Emile Durkheim

“…Man is double. There are two beings in him: an individual being which has its foundation in the organism and the circle of whose activities is therefore strictly limited, and a social being which represents the highest reality in the intellectual and moral order that we can know by observation—I mean society. This duality of our nature has as its consequence in the practical order, the irreducibility of a moral ideal to a utilitarian motive, and in the order of thought, the irreducibility of reason to individual experience. In so far as he belongs to society, the individual transcends himself, both when he thinks and when he acts.”

From The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life

Relational Sociology and Dynamic Networks

“Transactional thinking contests the intrinsically reified nature of all categories: it shows how they ‘totalize’ identities that are in fact often multidimensional and contradictory; prescribe modes of thought and action against which alternatives can only be labeled ‘deviant’; naturalize rigid distinctions that suppress possibilities for creation (self-) transformation; and, most generally, accept rather than contest the historically variable relational matrices that serve to constitute invidious distinctions and categorizations in the first place” (Somers and Gibson 1994, pp.55-57). 


In this paragraph, Somers and GIbson show how substantive thinking can prevent adaptation and change by nailing down concrete definitions of adversity. While establishing such definitions may help in identifying them in society and bringing them to discussion (for policy’s sake, for purposes of activism and outreach), the act discourages the very change it seeks. In my opinion, awareness of assumptions must precede their abandonment – only by identifying the patterns that marginalize those populations can we then choose to actively change them. From the above quote, it can be seen that the most effective way to change is to create an environment that simulates a vacuum, where negative patterns were exhibited before. When given this vacuum, self-organizing systems will emerge with the most efficient solution. (More) egalitarian power distribution will ensure that this efficiency is beneficial to all, or at least to a higher portion of the population than the previous social arrangement.