An Invitation to Social Theory by Durkheim


Durkheim’s claims regarding religion are indeed valid, and do serve to highlight the existence of structuralism. Durkheim’s assertion that religion essentially divides activities and other things, into either profane or sacred, sounds very practical. As such, religion provides a structure through which individuals can interpret and judge activities they engage in. Religion in contemporary society forms a very important backdrop against which individuals can judge their actions or potential actions and decide whether or not they will engage in them. In cases where one deduces an activity as profane, they are highly unlikely to engage in these actions, religion therefore, provides a structure that guides behavior in society.

Saussure concerns himself more with linguistic structuralism. He argues that structure forms an essential part of language, proceeding to explain key concepts such as parole and langue. Elaborating that langue refers to the overall system and rules that are used to guide language and its interpretation, including components such as signs, signifiers, and signifieds. On the other hand parole, refers to the individual language users. This presence of structure, is what allows for the learning and use of language. In a way, post structuralism also agrees with Saussure’s assertions, as most proponents attempt to highlight the fact that multiple langues do exist each for a different language.

Structure seems to exist even in the most random of activities. Similar to Levi Strauss’ claim, that langues underpin even the most obvious of social activities, patterns are certainly discernible in most of the social activities human beings engage in, suggesting that structure does influence a number of aspects of life, stretching beyond language and religion. It is these patterns that in my opinion, form culture, beliefs and customs. The claim that individuals using such systems and discourses are usually prisoners of them is validated when one considers the influence that cultures have (Inglis, 2012).

Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

In Ferdinand de Saussure’s article “Arbitrary Social Values and the Linguistic Sign Summary,” he continues to explore how language is structured and organized, as well as how it influences other aspects of life. Saussure’s argument that behaviors must be seen as subjectively and interpreted in terms of what they mean in society. Understanding societal behavior therefore, starts with a comprehensive understanding of meanings, and how they might fit into existing societal rules and norms. When looked at in juxtaposition with Levi Strauss’ exposition essay “The Structural Study of Myth,” it is possible to argue that the similarities in the structures of myths, can be transposed to human behavior to explain the manner with which interpretations are usually similar. It is even possible for a behavior in one society to have the same meaning in a different society, even in instances where the two cultures have never interacted. As such, claims that structure affects various facets of society are very accurate. Barthes in his article “Semiological Prospects,” disagrees with the assertion that similarities can exist in language and writing, arguing that the state of mind and intention of the speaker form a very important part of understanding the meaning of the communication. This essentially highlights the importance of understanding the subjective context of the message as key to understanding its meaning, disproving the argument that a common structure can exist. However, despite Barthes’ argument, common structure to human behavior is discernible not just within cultures, but also without, suggesting that behavior or language does have a common structure and randomness to it (Lemmert, 2004).



Inglis, D. (2012). An Invitation to Social Theory. Polity.

Lemmert, C. (2004). Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings. Westview Press.

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