One of the formative theorists, Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) was a French scholar known as the 'Father of Sociology'; his life work helped sociology to become established as a reputable social science. Unlike some of his contemporaries however, it was his expressed purpose to develop sociology as a discipline. This is evident through his work The Rules of the Sociological Method (1895).
Émile was born on April 15, 1858 in Épinal, France, as the son of a rabbi. Initially Durkheim seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of his paternal line, and become a fourth generation rabbi. However, he appears to have abandoned religious belief as he concluded his education, considering both Judaism and Christianity "outmoded". Durkheim went on to study at École Normale Supérieure in Paris beginning in 1879. Initially studying philosophy, he shifted his studies to sociology. While still intrigued by larger, philosophical questions, his method of exploration was through sociology. Sociology had developed as a social science, and thus followed a rational, scientific method of exploration. Following his studies, he went on to teach philosophy at several small secondary schools outside Paris.
1887 was a busy year for Durkheim, as he began two new phases of his life almost simultaneously. Durkheim married Louise Dreyfus, with whom he had two children, Marie and André. In addition, Durkheim was appointed as a professor at the University of Bordeaux. It was here that he wrote most of his major works. Of these works, he is probably best known for his work on suicide, published in 1897. Rather than focusing on the personal aspects of suicide, Durkheim focused on the social aspects. In this he borrowed the idea of anomie. As one of two major uses of the term anomie across the field, Durkheim's use refers to a state of normlessness. This is the case of an individual having only very loose ties to society. In the following year, Durkheim started L'Année sociologique, one of the first sociology journals in the world. This publication was an annual publication which ran for 16 years, until the outbreak of World War I.
In 1902 Durkheim was offered a position with Sorbonne University in Paris, after having established himself in the field as a leading authority. His position at Sorbonne became Chair of Education and Sociology in 1913, after his education courses became compulsory for students of philosophy and other humanities.
Émile Durkheim was a true social scientist, and as such he refrained as much as possible from political activism. He instead concerned himself with studying social facts, asserting that any such social facts could be studied using scientific methodology. However, unlike Marx who studied society from a perspective of conflict, Durkheim's approach was more interested in the moral fabric of society. For instance, Durkheim noted a link between strong religious ties, and lower suicide rates. Many believe based on Durkheim's apolitical stance and his focus on the morals of society, that he was in fact, a conservative.
- Notable works include
- The Division of Labour in Society (1893)
- The Rules of the Sociological Method (1895)
- Suicide: A study in Sociology (1897)
- Edles, L.D., & Appelrouth, S. (2005). Sociological theory in the classical era. California: Pine Forge.
- Thompson, K. (2007). Emile Durkheim. In J. Scott (Ed.), Fifty key sociologists: the formative theorists (pp. 40-46). New York: Routledge.
- Ibid 1