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

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

SOCIOLOGY AND ITS SCIENTIFIC FIELD 1

EMILE DURKHEIM

A science which has barely begun to exist has, and initially is bound to have, only an uncertain and vague sense of the area of reality that it is about to approach, and the extent and the limits of that area. It can gain a clearer picture only to the degree that it proceeds wth its studies. And the heightened awareness of its subject matter that it acquires in this way is of the greatest importance; for the path of the scientist is the more secure the more orderly it becomes; and the more methodical it is, the more exact is the account that he can render of the territory he is invading.

Sociology has reached the point at which it is opportune to make every effort to bring about such progress. If some reactionary critics, unwittingly under the influence of the prejudice which always militates against the formation of new sciences, reproach sociology for not knowing the precise subject matter with which it intends to deal, they can be told that such ignorance is inevitable in the first stages of study and that our science came into being only yesterday. It must not be forgotten, especially in view of the favorable reception that sociology is given now, that, properly speaking, Europe did not have as many as ten sociologists fifteen years ago. To this must be added that it is asking too much of a science that it define its subject matter with excessive precision, for the part of reality that it intends to study is never neatly separated from other parts. In fact, in nature everything is so connected that there can be neither a complete break in continuity nor any too exact boundaries between the various sciences. Nevertheless, it is urgent that we obtain, if we can, a clear idea of what constitutes the domain of sociology, where this domain is found, and what signs serve us in recognizing the complex of the phenomena with which we must deal--even if we neglect to fix boundaries, which are necessarily indeterminate anyway. This problem is all the more urgent for our science, because if we do not attend to it, its province may be extended to infinity: there is no

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