Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Rules of Sociological Method / Durkheim - Summary

Emile Durkheim's "The Rules of Sociological Method" (1895) is an attempt the establish sociology as a science. Durkheim proclaims sociology as the science of social facts, distinctive features of social life that function as objects in their determination of one's reality and that therefore can be studies as objects (See our summary of Durkheim's "What is Social Fact?" for more details). Having objects in the form of social facts in not enough for sociology to be considered a science, and Durkheim adds the need for a method to be established (remember Descartesin his "Discourse on the Method").

In "The Rules of Sociological Method" Durkheim establishes society itself as an object of scientific inquiry, in a sense turning humanity's inquisitive gaze towards nature on itself (Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer will later argue in "Dialecticof Enlightenment" that this had dire results). Durkheim holds that if nature presents itself to science in the form of phenomena, then the same can be said about society. The phenomena in question for sociology are what Durkheim calls "social facts" which are forces that constrain and direct an individual's behavior. What Durkheim is basically saying is that our personal actions are always determined by internalized social factors, "facts", that we must study.   

After establishing the objects of sociology Durkheim devotes "The Rules of Sociological Method" to its methodology. Durkheim goes to great lengths in elaborating on the principles of sociological method. Since this is a short summary we will not go into great details but the gist of Durkheim's thought is that social facts must be considered "as things" - recognizable, observable, quantifiable and discussable. This is an attempt to fit sociology in with the requirements of positivism. For Durkheim the methodology of sociology must be made objective and society must be studied "from outside" in order to gain a scientific account of it.  

Additional article summaries by Emile Durkheim:

Emile Durkheim - Suicide
"The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" – summary and review" - part 1 -2 -3
What is Social Fact?
Division of Labor in Society 
Elementary Forms of Religious Life
Moral Education
Types of Suicide according to Emile Durkheim
Anomie according to Durkheim

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