Short Biography of Emile Durkheim

Short Biography of Emile Durkheim – Emile Durkheim [1858-1917] was the most prominent French sociologist of the 19th century. He was an erudite scholar, a deep thinker, a progressive educationist, an effective writer and a strict disciplinarian.

Unlike Spencer, Durkheim acknowledged Comte as his master. He borrowed from Comte the positivistic stress on empiricism. But he went far ahead of Comte to establish sociology as an empirical science. He insisted that sociology too should follow the scientific method for it to be considered a science.

Durkheim was born in a Jewish family at Epinal in the eastern French province of Lorraine on 15th April, 1858. He studied Hebrew language, the Old Testament, and the Talmud at an early age. In spite of this background he re­mained an agnostic throughout his life.

Durkheim had a bright student career in the College at Epinal and won several prizes. He was not happy with the conventional subjects taught at the school and college level. He longed for schooling in scientific methods and in the moral principles needed to contribute to the moral guidance of society. Although he was interested in scientific sociol­ogy there wasn’t one at that time. He graduated from the

Durkheim’s love for education took him to Germany where he was exposed to the scientific psychology being pioneered by Wilhelm Wundt. After his return from Germany he went on pub­lishing several articles based on his experiences there.

These publications earned him a prominent place in the department of philosophy at University of Bordeaux in 1887. He was later asked to head the newly created department of “Social Science”. Thereafter Durkheim and his writings became famous.

The years that followed were characterised by a series of personal success for Durkheim. In 1893 he published his French doctoral thesis, “The Division of Labour in Society”. His other famous works were also published in due course: “The Rules of Sociological Method” in 1885, “Suicide” in 1897 and “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” in 1912.

In the meantime [in 1902] he was invited to the famous French University, the Sorbonne. In 1906, he was named the professor of the science of education and his title was subsequently changed in 1913 to professor of the science of education and sociology.

Durkheim was actively concerned with French politics throughout his life. He was respected as a political liberalist. The most prominent area of his interest was moral education. He was particularly concerned to discover values and moral principles that would guide French education.

In these mat­ters he inherited the collectivist tradition of social thought represented by di Maistre, St. Simon, and Comte. He reacted sharply against the individualist ideas of Spencer and English Utilitarians. He wanted to reverse the moral degeneration he saw around him in French society. He urged people “to achieve victory in the struggle against public madness.”

Durkheim had evinced interest in socialism. His conception of socialism was markedly different from that of Marxian socialism. Durkheim labeled Marxism as a set of “disputable and out-of-date hypotheses. He did not see the proletariat as the salvation of society, and he was greatly opposed to agitation or violence.

Durkheim was relatively unhappy during his last days. The moral degeneration of the French society brought him great disappointment. In this state of disappointment he died in his 59th year in 1917. His influence on sociology is a lasting one.

The journal which he started “Anne Sociologique” [in 1896] still continues to serve, as one of the leading journals of sociological thought. Though Durkheim is no more, Junctionalism, sociology of education, sociology of law, sociology of religion etc. started by him, are still alive.

Main Works of Durkheim:

1. ‘The Division of Labour in Society’, 1893.

2. ‘The Rules of Sociological Method’, 1895.

3. ‘Suicide’, 1897.

4. ‘Collective and Individual Representations’, 1899.

5. ‘Judgements of Reality and Judgements of Value’, 1911.

6. ‘The Elementary Forms of Religious Life’, 1912.

7. ‘Professional Ethics and Civic Morals’.