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Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) was the first French academic sociologist and one of the “founding fathers” of the discipline. Durkheim “stands out as sociology’s most successful founder, not only because he established the field in the elite university system in France, but also because he gave it enough of method and intellectual content so that it could be built upon elsewhere . . . Durkheim is the archetypical sociologist because institutionally he had to be most conscious of what would make sociology a distinctive science in its own right” (Collins 1994, 45–46).

Durkheim was born in the French province of Lorraine. His father was a rabbi, descended from a long line of rabbis (Coser 1977, 143). Durkheim planned to become a rabbi himself, and attended a rabbinical school to prepare. As a young man, he became interested in Catholicism and then turned away from anything other than a scholarly interest in religion. However, he incorporated religion into his sociological works. Durkheim’s last major work, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), remains an important work on the sociology of religion.

Durkheim was devoted to academics. He worked throughout his life to establish sociology as an academic discipline and held the first full professorship in social science in France. As one biographer says, Durkheim “did more to inculcate a sociological perspective across the spectrum of academic disciplines than any other figure, with the possible exception of Marx” (Thompson 1982, 17).

He also devoted his career to “construct[ing] a scientific sociological system, not as an end in itself, but as a means for the moral direction of society. From this purpose Durkheim never departed” (Coser 1977, 145). He traveled to Germany, where he was impressed by the scientific research he observed. In 1889, Durkheim established and became the editor of the scholarly sociology journal L’Annee Sociologique, emphasizing the importance of methodological research (Coser 1977, 147). “He was convinced that the journal, by its scope and scholarship, could do more for the establishment of sociology than any single work” (Thompson 1982, 27). In the decade immediately following the establishment of his journal, Durkheim produced three of his most famous works: The Division of Labor in Society (1964a, orig. 1893), The Rules of Sociological Method (1964b, orig. 1895), and Suicide (1966, orig. 1897).

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(The Basics of Sociology) - ISBN 0-313-32387-9 Copyright 2010 - 2012 © All Rights Reserved
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