893/1902]: 7). Not having seen what
they would become, he attributes the prejudice against corporations to their past failures;
times when they ceased to exercise their constitutive function and were co-opted by the
state (1933 [1893/1902]: 8). Because of problems now associated with the term it is most
useful to focus on the form of order that Durkheim was predicting rather than on the
name corporation that he gave it. The form of order does exist and has a well-docu-
mented history. It might better be known as a professional association.
Durkheim traced the history of what he called the corporation from Roman times,
pointing out that not only is what he described a self-organizing type of social organiza-
tion, but in periods when they were functioning well they were either not backed by the
state or were even illegal, which he felt indicated their voluntary character. In this
instance he meant something like voluntary labor unions or unofficial guilds. Furthermore,
just as constitutive orders of public civility in modern societies are something that devel-
ops between strangers (immigrants), corporations, in Durkheims sense of a voluntary
organization of workers, are intended as a constitutive order that develops among strang-
ers and outside of the established social order. This latter point, that they are not only
independent of, but even opposed to established orders, is important. It is significant that
Durkheim (1933 [1893/1902]: 18) notes that corporations were not officially recognized
in the Roman constitution, and that the trades (1933 [1893/1902]: 19) were at first
socially outlawed and that only immigrants participated in them. Such corporations
develop on the ground, on their own, because of specific work-related needs, and only
then begin to influence the social relations above them.
The point here is not whether Durkheim was right about this in the case of corporations
in particular, but, rather, what kind of a constitutive order he was arguing could and needed
to develop. In this regard he makes some very important points. It is his position that
constitutive orders cannot function as such if their organization is imposed on them from
outside, whether by formal institutions or by the state. According to Durkheim (1933
[1893/1902]: 9), what ruined the corporations at the time of Cicero in Rome was that they
became part of the state, came to depend upon it. They went from being free and constitu-
tive to being forced associations, an argument consistent with his view in Book III,
Chapter 2 on Forced Labor, that force negates the coherence of constitutive practices
and the tacit conditions of contract. In some important sense Durkheim suggests that the
fall of Rome resulted from the abandonment of work by Roman workers after their asso-
ciations were no longer voluntary, and therefore failed to offer them a sufficient constitu-
tive framework for the forms of coordinated work practice on which they depended.
It is Durkheims argument (1933 [1893/1902]: 22) that the organization of work
must be matched by the political organization of the community: with the caveat that the
organization of work must drive the shape of the political organization and not the other
way round. He was not advocating anything like the kinds of corporations that devel-
oped later in the twentieth century. What he meant was quite different: the new organi-
zations of work and science are conceived as voluntary and incorporating the constitutive
aspects of work in specialized details so that decisions and rules about that work can be
knowledgably made by competent participants in a practice. In addition, they are treated

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Rawls 489

as associations based on an immediate mutual interest in a practical constitutive accom-

plishment and not on a consensus of belief, culture, or participation in any permanent
community. In spite of their instrumental purpose, actions taken in constitutive prac-
tices necessarily orient moral requirements because the mutual intelligibility of work
and action is not possible without orienting constitutive practices. This vision of the
organization of work opposes the idea that any mutually intelligible action can be pri-
marily instrumental. It also stands in direct opposition to conventional organization
theory, which treats order as coming down from organization. Durkheims position is in
line with important new approaches to work that stress the importance of letting the
details of work inform management strategies (see John Seeley-Brown, Steve Barley,
John Van Mannen, Christian Heath, Peter K. Manning, and Karl Wyck). It is in this
alternative sense of work as self-organizing from the bottom up that Durkheim sug-
gested the corporation might offer a basis for the kind of modern free self-regulating
association that he argued would be necessary in a differentiated society.
Furthermore, for a general social solidarity to be achieved, a whole network of such
orders is required. A nation can be maintained, Durkheim maintains, only if, between
the State and the individual, there is intercalated a whole series of secondary groups
(1933 [1893/1902]: 28). What Durkheim describes as a corporation is a voluntary asso-
ciation; a secondary group, something like a family among strangers, but whose only
interest in common is work (including scientific work) and the orders of practice involved
in that work. This in turn requires organizing around and being jointly committed to
those sets of shared practices in which we find ourselves participating. Durkheims cor-
poration had a bottom-up self-generating organization reinforced by rules at the top that
in the ideal would perfectly translate the constitutive order coming from the bottom. In
very many ways his sense of that argument got lost.

Detail and specialization in relation to constitutive

In his discussion of science in Book III, Chapter 1 of The Division, Durkheim empha-
sizes the necessary character of detail and specialization in a context of constitutive
practices. This involves a critique of general ideas that would extend over his whole
career. Work practices in a differentiated society can be harmonized, according to
Durkheim (1933 [1893/1902]: 360), only through voluntary commitment to a discipline
of shared constitutive practices that facilitate the necessary mutual coordination of detail:
All these practical problems arise from a multitude of detail, coming from thousands of
particular circumstances which only those very close to the problems know about (1933
[1893/1902]: 360).19 Addressing those practical problems, which have become essential
to scientific practice, requires competence in enacting the actual constitutive practices.
Therefore, attempts to unify modern sciences (and societies) conceptually and gener-
ally are simply misconceived, in Durkheims view. He argues that as sciences become
specialized, these grand syntheses can no longer be anything more than premature gen-
eralizations (1933 [1893/1902]: 362).20 What is needed is specialization and detail.
Citing Ribot, Durkheim asks what philosophy will be when the particular sciences,
because of their growing complexity, become overwhelming in their detail and

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490 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

philosophers are reduced to knowledge of the most general results, which are necessarily
superficial (1933 [1893/1902]: 362).21 Durkheim is proposing the priority and indepen-
dence of science (based on detailed constitutive practices) over philosophy (based on
general ideas). The priority of sociology over philosophy follows from this: sociology
being a specialized science of the empirical details of constitutive practices. Durkheim
maintains that it is not via philosophical unification that we shall ever be able to take the
positive sciences out of their isolation. There is too great a chasm between the detailed
researches which are their backbone and such syntheses (1933 [1893/1902]: 364).22
Sociology is a science of detail, whereas philosophy is focused on conceptual generali-
ties. [P]hilosophy, according to Durkheim, becomes more and more incapable of
assuring the unity of science (1933 [1893/1902]: 361362).23 What is needed is a recog-
nition of the importance of detail and its priority over generalization in sociology.
Durkheims discussion of these issues is echoed later by the debate that began in
American sociology during the Second World War when the leaders of the discipline of
sociology reversed a half-century of progress and followed Comte in arguing that the
progress of science depended on a unity of general theory and method. Ironically, in the
name of Durkheim (and both structuralism and functionalism), they elevated abstract
theory over detail and erected generalizability as the standard by which to measure the
relevance of detail.24 The scientific value of field observations and other qualitative field
methods was undermined. As a consequence, studies that focus on details and constitu-
tive practices came to be considered less important and subjective. Today, even the
so-called case study method focuses primarily on what is common across cases, rather
than on what is essential to particular cases. Abstract theory and generalization retain
pride of place (especially in the discussion that takes place in Durkheims name). But
Durkheims position was that detailed studies are the foundation of any science, and
especially of sociology as the science of science and of morality, epistemology, and the
social organization on which they rest. Contrary to the general belief that specialization
will inevitably erode solidarity and lead to disintegration, Durkheim argues that the new
form of social order in modernity will develop and strengthen through an explosion of
detail and specialization. The detail of practices is itself essential to this development. It
is important therefore to protect that detail so that it is not lost through the inevitable
generalization produced by collective representations (and attempts to unify theory and
method). The new discipline should become the study of constitutive processes in details
showing how and why they work differently at each worksite (occupation, science, and
social situations) in different forms of society.25 Social theory, in order to be consistent
with his position, would need to become the formal translation and performance of that
understanding of detail, without loss of local situated relevance and continually modified
by discoveries of detail on the ground.

