Who is he? Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist who rose to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Along with Karl Marx and Max Weber, he is credited as being one of the principal founders of modern sociology. (IEP)
When he was young, he...Was born in Epinal, France. He came from a long line of devout French Jews. However, he broke with family tradition and went to the École normale supérieure in 1879, where he studied philosophy. (About)
Later on, he... Found humanistic studies uninteresting, turning his attention from psychology and philosophy to ethics and eventually, sociology. He graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1882. Durkheim's views could not get him a major academic appointment in Paris, so from 1882 to 1887 he taught philosophy at several provincial schools. In 1885 he left for Germany, where he studied sociology for two years. Durkheim's period in Germany resulted in the publication of numerous articles on German social science and philosophy, which gained recognition in France, earning him a teaching appointment at the University of Bordeaux in 1887. This was an important sign of the change of times, and the growing importance and recognition of the social sciences. From this position, Durkheim helped reform the French school system and introduced the study of social science in its curriculum. Also in 1887, Durkheim married Louise Dreyfus, with whom he later had two children. (About)
What did he do...During his time at Bordeaux, Durkheim had great success, publishing his 3 out of his 4 doctoral thesis: On the Division of Social Labor (1893, Division), The Rules of Sociological Method (1895, Rules), and Suicide: A Study in Sociology (1897, Suicide). (IEP)
Then...In 1902, Durkheim was finally given a promotion in the form of the chair of the Science of Education at the Sorbonne(Hooray!). In 1906 he became a full professor and in 1913, his position was changed to formally include sociology. Henceforth he was chair of the Science of Education and Sociology. Here he gave lectures on a number of subjects and published a number of important essays as well as his final, and most important, major work The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912, Forms). (IEP)
Everyone hates WWI...So as Durkheim. The war took many of his most promising pupils and in 1915 his son, André, also died in combat(Oooops). From this point Durkheim would never recovered.(IEP)
At last...In November 1917 he died of a stroke, leaving his last great work, La Morale (Morality), with only a preliminary introduction. (IEP)
So Who Inspired Him? Auguste Comte, who wished to extend the scientific method to the social sciences, and Herbert Spencer, who developed an evolutionary utilitarian approach that he applied to different areas in the social sciences, made notable attempts and their work had a formative influence on Durkheim. Several of Durkheim’s teachers at the École normale supérieure would also have an important impact on his thinking. During his visit to Germany, He encountered German scholars such as Alfred Wagner, Gustav Schmoller, Rudolph von Jhering, Albert Schäffle, and Wilhelm Wundt who were working on scientific approaches to the study of ethics. Importantly these scholars were relating morality to other social institutions such as economics or the law, and in the process were emphasizing the social nature of morality. Arguably the most important of these thinkers for Durkheim was Wundt, who rejected methodological individualism and argued that morality was a sui generis social phenomenon that could not be reduced to individuals acting in isolation. (IEP)
What were his ideas? According to Durkheim, all elements of society, including morality and religion, are products of history. As they do not have a transcendent origin and are part of the natural world, they can be studied scientifically. The fundamental claim for Durkheim’s sociology, and what is to make up the subject matter for sociology, is the existence of what Durkheim calls social facts. A social fact, as defined in Rules, is “a category of facts which present very special characteristics: they consist of manners of acting, thinking, and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him.” (Durkheim; 1982: 52) Chief among his claims is that society is a sui generis reality, or a reality unique to itself and irreducible to its composing parts. It is created when individual consciences interact and fuse together to create a synthetic reality that is completely new and greater than the sum of its parts. This reality can only be understood in sociological terms, and cannot be reduced to biological or psychological explanations. (IEP)
Also...When Durkheim began writing, sociology was not recognized as an independent field of study. As part of the campaign to change this he went to great lengths to separate sociology from all other disciplines, especially philosophy. In consequence, while Durkheim’s influence in the social sciences has been extensive, his relationship with philosophy remains ambiguous. Nevertheless, Durkheim maintained that sociology and philosophy are in many ways complementary, going so far as to say that sociology has an advantage over philosophy, since his sociological method provides the means to study philosophical questions empirically, rather than metaphysically or theoretically. As a result, Durkheim often used sociology to approach topics that have traditionally been reserved for philosophical investigation. (IEP)
His Main Works? In 1893, Durkheim published his first major work, The Division of Labor in Society, in which he introduced the concept of "anomie", or the breakdown of the influence of social norms on individuals within a society. In 1895, he published The Rules of Sociological Method, his second major work, which was a manifesto stating what sociology is and how it ought to be done. In 1897, he published his third major work, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, a case study exploring the differing suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics and arguing that stronger social control among Catholics results in lower suicide rates. . In 1912, he published his last major work, The Elementary Forms of The Religious Life, a book that analyzes religion as a social phenomenon. (About)
How Else Did He Speak Of His Mind? Durkheim also published a voluminous number of articles and reviews, and has had several of his lecture courses published posthumously. In 1887 he was appointed to teach Social Sciences and Pedagogy at the University of Bordeaux, allowing him to teach the first ever official sociology courses in France. (About)
So If He Is Famous Why Had I Never Heard Of Him? Durkheim remains a fundamental and prominent figure for sociology and social theory in general. Yet, in comparison with Marx and Weber, the influence of Durkheim’s thought has been somewhat muted, especially with regards to philosophy. This can be partly explained by the fact that the Durkheimian school of thought was greatly reduced when many of his most promising students were killed in WWI. (IEP)
Nevertheless, his ideas had, and continue to have, a strong impact in the social sciences, especially in sociology and anthropology. Members of his research group, such as Marcel Mauss, Paul Fauconnet, Célestin Bouglé, and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, and later thinkers, such as Maurice Halbwachs, Talcott Parsons, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, and Claude Levi-Strauss, were all strongly influenced by him. Philosophers such as Henri Bergeson and Emmanuel Levinas acknowledge the influence of Durkheim’s ideas, and his work is also present in that of Jacques Lacan and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In addition to this, Durkheim’s ideas are latent in the structuralist thought that emerged in post WWII France, for example in Alain Badiou, Louis Althusser, and Michel Foucault. More recently, social theorists such as Pierre Bourdieu, Robert Bellah, and Steven Lukes, and philosophers such as Charles Taylor and Hans Joas, have been influenced by Durkheim’s thinking. (IEP)
- Durkheim Is Best Known For:
- A founding figure in the field of sociology
- "Father of sociology"
- Credited with making sociology a science
- Emile Durkheim was born April 15, 1858.
- He died November 15, 1917.
- Main Works:
- On the Division of Social Labor
- The Rules of Sociological Method
- Suicide: A Study in Sociology
- The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.
A Man Who Does Not Have Much To Do With Your Life But You Still Should Remeber
- Ashley Crossman Sociology Expert. "How Important Was Emile Durkheim?" About.com Education. N.p., 03 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
- "Émile Durkheim (1858—1917)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.