Division of labor is the specialization of cooperative labor in specific, circumscribed tasks and like roles. Historically an increasingly complex division of labor is closely associated with the growth of total output and trade, the rise of capitalism, and of the complexity of industrialization processes.
For Marx and his followers, it means a double division of labor, the technical division of labor in the enterprise and in a particular industry that broke down the production process into a sequence of tasks and the social division of labor among enterprises, industries, and social classes that was mediated through commodity exchange in market relations. While the social labor of the enterprise was rationally organized, Marx saw contradictions and class exploitation and domination in the social division of labor. Despite the chronic warfare of agrarian societies, the social structures of these societies remained relatively stable over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, with most of the changes taking place at the top – a change of regimes.
It is true that he finds that "determining cause" of increased division of labor in the growth and heightened density of populations, which is primarily a biological factor but it is only in so far as this demographic change is associated with increased social interaction and its concomitant, enhanced competition, that the stipulated change will occur. It is thus this social factor - the "dynamic density," as he terms it - which Durkheim finds actually determinant.
The thesis of "The Division of Labor" is that modern society is not held together by the similarities between people who do basically similar things. Instead, it is the division of labor itself that pulls people together by forcing them to be dependent on each other. It may seem that the division of labor is an economic necessity that corrodes the feeling of solidarity, by Durkheim argued that the economic services that it can render are insignificant compared with the moral effect that it produces and its true function is to create between two or more people a feeling of solidarity.
The sexual division of labor in modern societies divides production in terms of both gender and spheres denoted as "public" and "private." Women are given primary responsibility for the private sphere. Men are given privileged access to the public sphere (which liberal feminists see as the locus of the true rewards of social life- money, power, status, freedom, opportunities for growth and self worth).
K. Marx called the division of social production into major genera (for example, farming and industry) the general division of labor. The division of the genera into species and subspecies (for example, the division of industry into sectors) is called the particular division of labor, and the division of labor within an enterprise, the singular division of labor. These three categories of the division of labor are inseparable from the occupational division of labor, which reflects specialization among workers. The term “division of labor” is also used to signify production specialization in one country and among countries—that is, territorial (geographic) and international division of labor.
In the early phase of the development of society, there was a natural division of labor by sex and age. As the instruments of production became more complex and the forms of human influence on nature increased, human labor was qualitatively differentiated, and certain types of labor were isolated or distinguished. There was an obvious purpose underlying this process: the division of labor led to rising labor productivity.
In an early discussion in the book on “Social Aspects of the Division of Labor” Weber refers to situations in which “exploitation for profit of the products of labor is appropriated by an owner." This sounds like a Marxist-type discussion of exploitation as appropriation of labor effort. The meaning of “exploitation” in this passage, however, is made clear by its use in the immediately following passage in which Weber refers to situations in which “exploitation for profit of the products of labor is also appropriated by the workers”. The term “exploitation” here, and elsewhere, simply means “taking advantage of an opportunity."
The division of social labor, on the other hand, while it enhances, nay compels, individuation, also occasions an "organic solidarity," based upon the interdependence of co-operatively functioning individuals and groups. This type of solidarity is indexed by juridical rules defining the nature and relations of functions. These rules may properly be be termed restitutive law, since their violation involves merely reparative, and not expiatory, consequences.
The concept of the division of labor is used both by structural functionalists (the students of Durkheim) and conflict theorists (the students of Marx), but the meaning of the concept differs. For Durkheim and his followers, it means the occupational structure, and it also includes a new form of social solidarity, organic solidarity, that integrates the members of industrial societies in contrast to the mechanical solidarity of traditional societies. Durkheim saw this as a weaker, more precarious form of solidarity that was still in the process of development in the early twentieth century.
Weber discusses the motivation of workers to expend effort in a broader discussion of the “conditions affecting the optimization of calculable performance by labor." “Optimization of calculable performance” is a specific problem within the broader discussion of the conditions which foster or impede technical rationality in economic organization.