Course:SOCI1110/Emile Durkheim

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Emile Durkheim


David Emile Durkheim is considered to be one of the founding fathers of sociology and functionalism. He was born in Epinal, France, on April 15th, 1858. He was born into Jewish heritage; his father, Moise, was a rabbi, as was his grandfather and great-grandfather. His mother, Melanie, was the daughter of a merchant. Durkheim spent several years in a rabbinical school, as he was expected to follow in the footsteps of the men in his family before him. However, he was uninterested in becoming a rabbi, and was more inclined to look at the scientific side of things than religious. He moved to Paris, and severed his ties with Judaism completely. He was accepted into the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris in 1879 after his third attempt at passing the entrance examination. In 1882, and until 1887, he taught philosophy at several different schools before finally securing a position teaching sociology at the University of Bordeaux. He married Louise Dreyfus that same year, and they would go on to have two children together, son Andre and daughter Marie. Unfortunately, Andre met his end during World War I, in April of 1916, which tore Durkheim apart. Durkheim died a year and a half later following a stroke he had had several months prior to his passing, on November 15, 1917.


While not considered an activist, Durkheim was extremely passionate about his work. His four major publications are as follows:

  • The Division of Labour in Society (1893)

Durkheim coins the term anomie, which refers to social instability leading to unrest in individuals. It is his first attempt to explain and define social solidarity as a practice, which is when a group frequently interacts with one another based on their shared values and beliefs, and therefore have created a strong bond and sense of belonging. He focuses primarily on anomie, social solidarity, and law in his first published work.

  • The Rules of the Sociological Method (1895)

Durkheim's second book consists of what he viewed sociology to be, and how it should be practiced. He lays the groundwork for sociologists for many years to come with this text, and it is considered to be his biggest contribution to the study and practice of sociology as a whole.

  • Suicide (1897)

Arguably Durkheim's most universally-known study, Suicide takes a look at the factors of a social structure and applies them to the personal act of committing suicide. At that time, it was widely believed that suicide was an individual act, however Durkheim's research suggests that it is largely in part to social circumstance. He concluded that the relationship between psychological disorders and suicide are not prevalent, and that suicide is in fact part of a bigger social picture. He found that men that committed suicide had a 4-to-1 ratio compared to women, and suggests that this may be because women are more likely to develop closer bonds to people, thus forming the idea that social solidarity actually acted as a protectant; the more connections, and the more intimate these connections are, the lower the risk of suicide. He also studied a large part of the Jewish population, and found that although Jewish people had the highest rate for psychological disorders, they had the lowest rate of suicide of all religions. Durkheim attests this to be the result of social solidarity as well, as the Jewish people, after all the centuries of persecution, have come together into a more tightly-knit group. It is a well-researched case study regarding the correlation between suicide rates and social solidarity, and was probably quite ground-breaking and shocking during his time.

  • The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912)

Durkheim's last publication, he sought to understand and explain mankind's emotional connection with religion, and viewed it to be a social phenomenon.

Relevant world events

  • 1858- Second opium war ends (china is forced to pay France and Britain)
  • 1859- France takes control of Vietnam
  • 1859- Darwin's book of Origin of Species is published
  • 1859- First oil well drilled in the USA
  • 1860- Britain allows Jewish population to vote
  • 1861- Abraham Lincoln becomes new president of USA
  • 1861- Britain regulates child-labour in non-textile industry
  • 1862- Otto von Bismark becomes minister-president
  • .1862- First paper money introduced in USA economy
  • 1863- Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation Becomes US law
  • 1863- Slavery ends in Dutch-ruled Indonesia
  • 1863- Cambodia becomes French controlled
  • 1865- USA civil war ends

Major Contrbutions to Sociology

Theory of Suicide

(suicide has a social background) Durkheim's theory of suicide is based around the thought that suicide is a result of social

The theoretical purpose of religion

(religion is the unifying factor of society) (DISCIPLINE, COHESION, VITAL, EUPHORIA)

Rules of the Sociological Method

Possible influences behind Durkheim's studies

Several key events during Durkheim's time could be possible indications as to why he researched the theories that he did. Anti-Semitism could have played a role in why he denounced his Jewish faith, as well as sparked his interest in studying the Jewish community as a whole. His findings, combined with the end of slavery in 1863, could have confirmed his belief in social solidarity. When laws regulating population and industry arose (also in 1863), this may have fueled his desire to understand and document what would go on to be his first major publication, The Division of Labour in Society. Also, the takeover and deployment of missionaries to several countries may have been a causal factor in Durkheim's interest in studying suicide, particularly altruistic suicide.