Just Sociology

Uncovering the Power of Social Facts in Sociology: Definition Criticisms and Applications

The concept of social facts has long been debated in sociology, with scholars split between those who view it as a crucial means to understanding social phenomena and those who argue that it is a mere construct. This article will explore the notion of social facts in detail, beginning with its definition and Durkheim’s perspective on it, followed by the criticisms of the idea and the various ways in which it can be applied.

The latter part of the paper focuses specifically on the application of social facts to suicide rates, birth rates, educational achievement, and wealth inequality.

Subtopic 1.1 – Definition of Social Facts:

Social facts, as defined by Durkheim, refer to institutions, norms, values, and constraints that exist separately from individual consciousness or action.

These facts are external to the individual and exert social pressure through “collectives” with which they are associated. According to him, social reality cannot be explained by individual characteristics alone, but rather by the influence of these social factors on the group.

Subtopic 1.2 – Durkheim’s View:

Durkheim viewed social facts as the foundation of a scientific approach to understanding social action. He believed they were comparable to physical or biological facts, and that they could be studied using empirical data.

By studying the patterns that exist within society, he believed it was possible to draw conclusions about social reality.

Subtopic 1.3 – Criticisms of Social Facts:

Critics argue that social facts lack validity as objective data to be used in study since they are inherently socially constructed.

Some scholars completely reject the notion of social facts, arguing that the world is far too diverse and dynamic for one set of social facts to be agreed upon by all. Additionally, some argue that external reality cannot be said to exist apart from individual experience, rendering the study of social phenomena difficult.

Others criticize the idea, citing the fluidity and adaptability of social realities, which makes them difficult to classify or quantify.

Subtopic 1.4 – Application of Social Facts:

Despite its criticisms, the notion of social facts has been applied to a wide array of social phenomena, including the suicide rate, birth rate, educational achievement, and relationship with wealth and income inequality.

Sociologists have used data to study and understand patterns within these social phenomena, drawing conclusions about social reality based on these findings.

Subtopic 2.1 – Suicide Rate:

There has been much research into the factors influencing suicide rates, which have been shown to be influenced by social and economic factors.

In particular, individuals experiencing economic hardship or instability are more likely to commit suicide. Still, there are clear gender and age influences present in the data, with women and those over 65 being more vulnerable to suicide.

Subtopic 2.2 – Birth Rate:

The birth rate has also been extensively studied within the context of social factors. Women’s empowerment has been shown to be a key factor in controlling birth rates, as is access to and education about birth control.

Public policy, such as family planning policies, has also been seen to have a significant impact on birth rates.

Subtopic 2.3 – Educational Achievement:

Educational achievement is closely tied to social class background, with material and cultural deprivation being major contributors to lower educational outcomes.

Social factors like parental education and income level are also major determinants, whereas other factors like language barriers or access to educational resources and activities play a more minor role.

Subtopic 2.4 – The Spirit Level:

The connection between wealth and income inequality and social problems like mental illness, obesity, and infant mortality has been studied extensively in The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

They use social facts to show how levels of inequality in a country are closely tied to these problems and argue that reducing inequality is key to creating a healthier, happier society. They also examine the relationship between social capital, attitudes, and behaviors and show how inequality impacts social connections and ultimately leads to negative outcomes.


Social facts occupy a central place in the study of sociology, and have been applied in a variety of ways. While some criticism exists, the empirical data makes clear the existence of social constraints, values, and norms that exist external to ourselves.

They can help us better understand social phenomena, and suggest ways in which public policy efforts can create a more equitable, safer, and healthier society. In conclusion, this article has explored the concept of social facts in sociology, covering the definition, Durkheim’s view, criticisms, and application.

The latter part of the paper focused on applying social facts to suicide rates, birth rates, educational achievement, and wealth inequality. Social facts are a crucial foundation for understanding social phenomena and help us draw important conclusions about social reality.

By analyzing social facts, we can create a more equitable society with healthier outcomes.


1) Is the concept of social facts universally accepted among sociologists?

There is a divide among sociologists regarding the validity of social facts, with some who view them as essential to socio-economic study and others who see them as a mere construct. 2) Are social facts always externally imposed on individuals?

Social facts are indeed external to individuals and exert social pressure, but individuals may also internalize social facts and follow them voluntarily. 3) How have social facts been used to study social phenomena?

Social facts have been used to study a wide array of social phenomena, from suicide rates to birth rates, educational achievement, and wealth inequality. 4) What is the significance of social facts for public policy?

The use of social facts in public policy can help create a more just and equitable society, with healthier outcomes for all individuals.

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