Scientific and occupational coherence require a mastery

of detail
While in the Second Preface Durkheim focused on specialization and detail in occupa-
tions, in the first edition of The Division modern scientific practice was his primary
example of the need for specialization and detail as the division of labor progresses. His

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Rawls 491

important discussion of the need to actually participate in a scientific practice (in Book
III, Chapter 1) is the counterpart to his discussion of work and occupations in the Second
Preface in terms of its focus on the importance of participation and personal mastery of
the practical empirical details of constitutive orders. The essential constitutive detail can
be known only by those who actually engage in doing and coordinating the work that
involves those details. The participants are the experts, and because constitutive prac-
tices can change constantly they must be participants in the current state of the practice
to count as experts. The relevant detail, Durkheim maintains, must be experienced first-
hand by actively doing the work involved in constitutive practices. It cannot be conveyed
by propositions, concepts, or theories. According to Durkheim:

Each science has, so to speak, a soul which lives in the conscience of scholars. The formulas
which express it, being general, are easily transmitted. But such is not the case with this other
part of science which no symbol translates without. Here, all is personal and must be acquired
through personal experience. To take part in it one must put oneself to work and place oneself
before the facts we can know it [the practices that comprise a science] only if we have
ourselves practiced them.
(1933 [1893/1902]: 362f)26

Constitutive aspects of a science involve practices and detail that, Durkheim says, cannot
be captured in words: to gain an exact idea of a science one must practice it, and, so
to speak live with it (1933 [1893/1902]: 362).27 He indicates that modern science is a
science of concrete personal experience that

does not entirely consist of some propositions which have been definitively proved.
Alongside of this actual, realized science, there is another, concrete and living, which is in part
ignorant of itself, and yet seeks itself; besides acquired results, there are hopes, habits, instincts,
needs, presentiments so obscure that they cannot be expressed in words, yet so powerful that
they sometimes dominate the whole life of the scholar.

(1933 [1893/1902]: 362)28

Only a part of science is captured in the general propositions of the science. The other
part of science, its best part, is so personal and detailed that no symbol translates
beyond the circle of the practice (1933 [1893/1902]: 362).29 Here, all is personal and
must be acquired through personal experience. To take part in it, one must put oneself to
work and place oneself before the facts (1993 [1893/1902]: 363, emphasis added).30
Durkheim had taken a remarkable position for 1893. Most attempts to clarify science,
even today, focus on generalization and seek to eliminate the subjective and the per-
sonal. Most interpretations of Durkheim over the past century have assumed that he
agreed. But Durkheim argues that the lived experience of science is essential to it: All
this is still science; it is even its best and largest part (1933 [1893/1902]: 362).31 Later,
in the Elementary Forms, Durkheim will several times argue for the relevance of the
single case. Here he argues that modern science cannot become a domain of generalities
without losing what makes it different from religion. Detail and lived experience are

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492 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

essential to science and the social facts with which it deals. In order to understand a sci-
ence, he says, one must have been close to scientific life while it was still in a free state;
that is to say before it became fixed in the form of definite propositions. Otherwise one
will have the letter but not the spirit (1933 [1893/1902]: 362).32
Whereas social sciences since the mid-twentieth century have tended to approach the
problem of contingency and detail by reducing it to generalizations, Durkheim argued
that the detail itself is essential to the coordination of constitutive practices (and to under-
standing and explaining that coordination). Problems occur when social thinkers (and
reformers) do not understand the importance of this detail and the constitutive practices
that depend on it. Then they try to produce (or explain) order by reducing detail to gen-
eralities and conceptual abstractions, treating social theory as necessarily resting on
some well-defined core concepts. They insist on the importance of shared values and
ideas. Of course it doesnt work and social theory has come to look like a barren enter-
prise. The problem with this approach is that it loses the very means of coordinating
action in modern society that it is trying to reveal and explain. As Durkheim says:
every general proposition lets a part of the material it tries to master escape (1933
[1893/1902]: 363).33 Detail and the constitutive rule with which to interpret is the impor-
tant thing, but detail, according to Durkheim, escapes the influence of generalization
and/or traditional action (1933 [1893/1902]: 16; 1893: xix: le dtail lui chappe). The
worry that the infinitude of contingencies in actual situations would prevent research
data from making sense unless organized into generalities misses the point. Participants
in the situation make sense of it. The need is to see how the human participants in the
situation in question treat the contingencies, how they interpret them into some more
general schemata that they share with other participants. Their methods for verifying an
interpretation also need to be understood. Any classification scheme used by the
researcher in advance of having answered these questions loses the detail that might have
led to the answers. What has been needed is a theoretical and methodological approach
to the study of modern differentiated society that would focus on detail and explain how
the detail of constitutive practices is being used by active participants to coordinate and
organize the coherence of modern societies.
Like differentiated society, modern science must accommodate difference and detail
and not insist on a general theoretical and methodological unity. Many scholars in
Durkheims day worried that the growing division of scientific labor would lead to the
ruin of science. While Durkheim allowed that science, parceled out into a multitude of
detailed studies which are not joined together, no longer forms a solidary whole (1933
[1893/1902]: 357), in his view the increasing diversity and growing emphasis on detail
are a good thing. 34 He argues that a lack of unity is essential to the success of science.
In moving into his criticism of the prevalent argument that detail is bad for science
and for scientific progress, in Book III, Chapter 1, Durkheim centered his critique on

But, it is said [by Comte], there is no need for going into detail. It is sufficient to call to mind
whenever necessary the spirit of the whole and the sentiment of common solidarity, and this
action the government alone can execute.

(1933 [1892/1903]: 360361)35

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Rawls 493

It is Durkheims position, by contrast, that the feeling of common solidarity that one
might get in this way can avail nothing against lively, concrete impressions which occu-
pational activity at every instant evokes in each one of us (1933 [1892/1903]: 361).36
Comte would unify scientific methods, but Durkheim maintains that it is just the meth-
ods which are most difficult to unify, for, as they are immanent in the very sciences
we can know them only if we have ourselves practiced them (1933 [1892/1903]: 362).37
The problem in modern society, according to Durkheim, is not a lack of collective
conscience. What we have, he says, is a constitutive lack (1933 [1893/1902]: 29; 1893:
xxxiv: vice de constitution), which is a very different thing. This constitutive lack exists
because the new constitutive practices required for building coherence and moral soli-
darity have not fully developed and are still being interfered with by the forms of author-
ity and collective conscience that remain. A failure to understand this scientifically (a
continued emphasis on consensus and individualism) is part of the problem. Lack of
justice also impedes their development. In the social sciences a constitutive lack exists
because scientific leaders are still trying to unify theory and methods. In society the lack
exists because citizens and social leaders still identify the moral center of society with
traditional centers of authority, values, and belief (and see the individual as opposed to
those), rather than identifying the moral center with those spontaneous networks of con-
stitutive practice that can produce the necessary social and moral order. As a conse-
quence, modern society continues to focus on unifying ideas and values at the expense of
achieving just social relations. Yet, according to Durkheim, justice is a necessary back-
ground condition for the coordination of those constitutive practices that are required to
fill the void.
In an advanced differentiation of social labor it is necessary to find a place for what is
different. In science, as in society at large, the new unifying principles must accommo-
date diversity in order to succeed and progress. A feeling of social attachment over time
is also implicated. In order for a feeling of solidarity or attachment to be effective,
Durkheim says it would be necessary for it also to be continuous, and it can be that only
if it is linked to the very practice of each special function (1933 [1893/1902]: 361).38
Furthermore, as each function has moral requirements attached to it, Durkheim main-
tains that this [f]unctional diversity induces a moral diversity that nothing can prevent
(1933 [1893/1902]: 361).39 Each set of constitutive rules becomes a moral imperative for
participants in specific situations of practice.
Although Durkheim does not use the term summary rule, he several times contrasts
constitutive practices with what he calls a summary, abstract, or general view of
things.40 [T]hese grand generalizations, he maintains, can rest only on a very summary
view of things (1933 [1893/1902]: 363).41 This idea that the summary view of things
reflects a summary or generalization of past actions, the traditions and habits of a group,
that are no longer suited for producing order, knowledge, or social and moral facts in
modern society is a strong theme running through Durkheims argument.42 In general
theory, he says, the dissonances of detail disappear in the total harmony and thus they
are lost (1933 [1893/1902]: 364).43 A generalized harmony does not accommodate
diversity. Constitutive practices, by contrast, do accommodate diversity and difference.
The point of Durkheims discussion is that summary orders dont work to ground coher-
ences in modern society. The order Durkheim indicates as modern is constitutive not

