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division of labor (social division of labor)

Definition of Division of Labor

(noun) The range of tasks completed by individuals in a group.

Examples of Division of Labor

  • In the United States, jobs typically filled by women are called pink-collar jobs and include child care, domestic service (e.g., house cleaning), and nursing.
  • Jobs availability as determined by a caste system.

Division of Labor Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: di·vi·sion of la·bor

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /duh-vIzh-uhn uhv lAY-buhr/
  • British English – /di-vIzh-uhn UHv lAY-buh/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /dɪˈvɪʒən ʌv ˈleɪbər/
  • British English – /dɪˈvɪʒən ɒv ˈleɪbə/

Usage Notes

Related Quotations

  • “In order for the division of labour to engender solidarity, it is not, therefore, sufficient that each person has his task: this task must also suit him . . . In effect, if the institution of classes or castes sometimes gives rise to painful wrangling, instead of producing solidarity, this is because the distribution of social functions on which the solidarity is based, does not correspond, or rather no longer responds to the distribution of talent” (Durkheim [1893] 2004:37).
  • Social life derives from a dual source, the similarity of consciousness and the social division of labour. In the first case the individual is socialized because, in the absence of any real individuality, he is united with others with whom he shares a common likeness, becoming part of the same collective type; in the second case, because, while having an appearance and personal activity which distinguish him from others, he is dependent on them to the extent that he is distinguished from them, and consequently upon the society which results from this combination” (Durkheim [1893] 2004:32).
  • “The development of agriculture about 5,000 years ago brought change to [society]. Agriculture emerged as people harnessed animals to ploughs, increasing the productive power of hunting and gathering more than tenfold. The resulting surplus freed some people in society from the demands of food production. Individuals began to adopt specialised economic roles: forging crafts, designing tools, raising animals and constructing dwellings. A division of labour started to become more and more important as size increased” (Macionis and Plummer 2012:464).
  • “The division of labour develops, therefore, to the extent that there are more individuals in sufficient contact to be able to act and react upon one another. If we can agree to call this relation and the active commerce that results ‘dynamic or moral density’, it can be said that the progress of the division of labour is in direct ratio to the moral or dynamic density of society” (Durkheim [1893] 2004:33).
  • “What are social classes in Marxist theory? They are groups of social agents, of men defined principally but not exclusively by their place in the production process, i.e. by their place in the economic sphere. The economic place of the social agents has a principal role in determining social classes. But from that we cannot conclude that this economic place is sufficient to determine social classes. Marxism states that the economic does indeed have the determinant role in a mode of production or a social formation; but the political and the ideological (the superstructure) also have an important role. For whenever Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao analyse social classes, far from limiting themselves to the economic criteria alone, they make explicit reference to political and ideological criteria. We can thus say that a social class is defined by its place in the ensemble of social practices, i.e. by its place in the ensemble of the division of labour which includes political and ideological relations. This place corresponds to the structural determination of classes, i.e. the manner in which determination by the structure (relations of production, politico-ideological domination/subordination) operates on class practices – for classes have existence only in the class struggle” (Poulantzas 1973:27).

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Additional Information

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Durkheim, Émile. [1893] 2004. “The Division of Labour in Society.” Pp. 19–38 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.

Macionis, John, and Kenneth Plummer. 2012. Sociology: A Global Introduction. 4th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Poulantzas, Nicos. 1973. “On Social Classes.” New Left Review 78.

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Cite the Definition of Division of Labor

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “division of labor.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved September 28, 2020 (https://sociologydictionary.org/division-of-labor/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

division of labor. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/division-of-labor/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “division of labor.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed September 28, 2020. https://sociologydictionary.org/division-of-labor/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“division of labor.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 28 Sep. 2020. <https://sociologydictionary.org/division-of-labor/>.