Theory of social integration

Updated April 17, 2017

Social integration theory shows that a lack of positive social interaction and acceptance has negative consequences from an individual, family, community and societal perspective. Integration studies have demonstrated the positive impact of interaction on isolated groups of society. Actively engaging in social roles helps people build self-esteem, physical wellness and a sense of commitment to the community around them.


Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, is credited with introducing the theory of social integration in the late 19th century. Social integration is the means through which people interact, connect and validate each other within a community. The theory proposes that people experience mental, emotional and physical benefits when they believe they are a contributing, accepted part of a collective. Without that sense of connection, they can experience depression, isolation and physical illness that could limit them from experiencing productive, happy lives.

Quality of Life

Social scientists from Columbia and Harvard universities conducted a quality of life study among patients with severe mental illness in 2003. Applying social integration theories to demonstrate the emotional and mental value of interaction and citizenship for disabled individuals in the community, the study supported the belief that both interaction and citizenship are reasonable expectations in patient care. Citing successful employment programs that place disabled individuals into competitive jobs, the study demonstrated the potential capacity of social integration in effective long-term treatment and sense of wellness among patients.

Physical Health

According to Durkheim, improper social integration was linked to the health risks of prolonged isolation, including mental or physical illness and suicide. In the Pittsburgh Common Cold study performed in 2000 at Carnegie Mellon University with Children's Hospital and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, scientists found that rates of illness decreased as an individual's social network increased. Individual perception of their roles in society (such as parent, spouse, friend) generated positive emotional and mental states. Positive self-perception was linked to the production of hormones associated with immune function. The study also suggested multiple social roles could also impact individual exposure to positive health models and influence.


Social scientists are exploring how social integration applies to other sociology models including the theory of validation. Social integration relies on the peer group as one motivator in retention in an academic environment. Additional study suggests validation from faculty or leadership in creating a sense of inclusion for students struggling with integration in an unfamiliar environment is also beneficial. In studies related to social integration and the impact on student retention, social scientists emphasise validation as a critical part of social integration, citing positive academic experiences for minority groups integrated in an academic environment where they experience faculty support and interaction.

System Integration

British sociologist David Lockwood has indicated a connection between social integration and system integration. System integration refers to the relationship between society and the larger social system designed to provide order. The integration of these two theories would eventually develop into the idea of a collective conscience, a topic and theory related to Macrosociology. Macrosociology studies the potential long-term effects of emotional and mental stresses on social systems when groups experience isolation, disillusionment and illness associated with a lack of social integration.

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About the Author

CL Hardy is a communication professional based in Austin, Texas. In addition to writing corporate newsletters, proposals and technical white papers for Fortune 500 clients for more than 12 years, Hardy has been published in "Black Collegian" magazine; her articles on human resources, business and art topics can be found on eHow. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.S. in communication.