Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Durkheim's Aphorism, the Justification Hypothesis, and the Nature of Social Facts

Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Durkheim's Aphorism, the Justification Hypothesis, and the Nature of Social Facts

Article excerpt

Abstract

In The Rules of Sociological Method (1938), Emile Durkheim coined the expression "social facts" and asserted that the objective reality of social facts was the fundamental phenomenon of sociology. Durkheim's assertion, which has recently become known as "Durkheim's aphorism" (Garfinkel, 2002), has stimulated theorizing at both the macrosociological level of functionalism and at the microsociological level of ethnomethodology. But Durkheim's aphorism was also influential in early psychological research, particularly in Muzafer Sherif's autokinetic experiments on the formation of social norms and Solomon Asch's experiments on conformity (Shaffer, 2005a). The differentiation of "two social psychologies" in the United States by the middle of the twentieth century prevented many theorists from maintaining interest in progress on either side of this divide that held promise for advancing the understanding of social facts. This article explores Gregg Henriques' recent writings on the Tree of Knowledge (ToK) system (2003) that has begun to rekindle interest in integrating the two social psychologies and situating social perception and action in the larger context of cultural sciences. This article explores the potential of one particular feature of the ToK System-the Justification Hypothesis (JH)-that promises to shed light on Durkheim's aphorism.

In The Rules of Sociological Method (1938), Emile Durkheim coined the expression "social facts." The recent publication of an extensive collection of fragmentary writings and recordings of Harold Garfinkel (Garfinkel, 2002) on the subject of ethnomethodology (EM) has unintentionally returned the spotlight to the concept of social facts as one of Durkheim's most fundamental contributions to sociological theory. Garfinkel's various materials (collected, edited and introduced by Anne Warfield Rawls) were published under the controversial title Ethnomethodology's Program: Working Out Durkheim's Aphorism.

Garfinkel uses the expression "Durkheim's aphorism" to refer to Durkheim's assertion that the objective reality of social facts was the fundamental phenomenon of sociology. Following the influential writings of Talcott Parsons' (1951), Durkheim's aphorism has come to be associated with the school of structuralfunctionalist analysis to American sociologists in much the same way that the expression "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" has come to signify the school of Gestalt Psychology to American psychologists . Parsons understood social facts to be theoretical or conceptual constructions; however, recent theorists have begun to reread Durkheim as meaning to express something quite different (Hilbert, 1995; Lynch & Pevrot, 1992; Rawls, 1989, 1996; Psathas, 2003), and, in his recent book, Garfinkel claimed that EM represented the most appropriate methodology for fulfilling Durkheim's aphorism. While there is vigorous debate as to whether or not EM captures the sense of Dukheim's formulation (Craig, 2003; Psathas, 2004), sociologists have been reminded of the challenge of accounting for the apparent concreteness of social facts.

While virtually every introductory sociology textbook introduces social facts as a part of its formulation of Durkheim's contributions to the discipline of sociology, it is clear that the discipline as a whole has not retained the study of social facts as its primary focus. There are, of course, a myriad of reasons for this neglect: the later development of rival, competing schools of sociological theory, the differentiation of micro-level sociological theories from the more traditional macro-level perspectives, and the schism between a sociological and a psychological version of social psychology (Stephan & Stephan, 1985), to name just a few. It is also true that many sociologists believed Durkheim to be fundamentally mistaken in his formulation, reading Durkheim as denying, for example, the reality of the process of social construction of reality. …

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