Durkheim, Émile

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Durkheim, Émile

Émile Durkheim (dûrk´hīm, Fr. āmēl´ dürkĕm´), 1858–1917, French sociologist. Along with Max Weber he is considered one of the chief founders of modern sociology. Educated in France and Germany, Durkheim taught social science at the Univ. of Bordeaux and the Sorbonne. His view that the methods of natural science can be applied to the study of society was influenced by the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte. Durkheim held that the collective mind of society was the source of religion and morality and that the common values developed in society, particularly in primitive societies, are the cohesive bonds of social order. In more complex societies, he suggests, the division of labor makes for cohesiveness, but the loss of commonly held values leads to social instability and disorientation of the individual. Durkheim studied suicide to show the importance of anomie, the loss of morale that accompanies decline in social identity. To support his theories he drew extensively on anthropological and statistical materials. His important works include The Division of Labor in Society (1893, tr. 1933), The Rules of Sociological Method (1895, tr. 1938), Le Suicide (1897), and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912, tr. 1915).

See biographies by S. Lukes (1985) and M. Fournier (2012); studies by S. Lukes (1972), R. A. Nisbet (1965 and 1974), N. Smelser (1963), and D. La Capra (1985).

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