Sociological Theory/Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) is claimed as the father of sociology by renowned american sociologist "Talcott Parsons". His contributions make it clear why he deserves the title.
Emile Durkheim was born into the traditional Jewish family in the village of Epinal in the Vosges near Strasbourg, France. He lost faith in God at an early age and turned towards the secular view of religion. The disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870 made a major impression on Durkheim, which can be seen in his fascination with the study of group solidarity. He went to attend Ecole Normale Superior at Paris whose impact can be seen in his scientific and mathematical bent in research. His works revolve around two themes, "Domination of collectivism over individualism" and "Application of scientific methods to study social phenomenon".
Durkheim was influenced by many scholars from french, english and german traditions. Montesquieu's spirit of laws influenced him to study the changes in society in terms of other factors like Law. Which led him to create a distinction of societies based on repressive law and restitutive law. Other Major influences being Rousseau, Condorcet, Emile Boutrox, Wilhelm Wundt, Ferdinand Tonnies, Fustel de coulenges, Charles Renouvier, Georg Simmel and August Comte. He had a running intellectual feud with his colleague Gabriel Tarde. This feud also contributed to his intellectual thinking defending his positivistic approach from socio-psychological approach of Tarde.
Durkheim began by publishing articles, first on the German academic life. In 1893 came his first monumental work on The Social Division of Labor. He published his second major study The Rules of Sociological Method in 1895 and completed his trilogy in 1897 with Suicide. His final book was entitled, Totemism: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life in 1912.
He created a distinct identity to sociology as a discipline with his concept of distinct social reality which can be understood and explained in terms of social facts. He made sociology a study of social facts thus effectively creating a clear scope for the subject culling it out of What was earlier studied by psychology and philosophy.
His second book "The Rules of sociological Method", he clearly states the methods that are to be followed by a sociologist while studying the society. In this book he discusses three methods of carrying out research in a positive science like sociology. These methods are observation, experimentation and generalization. This book formed the framework which was later demonstrated by Durkheim in letter and spirit through in studies. His Study of suicide reaffirms his belief that causal relationship can be established between social phenomenon. Next study of Religion demonstrates the utility of functional explanation in sociology.
In his third book,Le Suicide He had used considerable statistical ingenuity to reject the early theories for giving extra social factors such as climate, heredity, mental alienation as causes of suicide, and established a causal relationship between suicide and lack of cohesion. To support his own findings he used the empirical data collected from many societies and cultures. Durkheim identified three basic types of suicide: Egoistic suicide, Altruistic suicide,and Anomic suicide based on the empirical evidences and added Fatalistic Suicide based on historical evidence. This work stands as a landmark in the sociological tradition as the first work which successfully combines theory with empirical evidence.
In his last major book,Totemism: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life(1912), he gave the description and detailed analysis of simplistic form religion, Totemism as practiced by Aboriginal Australian tribes. He derived general theory of religion from the study of the simplest and most primitive of religious institutions like totemism. He began by refuting the existing theories of Animism by Tylor and naturism by Max Mueller on the grounds of them promoting religion as an illusion with reliance on spirit and supernatural forces. Religion according to Durkheim is very much real, permanent and transcendent. The essence of religion according to him is divided into Sacred and Profane. Durkheim defines religion as a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things,that is to say things set apart and forbidden-beliefs and practices that unite in one simple moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to it.
Sociological thought (Francis Abraham and John Henry Morgan)