Collective consciousness

Collective consciousness

Collective consciousness was a term coined by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) to refer to the shared beliefs and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society.[1] One might recommend collective conscience as a superior translation of Durkheim's concept, in part due to the busy association of the word "consciousness" with both Marxist and Freudian thought, but also as "a conscience for Durkheim is pre-eminently the organ of sentiments and representations; it is not the rational organ that the term consciousness would imply."[2]


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[3]

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.[4]

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 groupthink 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 can also be termed "hive mind".

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM), used the term to describe how the combined coherence in consciousness of a group of people practicing the TM technique or the more advanced TM-Sidhi program could have an influence on the rest of society regardless of distance. This is known as the "Maharishi Effect". One study of the effect, first submitted as a dissertation for Maharishi University of Management and later published in Psychological Reports, found that there was a reduction in suicides, homicides and traffic accidents in Canada when over 1625 people, the square root of one percent of the US and Canadian population, practiced TM-Sidhi in Iowa and elsewhere.[5][6]

Society is made up of various different collective groups, such as the family, community, organisations, regions, nations which as Burns and Egdahl state "can be considered to possess agential capabilities: to think, judge, decide, act, reform; to conceptualise self and others as well as self's actions and interactions; and to reflect."[7](italics in the original). Burns and Egdahl note that during the second world war different nations behaved differently towards their Jewish populations.[8] The Jewish populations of Bulgaria and Denmark survived whereas the majority of the Jewish populations in Slovakia and Hungry did not survive the Holocaust. It is suggested that these different national behaviours 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.[9] 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. ^ Simpson, George (Trans.) in Durkheim, Emile "The Division of Labour in Society" The Free Press, New York, 1993. pp. ix
  3. ^ Kenneth Allan; Kenneth D. Allan (2 November 2005). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social Worl. Pine Forge Press. p. 108. ISBN 9781412059279. 
  4. ^ Durkheim, E. Suicide, 1897.
  5. ^ Assimakis, Panayotis Demetriou. "Change in the quality of life in Canada: intervention studies of the effect of the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program." 1989 Order No. 8918485
  6. ^ Assimakis, P. D.; Dillbeck, M. C. (1995). "Time series analysis of improved quality of life in Canada: Social change, collective consciousness, and the TM-Sidhi program.". Psychological Reports 76 (3 Pt 2): 1171–1193
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Edmans, A. García, D. Norli, O. 2007 Sports Sentiment and Stock Returns. Journal of Finance 62 (4) pp. 1967-1998.


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: Harper Collins. p. 774. ISBN 0-00-470804-0. 

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