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Emile Durkhiem :
A Critical Appraisal

B.A.(Hons.) LL.B. 2nd Semester

Submitted to: Submitted by:

Dr. Jasleen Kewlani Group no.


Ankita Mittal, 427

Debarati Dey, 429

Prakhar Deep, 437

Anshul Gupta, 439


This project is purely based on the bonafide research work carried out under the
guidance and supervision of Ms. Jasleen Kewlani and the same has not been submitted
anywhere for any purposes whatsoever.
Ankita Mittal
Debarati Dey
Prakhar Deep
Anshul Gupta

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal


We take this opportunity to express our humble gratitude and personal regards to
Dr. Jasleen Kewlani for inspiring us and guiding us during the course of this project
work. We also extend our sincere thanks to our parents and friends for the inspiration and
guidance given to us from time to time during the progress of this project work. And we
also want to extend our regards to the library staff of our university as without their help
this project was not possible.
Ankita Mittal
Debarati Dey
Prakhar Deep
Anshul Gupta

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents.................................................................. 4
CHAPTER 1...........................................................................5
CHAPTER 2...........................................................................7
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY.................................................7
CHAPTER 3...........................................................................8
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY....................................................8
CHAPTER 4...........................................................................9
PROBLEMS FACED.................................................................9

.......................................................................................... 10
CHAPTER 5.......................................................................... 11
THEORY OF SOCIAL FACTS.........................................................11
THEORY OF DIVISION OF LABOUR...............................................14
THEORY AND TYPOLOGY OF SUICIDE..........................................18
THE ELEMENTARY FORMS OF RELIGIOUS LIFE .............................24
CHAPTER 6.......................................................................... 27
CONCLUSION....................................................................... 27

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal



Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)

Emile Durkheim is considered by many to be the father of sociology. He is

credited with making sociology a science, and having made it part of the French
academic curriculum as "Science Sociale". During his lifetime, Emile Durkheim gave
many lectures, and published an impressive number of sociological studies on subjects
such as religion, suicide, and all aspects of society.1

(The Division of Labor in Society), in its original French language form, in which
he introduced the concept of "anomie". The Division of Labor in Society is one of the
four most important of Durkheim's works which also include, "Les Règles de la méthode
sociologique" (The Rules of Sociological Method), Le Suicide: étude de sociologie"
(Suicide: A Study in Sociology), and "Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse" (The
Elementary Forms of the Religious Life).2
Durkheim was a tireless worker- a ‘workaholic’ before the term was invented. In
the course of his career he thought a variety of courses, founded a research institute,
founded and edited what probably was the first journal of sociology, trained a generation
of graduate students, and produced a large body of literature. In his fifty-nine years,
Durkheim did more than anyone else to institutionalize sociology. In pursuing his larger
goal of reforming modern society along lines that be thought were both morally
progressive and necessary, he had no success. Many of the social problems and
conditions that he viewed as “pathological” are still with us today; the solution of
“corporatism” he offered to them seems at best quaint and has no adherents.
Durkheim was actively concerned with French politics throughout his life. He was

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respected as a political liberalist. The most prominent area of his interest was moral
education. He was particularly concerned to discover values and moral principles that
would guide French education. Durkheim had evinced interest in socialism. His
conception of socialism was markedly different from that of Marxian socialism.
Durkheim labeled Marxism as a set of “disputable and out-of-date hypotheses.”3 He did
not see the proletariat as the salvation of society, and he was greatly opposed to agitation
or violence.
Though Durkheim is no more, functionalism, sociology of education, sociology of
law, sociology of religion etc. started by him, are still alive.

Lukes as quoted by George Ritzer in “Contemporary Sociological Theory” 2nd Edition. Page 81.
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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal



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The research Methodology applied is EXPLANATORY and ANALYTICAL. Emile

Durkheim has given major contribution in the Sociology. In our project we have tried our
level best to showcase all aspects of Emile Durkheim. Every aspect is explained in
precise manner. We have critically analyzed all the theories given by Emile Durkheim, its
positive, negative aspects as well as significance. The chapter plan is systematic and to
the point.

