Durkheim Reconsidered. (Books Reviews: Theory)

By Llobera, Joseph R. | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, September 2002 | Go to article overview
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Durkheim Reconsidered. (Books Reviews: Theory)


Llobera, Joseph R., Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


STEDMAN JONES, SUSAN. Durkheim reconsidered. x, 274 pp., bibliogr. Cambridge: Polity, 2001. [pounds sterling]15.99 (paper)

Should anthropologists be reading and learning from Emile Durkheim or just consider him a 'dead duck' worth only a mention in passing? Will we shortly sec the process of his 'denaturation, forgetfulness and suppression', as Dominique Merllie has suggested in relation to Lucien Levy-Bruhl? Perhaps it would be fair to indicate that while in the past few decades, starting with the publication of Steve Lukes's intellectual biography of Durkheim, there has been a process of enrichment of Durkheim's contribution to the formation of the social sciences, most sociological and anthropological textbooks present rather simplistic and one-sided visions of him. Of the more outlandish visions of Durkheim, the one that suggests he can be presented as a post-modernist is by far the least defensible, and yet it seems to be quite appealing to some recent social thinkers.

The first thing that should be said about Durkheim reconsidered is that the author is obviously a profound connoisseur of Durkheim and someone who loves his writings. More important, and undoubtedly original, is the suggestion that Durkheim owed a lot of his thought to the ideas of the philosopher Renouvier. Controversial as it might be, Stedman Jones emphasizes the centrality of philosophy in his general approach, even if it is presented as sociology. Perhaps the crucial element is the close connection between philosophy and sociology in the Durkheimian intellectual project.

It is difficult to characterize the way in which the idea of scientific rationalism was central to Durkheim's approach. Stedman Jones rejects the vision, so popular among social scientists today, that Durkheim was a positivist in the Comtean sense of the term. Equally, she considers the idea of Durkheim being a conservative thinker and a theorist of order to be outrageous, because that would convert him into 'the most reflective and unphilosophical of thinkers'.

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