A complex notion, with attributes of externality, constraint, and ineluctability. It is to be understood within the context of Émile Durkheim's
conception of collective conscience
and collective representations
. Social facts are ways of acting which emanate from collectively elaborated and therefore authoritative rules, maxims, and practices, both religious and secular. Norms
are examples of social facts in more or less solidified forms. They constitute practices of the group taken collectively and thus impose themselves and are internalized by the individual. Because they are collectively elaborated they are moral and therefore constrain individual behaviour. The interesting problem for sociologists concerns the gap between the ideal representations and the material social organizations and their constituent actions–as, for example, between the socially approved norms and the actual practice.
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