Thursday, July 20, 2017

Emile Durkheim Explained

Emile Durkheim is pre-eminently the sociologist of community and the possibility for community in modern western societies. He is concerned with the nature of the social bond and the relationship between the individual and society.  Durkheim tried to figure out how individual freedom might be reconciled with community. Although the concept of community is often put to conservative political ends, Durkheim uses it in a decidedly non-conservative way.

You can understand Durkheim better if you recognize that in all his work he tries to make a few basic general points: 
(1) Society is a reality sui generis (of its own kind).  It cannot be reduced to the characteristics of the individuals who constitute it.
(2) Every society is a moral society.  Durkheim does not mean that every society is good.  He means that every society requires “moral” bonds to hold it together.  We need to figure out what exactly a “moral” bond is.
(3) Human beings are inherently social creatures, who in various ways need social bonds, yet there is still an antagonism between society and the individual (or so Durkheim says at some points). As a later sociologist put it, human beings are social creatures but never wholly socialized ones.
(4) Modern western societies suffer from a distinct kind of moral crisis in which old forms of the social bond (or of social solidarity) have eroded but new ones have yet to take shape.
(5) Durkheim saw himself as a kind of priest or prophet whose responsibility was to sketch out the new kinds of shared beliefs capable of holding a complex society together.  Durkheim was eager to be the kind of intellectual against whom Max Weber warned us.

Additional article summaries by Emile Durkheim:

Emile Durkheim - The Rules of Sociological Method
Emile Durkheim - Suicide
"The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" – summary and review" - part 1 -2 -3
What is a Social Fact?
Division of Labor in Society 
Elementary Forms of Religious Life (another summary of The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life)
Moral Education
Types of Suicide according to Emile Durkheim
Anomie according to Durkheim
Definition of social facts
On Morality and Society
Durkheim's definition of religion