Emilie Durkheim and Karl Marx and how the social theory links to vocational education
The reason for use of theories is to primarily explain the prevalence of certain phenomena. Theories are therefore used as tools for conceptualizing the world and they are systematically developed from the knowledge that exists and then tested against empirical evidence to ascertain their credibility (Slavin 1995). Sociological theories can be used to explain a range of scenarios including education; from why some succeed and other fail, problems with financing education, and daily interactions in the classroom. According to Sever (2012), it is often difficult to assess and categorize the importance of sociological theories in education mainly because particular groups among them educational administrators, educational stakeholders, the government, and researchers in the various academic disciplines all conduct research for varying reasons or the theories on education are either highly diversified and scattered in nature of are simply absent from the research. Some of these sociological theories are by Emilie Durkheim and Karl Marx. This paper therefore discusses the link between the theories by Durkheim and Marx and vocational education. This will be done through review of relevant materials.
Durkheim is considered to be the founder of sociology of education and sees education as a social fact that is external to an individual and constraining to his or her behavior (Lucas & Claxton 2013). In examining their usefulness, Durkheim argues that social facts are more useful to the society than the individual and they have to find an appropriate way in which to serve the needs of social organism. Based on this argument, it them turns out that the primary role of education in general is to provide necessary social glue so as to maintain solidarity, supply the society with the required technical knowledge and skills in line with the needs of the workplace as well as the changing technological space, and to reorient and humanize humankind by provision of cognitive and normative frameworks that they might lack (Weis 2004).
Durkheim sociological theories are considered to be within structural functionalist analysis. As one of the first writers to develop an explicit framework for sociology, he made the examination of educational systems core to his societal analysis (Goldstein 1976; Durkheim, 1895). In his study on sociology, Durkheim was guided by an important problem that lies at the heart of structural functionalism i.e. why the individual, while becoming more autonomous, still depended more on the society (Durkheim 2009). This concern remains still significant to date and it arose from the need to explain the phenomena that, even though there is an increase in individualisms, self-interests, and individual rights, there was still a basis for cohesion that kept these societies from disintegrating. According to Durkheim, education is an important integrative and regulatory mechanism that binds persons together and helps to develop their consciousness to their responsibilities and relationships within the wider society. According to Durkheim, society, just like individuals have a unique characteristic that has a major role in setting them apart from others (Goldstein 1976; Durkheim 1895). Education therefore has a role in providing each person with the knowledge and capabilities that are necessary for meaningful participation in particular societal contexts.
Durkheim argues that, the role of sociological theories in relation to education and other social facts is to lay bear and specifically, the normal features for any society with the aim of ensuring closer integration between the society and every individual and each and every person within the society (Durkheim 2007). Durkheim’s writings on education have attracted high attention among sociologists compared to his other writings. However, his themes on education and its role in ensuring and promoting social solidarity have only gained prominence in the recent past as a result of the concern to cement social solidarity and education as the most viable tool towards this objective. Durkheim’s them bears the assumption that there is a core set of social factors that is shared within any given society, and this assumption is a key and defining feature of structural functionalist and liberal analysis.
Durkheim’s work has been used in extension by various sociologist writers among them Parsons on analysis of the American social system. Parsons represents the functionalist view of social institutions like the education system plays a major role in the maintenance of social order. Based on the views by Parsons, educational institutions play a more crucial and complex role than simply passing information, values, and knowledge. For instance, the information, values, and knowledge passed has to be internalized by the individuals to become part of their personalities (Peters 2003). As a result, the properly schooled is that who can intuitively be productive based on the expectations, behaviors, and rules that are expected and render shape to social life.
Marx has influenced sociology in a great way, through his thought that, people should try to change the society. Marx believed that the driver for human history is class conflict, between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Bourgeoisie are capitalists who own the means for creating wealth, and they are in perpetual conflict with the proletariat who are exploited workers who don’t own the means for wealth creation (Marx 1992a). Marx argues that this continuous and bitter struggle can only end when those in the working class unite through revolution to cut loose the chains of bondage placed on them by the capitalists. The result of this would be a classless society where all people are working based on their capabilities and received in accordance with their needs (Marx 1992a; Marx 1992b).
