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Emile Durkheim Life and Career Research Paper

Early life

Emile Durkheim is considered as the pioneer French educational sociologist. His life was dominated by his educational profession, although he was extremely and affectionately engaged in the affairs of French people. Durkheim was born in 1858 to a rabbi in the southern French region of Lorraine. He studied the Old Testimony, Hebrew and Talmud, while simultaneously following the frequent course of exercising in luxurious educational institutions (Bolender Initiatives, 2011).

After his conventional Judaism confirmation at the age of thirteen, Durkheim, under the impact of a Catholic lady instructor, had a brief magical encounter that led to his attraction to Catholicism. But later, he converted away from all spiritual participation, though undoubtedly not from attention in spiritual activities, and became an agnostic.

His dreams thus switched on, he shifted to one of the excellent educational institutions in Paris, the Lycee Louis-le-Grand. During this time, he made preparations to sit for the difficult entry exam that would grant his admission to the famous Ecole Normale Superieure, the conventional educational centre for the French intellects and elites. Durkheim succeeded after his third attempt in 1879 (Lukes, 1985).

Durkheim integrated with young scholars at the Ecole Normale; these are the people who would later create a significant contribution in the intellectual lifestyle of France. Although admittance to the Ecole Normale was an accomplishment, Durkheim once confessed that he was unsatisfied at the Ecole.

He was an extremely serious, studious, and dedicated person, later dubbed “the metaphysician” by his colleagues. Durkheim was disappointed with the fictional and esthetic focus that dominated the school. However, Durkheim was influenced by his three years study at the Ecole Normale. Although some of his lecturers frustrated him, he stated that he was greatly indebted by others (Lukes, 1985).

Educational Career

Before graduating, Durkheim had resolved upon his becoming a philosopher. He viewed that it was hard to eliminate philosophy from the society problems of that time. Durkheim wanted to involve himself with a course that would offer an explanation of the great ethical questions that distressed the society.

He wanted to offer practical assistance to the matters of the community. This contributed to his decision of becoming a scientist in study of society. He considered creation of a scientific sociological system to be crucial to direct the moral wellbeing of the society. This became an entire life commitment for Durkheim.

Durkheim became a philosophy teacher, but after teaching philosophy for five years, he obtained a leave to further his studies at Paris and later in Germany. In Germany, he specialized in the analysis of methods of training and analysis in ethical philosophy and the social sciences.

In his reviews on his experience in German, Durkheim was passionate about the perfection and scientific detachment in research. He emphasized that France should replicate Germany in application of philosophy to social and political issues. He appreciated the efforts of German philosophers and sociologists who proposed the social origin of moral responsibility; the sociologists proposed that ethics was a positive and independent discipline (Lukes, 1985).

Durkheim was recognized as a potential contributor in social sciences and social philosophy at twenty-nine. This was after the publication of his academic life in Germany. He had published significant articles in social sciences; later in 1887, he became a staff member of the University of Bordeaux.

In the university, he taught both pedagogy and sociology in philosophy department. He aimed at applying sociology in education to change and renew the society. With continued publication of his work, Durkheim continued to elicit a lot of controversy and disputation. In 1898, Durkheim established a sociology dedicated scholarly journal to consolidate the gains he had obtained by creating a lot of interest in sociology (Lukes, 1985).

The scholarly journal became an attraction for an extremely gifted group of young academicians, coming together, regardless of their diversified disciplinary interests. Their common interest was a shared commitment to Durkheimian approach to sociology. Later, the journal changed the notion of the French public on sociology with its continued analysis of sociology literature.

Durkheim became the first person to become a professor of social sciences nine years after joining the Bordeaux University. In his years in Paris, he continued to play his role as the editor of the sociology journal. He also continued to lecture in education, ethics, philosophy, religion and Comte (Lukes, 1985).

Division of Labor

According to Durkheim, division of labor increases workmanship skills and labor productivity. For this reason, division of labor is an important factor for logical and material growth in a society. Division of labor also comprises a moral character which is more significant; it forms a feeling of solidarity in a society.

Durkheim applies marriage example to depict the how division of labor creates a feeling of solidarity. He suggests that if labor division was reduced between genders, material lifestyle will diminish and only sexual relationships will remain. Labor division is not only about economics; it affects the social and ethical relationships. Nevertheless, in marriage, couples are bounded by their likeness outside labor division (Durkheim & Coser, 1997).

Huge political societies cannot maintain their balance even by labor division; it is however the source of solidarity. Labor division is indeed continuous allocation of duties, which comprises the fundamental aspect of social solidarity. The moral character of labor division is evident since it satisfies social solidarity, moral requirements, harmony and order. Durkheim identifies law as the most perceptible symbol of social solidarity. With law, social life is organized in a stable and a clear-cut manner (Durkheim & Coser, 1997).

The law and social solidarity

The law is the mirror for all the necessary varieties of social solidarity. By classifying various categories of law, it is possible to identify which social solidarities matches with them. One of categories of law called repressive imposes misery on the defendant; the other category called restitutive does not essentially imply any misery on the defendant.

However, it restores the prior relations which were altered (Hamilton, 1990). Durkheim demonstrates that repressive law is depicted by a society featuring mechanical solidarity.

Penal codes state the fundamental conditions of communal life in every society. Simple societies have repressive or penal law; sophisticated societies have restitutive and repressive laws. Penal codes depict the seriousness of the resistance of communal response to a given offense.

The communal conscience is the entirety of convictions and responses shared to the average members of a society. Durkheim argues that an act is criminal if it insults the commune’s sense of right and wrong. He insists that a crime is offensive to the collective consciousness not because it is a crime, but an act is criminal because it is offensive to that consciousness (Hamilton, 1990).

