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Emile Durkheim

By colinjacob2 Dec 09, 2012 904 Words
Emile Durkheim:

His Works and Contribution to Sociology

The Life of Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim was born on April 15, 1858 in Lorraine, France. He was born to be the son of a chief Rabbi and it quickly expected that young Emile would follow suit of the occupations of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Emile was sent to a rabbinical school. However, things did not turn out as planned when Emile moved to Paris (Macionis, 2012).

In his early teens, he abandoned religion but stayed close to the Jewish community. Durkheim became a brilliant student, and was awarded several prizes and honors throughout his years of schooling. His academic ambition was the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure, in which he worked tenaciously to gain acceptance. At the age of 21, on the third try, he finally attained his goal of joining the ranks of other great intellectual and political leaders such as socialist Jean Jaurès, psychologist Pierre Janet, philosophers Henri Bergson, and Maurice Blondel, all of whom had been, or were soon to be studying at the famed institution ("Emile durkheim," 2002).

Durkheim then successfully passed his agrégation (the competitive examination required for admission to the teaching staff of state secondary schools), and began teaching philosophy. He joined the Faculty of Letters at Bordeaux in 1882 (Barberis, 2011). Throughout this period, Durkheim’s primary responsibility was to lecture on the theory, history, and practice of education. However, each Saturday morning, he also taught a public lecture course on social science, devoted to specialized studies of particular social phenomena, including social solidarity, family and kinship, incest, totemism, suicide, crime, religion, socialism, and law (Barberis, 2011). The "Science Sociale" was instated at Bordeaux under Durkheim and soon after, sociology officially entered the French university system ("Emile durkheim," 2002). In 1887, Durkheim married Louise Dreyfus, with whom he had a son, André, and later a daughter, Marie (Macionis, 2012).

Four years later Durkheim was made professor by a unanimous vote and assumed the position of chair of "Science of Education and Sociology" in 1913. His reputation became known as a powerful intellect pursuing an aggressively scientific approach to all problems (Barberis, 2011). His "science of morality" offended philosophers and his "science of religion" offended Catholics. The appointment also gave Durkheim enormous power (Barberis, 2011). His lecture courses were the only required courses at the Sorbonne, obligatory for all students seeking degrees in philosophy, history, literature, and languages; in addition, he was responsible for the education of successive generations of French school teachers (Marvin, 2000).

In 1914, Germany invaded Belgium and the north of France and Durkheim himself was discriminated against as a Jew with a German name, but he nonetheless managed to remain patriotic, despite his failing health, and the loss of his son André from the war. The tragedy motivated Durkheim to become more involved in the war, up until he suffered a stroke during one of his impassioned speeches. On November 15th 1917, Emile Durkheim died, at the age of 59 ("Emile durkheim," 2002). Today his name and works have been generally regarded as one of the foundations of sociology (Macionis, 2012).

His Four Major Works & Contributions to Society
In 1893, Durkheim published his first major work, "The Division of Labor in Society”, in which he introduced the concept of "anomie", which described the breakdown of the influence of social norms on individuals within a society, meaning that people were no longer expected to abide by a set of sociological rules, and no longer knew what to expect from one another (Barberis, 2011). In his work, Durkheim discusses how the division of labor is beneficial for society because it increases the reproductive capacity, the skill of the workman, and it creates a feeling of solidarity between people.

In 1895, he published "The Rules of Sociological Method”. This work is an economic illustration of cause and effect between technology of labor and division of labor forms the basis for society.  As such, “things” existing outside the individual consciousness explain social life.  At this point Durkheim turns to a discussion of the economy and the role of religion in serving as a social fact influencing society (Durkheim, 1982). 

In 1897, he published his third major work, " Suicide: A Study in Sociology.” Along with in-depth explanations on the various internal and external causes of suicide on oneself Durkheim's overall explanation is that, when social conditions fail to provide people with the necessary social goals or rules at the appropriate levels of intensity their socio-psychological health is impaired, and the most vulnerable among them commit suicide (Barberis, 2011).

In 1912, Durkheim published his fourth major work, "The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life” which analyzes religion as a social phenomenon. Durkheim finds the essence of religion is the concept of the sacred by which individuals unite (Barberis, 2011).


Barberis, D. (2011, October 10). The durkheim pages. Retrieved from Durkheim, Emile. (1982). Durkheim: The Rules of Sociological Method and Selected Texts on Sociology and its Method. edited and introduction by Steven Lukes, select translations by W.D. Hallis. New York, NY:The Free Press.

Emile durkheim. (2002, December 13). Retrieved from

Macionis, J. (2012). Sociology. (14th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Marvin, C. (2000). Philosophers: Emile durkheim. Retrieved from


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