Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim Picture

Emile Durkheim, a pioneer architect of the discipline of social science and widely referred to as the father of modern sociology, was born on April 15, 1858, in Epinel, Lorraine. Emile belonged to an affluent family of Rabbis, his father was the Rabbi of Epinal, along with the Chief Rabbia of Vosges and Haute-Marne. Emile was expected to continue with the traditional family profession, however, he was adamant against becoming a Rabbi despite being enrolled in a rabbinical school for his early education. Durkheim was an exceptionally bright student, he was accepted at the College d’Epinal, where he was granted his bachelor’s degree in Letters and Sciences, and applauded for showing a remarkable performance in the Concours General.

Durkheim wished to train as a teacher, and therefore, he moved to Paris and began preparing himself for attaining admission at the renowned Ecole Normale Superieure. Despite being allotted a pension for non-resident students, his financial means had become very scarce due to his father’s illness. Emile, who had spent his entire life in the country, was living alone in Paris all by himself, and the task ahead of him seemed tough as his analytical and scientific mind found it difficult to conduct the study of Latin and rhetoric required on the admission criteria for the Ecole Normale Superieure. He failed his first two attempts, however he managed to get an acceptance in 1879.

Durkheim’s stay at the Ecole marks the most creative and constructive period of his life, he studied along with brilliant philosophers, linguists, psychologists, historians, geographers and socialists including Henri Bergson, Bustave Belot, Edmond Goblot, Pierre Janet, Ferdinand Brunot, Camille Jullian, Lucien Gallois, and Emile’s lifelong friend Jean Jaures. In Paris, away from the influence of close-knit, traditional Jewish community, Emile began to break away from Judaism. He was increasingly self-critical about his abilities, and constantly wrestled with the apprehension of failure. However, despite his fears, he was an active contributor in political and philosophical debates that were a common feature at the Ecole. Durkheim was interested in scientific exploration and analysis, and thus, he was unsatisfied by the Ecole’s preference over the literary rather than scientific theorization. However, Emile found his academic solace in the lectures of philosophers Emile Boutroux and Charles Renouvier, and historian Numas-Denis Fustel de Coulanges. In 1882, Durkheim cleared his aggregation, an arduous examination required for teaching at state secondary schools, and he began his career as a philosophy teacher.

In 1882, The Faculty of Letters at Bordeaux began making progressive changes in the education system of France, it established France’s first course in pedagogy and in 1884, the government backed up this venture in order to introduce an advanced learning system of secular and republican education. Durkheim’s composition of essays and articles on social science and German philosophy began garnering him fame and acknowledgement for his philosophical acumen. His writings caught the eye of the Director of Higher Education in France, Louis Liard, who became captivated and influenced by Emile’s propositions for the remodeling of French morality on the basis of secular and scientific learning. In 1887, Durkheim was appointed as the “Chargéd’un Cours de Science Sociale et de Pédagogie” at Bordeaux. Emile is credited for the addition of sociology in the official curriculum of the French education system.

From 1887-1902, Durkheim devoted his time to educate the masses in the various benefits of social science, and placed emphasis on the how the discipline of sociology provides understanding and insight into the trivial matters of human behavior dealt in psychology, philosophy, history and law. He established the first European department of sociology in Bordeaux. In 1892, Emile published his doctoral dissertation, ‘The Division of Labor in Society’, which discussed human nature and its development, and advocated moral and economic regulation for upholding peace and stability in society. He conducted lectures on theory, practice of education and history, and in addition to that, he conducted a public lecture course on social science every Saturday, where he discussed widely encountered social phenomenon such as social solidarity, family, incest, totemism, crime, religion, law, socialism and suicide. In 1895, he published one of his highly innovative works, ‘The Rules of the Sociological Method’, where he provided specific scientific guidelines to be employed while conducting sociological research.

In 1897, he published his much discussed work, ‘Suicide’ which provided the theoretical explorations of a case study that Emile had conducted in order to investigate the varying suicide rates among Catholics and Protestants. Emile is credited for the introduction of quantitative methods while conducting research in criminology, and he placed strong emphasis on employing primary research methods such as surveys, data collection and evaluation.

In 1898, Durkheim established the ‘Annee Sociologique’, the first journal in France devoted to the discussion of social sciences. Durkheim formed an impressive setup of social and philosophical contributions to the journal that was supported by a group of innovative and prominent philosophers. Soon, the Annee acquired the status of being France’s prominent source of sociological developments, as well as an annual survey of sociological literature and original sociological monographs.

In 1902, Emile’s long standing dream of attaining an influential academic post in Paris came true upon his appointment as the Chair of education at the Sorbonne. He was appointed to the Council of the University and also sat on the advisory committee of the Ministry of Education. In 1912, he published ‘The Elementary Form of the Religious Life’, where he provides an analysis of religion as a social phenomenon, and constructs linkages between the emotional security of communal lifestyles and religious developments. With advent of the WWI, Emile became preoccupied with supporting the national cause, establishing societies for composing war documentation to be sent to neutral countries to check anti-German sentiments.

In 1915, tragedy struck Emile Durkheim’s life when his beloved son Andre was killed while fighting at the Balkan front. This catastrophe left him devastated and he suffered a stroke in Paris. Emile Durkheim passed away on November 15, 1917.

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