The Development of Durkheim's Social Realism

The Development of Durkheim's Social Realism

The Development of Durkheim's Social Realism

The Development of Durkheim's Social Realism

Synopsis

Drawing on a historicist perspective, this book explores the development of Durkheim's social realism and argues that it was less a sociological method than a way of speaking and thinking about social phenomena. Using for the first time the newly-discovered lecture notes from Durkheim's philosophy class of 1883-4, Professor Jones explores the significance of German social science in Durkheim's thought. The Development of Durkheim's Social Realism will be of immense value to graduate students and scholars in sociology, social theory, social and political philosophy and the history of ideas.

Excerpt

This book has two main goals. The first is to explore the meaning and significance of the constellation of ideas in Durkheim's work that is often characterized as his “social realism” — i.e., the view, epitomized in Les Règles de la méthode sociologique (1895), that social phenomena should be studied comme des choses, asreal, concrete things, subject to the laws of nature and discoverable by scientific reason. The second, subsidiary goal is to exemplify a particular way of thinking and speaking about the history of sociological theory, one that might best be described as “historicist, ” “nominalist, ” and/or “pragmatist. ” For me, the first goal has always been the most important. But since so much of what I have to say about Durkheim presupposes some grasp of my views on sociology and its history, this introduction will begin with a brief explanation of the second.

In a famous essay published in 1984, Richard Rorty suggested that we think of the history of ideas as comprising different kinds of “conversations” that we imagine and reconstruct, sometimes between ourselves and classic writers of the past, and sometimes among the classic writers themselves. In “rational reconstructions, ” for example, we imagine and then converse with an “ideally reasonable and educable Durkheim” — e.g., the Durkheim who speaks our language, who might be brought to describe himself as having overstated the “objectivity” of social facts, the “normality” of crime, or the “pathology” of the forced division of labor. Once our concepts and language are thus imposed on Durkheim, and he has been brought to accept such a new description of what he meant or did, he becomes one of us, our contemporary, a fellow-citizen, a colleague in our disciplinary matrix (1984: 51–2). The goal of such “rational reconstructions, ” Rorty tells us, is reassurance or self-justification — i.e., our quite natural and reasonable desire to see the history of sociological theory as “a long conversational interchange”

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