A social fact is a thing that affects the behavior and attitudes of an individual in the society (Durkheim & Lukes, 1998). A social fact originates from the institutions or culture of a community. In simple terms, social facts are the values and structures which go above the individual and can exert social control. According to Durkheim, a social fact is a power of external compulsion which can monitor the character of the people in the society they live. People live according to the demands of social facts and failure to do so they are viewed as outcasts and rebellious. Social facts come from collective practices that individuals in a given society uphold. From the collective practices, opinions on how the people ought to behave are formed, and all the people are required to adhere to the collective practices. Durkheim pointed out that "the impact of a collective emotion in a gathering and the cultural transmission through education of traditional beliefs and practices" results in social facts (Durkheim & Lukes, 1998). Institutions and organizations in the society are established and managed through institutionalized norms that are accepted by the group that forms the organization. Social facts cannot exist if they are not practiced by the majority of people in the society. Durkheim wrote that "social life is a system of representation and mental states which are different in nature from those which constitute the mental life of the individual (Durkheim & Lukes, 1998)
Based on the definition of social facts given above, social facts are institutions, roles, beliefs, statuses among other factors that define the behavior of people in the society. Social facts are social in nature, and they are reflected in the social lives of all individuals in the community. All people in the society are mandated to be a reflection of social facts at all times. The first example of a social phenomenon in modern life is the school system. All societies across the world have an education system that all individuals must follow to be deemed part of the society. The school plays a vital role in educating individuals in the society on various issues that play a role in shaping the society. The school system is viewed as a must for every member of the society. Different cultures or societies follow different education systems, but the core objective of all the school system is to enlighten people and to make them more critical when dealing with issues that face the society. People are required to attend school from a young age and must go through various grades or levels before graduation or before being viewed as individuals who have gone through the education system.
The second example of social fact in modern life is laws that define various roles and rights of individuals and institutions in the society. The laws act as a guide that enlightens people of what is required from them. The consequences of failing to observe the laws set out in a given society are also clearly laid out. Laws in modern life are passed to ensure that people coexist peacefully by respecting one another at all times. This means that laws facilitate mutual respect which in turn leads to peaceful coexistence. Lawbreakers are punished as a way of correcting their behaviors to make them adhere to the collective norms and values. All individuals in the society are bound by the laws of the particular society they live in and nobody in any society is deemed to be above the law. Social facts are meant to ensure social control and laws and institutions that guarantee citizens a bind by laws ensure that social control is attained. Rules play paramount roles in modern life as they dictate the way of life that is morally acceptable. Societies or communities that do not have a collective way of setting laws and ensuring that the laws are followed often witness chaos and feuds that hinder progress. This shows laws are necessary ingredients needed by any society that needs to improve in the modern life.
According to Durkheim, what does not cause social facts is individualism and actions that are not collective. Durkheim pointed out that "the content of social life cannot be explained by purely psychological factors, namely by the states of the individual consciousness" (Durkheim & Lukes, 1998). This shows that individual psychology and attitudes do not form social facts. Social facts are only formed from the collection of the different psychology of different people who live in the same society or have several things in common. A social fact is like shared goals and objectives that individuals in the society adhere to at all times for the betterment of each one of them (Durkheim & Lukes, 1998). All individuals do not outwardly accept social facts in a given society. Sometimes some members of a given society are coerced to follow the social facts. Some institutions are established to deal with members of the society who fail to adhere to the stipulated social facts. In a nutshell, what does not cause social fact is anything that does not affect all members of the society.
Durkheim, E., & Lukes, S. (1998). The rules of sociological method: And selected texts on sociology and its method. Basingstoke [u.a.: Macmillan.
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