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal



We did not face too much problem while preparing this project. Though at some point of
time there were some problems in context to coordination of group mates. A major
problem which we faced in our project is limitations of our research. Since our college is
not subscribed to crucial journal database such as JSTOR and SSRN, our research was
only confined to books available in our university. If we had access to these databases we
would have easily researched through latest papers about theories of Emile Durkheim.

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal




While Durkheim’s writings touch on issues of political organization and morality,
the fundamental concept diffused throughout his writings reflects a desire to provide a
theoretical framework for describing and understanding the social construction of societal
life. The overall agenda for Durkheim is to explain the process by which individuals
socially integrate into society, as well as to provide a model for understanding the
relationship between people and their respective societies. Most basically, Durkheim
develops a framework for analyzing the construction and constitution of social life.
The concept of “social facts” assumes importance in Durkheimian sociology. In fact,
Durkheim has even defined sociology as a science of social facts4. Social facts and events
constitute the fundamental bases of his sociology thought. He tried to analyse and explain
social phenomenon and social life by making use of this concept as his basic concept.
Durkheim’s views about social facts are extensively dealt with in his second major
treatise namely, “The Rules of Sociological Method”.

Main Intentions of the “Theory of Social Facts”: Durkheim was in part a positivist and
a believer in applying the methods of physical sciences to the study of social facts.
Durkheim conception of sociology is based on a theory of social fact. Durkheim’s aim is
to demonstrate that there is a science called “sociology” which is an objective science
conforming to the model of the other sciences and whose subject is the social fact.

Meaning of the concept of “Social Fact”:

1. “A Social fact is a phase of behaviour which is subjective to the observer and
which has a coercive nature”
2. “A category of facts consisting of ways of acting, thinking and feeling, external to
the individual and endowed with a power of coercion by means of which they

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control him.”5

Two Main Characteristics of Social Facts:

Durkheim has emphatically stated that social facts must consist of the following two
1. Social facts must be regarded as “things”, and
2. Social facts are “external” and “exercise constraint” on individuals.6

1. Social facts must be regarded as “things”: According, to Durkheim, social facts

must be treated as “things”, as empirical facts from the outside, we must discover
them as we discover them as we discover physical facts. “Precisely because we
have the illusion of knowing social realities, it is important that we realize that
they are not immediately known to us. It is in this sense that Durkheim maintains
that we must regard social facts as thing because things, he says, are all that is
given, all that is offered to – or rather forced upon- our observation.”
a. Social facts are not reducible to individual facts: Durkheim, thus writes: “Social
facts are inexplicable in terms of and irreducible to either psychological or
physiological analysis.” Distinguishing between psychological and social facts
Durkheim says: “The former are elaborated in the individual consciousness and
then tend to externalize themselves; the latter are at first external to the
individual, whom they tend to fashion in their image from without”.7 Thus,
Durkheim’s orientation towards the study of society requires that economic and
psychological reductionism be eschewed in the light of the “sui generis” quality
of social facts.
2. Social Facts are External to the Individuals and Exercise a Constraint on them
This characteristics feature involve two elements:
a. Social facts are external to the individuals

Durkheim has emphatically stated that society is a reality “sui generis” above
and apart from the individuals. He provides four evidences in defence of this

principles of sociology with an introduction to social thought, c.n. Shankar Rao, S.Chand & Company Ltd., 6th
edition, 2007, page 698
Durkheim in his “Rules of Sociological Method” page- 102.
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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal

