Site hosted by Build your free website today!


A dictionary (non-sociological) definition of this concept, although accurate, doesn't really begin to tap into its sociological significance. Such a definition is...the joint action of agents which when taken together increase each others effectiveness. This definition conjures up the concept of "teamwork" and that's fine as far as it goes. A "team" is, indeed, a synergistic concept, but synergism means more than "working together well."

Probably the most familiar phrase associated with synergism is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This idea enables us to understand the sociologically significant meaning of synergism. A sociological definition would be... the relation of parts, seen as a whole, creates or results in something entirely new in and of itself...with a life of its own. The import of this definition is that a "whole" is not merely an additive (summing) of its parts...but rather, is something "more" than an aggregate or summed collection. The whole is something unto itself and tends to overshadow (even...devalue) the subsumes them (when seen from the perspective of the whole). In other words, a synergistic whole is created by its parts when they are "put together" in such a way.

This very idea is what gave rise to the "turf" of Sociology. Emile Durkheim called these "wholes" facts... and he emphasized the whole to the exclusion of concern about the parts. He had to. Durkheim carved out the macro turf of Sociology and without this concept...synergism...Sociology would be quite different than it is today.

However, synergism works in a multiplicity of areas, from the largest (society) down to the minute aspects of our everyday lives. Also, the creating (contributed to by parts) doesn't have to be conscious or intentional. We, as parts, can be contributing to a "whole" without really knowing fact, the critical point to be made here is this is exactly what's happening to us most of the time...and we're very ignor...ant of it.

Finally, Durkheim's one-sided emphasis on the external, prior, and coercive nature of synergistic wholes (social facts) has led to a kind of "forgetting." What gets forgotten is that any "whole" needs its parts in the first place to make it "greater/more than" those very parts. Wholes don't come from thin air...they need their parts in "relation" to each other to become itself. In the TSS we will keep this creative and reciprocal process firmly in mind. Meanwhile, synergism is with us in all we do...without attention to it, we'll miss substantial and important elements in our individual and collective lives.