Even though Marx supported revolution as the only way for workers and the proletariat in general to gain control of the society, it is argued that he didn’t develop communism as a political system (Marx 1992a; Lucas & Claxton 2013). Even though the ideas of Marx have been applied to create communism, there is a difference between Marxism and communism. Marx has written extensively on philosophy, economics, and political science. Even though Marx didn’t consider himself a sociologist, through his insights on the relationship that exists between the social classes and in particular the class struggle between the haves and the have-nots, he is considered to be one of the major contributors to sociology through his conflict theory.
Marx theory holds that, the ruling class has the power to control the working class, but not through the use of force, but ideas. These ideas are meant to justify the dominant position of the ruling class and conceal the true source of their power as well as their exploitation of the working class. According to Marx, the idea of capitalist is exploitation of the working class by the ruling class, and this ruling class ideology is more effective in controlling the subject classes than the application of force, and it is hidden from the consciousness of the working class (Peters 2003; Sever 2012).
Linkage to vocational education
Durkheim sociological theory is a functionalist approach and has been described through an application of the famous analogy between human body and the society. This analogy supposes that the society just like the human body is made up of various organs that have a particular role and for the complete functioning and sustenance of life in the body; each organ should play its role duly. In case of any malfunction on a single organ, the entire body is affected and its harmonious functioning affected. Similarly, vocational education is considered to be a social institution and thus, part of the social organism. Vocational education, even though subset of the educational system, has a key role and is connected to the economy, political, religious, and even family systems (Sever 2012; Billett 2003).
Vocational education has its own specific functions within an organized whole. In this regard, the knowledge that is included in the curriculum is only acceptable and justifiable and considered legit if it only subscribes to a certain part of a common culture. In other words, such information in vocational education must work as well as be seen to work towards solidarity and integration and not pluralism and differentiation (Lucas, Spencer & Claxton 2012). This is driven by the fact that, and in accordance with Durkheim’s theory, that the societal needs are always paramount to those of the individuals. Based on this understanding, it therefore implies that tutors and lecturers in institutions of vocational education are agents of this legitimate knowledge, information, and value transfer. In addition, these professional are the models of morality as well as moral beings for the future generations. As a result, and as required by Durkheim, they have a responsibility to practice constrain as to teach only what is good for the society.
In transmitting knowledge and values, tutors and lecturers in vocational education institutions are required to be committed as to present the rule, as an own personal doing, but as a moral power that is superior even to themselves, and of which the ‘teacher’ is nothing more than an instrument, and not the author (Durkheim 2007; Durkheim 2009). In such a set up, students are seen as black sheets, tabula rasa, passive beings who are ready to be filled with the common social good for the society, by the agents of the society, who ate the tutors and lecturers in vocational learning institutions.
For modern societies, the main link between social structure and vocational education is through the economy. As a result of this link, it is essential that vocational schools do respond to the economic changes through implementation of the role of selection and training of the appropriate manpower (Stevenson 2005; Young 2004). In addition, vocational education has a role to stimulate economic change through research. Functionalist theory based on Durkheim’s theory has been criticized in a number of ways and thus, it is being replaced with other radical theories of education in general, and some mainstream perspectives for example, the human capital theory. The first basis of critic is neglect of the role of ideology and conflict in the society (Weis 2004; Peters 2003).
Essentially, education and the school system in its entirety is not defined as being independent therefore, the idealized functionalist definition of schools has been considered to be an inadequate approach as a result of the solid explication of that makes certain schools to be considered as being successful or how these can be this much responsive without posing any problems to the social needs and the working class (Bailey & Berg 2009; Weis 2004). The main legacy of structural functionalism is educational institutions being neutral places however, as from the second half of the 1960s; this has been largely challenged by several studies. As a result, majority of the effort has been on social stratification and the attainment of status problems and determination of the extent to which the social background of a student affects his/her access to schooling experiences and how success and failure in school affect later life opportunities (Weis 2004). The challenge on the legacy of this approach has dealt it a major blow and even though it still holds, it has seen Marx’s critical theory largely overshadow it in explaining vocational education.