I. Heterogeneity of individual and collective states of mind: Durkheim says that
there is a difference in the states of mind of an individual and a group. Ex. In
times of national danger the intensity of the collective feeling of patriotism is
much greater than that of any individual feeling. Further, society’s willingness
to sacrifice individuals is much greater than the willingness of individuals to
sacrifice themselves. 8
II. Difference in individual attitudes and behaviour which results from the group
situation: Individual, for example thinks, feels, and acts in a different fashion
when in a crowd. This means that a new reality is created by the association of
individuals and this reality reacts upon the sentiments and behaviour of the
individual. It can even change them.9
III. Uniformities of Social Statistics: Many types of social facts like crimes,
marriages, suicides, etc., show a surprising degree of numerical consistency
from year to year. This consistency cannot be explained from personal motives.
According to Durkheim, this could be explained only in terms of “certain real
social currents which form a part of the individual’s environment”.10
IV. The fourth evidence is based on analogy and on philosophical theory of
emergence: Just as a phenomenon of life cannot be explained by physio-
chemical properties of the molecules which forms a cell, but by a particular
association of molecules, so also we must assume that society is not reducible to
the properties of individual minds. On the contrary, society constitutes reality
“sui generis” which emerges out of the interaction of individual minds.11
b. Social Facts Exercise Constraints on the Individuals
According to Durkheim, social facts have constraining effect on
individual. Social facts so condition human beings that it makes them behave in a
particular manner. Durkheim uses series of examples such as, moral laws, legal
rules, panel system and the crowd behaviour in support of this view. Examples:

principles of sociology with an introduction to social thought, c.n. Shankar Rao, S.Chand & Company Ltd., 6th
edition, 2007, page 699
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I. In a crowd situation an individual feels constrained to behave in a particular
manner. Laughter, for example, is communicated to all. Such a phenomenon is
a social because, its basis, its subject is the group as a whole and not the
II. Social facts are belief systems, customs and institutions e.g. education. They
are chosen by individuals and cannot be changed at will. A social fact
continues to exist because it is useful to society.

1. According to L.A. Coser, Durkheim’ Theory of Social Facts completely ignores
the importance of the individual and places too much premium on society.
2. Durkheim’s attempts to analyse and study “Social facts as things” is criticized by
H.E.Barnes. He says that Durkheim has not made it clear anywhere as to what he
means by the term “things” in the context of social facts. The term has a vague
connotation. It could mean a lot many other things to other people, doubting the
validity of the theory.
3. Durkheim recommended indirect experiment that is, the comparative method as
the only appropriate method suited to study social-phenomenon. He made
comparative sociology not a branch of sociology but sociology.
4. Gabriel Tarde criticizes that it is difficult to imagine and apprciate Durkheimian
analysis of society bereft of individuals.


Durkheim’s “Theory of Division of Labour” is often regarded as his major
contribution to the field of sociological thought. Durkheim’s doctoral thesis, “Division of
Labour in Society” is his first major book. In this, the influence of August Comte is
clearly evident. The theme of this book is the relationship between individuals and
society or the collectivity. It is indeed a classic study of social solidarity. In his book he
reacted against the view that modern industrial society could be based simply upon
agreement between individuals motivated by self- interest and without any prior
consensus. He agreed that any kind of consensus in modern society was different from
that in simpler social systems. But he saw both the different types of social solidarity.

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal

Meaning of Division of Labour:

A social division of labour, it refers to differentiation in society as a whole.12 In a
general sense, term division of labour involves the assignment to each unit or groups a
specific share of a common task. As used by the early classical economists such as Adam
Smith, the term describes a specialization in workshops and the factory system, and
explains the advantage accruing in terms of the increased efficiency and productivity
from these new arrangements.13
While Marx was pessimistic about the division of labour in society, Durkheim
was cautiously optimistic. Marx saw the specialized division of labour trapping the
worker in his occupational role and dividing society into antagonist social classes.
Durkheim saw a number of problems arising from specialization in industrial society but
believed that the promise of the division of labour outweighed the problems.14

Two Main Types of Social Solidarity:

As it is made clear that the main theme of the book “Division of Labour and
Society” by Durkheim, is the relationship between individual and society. The nature of
this relationship could be stated in form two questions:
1. How can a large number of individuals make up a society?
2. How can these individuals achieve ‘consensus’, which is the basic condition
of social existence?
In his attempt to answer these vital questions Durkheim drew up a distinction
between two forms of solidarity namely,
1. Mechanical Solidarity
2. Organic Solidarity
These two types of solidarity were found in the traditional tribal society and in the
modern complex urban societies.

