Émile Durkheim

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Émile Durkheim (1858-04-151917-11-15) was a French sociologist whose contributions were instrumental in the formation of sociology, anthropology, and religious studies. His work and editorship of the first journal of sociology (L'Année Sociologique) helped establish sociology within the academy as an accepted social science. During his lifetime, Durkheim gave many lectures, and published numerous sociological studies on subjects such as education, crime, religion, suicide, and many other aspects of society. He is often referred to as "The Father of Sociology".


  • "In the name of the dogma of struggle for existence and natural selection, they paint for us in the saddest colors this primitive humanity whose hunger and thirst, always badly satisfied, were their only passions; those sombre times when men had no other care and no other occupation than to quarrel with one another over their miserable nourishment. To react against those retrospective reveries of the philosophy of the eighteenth century and also against certain religious doctrines, to show with some force that the paradise lost is not behind us and that there is in our past nothing to regret, they believe we ought to make it dreary and belittle it systematically. Nothing is less scientific than this prejudice in the opposite direction. If the hypotheses of Darwin have a moral use, it is with more reserve and measure than in other sciences. They overlook the essential element of moral life, that is, the moderating influence that society exercises over its members, which tempers and neutralizes the brutal action of the struggle for existence and selection. Wherever there are societies, there is altruism, because there is solidarity."

  • "...it is society which, fashioning us in its image, fills us with religious, political, and moral beliefs that control our actions."

  • "It is not human nature which can assign the variable limits necessary to our needs. They are thus unlimited so far as they depend on the individual alone. Irrespective of any external regulatory force, our capacity for feeling is in itself an insatiable and bottomless abyss."

  • "Now, it is unquestionable that language, and consequently the system of concepts which it translates, is the product of a collective elaboration. What it expresses is the manner in which society as a whole represents the facts of experience. The ideas which correspond to the diverse elements of language are thus collective representations. Even their contents bear witness to the same fact. In fact, there are scarcely any words among those which we usually employ whose meaning does not pass, to a greater or less extent, the limits of our personal experience. Very frequently a term expresses things which we have never perceived or experiences which we have never had or of which we have never been the witness. Even when we know some of the objects which it concerns, it is only as particular examples that serve to illustrate the idea which they would never have been able to form by themselves. Thus there is a great deal of knowledge condensed in the word which I never collected, and which is not individual; it even surpasses me to such an extent that I cannot even completely appropriate all its results. Which of us knows all the words of the language he speaks and the entire signification of each?"
    • The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life: A Study in Religious Sociology

"Man's characteristic privilege is that the bond he accepts is not physical but moral; that is, social. He is governed not by a material environment brutally imposed on him, but by a conscience superior to his own, the superiority of which he feels. Because the greater, better part of his existence transcends the body, he escapes the body's yoke, but is subject to that of society." Émile Durkheim: Selections from His Work

Selected Works

  • Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, (1893) The Free Press reprint 1997, ISBN 0684836386
  • Durkheim, Rules of Sociological Method, (1895) The Free Press 1982, ISBN 0029079403
  • Durkheim, On the Normality of Crime (1895)
  • Durkheim, Suicide, (1897), The Free Press reprint 1997, ISBN 0684836327
  • Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, (1912, English translation by Joseph Swain: 1915) The Free Press, 1965. ISBN 0-02-908010-X, new translation by Karen E. Fields 1995, ISBN 0029079373
  • Durkheim, Professional Ethics and Civic Morals, English translation by Cornelia Brookfield (1955) Routledge, 1992, ISBN 0-415-06225-X
  • Steven Lukes, Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work, a Historical and Critical Study. Stanford University Press, 1985.
  • Jack D. Douglas, The Social Meanings of Suicide. Princeton University Press, 1973.