Critical theory is differentiated from the traditional mainstream social science through its multidisciplinary approach and its effort to develop a material and dialectal social theory. The role of critical theories is; mapping educational injustices, tracing the source of these injustices, and searching and proposing remedies for those injustices (Stevenson 2005; Lucas, Spencer & Claxton 2012). In vocational education, this theory starts by defining inequalities. Individuals from working class or certain minority groups form the bulk of the majority in vocational education compared to middle or upper class counterparts. Marx held the belief that consciousness and theorizing and institutions are the result of basic economic structures, and education is considered to be a result of the existing class structures. This therefore means that in practice, the ruling class controls and determines the content of vocational educations, institutional development, and educational policy.
Marx argues that education has a social context and this is both direct and indirect. Marx stated that education is social in that it is determined by the social conditions in which to educate, by an intervention direct or indirect of the society (Marx 1992b). However, Marx didn’t directly consider education in his theory and this has been largely expounded upon by the later Marxists. One of these is the idea of ideological hegemony. This ideology argues that the ruling class determines what passes to be the truth or as knowledge to application in vocational education. This ideology is perpetuated by a range of societal players among them; the church, the state, the media, and other institutions to become the state ideological apparatus. The knowledge and the means through which this knowledge is passed, taught, and distributed unto the individuals in vocational classes are determined by the class structures. This concept has been used to shape not only vocational education, but the entire educational system in the 20th century across continents and in particular, in outliers like Cuba and North Korea.
Today, and even in light of the increased participation in vocational education, Marx theory has significant effect on vocational education especially through social constructivist theory. Social constructivist has triggered strong practices and beliefs pertaining the function of teachers and collaborative learning and the belief that social context lies at the core of problems in vocational education (Young 2004; Stevenson 2005). In this case, it is clear that Marxist class consciousness has been overshadowed by social consciousness. Based on this approach, it has been argued that Marxists ideology is no longer shaping vocational education, but in its place are ideas that are clothed in sociology and social psychology outfits.
Today, technology has been completely integrated in vocational education. Marx remarkably foresaw the massive impact of technology on the division of labor, unto which vocational education mainly targets. Marx foresaw a classless society in which divisions would disappear and according to him, education would lead the change (Weis 2004; Peters 2003). To effect this change, education would breakdown that traditional academic and vocational would break free individuals from one-sided feature to the modern division of labor where every individual would be impressed. As a result of education, Marx argued that individuals will have several careers and pass from one branch of production to another in line with the needs of the society or even their own inclinations. Based on this, Marxism allows for class mobility and breaks the societal barriers that restrict mainly upward class movement.
Durkheim sociological theory is a functionalist approach and has been described through an application of the famous analogy between human body and the society. Vocational education, even though subset of the educational system, has a key role and is connected to the economy, political, religious, and even family systems. Vocational education has its own specific functions within an organized whole. In this regard, the knowledge that is included in the curriculum is only acceptable and justifiable and considered legit if it only subscribes to a certain part of a common culture. In transmitting knowledge and values, tutors and lecturers in vocational education institutions are required to be committed as to present the rule, as an own personal doing, but as a moral power that is superior even to themselves. For modern societies, the main link between social structure and vocational education is through the economy. As a result of this link, it is essential that vocational schools do respond to the economic changes through implementation of the role of selection and training of the appropriate manpower. The role of critical theories is; mapping educational injustices, tracing the source of these injustices, and searching and proposing remedies for those injustices. Marx stated that education is social in that it is determined by the social conditions in which to educate, by an intervention direct or indirect of the society. Today, and even in light of the increased participation in vocational education, Marx theory has significant effect on vocational education especially through social constructivist theory.
- Bailey T, & Berg P (2009). “The vocational education and training system in the United States”. In: Bosch, G.; Charest, J. (eds). Vocational training: international perspectives. Oxford: Routledge.
- Billett S, (2003). Vocational Curriculum and Pedagogy: An Activity Theory Perspective, European Educational Research Journal. Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 6–21.
