EMILE DURKHEIM (1858-1917)

First holder of Chair of Sociology at Bordeaux University
Started L'Année Sociogique (journal)

Influenced by Herbert Spencer, that sociology should look at interrelationship of sociological factors rather than areas in isolation.
Influenced by Comte on use of scientific method.
Opposed to abstract qualities of society according to Simmel in favour of social facts.

Not contractual agreements between individuals with self interest, but collective social life.

He wrote four major works (there are other writings):


Two types of social solidarity:

Mechanical is where members of society are homogeneous eg tribal societies.

Organic is where social solidarity is maintained through mutual reliance by the division of labour into individual specialities.

In any society a collective conscience (norms and customs conforming to social awareness) must operate to bind it together. These are a shared set of central social values that bind the individuals to each other. If this breaks down, anomie takes over, and lawlessness results. There is a conservative implication towards order and social control. It is also a reflection on change in the later nineteenth century. Anomie is the deteriorating condition of lack of binding in organic solidarity, a loss of shared norms which impose conformity.


In essence this was a study of the origins of the collective conscience expressed through religion.

One limited area study can lead to generalisations. Focus on functions of religion for society, maintaining its moral unity.

Ceremonies in gatherings maintain its solidarity across clans emphasising same obligations, moral stances and essential identity. The totem, an animal, is a sacred emblem by which society stresses its primacy over the individual (Durkehiem compares this to a national flag with its patriotic function). Neither the ceremonies nor the totem have the purpose of building a collective conscience but it is their function.


Postivistic methods - the adaptation of scientific methodology for social research (but the functional branch - eg Parsons, Merton) rather than the conflict branch).

Society exists above the individual level and is an entity in itself. Each institution in society, eg family, economy, exists as its own entity. The existence of social facts lead to scientific method.

Analyis should be focussed on the cause of any social phenomenon and then how it works towards survival of society, that is maintaining collective conscience and a functional whole. This leads to functionalism.

The function is not the same as purpose. The purpose of an institution may be one thing, but the function in its socntribution towards organic solidarity may be entirely another.

SUICIDE - most positivistic

Durkheim's method is the society in the individual, not the individual in society. He analysed statistics, and made comparisons to eliminate relationships rather than to prove. He tries to hold one variable constant while comparing two situations. He used statistics to, as such, to manipulate variables and produce what later became known as "multivariate analysis".

He noticed that suicide rates are quite similar in different countries year by year. He created three categories for social analysis:

Egotistic suicide

The greater the degree of bonds binding a society together the higher the rate of suicide and therefore Catholic societies had lower levels of suicide than Protestant (which stressed individuality more) within the constant variable of one country . Also single people have a higher rate of suicide than those in families.

Altrustic suicide

Some societies stress the responsibility of the individual to society, and Durkheim quotes suti where the Hindu widow of a deceased man killed herself according to past custom.

Anomic suicide

Suicide rates rose in times of prosperity as well as times of poverty. It was the rate in the change of change in the economy that led to more suicide. In sudden change, anomie took place, and suicide rates rose. Industrial conflict and divorce also affected anomie.


Basically, the more integrated is religious and domestic society, the less is the incidence of suicide. Notice that most of this is about causes, and not function - too much suidide indicates a pathological society and a small amount is healthy.


Cuff, E. C., Sharrock, W. W., Francis, D. W. (1992), Perspectives in Sociology, Third Edition, Routledge.

Durkheim, E. (1964), The Division of Labour in Society, Free Press.

Durkheim, E. (1964), The Rules of Sociological Method, Free Press.

Durkheim, E. (1968), The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Allen & Unwin.

Durkheim, E. (1970), The Rules of Sociological Method, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Moore, S. (1995), Sociology: An Introduction, Hodder & Stoughton.