The Link Between Division of Labour and Social Solidarity:

Meaning of the Concept of Solidarity:
1. Social Solidarity is synonymous with social cohesion and social integration.
“The Penguin Dictionary” by Abercombie and others, page 74
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, page 172
M. Haralambos in “Sociology – Themes and Perspectives”. Page 237.
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2. It refers to “the integration and degree or type of integration, manifest by a
society or group.”15
3. Social solidarity refers to “the condition within a group in which there is
social cohesion plus co-operative, collective action directed towards the
achievement of group goals.”16

Division of Labour is different from Disintegration: Durkheim

Durkheim distinguishes between division of labour and disintegration.

Disintegration is illustrated by industrial failures, crises, conflicts and crimes. All these
are pathological in nature. In these forms of division of labour ceases to bring forth
solidarity hence represents an “anomic division of labour” so to say. Division of labour in
society is actually different from occupational division of labour in the factory as pointed
out by Marx.

In this earlier work Durkheim stated that a society with organic solidarity needed
fewer common beliefs to bind members to the society. But later he changed his view and
stressed that even the societies in which organic solidarity has reached its peak, needed a
common faith, a “common conscience collective.” This would help the men to remain
united and not to “disintegrate into a heap of mutually antagonistic and self-seeking

Division of Labor and Anomie

Division of labor, though an essential element of society can do great harm to the
society if carried to the extreme. Durkheim was quite aware of this and hence had
cautioned against the adverse consequences of unregulated division of labor. “Anomie” is
one such adverse consequence. In fact, Durkheim was the first to use this concept.

The Greek term “Anomie” literally means “without norms” or “normlessness.”

”Anomie” is the outcome of clash in one’s own values and those of the society and one is
not clear in what way to go, how to behave and how to come upto the exceptions of the
society and also how to mould the environment to suit his expectations.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology. Page 621
Dictionary of Sociology, W.P. Scott, page 406.
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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal

“Anomie is the strict counterpart of the idea of social solidarity. Just as solidarity
is a state of collective ideological integration, anomie is a state of confusion, insecurity,
normlessness. The collective representations are in a state of decay.”

State of Anomie Leading to Personal and Social Disorganization

The essential problem of modern society, Durkheim argued, is that the division of
labor leads inevitably to feelings of individualism, which can be achieved only at the cost
of shared sentiments or beliefs. The result of anomie is- a state of normlessness in both
the society and the individual. Social norms become confused or break down, and people
feel detached from their fellow beings. Having little commitment to shared norms, people
lack social guidelines for personal conduct and are inclined to pursue their private interest
without regard for the interests of society as a whole. Social control of individual
behavior becomes ineffective, and as a result the society is threatened with
disorganization or even disintegration.

Durkheim was probably correct in his view that the division of labor and the resulting
growth of individualism would break down shared commitment to social norms, and it
seems plausible that there is widespread anomie in modern societies. Yet these societies
do retain some broad consensus on norms and values, as we can readily see when we
compare one society with another, say, the United Sates with China. Although this
consensus seems much weaker than that in preindustrial societies, it is probably still
strong enough to guide most individual behavior and to avert the social breakdown that
Durkheim feared. Durkheim’s analysis remains valuable, however, for his acute insights
into the far-ranging effects that the division of labor has on social and personal life.

Concluding Remarks

Durkheim’s views regarding division labor could be summed up in the words of

Raymond Aron in the following way:

According to Raymond Aron, the philosophical idea which underlies the theory of
“division of labor” could be summed up like this: “the individual is the expression of the
collectivity itself.. It is the structure of the collectivity that imposes on each man his

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peculiar responsibility.” Even in the society which authorizes each man to be himself and
know himself, there is more collective consciousness present in the individual
consciousness than we imagine.” Collective imperatives and prohibitions, collective
values and things held sacred are needed to bind individuals to the social entity. Hence
Durkheim felt that only if all members of a society were tied to a common set of
symbolic representations or to common set of beliefs about the world around them, the
moral unity of the society would be safe. “Without them, Durkheim argued, any society,
whether primitive or modern, was bound to degenerate and decay.”