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494 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

summary (1933 [1893/1902]: 2526). It creates social objects and orders. It does not just
sort, represent, symbolize, or summarize them.
What is involved in coordinating and performing detail is often referred to as skill or
habit, and influential scholars have interpreted Durkheims occupational practices in this
way, with the result that practices are represented as constraining routines without cre-
ative possibility. But Durkheim argues that science is not just comprised of skill or habit,
which could be defined conceptually. The actual details of constitutive practices are the
heart of the science (for example, bench sciences), and these details go beyond the prop-
ositions. These practices are more than mere routines. Tradition can be routine. But con-
stitutive practices create new objects and knowledge.
Because constitutive practices constantly produce novelties, they cannot work by
habit or routine. Existing conceptions or routines would always be inadequate to make
sense of the new constitutive objects being created. In the Original Introduction,
Durkheim made a point of distinguishing this creative order from natural selection (1933
[1893/1902]: 418f.), which he says merely selects from existing orders. Constitutive
practices create new objects. While important contemporary social thinkers (for exam-
ple, Bourdieu and Foucault) have equated practices with routine and habit, Durkheim
distinguished constitutive orders from habit and routine, which he says are traditional
and summary, not constitutive (1933 [1893/1902]: 372). He even says that the element of
habit that ended up in the corporation is a leftover from the commune. Habit does not
belong to the corporation, which is a modern differentiated social form. Furthermore, he
says that routine is only a characteristic of meaningless work that is not oriented toward
the actions of others who are engaged in the same enterprise.
Sociology as the study of constitutive practices will become more important than
philosophy, Durkheim maintained, because [p]hilosophy is the collective conscience of
science, and here as elsewhere, the role of collective conscience becomes smaller as
labor is divided (1933 [1893/1902]: 364). The role of collective conscience not only gets
smaller, but it should get smaller as the role of constitutive practices (and the study of
them) increases; all of which is necessary for the new form of social solidarity to be

Difficulties with the conception of constitutive and

Aspects of Durkheims argument about the characteristics of modern organic constitu-
tive solidarities are generally confused with his treatment of traditional social orders,
although the main point of The Division was to distinguish them. Difficulties with the
text go some way toward explaining this. There are also ambiguities with the terms
practices and constitutive which are likely to have contributed to the problem.
Practice is a term that Durkheim uses to refer to movements and sounds, but which is
typically used by others to denote ideas. As a consequence, Durkheims conception of
constitutive practices is often treated as denoting collective representations, and prac-
tices themselves are consistently treated as if they were ideas (for example, Bourdieu).
This may be one reason for the prevalent interpretation that collective representations
remain a requirement for solidarity in modern social forms.

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Rawls 495

There are also some difficulties with the words constitute and constitutive that
have likely contributed to the difficulty. All societies constitute social objects or social
facts. Constituting is in a sense the essence of what it is to be social. So, in some signifi-
cant sense, the notion of constitutive practices can seem obvious, ordinary, and ambigu-
ous. But the big point is that the way constitutive orders constitute social facts is very
different from the way traditional summary orders constitute social facts. Constitutive
rules match (or describe) the orders they specify. Summary rules are more general and do
not match closely (or describe) the actions that their authority nevertheless enforces or
makes accountable.
The relationship between the words constitutive and constitution can also be mis-
leading. A constitution is a formal set of rules or principles and a constitution does define
social objects. But the fact that constitutions, societies, and indeed all formal social insti-
tutions constitute social objects (or social facts) does not mean that they all make use of
constitutive rules or practices to do so. The constitutive practices of occupations and
science to which Durkheim refers are emergent from the requirements of the specific
practices themselves. They cannot be explicitly formulated as rules once and for all.
Emergence involves an endless etcetera. Furthermore, attempts to change them from
outside the specific practice run into resistance from the requirements inherent in con-
stitutive practices (often mistaken for workers resisting change). Constitutive practices
can work only when functional requirements are met in their exact situations of use. By
contrast, the way traditional groups constitute social objects and the coherence of soli-
darity in them is not based primarily on constitutive rules (although there will always be
some constitutive forms present); rather, the coherence of traditional orders depends on
a unity of belief and ritual-based constraint maintained by authority. Traditional orders of
practice must meet a very different functional requirement that rests on the adequacy of
unified beliefs to ensure coherence and the adequacy of authority to ensure compliance.

Durkheims argument about morality and its

relationship to constitutive practices
Durkheims argument about the relationship between morality and constitutive practices
begins in Sections I and II of the Original Introduction to The Division. The removal of
this introduction in 1902 has obscured what he meant in using moral terminology.
Because of the relevance of his conception of constitutive practices for ethics and moral
philosophy, this has been consequential. The introduction presented an extended critique
of conventional moral philosophy, and the role Durkheim proposed for sociology as a
new approach to morality and justice is discussed. At various points he refers to both
morality and social orders of practice including corporations as constitutive. In this
regard he uses the phrase the constitutive properties of the law of la moralit (1933
[1893/1902]: 419). Morality is not only evaluative; in Durkheims sense, it is also cre-
ative, or generative, and in constitutive practices it is generative in a very different way
than in traditional authoritative contexts. The argument about constitutive orders is
picked up again in the Second Preface, where Durkheim talks about the importance of
the constituting character of corporations (1933 [1893/1902]: 5ff.). Then the argument
largely disappears until partway through Book III, Chapter 1 and is completed in Chapter

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496 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

2 of Book III. It is an argument for constitutive orders of practice that require Justice as
a background condition: a tacit condition of contract (contract seen as a constitutive
order not an instrumental agreement between individuals).
It is often said that Durkheim did not make a distinction between morality as a univer-
sal (as in the typical sense of the term ethics) and the term morals (as contingent cul-
tural mores, norms, or values). But Durkheim does distinguish between his uses of
words. He just does not do it in the conventional way. Durkheim uses the term ethics to
refer to philosophical arguments that in his opinion set up invalid and contingent moral
systems (because they assume the individual as a natural object and reason as a given
both of which he considers to be social objects). This means that whereas conventional
scholars would refer to arguments about moral universals with the word ethics, when
Durkheim uses the term it refers to something morally relative. This creates the impres-
sion that he argues for moral relativism. But when Durkheim gets to his own argument
that justice is a functional necessity for constitutive practices a universal of sorts he
does not use the word ethics. He sometimes uses the term moralit to indicate a univer-
sal sense of morality and the term justice specifically when he is referring to the particu-
lar type of egalitarian distribution of rights and freedoms that he argues is required as a
foundation for constitutive orders. This has been confusing because it is very unconven-
tional usage. Justice, Durkheim says, will need to develop in the modern era as constitu-
tive orders become an essential foundation of voluntary public action, work, meaning,
and solidarity. By contrast, moral, morale, and morals are terms that he uses to refer to
cultural mores, traditional morals, arbitrary morals, beliefs, and values. These occur in
both traditional and modern societies. Thus if one does not grasp the way Durkheim is
using moral terminology, it can look as though he is not maintaining the distinction he
makes between types of society in discussing morality. Furthermore, it is his position
throughout that both types of order always exist in each type of society so there will be
cases of both in each. The difference is that one or the other becomes predominant.
Durkheims distinctions are actually quite precise in distinguishing between what is arbi-
trary and what is necessary given his own distinction between constitutive and traditional
Why justice becomes a requirement in a modern differentiated society has to do with
the kind of open and fragile participatory social objects and meanings that are involved
(and must be created) and what is necessary to make their coordination and creation pos-
sible for everyone, including strangers. Justice is a functional requirement in such con-
texts. The participatory requirements of constitutive orders demand a high degree of
mutual attention and care. Durkheim argued that, because of this, actual Justice (not just
the belief in justice) was essential a functional necessity to constitutive orders of
practice. This being the case, big changes in the distribution of wealth and opportunity
are required, and Durkheim makes the striking statement that

it is not sufficient to regulate it where necessary. Justice is required. Now, as we shall say
further on, as long as there are rich and poor at birth, there cannot be just contract, nor a just
distribution of social goods.

