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Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)

French academics and the discipline of sociology owe a lot to David Emile Durkheim. A French sociologist, Durkheim was born in the year 1858 and was part of a close-knit and rather conservative Jewish family. […]

French academics and the discipline of sociology owe a lot to David Emile Durkheim. A French sociologist, Durkheim was born in the year 1858 and was part of a close-knit and rather conservative Jewish family. His contribution to sociology is well-recognized worldwide and according to many intellectual thinkers, the credit of establishing ‘sociology’ as a ‘science’ (Science Sociale) rests on the capable shoulders of Emile Durkheim.

A Peek Into Emile Durkheim’s Life

Durkheim’s father was a rabbi but he himself was destined for a different purpose in life. A disciplined and conscientious young man, Emile dedicated himself to his academic pursuits and became an outstanding student in more ways than one. Infact, he had to face major responsibilities at the age of 20, when his father died. This was the reason which, perhaps, contributed greatly towards his serious and contemplative nature.

Emile studied at ‘Lycee Louis le Grand and excelled in his chosen field. He was also a strong contender for the prestigious ‘Ecole Normale Superieure’, a facility in Paris for higher education and seperate from the mainstream university system. He won the entrance exam to the institute in 1879 and joined his friend Jean Jaures, a gifted man who later became the leader of the French Socialist party.

Durkheim was an expert at many foreign languages like German and Italian and often reviewed papers in these languages. His thoughts, beliefs and writings can be considered to have stemmed from the experiences he underwent in his formative years of life.

Durkheim’s Line Of Thought And Vision

Emile was a sociologist committed towards his country. He wanted to bring in a number of positive social and moral reforms for the benefit of his motherland. He had a secular mindset and set goals to achieve. Emile concentrated on the establishment of sociology as a recognized and new academic subject. He also burnt midnight oil on the analysis of how society of that time could retain its integrity, identity and coherence in the future times to come when religious ethnicity might lose its value. In his regard, Durkheim researched and wrote a lot on how religion, education, law etc could effect society and its integration.

Emile Durkheim was also concerned with the practical impact of science. He considered science as a means that could keep the fabric of society connected. He introduced the eye-opening concept of ‘Anomie’ or lack of societal norms that could result in instability and chaos. This happened through his book that was published in the year1893 with the title, ‘The Division Of Labour In Society’. The book brought to light many an aspect that effect society in a negative way especially behaviour of people with each other.

Durkheim also studied the causes behind ‘suicides’ and once again made a reference to ‘Anomie’. He suggested that suicide could be condition resulting from moral deregulations. According to Durkheim, each suicide victim has a personal stamp to his act which is an expression of his temperament, the conditions around him that are difficult to explain generally.

Durkheim and Sociology

Durkheim’s way of thought and his writings has had a lasting effect on contemporary sociology and society. He was articulate in his approach and did not welcome the vague lines of thought given by his predecessors. He believed in sociology studying actual social facts and social lives that determine individual actions and attitudes. He wished to see a constructively transformed society in his own lifetime.

Some other famous writings of Emile Durkheim include, ‘The Rules Of Sociological method’ and ‘The Elementary Forms Of Religious Life’.

Durkheim’s Legacy

When World War I came, Durkheim was effected badly. He lost his only son who was killed in 1916, at the Balkan front. After repeated efforts to hide his grief, Emile finally got weak and died in 1917. His death however left a changed social world and he succeeded in motivating a number of researchers to further his work and work constantly to improve society as a whole.

Emile would forever live in the hearts and minds of people who are touched by his thought process and his writings. He continues to live on in the very society for which he worked night and day. As he rests in peace, maybe the society finds some peace of its own. Here’s to him and his invaluable work.

Emile Durkheim biography and work