Name: Ronealle Edgar

Date: 11.04.2012
Introduction to Sociology
Professor Simone Kolysh

Emile Durkheim

David Emile Durkheim was born on April 15, 1858 in Epinal Lorraine. An outstanding student at
the College of d‟Epinal, Durkheim skipped two years, easily obtaining his baccalaureates in
Letters and Science and distinguishing himself in the Concours General.
A great French social theorist from the 19
and early 20
century who formally established
the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal
architect of modern social science and father of Sociology.
Throughout his career, Durkheim was concerned primarily with three goals. First to establish
sociology as a new academic discipline. Second, to analyze how societies could maintain their
integrity and coherence in the modern era, when things such as shared religion and ethnic
background could no longer be assumed; to that end he wrote much about the effect of laws,
religion, education and similar forces on the society and social integration. Lastly, Durkheim was
concerned with the practical implications of scientific knowledge. The importance of social
integration is expressed throughout Durkheim‟s work:
“for if society lacks the unity that derives from the fact that the relationships between its
parts are exactly regulated, that unity resulting from the harmonious articulation of its various
functions assured by effective discipline and if, in addition, society lacks the unity based upon
the commitment of men‟s wills to a common objective, then it is no more than a pile of sand that
the least jolt or the slightest puff will suffice to scatter.”
His first major sociological work was The Division of Labor in Society (1893). In 1895, he
published his Rules of the Sociological Method and set up the first European department of
sociology, becoming France‟s first professor of sociology. Durkheim saw society as having a
sense of coherence that held it together whether it was the segmented structure of primitive
social realms or the more differentiated social structures of modern society. In either situation, he
referred to this coherence as a form of social solidarity. This sense of social connectedness is
based on the belief that humans through interaction with each other find meaning and solidarity.
In his Rules of the Sociological Method, Durkheim expressed his will to establish a method
that would guarantee sociology‟s truly scientific character. One of the questions raised by the
author concerns the objective of the sociologist: how may one study an object that, from the very
beginning, conditions and relates to the observer? According to Durkheim, observation must be
as impartial and impersonal as possible, even though a “perfectly objective observation” in this
sense may never be attained. A social fact must always be studied according to its relation with
other social facts, never according to the individual who studies it. Sociology should therefore
privilege comparison rather than the study of singular independent facts.
Durkheim‟s work revolved around the study of social facts, a term he coined to describe
phenomena that have an existence in and of themselves, are not bound to the actions of
individuals, but have a coercive influence upon them. He argued that social facts have an
independent existence greater and more objective than the actions of the individuals that
compose society. Regarding society itself, like social institutions in general, Durkheim saw it as
a set of social facts. Even more than “what society is” he was interested in answering “how
society is created” and “what holds society together”. He assumes that humans are inherently
egoistic, but norms, beliefs and values (collective consciousness) form the moral basis of the
society, resulting in social integration. Collective consciousness is of key importance to the
society, its requisite function without which the society cannot survive.
As the society, Durkheim noted there are several possible pathologies that could lead to a
breakdown of social integration and disintegration of the society: the two most important ones
are anomie and forced division of labor; lesser ones include the lack of coordination and suicide.
By anomie Durkheim means a state when too rapid population growth reduces the amount of
interaction between various groups, which in turn leads a breakdown of understanding norms,
values and so on. By forced division of labor Durkheim means a situation where power holders,
driven by their desire for profit (greed), results in people doing the work they are unsuited for.
Such people are unhappy, and their desire to change the system can destabilize the society.
His views on crime were a departure from conventional notions. To him crime was normal, an
inevitable and necessary part of society. (It may take abnormal forms, such as when the crime
rate is unusually high.) „A society exempt from it would be utterly impossible‟. Since people
differ from „the collective type,‟ there are some divergences which tend toward the criminal.
However, what confers a „criminal character‟ on divergences from the collective type is not „the
intrinsic quality of a given act but that definition which the collective consciousness lends them.‟
In a society where it is unknown what expected behavior is, criminal activity can result
because of lack of knowledge or expectations. Durkheim proposed that individuals lead to
anomie in industrialized societies that contain social hierarchies based on economic or relational
merit. It is in these societies that crime and deviant behavior is increased. Durkheim also used the
term anomie in his studies on suicidal behavior. He developed the notion that social factors are
the fundamental causes of suicidal thoughts, attempts and death. His conceptual analysis of
suicide alludes to social influence on the individual and the forces within society that compel and
individual to such an act of self- destruction.
In „The Elementary Forms of The Religious Life,‟ Durkheim‟s first purpose was to identify
the social origin and function of religion as he felt that religion was a source camaraderie and
solidarity. His second purpose was to identify links between certain religions in different
cultures, finding a common denominator. He wanted to understand the empirical, social aspect of
religion that is common to all religions and goes beyond the concepts of spirituality and God.
Emile Durkheim wrote volumes and lectured about ideas that focused on social behavior and
its impact on societies as a whole. The concepts that he introduced were ahead of time. His
forward thinking led to advancing secondary curriculum to include social sciences and his work
has been used as a model for current sociological thoughts toward problem solving in society.





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