Durkheim’s third famous book “Suicide” published in 1897 is in various respects
related to his study of division of labor. “Suicide” the act of taking one’s own life, figures
prominently in the historical development of sociology because it was the subject of the
first sociological data to test a theory. Durkheim’s theory of suicide is cited as “a
monumental landmark in which conceptual theory and empirical research are brought
Durkheim’s book “suicide” is an analysis of a phenomenon regarded as
pathological, intended to throw light on the evil which threatens modern industrial
societies, that is, “anomie.” Suicide is an indication of disorganization of both individual
and society. Increasing number of suicide clearly indicates something wrong somewhere
in the social system of the concerned society. Durkheim has studies his problem at some

Durkheim’s study of suicide begins with a definition of the phenomenon. He then

proceeds to refute the earlier interpretations of suicide. Finally, he develops a general
theory of the phenomenon.

Definition of Suicide
According to Durkheim, suicide refers to “every case of death resulting directly or
indirectly from a positive or negative death performed by the victim himself and which
strives to produce this result.”
It is clear from the definition of Durkheim that suicide is a conscious act and the
person concerned is fully aware of its consequences. The person who shoots himself to
death, or drinks severe poison, or jumps down from the 10th storey of a building, for
example, is fully aware of the consequences of such an act.

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal

Two main purposes behind this study

Durkheim used a number of statically records to establish his fundamental idea that
suicide is also a social fact and order and disorder are at the very root of suicide. As
Abraham and Morgan [page-114] have pointed out, Durkheim made use of statistical
analysis for two primary reasons. They are stated below:
(a) To refute theories of suicide based on psychology, biology, genetics, climate, and
geographic factors.

(b) To support with empirical evidence his own sociological explanation of suicide.

Durkheim displays an extreme form of Sociological Realism

Durkheim is of the firm belief that suicide is not an individual act or a private and
personal action. It is caused by some power which is over and above the individual or
“super-individual.” It is not a personal situation but a manifestation of a social condition.
He speaks of suicidal currents as collective tendencies that dominate some vulnerable
persons. The act of suicide is nothing but the manifestation of these currents. Durkheim
has selected the instance or event of suicide to demonstrate the function of sociological

Durkheim chooses Statistical Method to know the causes of suicide

Durkheim wanted to know why people commit suicide, and he chooses to think
that explanations focusing on the psychology of the individual were inadequate.
Experiments on suicide obviously out of question. Case studies of the past suicides
would be of little use, because they do not provide reliable generalizations, about all
suicides. Survey methods were hardly appropriate, because one cannot survey dead
people. But statics on suicide readily available and Durkheim chose to analyze them.

Durkheim Rejects Extra-social factors as the Causes of suicide

Durkheim repudiated most of the accepted theories of suicide. (1) His
monographic study demonstrated that heredity, for example, is not sufficient explanation
of suicide. (2) Climatic and geographic factors are equally insufficient as explanatory
factors. (3) Likewise, waves of imitation are inadequate explanations. (4) He also
established the fact that suicide is not necessarily caused by psychological factors.

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Social Forces are the Real Causes of Suicide: Durkheim
Suicide is a highly individual act, yet the motives for a suicide can be fully
understood only by reference to the social context in which it occurs. In his attempts to
substantiate this fact he came to know that the incidence of suicide varied from one
special group or set up to another and did so in a consistent manner over the years.
Protestants were more likely to commit suicide than Catholics; people in large cities were
more likely to commit suicide than people in small communities; people living alone
were more likely to commit suicide than people living in families. Durkheim isolated one
independent variable that lay behind these differences: the extent to which the individual
was integrated into a social bond with others. People with fragile or weaker ties to their
community are more likely to take their own lives than people who have stronger ties.

Durkheim’s Threefold Classification of Suicide

Having dismissed explanations of extra-social factors, Durkheim proceeds to analyze the

types of suicide. He takes into account three types of suicide:

(1) Egoistic suicide- which results from the lack of the integration of the individual into
his social group.

(2) Altruistic suicide- is a kind of suicide which results from the over-integration of the
individual into his social group.

(3) Anomic suicide- results from the state of normlessness or degeneration found in

Having analyzed the above mentioned three types of suicide, Durkheim concludes
that “suicide is an individual phenomenon whose causes are essentially social.”

