What is Social Fact?

The social fact is the social and cultural instrument that determines the way of acting, thinking and feeling in an individual’s life.

This definition was formulated by one of the founders of sociology, the French Émile Durkheim (1858-1917).

For Durkheim, the social fact is the set of rules and traditions that are at the center of a society. Thus, the social fact forces the human being to adapt to social rules.

Examples of social facts are the rules of coexistence, values ​​and conventions that exist independently of the individual’s will and existence, as explained by Durkheim.

Characteristics of the Social Fact

According to Durkheim, the social fact is in the individual’s perception. Therefore, human behavior will be conditioned by social realities that limit the attitudes accepted by society.

The social fact must meet three characteristics: generality, exteriority and coercivity.


Social facts affect the whole of society and, therefore, are collective and not individual. In this way we say that social facts happen to the majority and reach everyone in general.

Example: in a soccer game, fans sing encouraging their team, dress in their team’s uniform and shout when the goal comes out. All of these actions are expected and did not need to be explained in advance, as they are already part of a sporting event.


Social facts are external to the individual, that is, they exist before he is born and also happen independently of individual action.

Example: taking the football game again. If an individual wished to prevent fans from screaming a goal, when his team scored, he would hardly succeed or his behavior would be seen as strange. After all, fans of a team are already expected to celebrate a goal this way.


Coercivity is used with two meanings by the French sociologist.

First, coerciveness is related to the power that a society’s cultural standards are imposed on its members.

This characteristic obliges individuals to comply with cultural and social standards that are not always in agreement, but which are conventions and exist whether the individual agrees with them or not.

The second meaning of the word coercivity is used to describe the power that the law exercises in an individual’s life. In this way, the human being may not agree with the way society works, but he accepts, for fear of being punished by the law.

In cultural coercivity, the human being may experience shame or embarrassment, if he does not comply with the social behavior related to the social fact in which he is inserted.

The coercive nature of the law is punitive, in the sense that the individual may suffer fines and deprivation of liberty.

Examples of Social Fact

School education is a social fact that is present in most societies and shapes the individual

Social facts are simple everyday behaviors, such as showering, paying taxes, going to social gatherings or shopping.

We all know that we should take a shower every day, in order to keep our bodies clean, to avoid diseases and a bad smell. Likewise, we need to pay taxes so that the government can keep social services running.

All of these actions are organized and follow a routine, are respected and have real power over the individual. The social fact, according to Durkheim, affects the whole society.

Another classic example of social fact that was studied in depth by Durkheim is education, as it has been present in the life of the individual since childhood and will affect him throughout his career, shaping his social behavior.

Durkheim defined the school and its influence in these terms:

“The individual can only act to the extent that he learns to know the context in which he is inserted, to know what his origins are and the conditions on which he depends. And he cannot know it without going to school, starting by observing the raw material that is represented there. ”

See also: Social Action

Emile Durkheim

Frenchman Émile Durkheim is considered the father of sociology. He was born on April 15, 1858, in Épinal and died on November 15, 1917, in Paris. His studies allowed the classification of sociology as a science.

Born into a traditional Jewish family, with his father, grandfather and great-grandfather rabbis, Durkheim decided not to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors. He abandoned the Jewish school, where he went very early, and wanted to study religion from an agnostic point of view.

Durkheim is considered the father of sociology

In 1879, Durkheim entered the École Normale Supérieur and there he showed scientific interest in sociology, but the field did not yet exist as an autonomous discipline in universities.

He turned to psychology, philosophy and ethics and, from his studies, helped to reform the French education system.

His first work and one of the most important in sociology was published in 1893, ” Division of Labor in Society “. In this book, he introduces the concept of anomie , a term used to describe the weakness of social institutions.

See also: Émile Durkheim

Quotes about Social Fact

  • “It is a social fact any way of acting, fixed or not, susceptible to exert an external coercion on the individual; or else, that is general in the extension of a given society, presenting its own existence, independent of the individual manifestations that it may have.”
  • “The construction of the social being, made in large part by education, is the assimilation by the individual of a series of norms and principles – whether moral, religious, ethical or behavioral – that guide the conduct of the individual in a group. than a shaper of society, it is a product of it. “


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