(1933 [1893/1902]: 29)45

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Rawls 497

This statement originally appeared in the third book in the context of the argument that
forced labor negates the conditions of contract. However, in 1902 Durkheim quoted this
same passage in the Second Preface, giving it additional emphasis. The repetition clari-
fies the relationship between the occupational argument of the Second Preface and the
argument of Book III, in which he established justice as a requirement for grounding
modern social coherence. The Second Preface clarifies the argument of Book III and
also highlights the importance of Book III and its centrality to the argument of The Divi-
sion as a whole. Constitutive orders cannot be achieved by force; they are harmed by
force. Since Durkheim equates social inequality with force, this means that constitutive
practices, in requiring justice, also demand the elimination of all social inequality a
very liberal position not at all consistent with the way Durkheim has generally been

The potential of modernity obscured by not making the

Durkheim argues that Comte and others had failed to appreciate the positive potential of
the division of labor because they failed to make the distinction between traditional and
constitutive orders. The result, he said, is that they make the mistake of thinking that the
division of labor causes disintegration (1933 [1893/1902]: 364). If such thinkers had
been right, Durkheim argues, the facts of modern society would look quite different than
they actually do: as work is divided, one would see a sort of progressive decomposi-
tion produced, not only at certain points, but throughout society, instead of the ever
stronger concentration that we really observe (1933 [1893/1902]: 360).46 As Durkheim
points out, modern constitutive orders can and often do produce a strong form of solidar-
ity. He calls this form of solidarity organic and argues that it is not only strong, but, in
spite of its local and situated character and the creativity and freedom that it supports, it
has what he calls a permanent character: that is, it accords with rules and therefore has
stability over time. While constitutive practices (as sets of rules) in an important sense
persist over time, and Durkheim refers to them not only as permanent, but also uses
terms like corporation and institution in referring to them, the actions performed in
accord with constitutive rules and their outcomes can change constantly, as can the rules
themselves. These constitutive orders are independent from the formal regulating mech-
anisms of society. The consistency of constitutive rules/practices over time, combined
with constant change, provides for both continuity and creativity. Creativity involves
changes that proceed one by one in the context of group practice and by mutual accord.
Continuity means that the practice is still recognized by participants as the same prac-
tice across the changes.
This is a different approach to the relationship between innovation and order from the
conventional view according to which innovation requires individual deviation and order
requires compliance and constraint. In a constitutive order, innovation and interpretation
are properties of actions that accord with rules. Constitutive orders are therefore creative
without deviation. But this property of creativity also requires that they be free from
constraint. Commitment to constitutive practices must be spontaneous and voluntary
according to Durkheim: But this uniformity cannot be maintained by force and against

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498 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

the nature of things: functional diversity induces a moral diversity that nothing can pre-
vent, and it is inevitable that one should grow as the other does (1933 [1893/1902]:
361).47 Book III, Chapter 2 is devoted to the argument that force negates the background
conditions for constitutive practice. Durkheims famous argument that there are unwrit-
ten conditions constitutive of contracts appears in this context.
Not appreciating the possibility of voluntarism and harmony in a context of moral
diversity and constitutive rules has led to misunderstandings about the strength and
integrity of modern solidarity, according to Durkheim:

Because they misunderstood this aspect of the phenomena, certain moralists have claimed that
the division of labor does not produce true solidarity. They have seen in it only particular
exchanges, ephemeral combinations, without past or future, in which the individual is thrown
to his own resources. They have not perceived the slow work of consolidation, the network of
links which little by little have been woven and which makes something permanent of organic
(1933 [1893/1902]: 366)48

Modern society offers the possibility of a very strong and voluntaristic order without
the need for unifying values. Yet the lack of such values, strong cultural consensus, or
formal rules to back them up has been interpreted as anomie by many social thinkers. In
Durkheims terms, anomie occurs in modern society when the individual operates with-
out constitutive rules, when the formal rules do not accurately translate the constitutive
rules, or when justice is missing. The conventional view is, by contrast, that creativity is
possible only through individual deviation and that deviation creates anomie. But
Durkheim disagrees. The particular exchanges comprising innovation in constitutive
orders are not the result of individual deviation. They are part of a vast network of mutu-
ally coordinated action in accord with constitutive rules. The constitutive, bottom-up
character of this order is essential to the survival of modernity.

Reconsideration of Durkheims position on anomie and

individual liberty
Trying to create solidarity in a context of differentiated labor on the basis of collective
representations (rather than constitutive practices) and in the absence of justice is itself
a source of anomie because it does not work. It further isolates individuals from each
other. It does not support the necessary development of constitutive rules. Anomie, in
Durkheims view, results not from a lack of legal regulation, but from a lack of constitu-
tive rules (or of their functional prerequisites). Legal regulations cannot produce coordi-
nation through constitutive practices. In fact, the laws themselves can even be the
problem, according to Durkheim, when they do not accurately translate and support con-
stitutive practices and promote justice. He takes the position that the moral crisis in
modern society can be remedied only by a spontaneous harmony of practices grounded
in justice because modernity has developed as an entirely different form of social order.
Constitutive practices locally organized hold social situations together and make

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Rawls 499

coordination and mutual intelligibility possible. Justice is the basic requirement for order
in a modern differentiated society, not because members of society now believe in justice
or hold it as a value. Justice has become a requirement because constitutive orders require
a high degree of mutual attention to practice and hence justice (trust, working consensus)
in order to work.
Confusions about what constitutive rules are, and their centrality to the argument that
Durkheim makes, have resulted in collective representations and formal social structures
(or institutions) remaining the foundation of most renderings of his argument regarding
the production of social solidarity in modern society. Durkheim, however, makes clear
distinctions between constitutive and traditional forms of order and their corresponding
moral and order requirements. Furthermore, he argues that this distinction is the key to
understanding modernity.
The problems with modern society that are so often attributed to the disintegration of
traditional values are in Durkheims view a result of not making a clear distinction
between traditional and modern forms of social and moral solidarity and hence not taking
steps to support the new social form. These oversights have resulted in political problems
and social anomie:

individual judgment has been freed from collective judgment [but] the functions which
have been disrupted in the course of the upheaval have not had the time to adjust themselves to
one another; the new life which has emerged so suddenly has not been able to be completely
organized, and above all, it has not been organized in a way to satisfy the need for justice which
has grown more ardent in our hearts. If this be so, the remedy for the evil is not to seek to
resuscitate traditions and practices which no longer responding to present conditions of society
can only live an artificial, false existence. What we must do to relieve this anomy is to discover
the means for making the organs which are still wasting themselves in discordant movements
harmoniously concur by introducing into their relations more justice .

(1933 [1893/1902]: 409)49

This is Durkheims functional argument as it relates to modern society and it is very

different from how it is usually interpreted. Because constitutive practices require open
and equal participation, and coherence and solidarity depend on constitutive practices,
justice has become a functional requirement whether or not anyone believes in it. It must
be actual and not ideal. A lack of justice creates anomie. Constitutive practices are now
what we make use of to coordinate our actions with others to make coherent social
objects and meanings together. A spontaneous harmony between parts of constitutive
practices supports this process and results in both solidarity and creativity. That constitu-
tive practices are spontaneous and self-regulating means that they are answerable
only to the practice, its participants, its background expectations, and the immediate
contingencies of work and interaction (it does not mean that they are idiosyncratic to the
individual). As practices become differentiated and particular, there is a need for what
organizes them to become specific to them (so it will not be too general), to come from
them, and to be distributed equally across participants (because reciprocity is required
to make constitutive practices work). In emphasizing the need for regulation to stand in