Suicide- an index to Decay in Social Solidarity

Durkheim has established the view that there are no societies in which suicide does
not occur. It means suicide may be considering as a “normal”, that is, a regular
occurrence. However, sudden increase in suicide rates may be witnessed. This, he said,

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal

could be taken as “an index of disintegrating forces at work in a social structure.” He also
came to the conclusion that different rates of suicide are the consequences of differences
in degree and type of social solidarity. Suicide is a kind of index to decay in social

Brief Evaluation of Durkheim’s Theory of Suicide

Comments in Appreciation of the Theory

1. As L.A.Coser stated, Durkheim’s study of “suicide” could be cited as a

monumental land work study in which conceptual theory and empirical research
are brought together in an imposing manner.

2. As Abraham and Morgan have said “the larger significance of suicide lies in its
demonstration of the function of sociological theory in empirical science” [page-

3. A successful attempt is made in this theory to establish logically the link between
social solidarity, social control and suicide.

4. Durkheim has thrown light on the various faces of suicide. He is, indeed, the first
person in this regard.

Critical Comments

1. Durkheim has given importance only to social factors in suicide. In doing so, he
has neglected the role of other factors, especially the psychological. Hence this is
a one-sided view.

2. The theory is based upon a very small sample of data concerning suicide.

3. A criminologist have pointed out, economic, psychological and even religious

factors may lead to suicide. But Durkheim did not give any importance to these

Three Types of Suicide

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On the basis of the analysis of a mass of data gathered by him on many societies and
cultures, Durkheim identified three basic types of suicides. They are followed:

(1) Egoistic suicide

(2) Altruistic suicide

(3) Anomic suicide

According to Durkheim, all these occur as an expression of group breakdown of

some kind or the other. These three types of relation between the actor and his

1. Egoistic Suicide

Egoistic Suicide is a product of relatively weak integration. It takes place as a

result of extreme loneliness and also out of excess individualism. When men become
“detached from society” and when the bonds that previously had tied them to their fellow
beings become loose- they are more prone to egoistic.

According to Durkheim, egoistic suicides are committed by those individuals

who have the tendency to shut themselves up within themselves. Such individuals feel
affronted, hurt and ignored. Introversive traits gain upper hand in them. Egoistic persons
are aloof and cut off from the mainstream of society and do not take full interest in social
matters. Such persons get alienated and find it difficult to cope with social alienation and
feel impelled to commit suicide.

Durkheim’s belief is that lack of integration of the individuals into the social
group is the main cause for egoistic suicide. Durkheim studied varying degrees of
integration of individuals into their religion, family, political and national communities.
He found that among the Catholicism is able to integrate its members more fully into its
fold. On the other hand, Protestantism fosters spirit of free inquiry, permits great
individual freedom, lacks hierarchic organizations and has fewer common beliefs and
practices. It is known that the Catholic Church is more powerfully integrated than the
Protestant church. It is in this way the Protestants are more prone to commit suicide than
the Catholics. Hence, Durkheim generalized that the lack of integration is the main cause
of egoistic suicide.

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal

2. Altruistic Suicide

This kind of suicide takes place in the form of a sacrifice in which an individual ends
his life by heroic means so as to promote a cause or an ideal which is very dear to him. It
results from the over integration of the individual into his group. In simple words,
altruistic suicide is taking off one’s own life for the sake of a cause. It means that even
high level of social solidarity includes suicide. Examples:

(1) In some primitive societies and in modern armies such suicide takes place.

(2) Japanese sometimes illustrate this type of suicide. They call it “Harakiri.” In this
practice of Harakiri, some Japanese go to the extent taking off their lives for the
sake of the larger social unity. They consider the self-destruction would prevent
the breakdown of social unity.

(3) The practice of “Sati” which was once in practice in North India is another
example of this kind.

(4) The self-immolation by Buddhist monks, self-destruction in Nirvana under the

Brahmanical influence as found in the case of ancient Hindu sages represent other
Variants of altruistic suicide.

Wherever altruistic suicide is prevalent, man is always ready to sacrifice his life for a
great cause, principle, ideal or value.

