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organic analogy

organic analogy (or biological analogy) Used by Émile Durkheim specifically to bring out the distinction between mechanical and organic solidarity, where in the latter ‘the unity of the (social) organism is as great as the individuation of the parts is more marked’. Although Durkheim did accord to society the attributes of an object, particularly as it affected and intervened in human action through the agency of collective representations, he did not extrapolate this beyond the reasonable limits of an analogy. The same distinction between analogy and reality was less clearly to be made by the most famous proponent of society as social organism, namely Herbert Spencer, for whom the processes of differentiation, individuation, and the elaboration and mutation of both structures and functions marked the transition from homogeneous to heterogeneous complex societies. Spencer's Social Darwinism, which emerged out of his organicism, was explicit in his anti-state interventionism, and for that reason was received more easily in the United States than in Europe or Britain. The differences between society and living organisms are well rehearsed, but it is the ability to handle the problems of social conflict and the limits beyond which the plasticity of society cannot go, which both Spencer and Durkheim were unable to explain. See also FUNCTION; SOCIAL ORDER.

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