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Collective conscience is a concept developed by Émile Durkheim (1858–1917). Durkheim sees the collective conscience as a key nonmaterial social fact. All social facts, material and nonmaterial, are best understood as external to and coercive of individual, psychological facts. While material social facts have a real, material existence (e.g., a bureaucracy or law), nonmaterial social facts exist within the realm of ideas, the most important of which are often referred to by contemporary sociologists as “norms” and “values” (see Alexander 1988). All nonmaterial social facts, including the collective conscience, are difficult to study because they are intangible and exist within the realm of ideas.

The collective conscience is “the totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society” (Durkheim [1893] 1964). As ...

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