Collective consciousness

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Collective consciousness, collective conscience, or collective conscious (French: conscience collective) is the set of shared beliefs, ideas, and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society.[1] The term was introduced by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his The Division of Labour in Society in 1893.

The French word conscience generally means "conscience", "consciousness", "awareness",[2] or "perception".[3] Commentators and translators of Durkheim disagree on which is most appropriate, or whether the translation should depend on the context. Some prefer to treat the word 'conscience' as an untranslatable foreign word or technical term, without its normal English meaning.[4] In general, it does not refer to the specifically moral conscience, but to a shared understanding of social norms.[5]

As for "collective", Durkheim makes clear that he is not reifying or hypostasizing this concept; for him, it is "collective" simply in the sense that it is common to many individuals;[6] cf. social fact.

In Durkheimian social theory[edit]

Durkheim used the term in his books The Division of Labour in Society (1893), The 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.

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.[8]

Other uses of the term[edit]

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 group-think, herd behavior, or collectively shared experiences during collective rituals and dance parties.[9][10] 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 has also been termed "hive mind", "group mind", "mass mind", and "social mind".[11]

According to a theory the character of collective consciousness depends on the type of mnemonic encoding used within a group (Tsoukalas, 2007). The specific type of encoding used has a predictable influence on the groups behavior and collective ideology. Informal groups, that meet infrequently and spontaneously, have a tendency to represent significant aspects of their community as episodic memories. This usually leads to strong social cohesion and solidarity, an indulgent atmosphere, an exclusive ethos and a restriction of social networks. Formal groups, that have scheduled and anonymous meetings, tend to represent significant aspects of their community as semantic memories which usually leads to weak social cohesion and solidarity, a more moderate atmosphere, an inclusive ethos and an expansion of social networks.[12]

Society is made up of various collective groups, such as the family, community, organizations, regions, nations which as Burns and Egdahl state "can be considered to possess agential capabilities: to think, judge, decide, act, reform; to conceptualize self and others as well as self's actions and interactions; and to reflect."[13](italics in the original). Burns and Egdahl note that during the Second World War different nations behaved differently towards their Jewish populations.[14] The Jewish populations of Bulgaria and Denmark survived whereas the majority of the Jewish populations in Slovakia and Hungary did not survive the Holocaust. It is suggested that these different national behaviors 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 of those countries dropped on average forty-nine points after being eliminated from the World Cup, and thirty-one points after being eliminated in other tournaments.[15] Edmans, Garcia, and Norli found similar but smaller effects with international cricket, rugby, ice hockey, and basketball games.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Collins Dictionary of Sociology, p93.
  2. ^ Collins French-English Dictionary s.v.
  3. ^ Shaun Best, A Beginner's Guide to Social Theory, p. 28
  4. ^ Simpson, George (Trans.) in Durkheim, Emile "The Division of Labour in Society" The Free Press, New York, 1993. pp. ix
  5. ^ Thomas E. Wren, Conceptions of Culture: What Multicultural Educators Need to Know, p. 64
  6. ^ Warren Schmaus, Durkheim's Philosophy of Science and the Sociology of Knowledge: Creating an Intellectual Niche, 1994, ISBN 0226742512, p. 50-51
  7. ^ Kenneth Allan; Kenneth D. Allan (2 November 2005). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social World. Pine Forge Press. p. 108. ISBN 1-4129-0572-9.
  8. ^ Durkheim, E. Suicide, 1897.
  9. ^ Trnka R., Lorencova R. (2016). Collective consciousness and collective unconscious in anthropology - Chapter 7 in Quantum anthropology: Man, cultures, and groups in a quantum perspective. Prague: Charles University Karolinum Press. pp. 81–90.
  10. ^ Combs, A., & Krippner, S. (2008). "Collective consciousness and the social brain". Journal of Consciousness Studies. 15: 264–276.
  11. ^ John D. Greenwood The Disappearance of the Social in American Social Psychology 2004, p. 110
  12. ^ Tsoukalas, I. (2007). Exploring the Microfoundations of Group Consciousness. Culture and Psychology, 13(1), 39-81.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Edmans, A. García, D. Norli, O. 2007 Sports Sentiment and Stock Returns. Journal of Finance 62 (4) pp. 1967-1998.
  16. ^ Sarkar, Prabhat Ranjan (16 February 1967). "Práńa Dharma-The Sine Qua Non of Human Existence". PROUT in a Nutshell Part 6. Ranchi, India: Ánanda Márga Publications. Retrieved 2015-03-02.


Works by Durkheim
Works by others