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500 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

close accord with detail, Durkheim makes a number of remarks that have contributed to
the confusion about his position on anomie. The regulations in questions are constitutive
not traditional.
In writing about the unregulated state of relations between employer and employee in
1893, Durkheim maintains that [a]n ethic so unprecise cannot constitute a discipline.
The result is that all this sphere of collective life is, in large part, freed from the moderat-
ing action of regulation (1933 [1893/1902]: 2).50 This, he says, leads to anomie. This
statement and others like it have led to the idea that for Durkheim anomie in modern
society is caused by a lack of formal regulation. The problem with this interpretation is
that it fails to distinguish between different forms of regulation. This is a parallel to his
argument that most thinkers fail to appreciate the strength of modern society because
they fail to distinguish between different types of social order. Institutions that translate
accurately the developing constitutive orders of practice beneath them can produce an
ethic precise enough to constitute a discipline. Regulations imposed from above or
from a distance cannot. For Durkheim, all meaningful social action is socially consti-
tuted phenomena and therefore regulated (either as self-regulated constitutive practice or
as traditional order). Anomie occurs either when the individual is not acting in accord
with any rules, or when the rules are inconsistent with the form of constitutive practice
in question. In the latter case acting in accord with rules would create anomie.
But freedom from rules is not liberty either; it is anomie. For Durkheim, individual
liberty is itself a constituted phenomenon: Nothing is falser than this antagonism too
often presented between legal authority and individual liberty. Quite on the contrary,
liberty (we mean genuine liberty, which it is societys duty to have respected) is itself a
product of regulation (1933 [1893/1902]: 3).51 The problem with understanding
Durkheims argument about liberty and anomie has been in not distinguishing between
forms of regulation in the different forms of society as he did. Constitutive rules involve
moral obligations not just traditional or habitual ways of acting. These moral obliga-
tions both obligate the individual and free the individual. According to Durkheim,

A rule, indeed is not only an habitual means of acting; it is, above all, an obligatory means of
acting. Now only a constituted society enjoys the moral and material supremacy. It alone
has continuity and the necessary perpetuity to maintain the rule beyond the ephemeral relations
which daily incarnate it.

(1933 [1893/1902]: 4, emphasis in original)52

There is need for regulation (and rule-orienting action) that can persist over time
which matches the spontaneous connection between parts. Otherwise there is no perma-
nence or stability in social life. The wrong kind of regulation or rule, Durkheim says,
can be as bad as no regulation at all: If the division of labor does not produce solidarity
in all these cases, it is because the relations of the organs are not regulated, because they
are in a state of anomy (1933 [1893/1902]: 368).53 Imposing an order by constraint on
constitutive practices will have this effect. The key is that constitutive rules must be
oriented voluntarily. It is the accord with rules that makes action mutually intelligible.
Durkheim says,

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Rawls 501

Since a body of rules is the definite form which spontaneously established relations between
social functions take in the course of time, we can say, a priori, that the state of anomy is
impossible wherever solidary organs are sufficiently in contact or [that contact is] sufficiently

(1933 [1893/1902]: 368)54

This contact between parts in modern societies creates a degree of interconnection that
supports a new and strong form of solidarity. According to Durkheim, Finally, because
the smallest reaction can be felt from one part to another, the rules which are thus for-
mulated carry this imprint; that is to say, they foresee and fix, in detail, the conditions of
equilibrium (1933 [1893/1902]: 368).55
Practices that are solidary and sufficiently in contact naturally produce a body of con-
stitutive rules. Therefore, if there are no such constitutive rules (or insufficient constitu-
tive rules), we can conclude, Durkheim believes, that the practices themselves do not
have solidarity. Furthermore, according to Durkheim, as noted above, we cannot adjust
these functions to one another and make them concur harmoniously if they do not concur
of themselves (1933 [1893/1902]: 360).56
Durkheim is making a distinction between rules that are summaries of past action that
which have developed in a particular way over time (and are enforced by belief and con-
straint) and rules that constitute the practice that they instantiate. These latter constitutive
rules may be tacit, but they are not habitual or routine. They require mutual attention. A
society that has constitutive rules enjoys moral supremacy in Durkheims view. There is
something special about constitutive rules and their relation to moral action. Constitutive
orders are of the highest importance. They are the basis for sensemaking and mutually
intelligible action. Without them we would not be able to communicate in modern societ-
ies. There would be no mutual intelligibility (except within the family or other perma-
nent group) and no possibility of developing a public self, public intelligibility, and a
public civil and political life in a differentiated population. Much serious sociology and
philosophy has been devoted to this issue since the Second World War, but the argument
was unique in Durkheims day.
Durkheim maintains that for anomy to end, there must then exist, or be formed, a
group which can constitute the system of rules actually needed (1933 [1893/1902]: 5).57
In traditional societies this will be a group based on shared beliefs. But in modern societ-
ies it must be a voluntary association open to a changing membership that is based on
constitutive practices. In the Second Preface Durkheim explains how and why he expects
constitutive practices will be generated by modern occupational groups. The new consti-
tutive morality must suit the needs of everyone because otherwise the necessary public
constitutive orders on which everything else depends cant work. This is why Durkheim
calls the development of such orders a functional necessity.
Even when a constitutive order of public civility does develop, the question of
whether it would it be sufficient on its own to support the political institutions that will
be needed to sustain modern society is a serious one.58 Durkheim struggled with this
question, and his championing of corporations and the idea that formal regulations
above translate the constitutive orders below are ways of addressing the issue. His

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502 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

idea of a vast network of constitutive associations in a formal context of justice in which

formal institutions guarantee justice while they also respond to and translate the require-
ments of constitutive practice from below them is a very complex and nuanced approach
to the problem.
The argument that justice becomes a functional necessity makes sense only if one
accepts Durkheims premise that constitutive orders actually create individual liberty,
make the mutual coordination of practice and sensemaking possible, and that this requires
justice. Otherwise what political institutions translate would just be arbitrary and pre-
sumably unequal distributions of rights. Durkheim gets support for this position from
Goffman and Garfinkel, who argue that constitutive practices require trust and that the
modern presentation of self requires a working consensus.
The corporation has indeed become one of the essential foundations of modern soci-
ety and politics. But it has not done so in the way Durkheim is talking about. The modern
corporation is not constitutive or self-organizing. It has become part of the established
system. It does not provide any guarantees that labor will not be forced; it does not facili-
tate cooperation between workers; or put knowledge of work ahead of other things. In
fact, the modern corporation works against most of these requirements. So it is not the
corporation that fulfills the need Durkheim describes. Sociologists have in the mean-
while followed the lead of C. Wright Mills, Wittgenstein, Garfinkel, and Goffman, in
finding more detailed ways of approaching the relationship between institutional and
constitutive orders that involve the social self and the social and moral organization of
social action in public. Studies of constitutive practice in organizations have shown that
they are indeed important and constitute the informal order of most institutions. These
informal social practices work much as Durkheim said they would. But we rarely think
about Durkheim in this connection, associating him instead with a focus on formal insti-
tutions, habit, routine, and tradition.

Why does the fact that Durkheim was indicating a constitutive order of practices rather
than a traditional order of belief and community as the basis of modern public civilities
of work and occupations make such a big difference? It means that it is not necessary to
have a set of beliefs or a unifying cult that is sufficiently widespread and well articu-
lated to support social order and coherence in modern society; it means that a modern
democratic order cannot be primarily central, authoritative, and top-down; it means that
the individual is an integral part of this order rather than opposing it. In addition the argu-
ment with regard to constitutive practices eliminates a number of paradoxes that result
from trying to locate social order in the compliance of independent individuals with
social constraint: it eliminates the paradox involved in treating social order as resting
primarily on shared belief when belief is not shared; it resolves the apparent struggle
between the individual and society; and it challenges social institutions and practices that
assume the natural fact character of economic objects (money, stocks, balance sheets),
a mistake that follows from assuming individualism. While the belief in individualism is
certainly widespread in modern society and undoubtedly has some utility in creating
feelings of solidarity, there is no identifiable cult existing as a set of practices sufficient