2. Anomic Suicide

The breakdown of social norms and sudden social changes that are characteristic of
modern times, encourage anomic suicide. When the collective conscience weakens, men
fall victim to anomic suicide. “Without the social backing to which one is accustomed,
life is judged to be not worth continuing.”

Anomic suicide is the type that follows catastrophic social changes. Social life all
around seems to go to pieces. According to Durkheim, at times when social relations get
disturbed both personal and social ethics become causalities. Values of life come down
and outlook of some persons changes radically. There are certain dangerous
developments in the society. A sudden change has its vibrations both in social life and

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social relationship, when paves way for suicide. If the change is sudden, adjustment
becomes difficult and those who do not get adjusted to changes commit suicide. It is this
social disruption which leads to suicide. According to Durkheim, not only economic
disaster and industrial crisis but even sudden economic prosperity can cause disruption
and deregulation and finally suicide.

Concluding Remarks

These three kinds of suicide understood as social types also correspond

approximately to psychological types. “Egoistic suicide tends to be characterized by a
kind apathy, an absence of attachment to life; Altruistic suicide by a state of energy and
passion; Anomic suicide is characterized by a state of irritation or disgust”- Raymond

Raymond Aron pointed out that Durkheim in his study of “suicide” has been successful
in establishing a social fact that there is “specific social phenomena which govern
individual phenomena. The most impressive, most eloquent example is that of the social
forces which drive individuals to their deaths, each believing that he is obeying only


The book “The Elementary Forms of Religious life-1912” seems to be the last of
Durkheim’s major works. In this book he brings his analysis of collective of group forces
to the study of religion. It could be very well identified that Durkheim concern about
religion lay in the fact that it was one of the main agencies of solidarity and morality in

Durkheim one of the earliest functionalist theorists, was the first sociologist to
apply the functional approach to religion in a systematic way. His theory of religion got
its proper form in his famous book “The Elementary Forms of Religious life-1912.” It is
indeed, his significant contribution to the field of “Sociology of Religion.”

Durkheim in his study stressed the social role or functions of the simplest form of
religion called totemism of Australian Aborigines. The totem, denotes a common object
such as an animal, or a plant, and a symbol representing that it is sacred. Each tribal clan

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal

is organized around totem. The totem, then, is sacred but it is also the symbol of society
itself. From this fact Durkheim concluded that when people worship religion, they are
really worshipping nothing more than their own society: “divinity is merely society
transformed and symbolically conceived.”

When happens, Durkheim argued, is that members of the clan gather periodically.
They participate in some group functions with emotional excitement and feel great
ecstasy and elation of a kind which they would never feel alone. Now, the “Man know
well that they are acted upon, but they do not know by whom.” They pick on some
nearby item such s a plant or animal, and make this the symbol of both their clan
gathering (or subject) and their experience of favor and ecstasy (or religion). Their shared
religious belief arises from the society and, in turn, it helps to hold the society together”-

The unity and solidarity of the community is further increased by the rituals that
are enacted on religious occasions. These rituals also have the capacity of bringing people
together and reaffirming the values and beliefs of the group. They also help to transmit
the cultural heritage from one generation to the next. The rituals maintain taboos and
prohibitions and those who violate them are punished. The disobedient or violators o
norms may even be required to undergo ritual punishment or purification. The rituals
have another function also. In times of individual distress or group crisis the rituals
provide help and comfort. “The social function of shared religious beliefs and the rituals
that go with them is so important. Durkheim argued, that every society needs a religion or
at least some belief system that serves the same function” –Ian Robertson

Durkheim rejected theories of ‘Animism’ and ‘Totemism’ for he regarded them

top be inadequate to explain the main distinction between the sacred and profane.
According to him, the group life is the generating force or source or cause of religion.
The religious ideas and practices always symbolize the social group. The distinction
which Durkheim has made between the sacred and profane has important implications for
social life as a whole. According to him, the min function of religion is “the creation,
reinforcement, and maintenance of social solidarity. So long as society persists so will

According to Durkheim, much of the social disorder in modern times is due to the

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fact that people no longer believe deeply in religion and that they have found no
satisfying substitute for that. Lacking commitment to shared belief system, people tend to
pursue their private interests without regard to their follows.

