Sociological Revolutionary – Émile Durkheim

Émile Durkheim (1858-1917)

Émile Durkheim was born on April 15, 1858 and is best known for his significant sociological ideas establishing the subject as a stand alone academic discipline along with Karl Marx and Max Weber. 

Émile Durkheim was born and grew up in Épinal, Lorraine as the son of a sternly religious Jewish family. But even though Durkheim decided not to follow his parent’s footsteps in the religious sense, he remained in the Jewish community and later even collaborated with several prominent members of the association.

After some attempts to study in Paris at the ‘Ècole normale supérieure’, he was finally accepted and learned together with his later famous classmates Jean Jaurés or Henri Bergson. After graduating, he started teaching philosophy and later moved to Germany where he was able to study sociology and publish several works on social science and philosophy. In 1887, Durkheim received a teaching appointment for sociology and philosophy in Bordeaux, which was the university’s first course in social sciences.

It was also in Bordeaux, where he married Louise Dreyfus with whom he later had two children and where he mastered three of his major works:

  • ‘The Division of Labour in Society’, Durkheim’s dissertation, was published in 1893 and influenced by Auguste Comte. Durkheim describes how an individual can be autonomous and dependent on society at the same time. He rejects authoritarian domination and interprets society as a collective, which performs social obligations as a result of normative commitments and sanctions.
  • ‘Rules of Sociological Method’ was published in 1895. The book was revolutionary, because of Durkheim’s argument, that social sciences and natural sciences are supposed to be approached with the same scientific methods. Today its content is discussed in many sociological debates.
  • ‘Suicide’ was published in 1897. The results of this case study of suicide outline for example that suicide rates are higher for those who are single, without children, and male.

In 1896 he founded the first French social science journal ‘L’Année Sociologique’ and published 12 volumes with like-minded people and students of himself. Durkheim reached his goal of becoming professor of the chair for the ‘Science of Education’ at the University of Sarbonne in Paris in 1902. Later on he also did advisory work for the Ministry of Education.

At Yovisto, Èmile Durkheim is part of Ivan Szelenyi‘s lecture ‘Foundations of Modern Social Theory’. Besides Durkheim, Szelenyi discusses theories by Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, Hobbes, Locke, Smith, and Rousseau.

References and Further Reading:



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