EmileDurkheim was a French sociologist who made a major contribution tosociology as a leading science. He is responsible for founding socialscience and psychology as academic disciplines alongside individualssuch as Max Weber and Karl Max. Durkheim is deemed the father ofsocial science. He turned out to be among the most influentialauthors concerning a myriad of social issues. This essay exploresDurkheim`s life as a sociologist and looks into his early life andeducation, then his career and finally, his later life and majorcontributions to the field of social science.
Earlylife and Education
Durkheimwas born in France on April 15, 1858 (Fournier,2013).He came from a Jewish background, but he exhibited secularity in hisreligious outlook. His father’s lineage was that of the rabbis.Durkheim started schooling at an early age in a rabbinicalinstitution. Nevertheless, despite starting his education in asocially accepted institution, he decided to defy the footsteps ofhis ancestors. He switched schools because he wanted to studyreligion from an agnostic perspective rather than undergoingindoctrination in the rabbinical school. Therefore, in 1879, Durkheimwent to the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS) (Fournier,2013).While in the ENS, Durkheim studied classicists from asocial-scientific perspective. During his time, the education systemof France lacked social science in its curriculum. This forcedDurkheim to take his degree in philosophy in 1882 at the age of 24years (Fournier,2013).
Followinghis graduation in 1882, Durkheim started his teaching career inFrance. In 1887, he was hired to teach pedagogy and social science inBordeaux to new teachers. This provided him with an opportunity toteach the initial official sociology courses in France. During thesame year, he married Louise Dreyfus with whom he bore two children.During his tenure at Bordeaux, Durkheim made a huge impact and becamesuccessful. He was able to publish two doctoral thesis on the subjectof Divisionof Social Labor,and TheRules of Sociological MethodandSuicidein 1893 and 1895 respectively (Milbrandt& Pearce, 2011).These publications played a leading role in reinforcing the positionof sociology in the academic realm.
Durkheimwas awarded a promotion to head the Department of Science ofEducation at Sorbonne in 1902. In 1906, he attained fullprofessorship and in 1913, his position was changed to accommodatesociology (Durkheim,2013).From this point on, Durkheim became the chair of the Science ofEducation and Sociology department. During his time as the chair, hetaught various subjects and made several key publications. His finalwas among these publications, and it marked the most significantmajor work, done by him, TheElementary Forms of Religious Lifepublished in 1912. The outbreak of the first Word War hadfar-reaching effects on Durkheim and his work. This is because manyof his students were killed during this time, including hisbiological son who died in 1915 in combat (Milbrandt& Pearce, 2011).This left a huge scar on Durkheim who later succumbed to a stroke in1917. His death left his last work LaMoraleincomplete with only the introductory section.
Throughouthis lifetime, Durkheim was politically involved, although he kept hisinvolvements separate from his scholarly life. For instance, hesupported Alfred Dreyfus during his alleged affair and was among thefounding members of the Human Rights League. Durkheim knew about theworks of Karl Max, yet he was critical of his ideas (Durkheim,2013).He referred to them as narrow and irrational, including Marxism,which he termed as a pointlessly conflictual, unreasonable andferocious. Nonetheless, he was an ardent supporter a range ofsocialist reforms and made several prominent socialist allies.Despite his undying support for socialist movements, he did notcommit himself to a particular party, and neither did he makepolitics his principal concern. Durkheim was a dedicated Frenchpatriot despite his low-key political engagements. He hoped toexploit sociology to deliver the French society from the sufferingcaused by the pressures of modernity. In that connection, duringWorld War I, Durkheim wrote anti-German propaganda leaflets, whichpartially utilized his sociological theories to demystify the zealouschauvinism that characterized Germany at the time (Durkheim,2013).
Durkheim’sIntellectual Development and Contributions to Sociology
Durkheimwas not the first sociologist to try converting sociology into ascience. A range of other sociologists attempted to make sociology asocial science, as well. For instance, Herbert Spencer came up withan evolutionary utilitarian model that he related to various areas insocial sciences. Again, Auguste Comte attempted to outspreadscientific methods to the field of social sciences (Milbrandt& Pearce, 2011).These two authors made noteworthy efforts to transform socialscience, and their works exerted a constructive influence onDurkheim.