- Durkheim, Émile (1895), The Rules of Sociological Method, 8th edition, trans. Sarah A. Solovay and John M. Mueller, ed. George E. G. Catlin (1938, 1964 edition)
- Durkheim, Émile (2007). “The rules of sociological method (1895)”. In Appelrouth, Scott; Edles, Laura Desfor. Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Text and Readings. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
- Durkheim, Émile (2009) .Sociology and philosophy. Routledge Revivals. Translated by D. F. Pocock, with an introduction by J. G. Peristiany. Taylor & Francis.
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- Lucas B, & Claxton C, (2013) Pedagogic Leadership: creating cultures and practices for outstanding vocational learning. London: 157 Group
- Lucas B, Spencer E & Claxton C, (2012) How to teach vocational education: a theory of Vocational pedagogy. London: City & Guilds
- Marx, Karl (1992a) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, tr. by Ben Fowkes Penguin.
- Marx, Karl (1992b) Early Writings, tr. by Rodney Livingstone, Penguin
- Peters M, (2003). “Introduction”. In L. C. Peters M., Olssen M. (Ed.), Critical Theory and the Human Condition: Founders and Praxis. New York.
- Sever M, (2012). A critical look at the theories of sociology of education. International Journal of Human Sciences, 9:1.
- Slavin R E, (1995), Cooperative Learning: Theory, Research and Practice. (2nd). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Stevenson J, (2005). The Centrality of Vocational Learning, Journal of Vocational Education and Training. Vol. 57, No. 3, pp. 335–354.
- Weis L, (2004). Class Reunion: Remaking of the American White Working Class. New York & London: Routledge.
- Young M, (2004). The Importance of Vocational Pedagogy. Paper for a research seminar on Vocational Pedagogy, 22nd September 2004.
Durkheim and Educational Systems
In Emile Durkheim's view, educational systems reflect underlying changes in society because the systems are a construct built by society, which naturally seeks to reproduce its collectively held values, beliefs, norms, and conditions through its institutions. Thus, as time unfolds, educational systems come to contain the imprint of past stages in the development of society, as each epoch leaves its imprint on the system. By uncovering these imprints and analyzing them, the development of a society can be reconstructed from the educational system.
The reflection of such changes, however, would not be possible if educational systems were not mirrors of society, albeit on a miniature scale. Changes in society manifest themselves in the educational system because it is constructed by society's members to, in Durkheim's words, "express their needs." In short, society constructs its educational system to promote and reproduce its ideal of what a human should be, especially of what a human being should be as a part of society. In this way, the educational system also becomes a "constraint," a term that Durkheim uses in the sense of "cultural determination and the influence of socialization."1 For Durkheim, education becomes a constraint, Steven Lukes explains, "when certain socially given ideas and values are internalized by individuals who thereby acquire certain beliefs, wants and feelings and act in certain ways."2 Lukes quotes Durkheim as saying that education is thus "`a continuous effort to impose on the child ways of seeing, feeling and acting at which he would not have arrived spontaneously.'"3
2 Common Beliefs
The ideal of what the child should become, for Durkheim, arises from the common beliefs of society's members, even though individuals or groups of them may have different beliefs. To an extent, Durkheim says, there is a set of underlying beliefs common enough among all stratum of society to allow their manifestation, though sometimes the manifestation takes a slightly altered form to suit the nature of the institutions.
Because the system of education arises from the common beliefs of society's members, it is a product of collective, not individual, thought. Thus, a system of education, being a product of the collectivity, necessarily embodies those values that are expressed by the conscious collective. As a society's collective values change, the educational system reflects these changes. Durkheim points out this tendency as he comments on the relationship between education, religion, and society's ideal view of a human being: "Our conception of the goal has become secularised; consequently the means employed themselves must change."4
Otherwise, the system would be teaching values inconsistent with society, possibly leading to its own demise. "What point is there," Durkheim asks, "in imagining a kind of education that would be fatal for the society that put it into practice?"5
3 Group Values
Yet, various social groups or strata may have different beliefs. The parts of the educational system that are geared toward a particular group will reflect that social group's values more than those of the other groups. The ideals common to all the groups, however, will most strongly be reflected because, Durkheim believes, "society can survive only if there exists among its members a sufficient degree of homogeneity; education perpetuates and reinforces this homogeneity by fixing in the mind of the child, from the beginning, the essential similarities that social life demands."6
If the values of a society change in a subtle manner, they may become manifest in the educational system in a more readily perceptible manner. For instance, if the norms of a society shift toward placing a greater emphasis on merit, the educational system may reflect the change by instituting a system of examinations to determine a student's place in the social organization of society. Similarly, obvious changes in society's values, on the other hand, may become manifest in the education system only in subtle ways.
