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The French social theorist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) used the term collective consciousness in his The Rules of Sociological Method (1895), Suicide (1897), and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912).

According to Durkheim, individual desires are limitless and constrained only by external social forces. These and bounds constitute the collective consciousness, which is embodied in a culture's formal and informal norms and values. These are expressed in a variety of ways, ranging from codified rules and laws (ie, speed limits on the highway), to more informal rules that exist only in the heads of the culture that shares the collective (ie, it's polite to cover your mouth when you sneeze). These shared norms provide common ideological ground for members of a society, and ensure that members act in agreed-upon ways.

Various forms have been identified by other sociologists, going from solidarity attitudes and memes to extreme behaviors like groupthink or herd behavior. It is a way of describing how an entire community comes together to share similar values.

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