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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Sociol. | doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2019.00001

Social solidarity and Herbert Spencer: Not the oxymoron that might be assumed.

 John Offer1, 2, 3*
  • 1Ulster University, United Kingdom
  • 2Social Work, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
  • 3Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Lancaster University, United Kingdom

This article attempts to retrieve important aspects of Spencer’s sociology from the general neglect and misrepresentation which threatens to overwhelm it all. It does touch in passing on many such highly dubious contentions as that he was a ‘social Darwinist’, but the prime focus is to deal with three linked themes. First, the article examines the significance of his attribution to individuals of ‘social self-consciousness’ as part of sociality, thus distancing it from Durkheim’s influential but suspect reading of Spencer’s individuals as egoistic. Second, it rescues his concept of ‘the social organism’ from misinterpretation. His own writings show it to be a more rigorous and suggestive attempt to configure the morphology of ‘the social’ than commonly assumed. Third, it reconstructs the status of his contrast between ‘militant’ and ‘industrial’ social forms as a contrast between different but more general forms of social life that those descriptions in fact register. With the focus on these three linked themes the article improves the historical accuracy of our understanding of Spencer’s sociology. It also repositions key aspects of it as not alien, quaint and a spent force, but ontologically challenging and possibly prescient for debates about the meaning of ‘the social’ today.

Keywords: Herbert Spencer, social self-consciousness, Social organicism, sponataneous cooperation, Emile Durkheim, militant and industrial societies, sodilarity

Received: 21 Aug 2018; Accepted: 07 Jan 2019.

Edited by:

Maurizio Meloni, Deakin University, Australia

Reviewed by:

Raquel A. Weiss, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil
Christoforos Bouzanis, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2019 Offer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. John Offer, Ulster University, Coleraine, United Kingdom, j.offer@ulster.ac.uk