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Collective consciousness

Collective conscious or collective conscience (French: conscience collective) is the set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society.[1] The term was introduced by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his Division of Labour in Society in 1893.

The French word conscience can be translated into English as "conscious" or "conscience" (conscience morale), or even "perception"[2] or "awareness", and commentators and translators of Durkheim disagree on which is most appropriate, or whether the translation should depend on the context. Some prefer to treat the word 'conscience' as an untranslatable foreign word or technical term, without its normal English meaning.[3] In general, it does not refer to the specifically moral conscience, but to a shared understanding of social norms.[4]

As for "collective", Durkheim makes clear that he is not reifying or hypostasizing this concept; for him, it is "collective" simply in the sense that it is common to many individuals;[5] cf. social fact.


  • Collective consciousness in Durkheimian social theory 1
  • Other uses of the term 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5

Collective consciousness in Durkheimian social theory

Durkheim used the term in his books The Division of Labour in Society (1893), Rules of the Sociological Method (1895), Suicide (1897), and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). In The Division of Labour, Durkheim argued that in traditional/primitive societies (those based around clan, family or tribal relationships) totemic religion played an important role in uniting members through the creation of a common consciousness (conscience collective in the original French). In societies of this type, the contents of an individual's consciousness are largely shared in common with all other members of their society, creating a mechanical solidarity through mutual likeness.

The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a society forms a determinate system with a life of its own. It can be termed the collective or creative consciousness.
— Emile Durkheim[6]

In Suicide, Durkheim developed the concept of anomie to refer to the social rather than individual causes of suicide. This relates to the concept of collective consciousness, as if there is a lack of integration or solidarity in society then suicide rates will be higher.[7]

Other uses of the term

Various forms of what might be termed "collective consciousness" in modern societies have been identified by other sociologists, such as Mary Kelsey, going from solidarity attitudes and memes to extreme behaviors like group-think or herd behavior. Mary Kelsey, sociology lecturer in the University of California, Berkeley, used the term in the early 2000s to describe people within a social group, such as mothers, becoming aware of their shared traits and circumstances, and as a result acting as a community and achieving solidarity. Rather than existing as separate individuals, people come together as dynamic groups to share resources and knowledge. It has also developed as a way of describing how an entire community comes together to share similar values. This has also been termed "hive mind", "group mind", "mass mind", and "social mind".[8]

According to a new theory the character of collective consciousness depends on the type of mnemonic encoding used within particular groups (Tsoukalos, 2007). Cohesive groups with an informal structure, for example, have a tendency to represent significant aspects of their community as episodic memories and this has a predictable influence on their group behavior and collective ideology. It usually leads to, among other things, strong solidarity, indulgent atmosphere, and an exclusive ethos.[9]

Society is made up of various collective groups, such as the family, community, organizations, regions, nations which as Burns and Egdahl state "can be considered to possess agential capabilities: to think, judge, decide, act, reform; to conceptualize self and others as well as self's actions and interactions; and to reflect."[10](italics in the original). Burns and Egdahl note that during the Second World War different nations behaved differently towards their Jewish populations.[11] The Jewish populations of Bulgaria and Denmark survived whereas the majority of the Jewish populations in Slovakia and Hungary did not survive the Holocaust. It is suggested that these different national behaviors vary according to the different collective consciousness between nations. This illustrates that differences in collective consciousness can have practical significance.

Edmans, Garcia, and Norlia examined national sporting defeats and correlated them with decreases in the value of stocks. They examined 1,162 football matches in thirty-nine countries, and discovered that stock markets dropped on average forty-nine points after being eliminated from the World Cup, and thirty-one points after being eliminated in other tournaments.[12] Edmans, Garcia, and Norli found similar but smaller effects with international cricket, rugby, ice hockey, and basketball games.

See also


  1. ^ Collins Dictionary of Sociology, p93.
  2. ^ Shaun Best, A Beginner's Guide to Social Theory, p. 28
  3. ^ Simpson, George (Trans.) in Durkheim, Emile "The Division of Labour in Society" The Free Press, New York, 1993. pp. ix
  4. ^ Thomas E. Wren, Conceptions of Culture: What Multicultural Educators Need to Know, p. 64
  5. ^ Warren Schmaus, Durkheim's Philosophy of Science and the Sociology of Knowledge: Creating an Intellectual Niche, 1994, ISBN 0226742512, p. 50-51
  6. ^ Kenneth Allan; Kenneth D. Allan (2 November 2005). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social World. Pine Forge Press. p. 108.  
  7. ^ Durkheim, E. Suicide, 1897.
  8. ^ John D. Greenwood The Disappearance of the Social in American Social Psychology 2004, p. 110
  9. ^ Tsoukalas, I. (2007). Exploring the Microfoundations of Group Consciousness. Culture and Psychology, 13(1), 39-81.
  10. ^ Burns, T.R. Engdahl, E. (1998) The Social Construction of Consciousness. Part 1: Collective Consciousness and its Socio-Cultural Foundations, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5 (1) p 72.
  11. ^ Burns, T.R. Engdahl, E. (1998) The Social Construction of Consciousness. Part 1: Collective Consciousness and its Socio-Cultural Foundations, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5 (1) p 77.
  12. ^ Edmans, A. García, D. Norli, O. 2007 Sports Sentiment and Stock Returns. Journal of Finance 62 (4) pp. 1967-1998.
  13. ^  


Works by Durkheim
Works by others
  • Gad Barzilai, Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities University of Michigan Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-472-03079-8
  • Jary, David; Julia Jary (1991). Collins Dictionary of Sociology. Glasgow:  
  • Williams, Swatos (editor) (1998). "Émile Durkheim" (Web and Print). Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Altamira Press. Retrieved 2007-02-03. 
  • Lloyd, Annemaree (2007). "Guarding Against Collective Amnesia? Making Significance Problematic: An Exploration of Issues" (Web and Print). Library Trends. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
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