Durkheim identifies the role of authorities as ensuring collective interests are protected and collective consciousness is defended. Collective consciousness is most powerful in lower societies; the power is strongest in cases where the crime is very serious. In ancient times, authorities punished crimes for the sake of retribution.

Nevertheless, at the present time, punishment is used to instill fear in prospective criminals and to warm them in advance. Durkheim is disappointed that punishment is still an act of retaliation and penitence (Hamilton, 1990).

Repressive law is greater when the communal classification of solidarity is more distinct and the division of labor is more basic. When division of labor is more pronounced, the equilibrium of the type of law and the society is upset and starts to change.

Resemblance is common in primordial societies; on the contrary, members of developed or civilized societies are reasonably distinct from each other. For this reason, the higher the social ladder, the more advanced the division of labor. Lower societies, in accordance to social scale, tend to embrace the repressive law (Hamilton, 1990).

Durkheim identifies the ancient Hebrew as a good example of a low society, and where repressive law was dominant. He depicts the ancient Hebrew law as repressive; Hebrew society emphasized on expiation and not just reparation. Hebrew religion, which was naturally repressive, determined all the legal decisions.

Durkheim observes that repressive law is not completely extinct in the modern world. However, restitutory law has developed significantly and has become sophisticated in developed societies. He points out that the two types of law depends on each other in the modern world. This is because refusal to comply with restitutory ruling results in a fine; it cannot be separated from repressive law.

Durkheim’s critique of Spencer

Durkheim angles his specific argument of organic solidarity and agreements on an argument against Spencer. Industrial solidarity is innate and is not forcefully generated according to Spencer. Public balance is simply recognized by its own conform. Durkheim states in this situation, the area of social activity would reduce significantly because it would not be required except to implement adverse solidarity. Consequently, the level of main power decreases. As independence of activity improves, agreements become more common.

Cultures are in an instant agreement only to the level that a person selects to stay in the community in which he was born, and he follows the regulations of that society. Spencer argues that the society would be no more than the organization of connections between people trading the products of their work without any public activity interfering to control the exchange. Durkheim conflicts Spencer by declaring that public involvement is increasing.

The lawful responsibilities which community enforces on its people are becoming increasingly complicated. Restitutory law is increasing, and the public involvement does not have the impact of bringing certain consistent behaviors on every person. It comprises more in interpreting and managing the special connections among different social features (Durkheim & Bellah,1975).

Causes of division of labor

Durkheim suggests that societal segmentation should stop. Social interaction becomes more common and connections increase. People who were previously divided come together and practice effective exchanges. Social density can be increased by improving spatial concentration of individuals, urbanization and improving means of communication.

A large society with reduced social contacts is segmented; it does not change in labor division. Division of labor is not increased by the development or increasing density of the society. However, these factors tend to necessitate the division of labor (Durkheim & Coser, 1997).

Spencer argues that labor division is caused by environmental factors. Environment in which people live dictates their manner of specialization. However, Durkheim doubts if diversity is the only cause of labor division. He points out that specialization is not caused by external circumstances; it is rather caused by struggle for survival as the density of the society increases. Individuals distinguish their areas of expertise in order to reduce competitors and to exist with each other (Durkheim & Coser, 1997).

Consequences of labor division

In uncomplicated cultures, people can easily substitute each other in specialties. Spencer claims that in complicated cultures, as social organization is mastered, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to change their roles. However, Durkheim states that the trend of substitution is also visible in even the higher societies. Individuals in a community should always be ready to alter their roles to provide a break in social balance. In many cultures, division of labor improves the flexibility of the society (Bolender Initiatives, 2011).

Division of labor is an essential impact of the development of the society, both in volume and density. People can only sustain their place in the society by specialization. People move on because they have to, and consequently, civilization occurs. People rely on the diversity of social circumstances to distinguish themselves.

Diversified society is better in terms of acting together for a common good. Consequently, public interaction becomes more extreme; this growth comprises civilization. Durkheim argues that people are forced to change in order to survive, and to continue living. Effectively, people do not shape the society, changes in society forces people to change. In addition to human psyche, social life is responsible for guiding humans.

Psychological life is developed according to the degree of sociability. Human’s ability to reason is caused by the social nature of human being. Sociability determines human emotions; growth in sociability develops the human psyche. Social life gives rise to human nature, and therefore, social facts do not simply evolve from psychological facts. The society instills all aspects of consciousness in people (Bolender Initiatives, 2011).

Durkheim asserted that social facts should be studied separately. This is because they have the ability to change individual’s reasoning. His arguments on social order have significant applications in modern sociology. According to Durkheim, it is hard to experience satisfaction; getting serves to stimulate the needs. Durkheim succeeded in making sociology an independent discipline and making it have a scientific approach.

His family background, education, and status in the academic world gave him a unique advantage in his work. His theory of anomie and solidarity has modern application in criminal justice especially in contemporary urban societies. These theories have found their application in modern societal segmentation.

It is evident that contemporary society is made up of different groups, like political, religious and social groups. As suggested by Durkheim, religion held and still holds a prominent position in the world. It provides social order by and rules that determine the morality of its followers; essentially, it brings solidarity.


Bolender Initiatives. (2011). Emile Durkheim 1858-1917. Web.

Durkheim, E., & Bellah, R. (1975). Emile Durkheim on Morality and Society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Durkheim, E., & Coser, L. (1997). The Division of Labor in Society. New York: Free Press.

Hamilton, P. (1990). Emile Durkheim: Critical Assessments, Volume 1. London,UK: Routledge Publishers.

Lukes, S. (1985). Émile Durkheim: his life and work : a historical and critical study. Stanford,CA: Stanford University Press.

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