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Sociology Durkheim

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Yosef Wildes

Professor Daniel M. Kimmel

Social Theory

Feb 25, 2018

Introduction and History

David Emile Durkheim, known as the father of Sociology, was a French sociologist who lived from 1858 to 1917. Durkiem was born in Lorraine, France and came from a religious Jewish family; his father was even a rabbi. Although Durkheim began his education in a rabbinic school, he later switched out and lived a secular life.

Durkheim, considered one of the top intellectuals of middle 19th-20th century of France, accomplished much and authored many important works. This was unique since he was a Jew and Jewish people did not usually rise to that prominence at that time in France. He wrote “The Division of Labor in Society”, one of his major sociological works. Later he published “The Rules of Sociological Method” and started the first European sociological department. In 1898 Durkheim established the first journal of sociology and authored his major work called “Suicide”. Finally, he authored “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life”. He had an enormous impact on French society partially due to the fact that virtually every middle and high school teacher attended his lectures.

Durkheim: his Ideology and beliefs

Durkheim believed that Sociology is its own separate, distinct science and can be understood in the same manner as other sciences. He believed this because every society has within it empirical facts, certain realities that can be proven like any other science. Durkheim called these empirical facts within each society “social facts”, values, cultural norms and social structures that are typical of an entire society and which influence and even compel individual members of each society. These behaviors are so imbedded in society that they pressure conformity through the excepted ways of acting. For example, it is generally excepted within our society that men wear pants - that is the excepted “social fact”. Therefore, a man wearing a skirt will place him in an uncomfortable situation, since it goes against the norms of his society.  These social facts are beyond the individual and so Durkheim focuses more on the trends within the society, not upon the individual.  This is clearly illustrated in Durkheim’s work “Suicide” where he looks at the social facts of suicide rates by comparing one society to the next. He never tries to predict why a certain individual will commit suicide.

Durkheim on Religion

Durkheim studies and analyzes religion as a “social fact” and another way to develop ones understanding of society. He sees religion as an extremely important social institution which gives rise to social and behavioral norms. Durkheim therefore made it his goal to fully understand religion and does this through first defining it. As Durkheim states in “The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life”: "A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things that is to say, things set apart and forbidden-beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them” (P.47). In Durkheim’s definition of religion, he expresses three major elements: “sacred things”, items which are supernatural and set apart from the profane and mundane. “Practices” and rituals that utilizes and centers around the sacred items and a “church” referring to a moral community which results from a group’s beliefs and practices.

Durkheim deliberately refrains from using the words supernatural and G-d in his definition of religion since religion is there to explain the natural, not supernatural. Similarly, belief in G-d is not in his definition of religion since for some religions G-d is not as essential. Buddhism is one such example.

Furthermore, Durkheim believed that to truly understand religion, one should study the religion in its primitive and fundamental form. He therefore focused on the ancient religion of Totemism, the religion of the aboriginal Australians and native Americans in order to get a more accurate understanding of religion.

Durkheim on Society

In Durkheim’s book called “The Division of Labor in Society” (1893) he uses the terms “mechanical and organic solidarity” as part of his theory of the development of society. Mechanical and organic solidarity are defined as two different ways that allow for individuals to form into a collective unit or group. In a society that displays mechanical solidarity people bond and come together through similarities that they share, such as similar work, education and lifestyle. In this type of society there is very little division of labor, meaning that there are not too many different jobs. Through this similarity people experience a sense of solidarity which develops into a “collective conciousness”, a system which holds a collective groups belief’s together. A crime would then be defined as a behavior which goes against the beliefs of the collective conciousness. Organic solidarity is a system in which people come together through interdependence, whereby individuals who perform different tasks, but at the same time are in need of one another. Durkheim believes that the obligation that people feel towards each other is fundamental to their sense of commonality. This is similar to the human body which requires every individual part of its system to function properly. Durkheim believes that as societies progress they will become less mechanical and more organic. Finally, these two different solidarities are not pure forms and therefore can never be fully separate and distinct from each other. There is always a combination of the two within a given collective group.



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