In this book on religion, Durkheim tried to provide an explanation of the basic

forms of classification and the fundamental categories of thought itself. In this
speculative exploration Durkheim laid the foundation of another specialized field of
sociology called “sociology of knowledge.”

Concluding remarks

It is true that much of Durkheim’s work on religion was purely speculative. His account
of the origins of religion could not be accepted by most of the modern sociologists.
Goldenweiser, for example, criticized Durkheim’s theory as one-sided and
psychologically untenable. He argued that a “society possessing the religious sentiment is
capable of accomplishing unusual things, but it can hardly produce that sentiment out of
itself.” Some others have stated that “by making the social mind, or collective
representations the sole source of religion, Durkheim resorted to something quite
mysterious in it and, hence failed to give a satisfactory explanation.” But the real merit of
his analysis is his recognition of the vital social functions that religion plays in society.

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal



1. Contribution to Sociological Theory: Durkheim never wrote any specific

treatise on sociology as such. But his writings on various sociological topics
provide relatively convincing answers to many problems in sociological theory.
2. Stressed the Inseparable Relationship Between Society and Individual:
Durkheim’s cussions on “collective conscience” throw light on the relationship
between the individual and the society. They also “call attention to the ways in
which social interaction and relationships significantly influence individual
attitudes, ideas, and sentiments.” For Durkheim, the reality of society preceded
the individual life.
3. Emphasized the Application of Scientific Methods in the Study of Social
facts: Durkheim, in away was a positivist and strongly recommended the
application of the methods of physical science to the study of the social facts. As a
believer in scientific method he sought to ideal chiefly with empirical data and to
avoid value-judgments. Like Spencer and Karl Marx he did not subscribe to an
individualistic theory of society as such.
4. Stressed the Importance of Morals, Values and social Integration in Social
Life: Durkheim was, however, able to prove convincingly that social facts are
facts “sui generis.” His explanations regarding the social and cultural importance
of the division of labor and his analysis of the consequences of social solidarity
are quite impressive. He indicated the role of social pressure in areas of human
activity, which was not stressed upon by others till then. He has sufficiently
emphasized the significance of values and ideals in social life. He also
demonstrated the need for empirical research for the science of society.
5. Durkheim a Great Moralist: Durkheim was a man of character. Throughout his
life he was passionately engaged in the moral issues of his time. He probably
considered it to be his life tasks to contribute to the moral regeneration of his
French society. He made number of proposals for the improvement of the moral
climate of his society. Durkheim’s deep concern for order and unity in the body

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social has often made his critics brand him as a thinker with conservative bias
opposed to the creative functions of conflict. He, of course, found it impossible,
even in theory, to escape “the limits of the contemporary social life.”
6. Durkheim Gave Priority only to the Society and Not to the individual: he has
made “social facts” central in his methods. A social factor is a phase of behavior-
thinking, feeling or acting- which has a coercive nature. Social facts involve rules
and regulations, systems of procedure, and sets of customary beliefs. They have
super-individual value. It appears that in his treatment of social facts and
collective conscience. Durkheim almost completely neglected the social
importance of individual decision. “Society is real, to be sure, but so is the
individual and the two, it should be remembered, are always in interaction. Giving
priority to one or the other, is misleading in the long” –L.A.Cosser.

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Theory of Emile Durkheim: A Critical Appraisal


1. Abharam, Francis, Sociological thought from comptemrory time, Macmillian,

Delhi 2005.

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3. Ashley, David and Orestein, David Michael Sociological theory : classical

statements, Pearson Education , New Delhi 2007

4. Collins, Randall. Four Sociological Traditions. New York: Oxford University

Press, 1994.

5. Coser, Lewis and Rosenberg, Bernard Sociological Theory, Book of Readings,

Macmillian , New York 1982.

6. Giddens, Anthony, ed. Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings. Cambridge,

England: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

7. Tyagi, Darshna, Sociocultural Anthropology, Anmol Publications, New Delhi,


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