According to Jones (1986), “Emile Durkheim was born on April 15, 1858 at Épinal, Vosges, in Lorraine, France” (P 1)1. He was an intelligent, academically astute student who received numerous awards and honors. Some of his early achievements were; baccalaureates in Letters received in 1874, baccalaureates in Sciences in 1875, and a high distinction in the Concours Général.
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In 1879, he joined college at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He enrolled as a philosophy teacher of state secondary schools in 1882 where he worked for five years. He was later appointed course Officer for Pedagogical and Social Sciences at Bordeaux in 1887. The then French Director of Higher Education Louis Liard inserted the social sciences part to fit Durkheim’s new ideas, which saw sociology debut in the French academic arena.
Durkheim was a major contributor in the establishment of sociology as a science. He wrote extensively on what the subject was and how to study it. According to Brinton & Nee, (2001) Durkheim declared that sociology was a different from other subjects; it was not extension of any other.2
He argued that sociology must have a clear and different object from philosophy as well as psychology and should have a unique study method. In the Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Text and Readings, he says, “there is in every society a certain group of phenomena, which may be differentiated from those studied by the other natural sciences.” (Laura, Desfor & Edles, 2007, P. 95)3
In addition, he established the fact that sociology’s major aim was to identify structural social facts. Durkheim is widely known as the father of sociology and his work greatly influenced structural functionalism and inspired a host of other scholars including Alfred Radcliffe-Brown and Maurice Halbwachs among others.
Durkheim’s determination was to give the subject a scientific character. In his Rules of the Sociological Method (1895) he raises the issue of a sociologist’s role in research. He claims that impartiality in observations is illusive and study of social facts done in correlation to other social facts and not according to the view of the person conducting the study4.
Durkheim received criticisms from British scholars including Sir James Frazer who claimed that he never undertook any field research and that other anthropologists collected the data for him.5 It is not that he disregarded empirical research but rather, upheld the ideal of grouping facts into types and laws.
Alongside Herbert Spencer, he revealed the existence and quality of various segments of society referring to their functionality6. He developed the organic analogy that he used in comparing society to a living organism.7 He focused on the study of social facts closely associated with methodological individualism.
Durkheim saw the society as a collection of social facts. In his book, Division of Labor in society,Durkheim (1997) he addresses the question of what creates cohesiveness in a society8. By forced division of labor, he meant that influential persons driven by greed caused other people to do work they were not suited for.
The working class out of discomfort then joined to change the system. This he said destabilized societies. He said that humans were sefish by nature but collective consciosness was the key to their social unity. Through this human beings regard one another as human beings not animals.
“The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a society forms a determinate system with a life of its own. It can be termed the collective or common consciousness” (Durkheim, 1997, P. 108)9 He goes further to say that emotion overrides selfishness and that human emotional bound to culture dictates how they act.10
Durkheim further acknowledges culture as a key social fact. He delves further saying that societies create their own cultures and culture causes emotions that hold societies close to culture. He was keen on the impact of cultural diversity on the society. 11
Furthermore, Durkheim also addressed suicide treating it as a social fact. In his book suicide (1897), he looked at the suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics of his time asserting that Catholics had stronger social control that reduced suicide rates among them.12
He claimed that Catholics were more integrated than Protestants and that is the reason why Catholics had lower suicide rates. Later scholars criticized Durkheim’s claims noting that he got his data from Adolph Wagner and Henry Morselli who generalized data they collected.13
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In addition, researchers realized that Durkheim’s findings were inaccurate as suicide difference between Catholics and Protestants was limited to Germans in Europe. Many authors have criticized his suicide work as an incorrect argument. However, Durkheim’s work inspired the inventors of control theory and remains a classic study of sociology.
Durkheim felt that religion was a source of unity. In his, book The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life ;( 1912) he looks at the connections between religions in different cultures to find a commonality.14 He wanted to know the link between these religions’ that go beyond the concept of belief in God.
Durkheim defines religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, i.e., things set apart and forbidden–beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a church, all those who adhere to them.” (Allan, & Allan, 2005 P.115)15 Durkheim does not mention God in this definition citing that the concept is new.
He claims that the God concept ties to development of science which when explained becomes irrational. He continues to say that the early human beings considered everything as God. Durkheim expresses three concepts, the first one is that religion is an improperly explained idea that creates awe and worthy of devotion, second, it is an idea that charge human emotion causing collective effervescence and generate important sacred symbols, and third, it is a community of people sharing philosophy that is moral.16
According to Steven Lukes (1985) Durkheim defines sacred as simply collective ideals that have fixed themselves on material objects… they are only collective forces hypostasized, that is to say, moral forces; they are made up of the ideas and sentiments awakened in us by the spectacle of society, and not of sensations coming from the physical world.( p. 25)17
He cites religion as the foundation of the mordern society and has no subsitute regarless of the fact that it has lost importance. He goes further on this to say that mordern society is in a transitional period of moral mediocrity (Allan & Allan, 2005).18
Durhkeim writes that religion brought a bout most of the other social constructs claiming that human create societies and categories unconsciously although categries presede people’s experience. He attempts to link the difference between categories seen as a construction of human experience and construction before human experience.19
His work was centered on totemism, the religion of Aboriginal people. He saw totemism as the earliest religion and believed that it was simple to understand and bring out the importance of the elements of religion. On religion, Emile Durkheim concluded that it gave birth to all that matters in the society.
Allan, k., & Allan, K. D. (2005). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social World.(P.115) Pine Forge Press.
Appelrouth, S., & Edles, L. D. (2007). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Text and Reading. Pine Forge Press.
Brinton, M., & Nee, V. (2001). The New Institutionalism in Sociology. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Durkheim, É. (1897). Suicide : a study in sociology. The Free Press.
Durkheim, É. (1997). The Division of Labor in Society. New York(P. 108): Free Press.
Durkheim, É. (1912). The Elementary Forms of The Religious Life.
Durkheim, É. (1895). The Rules of Sociological Method. Paris: Simon and Schuster.
Jones, R. A. (1986). Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works. In R. A. Jones, Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works (pp. 12-23). Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.
Lukes, S. (1985). Emile Durkheim, his life and work: a historical and critical study. Stanford University Press.
1 Jones, R. A. (1986). Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works. In R. A.Jones, Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works (pp. 12-23). Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.
2 Brinton, M., & Nee, V. (2001). The New Institutionalism in Sociology. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
3 Appelrouth, S., & Edles, L. D. (2007). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Text and Reading. Pine Forge Press.
4 Durkheim, É. (1895). The Rules of Sociological Method. Paris: Simon and Schuste
8 Durkheim, É. (1997). The Division of Labor in Society. New York(P. 108): Free Press.
9 Durkheim, É. (1997). The Division of Labor in Society. New York(P. 108): Free Press
12 Durkheim, É. (1897). Suicide : a study in sociology. The Free Pres
14Durkheim, É. (1912). The Elementary Forms of The Religious Life.
15 Allan, k., & Allan, K. D. (2005). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social World.(P.115) Pine Forge Press.
17 Lukes, S. (1985). Emile Durkheim, his life and work: a historical and critical study. Stanford University Press
18 Allan, k., & Allan, K. D. (2005). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social World.(P.115) Pine Forge Press.