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Rawls 503

to support mutual creation of social objects. Neither are there practices related to the
belief in individualism that are so broadly shared that they could be used to coordinate
mutual attention and mark the meaning of social actions either within or across group-
ings. What is currently developing in occupations and sciences and some public spaces
is a sufficiently well-articulated set of constitutive orders to make a widespread cult of
the individual unnecessary as a foundation for social order.
The cult of the individual is in this sense an effect rather than a condition of a modern
social order based on constitutive practices. The belief in the individual supports consti-
tutive practices as they move in an ever more democratic direction, and as they do so the
belief gets stronger as an effect of that movement. Because such an order of practice
contains all the information necessary for interpreting actions within it like a game, or
a scientific practice, or queuing up in line it is not necessary to know anything else
about people, where they come from, who they are, to produce the orders of work, inter-
action, and play involved. Mutuality can become more egalitarian. The individual is
liberated from the constraints of traditional society, while at the same time his or her
obligations to constitutive practices increase. The justice required for participation in
constitutive practices is not a norm; it is an absolute requirement. But it is also liberating
and it supports the development of reverence for the individual. The practices that do
support the stability and coherence of modernity need to become the focus of research
and theory. It is because Durkheims position involved a new approach to social coher-
ence that was grounded in constitutive practices and not on shared beliefs or individual-
ism that he believed it could successfully address problems in philosophy and economics
that had previously proved intractable. To fulfill that promise a theoretical and method-
ological reorientation is required.
There are also important implications for the understanding of what morality is, where
it comes from, and what its relationship is to sociology. Mutual coordination of constitu-
tive practices does not require moral commitment to religious or political beliefs.
Constitutive practices generate a new morality: the moral and practical commitment of
participants to the particular order in hand and the mutual attention and egalitarian reci-
procity that it requires. The stability and cohesion of modern societies comes to depend
on this commitment. Mutual intelligibility is not possible in many situations without it
(shared beliefs are available as a resource only to those who share membership in belief-
based groups). Although grounded in practical action, this morality is not utilitarian. It
requires a primary commitment to principles of reciprocity and has characteristics in
common with Kants kingdom of ends. Participants must consider a constitutive order
and the individual selves it constitutes to be of the highest immediate importance and
effectively display that commitment in order to create any recognizable social action
(A.W. Rawls, 2010).
The network of constitutive practices that develops under these moral requirements in
modern public spaces and workplaces can under conditions of justice constitute a
context of public civility. A word of caution here: such public orders of civility are less
well developed in some places than in others. Such variations are often considered cul-
tural differences. I do not believe the difference is a matter of culture. If in some places
orders of civil public life between strangers are still being constrained by traditional
values, forced by matters of status inequality into asymmetries, or not ordered at all

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504 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

(letting each individual fend for themselves), then constitutive orders have not developed
to a sufficient degree in those places to support the kind of modern democratic solidarity
to which the phrase public civility refers.
Durkheims argument regarding constitutive practices offers an alternate way to look
at the formal institutional structures that populate modern societies. Instead of treating
formal institutions and the formal law as creating the social order from which everything
else follows, it refocuses attention on informal levels of constitutive practice that depend
on voluntary reciprocal action. In contrast with the conventional view, Durkheim pro-
poses that formal institutions now have the job of supporting the informal. His argument
explains the prevalence of the informal order aspects of formal institutions that are so
often treated as a problem. In a differentiated social context in which the self-organizing
practices of public civility are sufficiently developed, the job of political, legal, and
moral institutions will be to translate the constitutive orders that have developed below
them. Constitutive practices will set the moral standards that institutions need to main-
tain. This will require the acknowledgment of the important role that informal orders
play within the institution. Formal institutions will continue to develop strong internal
informal orders that challenge and change their outcomes. This must be embraced. If
formal institutions resist these developments and try to impose an order that is not found
in the self-organizing practices below them, they will fail and society as a whole will fail
with them. This is Durkheims message. A failure to achieve a match between formal law
(formal rules) and constitutive practices, combined with a failure to achieve justice, is
what Durkheim says causes anomie in modern society it does not result from a failure
to maintain a sufficient level of formal rule. Contemporary studies of institutional prac-
tices show that informal orders which institutional workers develop among themselves
are often attempts to improve this translation process by deviating from formal rules in
a way that converges on constitutive requirements, but the implications of this for under-
standing Durkheim are rarely appreciated. Some enlightened (and, particularly, high-
tech) corporations are making use of this understanding as a means of improving
creativity and mutual collaboration among workers. But application of the insight is rare
and as yet has little theoretical support.
That Durkheims argument about the importance of constitutive practices and their
relationship to a particular kind of work, coordination of action, and justice seems both
familiar and strange has complicated its reception. It seems familiar because it invokes
familiar ideas. But what Durkheim does with these ideas is so different that his argument
is hard not to read backwards. Durkheim says that modernity does not lead to disintegra-
tion, when everyone else says that it does. He argues that the individuality that character-
izes modernity is a creation of the new social orders, when everyone else assumes that
modernity is a result of increasing individual freedom and initiative. He argues that
moral plurality will lead to justice as a functional requirement, when everyone else
assumes that moral pluralism leads to moral relativism. Durkheim challenges our most
deeply held assumptions about the individual self, meaning, and social order. That these
assumptions need to change as we make the transition to a modern differentiated labor
form of society follows from his argument.
Most scholars who are familiar with Durkheim know about his argument with regard
to constitutive practices. Yet because they continue to associate the organization of

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Rawls 505

society with the need for collective representations, to see the individual as engaged in a
struggle against society, to associate rules and social order with formal institutions, and
to believe that shared values/beliefs remain the necessary central organizing principle in
modern society, the implications of his argument remain to a significant extent unrecog-
nized. The focus of most Durkheim scholarship remains on collective representations
even when it challenges the conventional view. Durkheim argued that constitutive
practices should largely replace collective consciousness (and collective representations)
in modern society and that they would work very differently not that they would
become new collective representations. Modern society, particularly in its relations of
workplace and science, was ideally to be organized through constitutive practices. As a
result there would be more moral solidarity not less, and because of the diversity of
population and culture the moral principles become less diverse not more.
The centrality of constitutive orders in Durkheims theory makes a big difference not
only to an understanding of his overall argument, but also to how we write the history of
sociology. Durkheim is not the author of the functional theory that he is so famous for
his interpreters are responsible for that. More importantly, he would not have supported
the sociology that has developed in his name. The argument for the centrality of constitu-
tive practices (rules) in producing the shared coherences of work and communication
puts Durkheim well ahead of his time in a category of innovative contemporary thinkers
who challenged the idea that rules can be followed and that all rules work in the same
way (A.W. Rawls, 2009, 2011). Constitutive rules bear a special relationship to the
actions undertaken in accord with them with important implications for the understand-
ing of both social coherence and moral requirements. An increasing number of scholars
have begun working on the documentation of constitutive orders of practice across many
disciplines. But their work is largely unaccompanied by theory, while Durkheims theory
is paired with the sort of general, structural, and natural fact approaches he so deeply
criticized. Durkheim is not the conservative functionalist or structuralist he is usually
represented as. He is not a disintegrationist or a moral relativist. Furthermore, if constitu-
tive rules have actually come to predominate in modernity, then the central problems of
both sociology and philosophy are, as Durkheim argued, quite different from what most
scholars have assumed.
This situation should change. As modernity progresses, and social stability comes to
depend more and more on detailed social processes, it becomes increasingly important to
knock down the strawman argument that has been allowed to represent Durkheim for
more than a century. There is a need to understand the principles of social organization
that are actually necessary to hold diversified democratic societies together. The Myth of
Individualism the idea that the individual has broken free of society and that economic
markets are based on free competition and free enterprise (free of social constraint) has
become a progressively greater problem as society modernizes and diversifies. Where the
belief in individualism emerges naturally from constitutive practices it is a good thing.
But attempts to enforce unified beliefs are problematic. Because the individual and indi-
vidualism are social objects and require a social foundation of constitutive practices to
sustain them, the Myth of Individualism is not only misleading but also dangerous. The
obvious lack of justice and individual freedom in modern societies, Durkheim says, is due
not to problems inherent in the division of labor, but rather to a failure of the new forms

