Emile Durkheim describes collective consciousness as a set of beliefs that are shared within members of a society. Collective consciousness, he claims, represents society’s control over an individual and the moral connection between the individual and society as a whole. He theorizes that as society moves from Mechanical Solidarity to Organic Solidarity, the collective consciousness will weaken as society makes these changes. Mechanical Solidarity is maintained through a likeness; individuals are relatively similar to one another and they maintain closeness by placing importance on symbols and values that represent the group or community. These individuals also maintain similar social status while participating in the work force and usually are raised with comparable beliefs. Mechanical Solidarity is usually practiced within small populations. Organic Solidarity has opposite characteristics; there society is based on difference that influences interdependence. Individuals in these types of groups encourage uniqueness and each member specializes in one area. These groups or communities are less personal and are usually represented in large populations.
I related Emile Durkheim's theory to the movie Mean Girls. I provided a clip at the beginning of this blog to summarize the movie in a few short minutes for those who have never seen it. This movie relates to the concepts that I discussed in the previous paragraph; collective consciousness, mechanical solidarity, and organic solidarity. The three main characters; Regina George, Gretchen Wieners, and Karen Smith represent the characteristics of mechanical solidarity. They represent a small group of individuals (nicknamed “the plastics”) who share similar beliefs and ideas. They also created symbols and values that represent their group. For example, on specific days all of the girls wear certain colors or items of clothing, they also have high expectations of what each member is suppose to do or how they are suppose to behave. They also share similar social and economic status, which is expressed through their name brand clothing, expensive houses, and nice cars. “The Plastics” maintained collective consciousness in their group because everyone followed the rules and they remained connected to one another through their similarities.
As the movie continues, Cady Heron is introduced as a new member in “the plastics”. Cady is an outsider of the group and has a motive behind her actions. When she becomes a member of the group and starts creating new ideas and questioning their roles. The collective consciousness or the control of the group over the members begins to decrease. Cady begins to change the roles by making Gretchen aware of Regina's secrets and behaviors. As Gretchen and Karen begin to question Regina's motives and find their own uniqueness, they begin to lose faith in the group. Cady begins to gain popularity and she essentially replaces Regina as leader. As Durkheim would agree, this is the part of the movie that changes from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity. As the group changes, we begin to see that collective consciousness no longer exists. As that occurs “the plastics” fall apart and chaos begins to emerge within the different members. They no longer trust one another and there is no connection between them. Durkheim's theory remains true in this social setting.