Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Émile Durkheim: The Father of Modern Sociology

Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) is, together with Max Weber and Karl Marx, one of the three great authors of this science, since contemporary sociology begins with him. In 1887 he was appointed Professor of Pedagogy and Social Science at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Bordeaux, this being the first Sociology course to be created in French universities. He defended the scientific character of this discipline, marked by the French positivist tradition, Durkheim defended the application of scientific knowledge of society to then employ in it the will to undertake social improvements, developing three sociological perspectives: theory, methodology and empirical research. His precise studies show a theoretical zeal in the search for practical solutions.

He analyzed social facts with sociological methods, renouncing the study of individuals, classifying social facts as things, and signifying them in a positive way, as if they were technical, biological or medical questions. He asserted that sociology is a distinct and autonomous science with respect to the other sciences, because social facts are distinct and autonomous with respect to the other facts studied by other sciences. With differentiated specificities disclosed by Steven Lukes on the Durkheimian theory such as the concepts based on collective consciousness, with the dichotomy of the social-individual and the treatment of data. He affirmed that social facts are ways of acting, of thinking external to individuals, with their own reality emancipated from the individual and with a coercive power over people.

Durkheim always gave his sociological practice a precise and functional purpose and said in his work "The Rules of Sociological Method" (1895): sociology is a theoretical means of obtaining a definition of the normal from the pathological, of the societal space, of the socially healthy from the sick. A practice that has its origin in his firm objective of overcoming disorder, anomie: the sensation of meaninglessness or despair that modern social life arouses.

Other works stand out, such as his first publication "The division of social labor" (1893), his doctoral thesis where he contrasted two kinds of solidarity: the mechanical and the organic, in correspondence with the division of labor. And of course to mention what was to be the first great work of empirical research in the history of modern sociology: "Suicide" (1897), where he exposed the concept of "Anomie", where it is undertaken to identify the moment in which social bonds diminish and society loses strength to integrate and regulate individuals adequately, absence of norms, throwing social manifestations such as suicide.  Cite also one of Durkheim's posthumous works: "Socialism" (1928), carried out, under his particular point of view, a key analysis for the understanding of the political, economic and social circumstances that determined it.

He insisted incessantly that his sociology is objective and scientific, in a treatment of scientific detachment from social facts.

His is the famous phrase: 

"It is that if science is a means, it is not an end, and since the end to be reached is far away, science neither can reach it slowly and laboriously, and passionate and hasty spirits strive to grasp it at the outset." Émile Durkheim - Socialism - p.310

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