Specifically,Durkheim took elements from Comte’s work and elements from hisscientific model to the study of societies. He analyzed ways throughwhich diverse parts of the society operate to create a functionalunit. On the same, his development of the organic analogy wasmotivated by the functionalist analysis stipulated by Spencer.Nevertheless, Durkheim was critical of these author`s woks, and hefelt that neither of them had detached their analysis fromhypothetical assumptions. According to Durkheim, these assumptionswere present in Comte and Spencer’s non-linear representations ofsocial development that were based on established laws of socialdevelopment (Durkheim,2013).
AlthoughDurkheim integrated elements borrowed from the evolutionary theoryinto his ideas, he did so in a moderate and critical manner. His mainconcern was not to develop a grand theory of society but to constructa perspective and a model that could be utilized in a range of ways.Therefore, the sociological perspective that Durkheim established wasfree from the metaphysical positivism present in the works of Comteand Spencer (Durkheim,2013).It also differed by a great degree from Comte’s simple extension ofthe scientific model of the social sciences to society.
Inthe same way, several lecturers at the ENS had a significant impacton his thinking. Through Emile Boutroux, Durkheim studied the worksof Comte and derived the notion that sociology could stand on its ownand have a unique subject matter that could not reduce to any otherfield of study. In the same way, the historians Gabriel Monod andDenis Fustel equipped Durkheim with knowledge about experimental andrelative methods that could be applied to the field of socialsciences (Milbrandt& Pearce, 2011).
ThroughDurkheim’s academic, teaching and interactive experiences, he cameacross a diversity of teachings that influenced his thinking aboutsocial sciences and the society. For that reason, he sought to comeup with a model that could be used to explain different socialphenomena. Through his teachings and publications, Durkheim became afundamental and a conspicuous figure in the field of sociology.However, most of his contributions in sociology are regarded to havebeen muted, particularly because a significant proportion of hisstudents perished during World War I (Milbrandt& Pearce, 2011).
Amonghis contributions, include views on crime, the division of labor,social facts, human dualism and suicide among others. Regardingcrime, Durkheim held that it serves a social function showing that ithas a purpose in the social setup. Through the division of labor, heexplored the maintenance of social order in different societies.According to him, traditional societies stayed together becausepeople shared identical interests. However, the modern society ischaracterized by sophisticated division of labor, which has resultedin individuals with diverse occupations. In the same way, hemaintained that social facts guided and controlled people`s conductfrom an external perspective (Durkheim,2013).He further noted that through socialization and education, the rulesstipulated by social facts are internalized into individuals`consciousness, and they become moral constraints and moralobligations to provide guidance. Moreover, regarding suicide,Durkheim noted that it was a direct result of social factors, whichlargely depended on the extent of social integration.
Therefore,Durkheim was a prominent French sociologist. He came from a rabbilineage and even started his education in a rabbinical school, butlater switched to ENS because he did not want to be brainwashed likeothers. He chose ENS to be able to learn from a skepticalperspective. He finished his education, did his degree in philosophyand became a lecturer at Bordeaux then moved to Sorbonne where he wasselected to head the Department of Science of Education andSociology. He later taught in other schools and played other keyroles in his career. Durkheim was politically affiliated, but hepreferred keeping his political life to himself. Although hecontributed major developments in the field of sociology, most of hiswork may have gone down the drain because many of his studentsperished in the 1stWorld War, after which he died two years later.
Durkheim,E. (2013). Durkheim:The Rules of Sociological Method: And Selected Texts on Sociology andIts Method.Palgrave Macmillan.
Fournier,M. (2013). EmileDurkheim: a biography.Polity Press.
Milbrandt,T., & Pearce, F. (2011). Emile Durkheim. TheWiley-Blackwell to Major Social Theorists, 1,236-282.