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506 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

of cooperative social relations to develop sufficiently. The problem is that we are still try-
ing to rely on authoritative formal systems and belief-based consensus for moral solidar-
ity. What needs to happen, he says, is for a new form of spontaneous social order that
resists authority to develop and strengthen from the bottom up. To some extent this has
already happened. But we have failed to recognize its implications: both moral and practi-
cal. In the Second Preface of 1902 Durkheim discusses the problem, pointing out that
many occupational groups, like those of doctors and lawyers, have developed occupa-
tional cultures in just this spontaneous and anti-authoritarian way. By contrast, the more
purely economic functions, on which contemporary society is coming increasingly to
depend, have yet to develop a spontaneous self-regulating occupational culture. Bankers,
for instance, he notes, lack something analogous to the Hippocratic oath. We have failed
to recognize money and objects of economic exchange as the constituted social objects
they are (Fox, 2009). Coherence in the financial sector relies too heavily on formal exter-
nal regulation, which is necessary, but ineffective unless it translates informal practices,
and we continue to treat finance as involving the exchange of natural objects.
Until it is understood that the new forms of social practice which have developed in
modernity involve socially constituted objects and work best in a social context of con-
stitutive practices that can operate free from shared beliefs, people will suffer both from
instability and from groups trying to impose their beliefs on others. The tendency toward
nostalgia for the shared communities of the past has its counterpart in some modern con-
servative political movements. More to the point, Durkheim saw this tendency in his
own time and devoted his career to articulating an approach to modernity that would
demonstrate empirically that social solidarity and morality can be grounded on some-
thing other than beliefs and generalities. As societies move forward toward greater diver-
sity, democratic forms of self-regulating practice (role generating and rule following)
can develop among people (who create them), and these make possible the coordination
of mutually intelligible speech and action.
Durkheims position is more subtle, innovative and egalitarian than his interpreters
have generally allowed. While he did argue that the role of large formal organizations
like government and scientific authorities in creating and sustaining social and moral
solidarity should become increasingly limited in modern society, he emphasized an
important new role for government and the law. Now that constitutive practices regulate
the details of diverse and different practices, this is no longer the role of government or
religion. Now the law must provide for the general context of justice required by a form
of solidarity based on contracts and a shared spontaneous commitment to constitutive
work practices. The creation of justice becomes a scientific issue for sociology. While
participants can often achieve justice within a practice on their own, they cannot ensure
that everyone in the society has access to the practices, and that needs to happen. It is no
longer up to communities to decide for themselves how much justice they will have.
Therefore it is no coincidence that civil rights, general equality, and freedom have
become the most pressing issues for modern governments. The role of authority struc-
tures has shifted from the production of social solidarity and meaning to the quite differ-
ent job of maintaining the background conditions of justice against which stable
contractual and constitutive solidarities can be produced in situ. That these are moral and
not merely practical or instrumental solidarities is key. It is essential that governments

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Rawls 507

succeed in supporting this process, and it is essential that sociologists turn their attention
toward studying and explaining it in detail.

1. The title was translated as The Division of Labor in Society in 1933 and again in 1984. In a
new translation undertaken in collaboration with Francesco Callegaro (Paradigm Publishers)
we have translated the title as The Division of Social Labor. While it is problematic to change
a well-known title, the difference in meaning and the important emphasis on social labor
that has been lost warrants the correction. Throughout I refer to the work as The Division to
avoid confusion.
2. See Karsenti (2012) for a discussion of the vagueness that comes to characterize a cult as
general as the cult of the individual becomes.
3. See A.W. Rawls (2009, 2011) for an elaboration of the distinction between constitutive rules
and the parallel with the philosophical positions of Wittgenstein, Austin and Winch.
4. There are a number of difficulties with the term constitutive that have confused the recep-
tion of these arguments. The term has a broad use. Not only do all social arrangements (and
cultures) in some sense constitute objects and their meaning, but many societies also have
formal constitutions. While all of these constitute social objects, when they are formal, and
violating them does not automatically render action meaningless, they are not constitutive in
the intended sense. Durkheims use of the term is usually interpreted (and translated) as if it
referred to one of these formal uses.
5. As Garfinkel (2006 [1948]) says, all questions of motivation are answered by the primary
obligation to produce coherent and recognizable practices.
6. John Austin suggested that Aristotles conception of happiness depended on a conception
of constitutive practice. John Rawls identified constitutive practices with games, and, build-
ing on his idea, John Searle would later identify them with speech acts. Harold Garfinkel
expanded the scope of the argument, demonstrating that any meaningful situated practice has
a set of constitutive expectations. Harvey Sacks and his colleagues in conversation analysis
have documented a large number of constitutive practices in conversation (often but not
always as orders of turn-taking).
7. See the paper by Lukes and Prabhat (2012) for an extended discussion of the disintegration
8. The paper by Lemieux (2012) focuses on practices involved in inspecting this relationship
and the grammars of action they presuppose when problems arise.
9. Much conversation analysis bears the same relationship to Durkheims argument.
10. There is an emerging branch of cultural studies that is beginning to treat culture at least partly
as situated practices and not in terms of beliefs and values. This is a promising development
(see Ann Mische and Jeffrey Alexander).
11. Garfinkel (2002) referred to this relationship between a rule and a practice as a Lebenswelt
pair: a rule that describes the actions that comprise following it as distinct from rules to which
we are accountable, but which do not describe the actions of following them.
12. Durkheim refers to art as an example of anomic action. His idea seems to be that the artist
works alone and without reference to constitutive rules. I am sure he is wrong about that
artists share practices and collective representations about their work. Nevertheless the way
he uses the example clarifies what he means by anomie.
13. Les rgles qui la constituent nont pas une force contraignante qui touffe le libre examen;
mais parce quelles sont davantage faites pour nous et, dans un certain sens, par nous, nous
sommes plus libres vis--vis delles (1893 : 404).

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508 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

14. It is not that people in traditional society do not have domains in which they make use of
constitutive orders. They do. But the primary solidarities of traditional community which
revolve around shared religious and cultural beliefs do not depend on constitutive practices;
traditional forms of constraint do not work like constitutive rules.
15. Here Durkheims argument is relevant to contemporary studies of work in detail: workplace
studies. See the work of Christian Heath, Paul Luff and Jon Hindmarch, Wes Sharrock, Doug
Maynard, John Heritage, Michael Lynch, Graham Button, Lucy Suchman, and many others.
16. A plus forte raison ne peut-il ajuster ces fonctions les unes aux autres et les faire concourir
harmoniquement si elles ne concordent pas delles-mmes. Cependant, ce qui fait lunit
des socits organises, comme de tout organisme, cest le consensus spontan des parties,
cest cette solidarit interne qui non seulement est tout aussi indispensable que laction rgu-
latrice des centres suprieurs, mais qui en est mme la condition ncessaire, car ils ne font
que la traduire en un autre langage et, pour ainsi dire, la consacrer (1893 : 351).
17. See, for instance, Mauss, Lvy-Bruhl, Lvi-Strauss, Bourdieu, and Malinowski, among oth-
ers. An additional complication involves Mauss, who was very close to Durkheim and may
arguably have had a sociological side to his work. But Mauss was transformed into (inter-
preted as) an anthropologist only.
18. Un tel vice de constitution nest videmment pas un mal local, limite a une rgion de la
socit; cest une malade totius substantiae, qui affecte tout lorganisme (1893 : xxxiv).
19. Tous ces problmes pratiques soulvent des multitudes de dtails, tiennent a des milliers de
circonstances particulires que ceux-l seuls connaissent qui en sont tout prs (1893 : 351).
20. ces grandes synthses ne peuvent plus gure tre autre chose que des gnralisations
prmatures (1893: 353).
21. pourra tre un jour, quand les sciences particulires, par suite de leur complexit crois-
sante, deviendront inabordables dans le dtail et que les philosophes en seront rduits a la
connaissance des rsultants les plus gnraux, ncessairement superficielle (1893 : 353).
22. quon pourra jamais arracher les sciences positives leur isolement. Il y a un trop grand
cart entre les recherch de dtail qui les alimentent et de telles synthses (1893: 355).
23. la philosophie devient de plus en plus incapable dassurer lunit de la science
(1893: 353).
24. See the Editors Introduction to the second edition of Studies in Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel,
in press [2013]) for an extended discussion of this change in disciplinary focus that took place
during and just after the Second World War.
25. The work of Paul Luff, John Hindmarsh and Christian Heath at Kings College London is
exemplary in this regard (see Luff et al., 2000).
26. Chaque science a, pour ainsi dire, une me qui vit dans la conscience des savants. Les
formules qui lexpriment, tant gnrales, sont aisment transmissibles. Mais il nen est pas
de mme dans cette autre partie de la science quaucun symbole ne traduit au-dehors. Ici,
tout est personnel et doit tre acquis par une exprience personnelle. Pour y avoir part, il
faut se mettre a luvre et se placer devant les faits on ne peut les connaitre que si on les
a soi-mme pratiques (1893: 354).
27. il est certain que, pour avoir dune science une ide un peu exacte, il faut lavoir prati-
que, et, pour ainsi dire, lavoir vcue (1893: 353).
28. elle ne tient pas tout entire dans les quelques propositions quelle a dfinitivement dmon-
tres. ct de cette science actuelle et ralise, il en est une autre, concrte et vivante, qui
signore en partie et se cherche encore: ct des rsultats acquis, il y a les esprances, les
habitudes, les instincts, les besoins, les pressentiments si obscurs quon ne peut les exprimer
avec des mots, si puissant cependant quils dominant parfois toute la vie du savant (1893:

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Rawls 509

29. quaucun symbole ne traduit au-dehors (1893: 354).