4 Changes over Time
The major changes that occur over time tend to leave an imprint on the educational system. If, for example, during a certain era, society had made social status contingent upon birthright, the educational system would likely reflect this, perhaps by admitting only those from the higher social levels into the prestigious educational institutions. Later, society may come to value merit, with each person gaining access to the higher-level or prestigious institutions through examination rather than birthright. Yet the imprint, the residue, of the aristocratic system is likely to still exist in the educational system in some subordinate manner or marginal form. Perhaps there was, for example, a useful aspect of the old system that has been retained by the new.
Systematically tracing the imprints left by such changes in the educational system reveal underlying shift's in society's organization and values. Indeed, Durkheim would say, the aspects of the old educational system retained by the new one are those that are still representative of society's values, although perhaps only marginally. The past has contributed, as Durkheim points out, to the formation of the principles that guide education. The principles that guide education, in turn, reflect the values of society. Thus, Durkheim believed, "studying the history of education, relating educational change to wider cultural, social and economic changes, would enable one to `anticipate the future and understand the present.'"7
5 The Influence of Teachers
There are also specific means through which the educational system reflects underlying changes in society. One of the these is through the work of the system's teachers, who are representatives in the schools of the greater culture and who would thus embody its transformations and pass them on. "Teaching," Durkheim writes, "is merely a shortened version of the intellectual culture of the adult."8 Teachers inculcate the ideals and knowledge of society in their students. Thus, changes in both the method and content of teaching necessarily embody many important and substantial changes in the greater culture.
The church also led educational systems to reflect changes in society, for the church served as a channel through which societal change became manifested in the schools. The educational system, in turn, also significantly reflected the role of the church in society.
6 Modernization and Malaise
Yet while Durkheim was interested in the ways institutional systems embody and reflect the values of society, he was also concerned with how such systems as education could foster a society better suited to deal with the changes wrought by modernization and industrialization. For Durkheim, it's not enough to merely identify society's past and present values, but to discover those values that best coincide with the conditions of society. Durkheim thus gives his analysis of society a normative feature.
Thus, as with many other aspects of Durkheim's sociology, his approach to analyzing educational systems was both empirical and prescriptive. Many of a system's existing values would have been handed down by history or dictated by such formerly powerful institutions as the church. In France, Durkheim analyzed whether such values were appropriate for a France being changed by modernization. Durkheim sought to clarify them and to investigate their compatibility to the kind of society that was unfolding in France as a new century loomed.
More specifically, Durkheim felt that many of the values inherited from the past had begun to lose their appeal, and the result was a dissolution of moral beliefs that led to malaise.9 The question for Durkheim, then, was to identify a new set of moral beliefs that could again bind society, allaying its malaise. What, Durkheim wanted to discover, were the common beliefs required by a France in the throes of modernization and industrialization? Once these ends were pinpointed, education would be a vehicle through which they could be systematically disseminated. Education, then, not only reflected changes in society, but could also be used to impel society to change. Indeed, it was for Durkheim one of the paths to the reintegration of society.
To conclude, in the ways noted above, Durkheim found education to reflect underlying changes in society. As such, he used educational systems as a window into society's organization and values, both past and present. As Lukes puts it, Durkheim "made a systematic attempt to identify broad historical continuities, interpreting them as evidence of cultural trains or as answering fundamental social needs."10
1 Steve Lukes, Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 12.
2 ibid. p. 12.
3 ibid. p. 12.
4 Emile Durkheim, Selected Writings, ed. and trans. Anthony Giddens (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 208.
5 ibid. p. 204.
6 ibid. p. 203.
7 Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work, p. 380.
8 ibid. p. 205.
9 ibid. p. 354.
10 ibid. p. 386.