Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917: A Collection of Essays, with Translations and a Bibliography

By Emile Durkheim; Kurt H. Wolff | Go to book overview

SOME ASPECTS OF THE LEGACY OF DURKHEIM

ALBERT SALOMON

Of those thinkers who, in the history of sociology, have given new directions and perspectives to a discipline in the making, only Emile Durkheim organized a school made up of the creative minds of a younger generation who were able to carry sociology forward. Vilfredo Pareto contributed to depth sociology, Georg Simmel to the epistemology of sociology, Max Weber to the development of sociology as comparative history; but although the ideas of these men were constructive and far- reaching, they did not train students to continue and expand their work.

Durkheim conceived of sociology as a new method, a scientific device for demonstrating the forces of attraction and coercion exerted by collective representations in all fields of thinking, feeling, and conduct. The method was revolutionary in that it rigorously applied scientific principles to the study of the concrete situation of man, and attempted to find rules which would enable sociologists to discover the laws of social behavior in typical situations found in life. The method found both enemies and enthusiastic disciples.

The enemies fell into two groups: the first was composed of representatives of traditional social science--historians who relied on the guesswork of subjective interpretation, and psychologists who were concerned with the behavior of individuals; the second, of theologians and metaphysicians who repudiated a science that rejected all ontological or spiritual assumptions in explaining the natural process of human coexistence in social institutions. Among the followers were students of philosophy who were attracted by a concrete theory and a philosophy of immanence; students of psychology who were convinced that the collective representations conceived by Durkheim provided the necessary complement to individual representations; and historians and social scientists who, in an age of mass societies, understood the value of discovering scientific rules, of setting up classifications of social phenomena,

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