30. il faut se mettre a luvre et se placer devant les faits (1893: 354).
31. Tout cela, cest encore de la science: cen est mme la meilleure et la majeure partie
(1893: 354).
32. pour possder tout le sens des premires et comprendre tout ce qui sy trouve condense,
il faut avoir vu de prs la vie scientifique tandis quelle est encore a ltat libre, cest--dire
avant quelle se soit fixe sous forme de propositions dfinies (1893: 354).
33. Toute proposition gnrale laisse chapper une partie de la matire quelle essaie de
maitriser (1893: 355).
34. la science, morcele en une multitude dtudes de dtail qui ne se rejoignent pas, ne forme
plus un tout solidaire (1893: 347).
35. Mais, dit-on, il nest pas besoin dentrer dans ces dtails. Il suffit de rappeler partout ou
cest ncessaire lesprit densemble et le sentiment de la solidarit commune, et cette
action, le gouvernement seul a qualit pour lexercer (1893: 351352).
36. ne peut rien contre les impressions vives, concrtes, quveille chaque instant chez cha-
cun de nous son activit professionnelle (1893: 352).
37. mais cest justement les mthodes quil est le plus difficile dunifier (1893: 354).
38. il faudrait quil ft, lui aussi, continu, et il ne peut ltre que sil est lie au jeu mme de
chaque fonction spciale (1893 : 352).
39. La diversit fonctionnelle entraine [accent] une diversit morale que rien ne saurait prve-
nir (1893: 352).
40. French terms: sommaire (1893: 354355), generalizations (1893: 364365), abstraite
(1893: 352).
41. Ces grandes gnralisations ne peuvent donc reposer que sur une vue assez sommaire des
choses (1893 : 354).
42. The modern parallel is the distinction between summary and constitutive rules by John Rawls
in Two Concepts of Rules (1955). That distinction has also been misunderstood (see A.W.
Rawls, 2009).
43. les dissonances de dtail disparaissent au sein de lharmonie totale (1893: 355).
44. One of the many problems with the English translations of 1933 and 1984 is that the trans-
lators did not follow Durkheims distinctions, instead using the term ethics to refer to the
best and most universal sense of morality when such a sense seemed indicated by the text.
Durkheim did not use the term ethics in that way because he was not treating the disci-
pline of ethics as having established anything; universal or otherwise. Thus, the character of
Durkheims distinctions was lost in the English.
45. il ne suffit pas quune rglementation quelconque stablisse la ou elle est ncessaire ; il
fout, de plus, quelle soit ce quelle doit tre, cest- -dire juste. Or, ainsi que nous le dirons
plus loin, tant quil y aura des riches et des pauvres de naissance, il ne saurait y avoir de
contrat juste, ni une juste rparation des conditions sociales (1893: xxxiv).
46. On devrait donc voir, mesure que le travail se divise, une sorte de dcomposition progres-
sive se produire, non sur tels ou tels points, mais dans toute ltendue de la socit, au lieu de
la concentration toujours plus forte quon y observe en ralit (1893 : 351).
47. Mais cette uniformit ne peut pas tre maintenue de force et en dpit de la nature des choses.
La diversit fonctionnelle entrane une diversit morale que rien ne saurait prvenir, et il est
invitable que lune saccroisse en mme temps que lautre (1893: 352).
48. Cest pour avoir mconnu cet aspect du phnomne que certains moralistes ont accus la
division de travail de ne pas produire de solidarit vritable. Ils ny ont vu que des changes
particuliers, combinaisons phmres, sans pass comme sans lendemain, ou lindividu est
abandonn lui-mme ; ils nont pas aperu ce lent travail de consolidation, ce rseau de

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510 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

liens qui peu peu se tisse de soi-mme et qui fait de la solidarit organique quelque chose
de permanent (1893: 358).
49. le jugement individuel sest mancip du jugement collectif. Mais, dun autre ct, les
fonctions qui se sont dissocies au cours de la tourmente nont pas eu le temps de sajuster
les unes aux autres, la vie nouvelle qui sest dgage comme tout dun coup na pas pu
sorganiser compltement, et surtout ne sest pas organise de faon a satisfaire le besoin de
justice qui sest veill plus ardent dans nos curs. Sil en est ainsi, le remde au mal nest
pas de chercher a ressusciter quand mme des traditions et des pratiques qui, ne rpondant
plus aux conditions prsentes de ltat social, ne pourraient vivre que dune vie artificielle et
apparente. Ce quil faut, cest faire cesser cette anomie, cest trouver les moyens de faire con-
courir harmoniquement ces organes qui se heurtent encore en des mouvements discordants,
cest introduire dans leurs rapports plus de justice en attnuant de plus en plus ces ingalits
extrieures qui sont la source du mal (1893: 405).
50. Une morale aussi imprcise et aussi inconsistante ne saurait constituer une discipline. Il en
rsulte que toute cette sphre de la vie collective est, en grande partie, soustraite laction
modratrice de la rgle (1893 : iii).
51. Rien nest plus faux que cet antagonisme quon a trop souvent voulu tablir entre lautorit
de la rgle et la libert de lindividu. Tout au contraire, la libert (nous entendons la libert
juste, celle que la socit a le devoir de faire respecter) set elle-mme le produit dune rgle-
mentation (1893: iii).
52. Une rgle, en effet, nest pas seulement une manire dagir habituelle; cest, avant-tout, une
manire dagir habituelle. Or, seule une socit constitue jouit de la suprmatie morale et
matrielle. Seule aussi, elle a la continuit et mme la perennit ncessaires pour mainte-
nir la rgle par-del les relations phmres qui lincarnent journellement (1893: v).
53. dans tous ces cas, si la division du travail ne produit pas la solidarit, cest que les relations
des organes no sont pas rglementes, cest quelles sont dans un tat danomie (1893: 360).
54. Puisquun corps de rgles est la forme dfinie que prennent avec le temps les rapports
qui stablissent spontanment entre les fonctions sociales, on peut dire a priori que ltat
danomie est impossible partout o les organes solidaires sont en contact suffisant et suf-
fisamment prolong (1893: 360).
55. Enfin, parce que les moindres ractions peuvent tre ressenties de part et dautre, les rgles
qui se forment ainsi en portent lempreinte, cest--dire quelles prvoient et fixent jusque
dona le dtail les conditions de lquilibre (1893 : 360).
56. A plus forte raison ne peut-il ajuster ces fonctions les unes aux autres et les faire concourir
harmoniquement si elles ne concordent pas delles-mmes (1893 : 360; see also note 16
57. Pour que lanomie prenne fin, il faut donc quil existe ou quil se forme un groupe ou se
puisse constituer le systme de rgles qui fait actuellement dfaut (1893: vi).
58. The objection is sometimes raised that such an order would be insufficient to support a broad
political organization. The objection approaches the issue backwards. The argument is not
that an overlapping network of constitutive practices is an ideal arrangement, although it
may be. The argument is that it is as an empirical matter of fact the way things have
organized themselves, and, given the requirement of coordinating practices, it seems the only

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512 Journal of Classical Sociology 12(3-4)

Author biography
Anne Warfield Rawls is Professor of Sociology at Bentley University, author of a number
of articles and books on Durkheim and Garfinkel, including Durkheims Epistemology
(Cambridge University Press, 2004), and has edited and introduced several volumes of
Garfinkels work, including the new second edition of Studies in Ethnomethodology
(Paradigm, 2013). She has also published extensively on the importance of constitutive
practices in French and English, including a special issue of the Journal of Classical
Sociology on Two Concepts of Rules in 2009.

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