Let us now move back to an era when Sociology started shaping itself as a separate discipline. I mentioned in my earlier post that theories are meant to evolve with changing nature of society. The works of earlier thinkers are important because they provide a connecting link to study and improve upon the subject matter of a discipline. In Sociology, one such important thinker was Emile Durkheim, whose contributions immensely helped Sociology to attain an identity it could call its own.
In this post, I will write about his background, and a brief introduction about his subsequent works, which I will be discussing as separate topics in upcoming posts.
The Elementary forms of Religious Life
Emile Durkheim was born in France into a Jewish family. Like his ancestors, he studied to be a Rabbi (the one who teaches Jewish law), but lost interest in theology. His deep interest in religion, which led to his seminal work “The elementary forms of religious life” stems from this background of his.
The Division of Labour in Society
Unlike Comte, whose social world was full of turmoil, one revolution after another, Durkheim lived in a stable France, which was going through industrialization accompanied by rapid expansion of the economy, railways and new technology. Thus, industrialization led to a drastic change in nature and division of work, which became further and further functionally specific and more complex, and led to a change in the social relationship among the people. His work on “The Division of Labour” gives a detailed account of the impact of this development on society as a whole.
The Rules of Sociological Method
A discipline is termed as scientific, when what it studies is observable and can be explained objectively. Durkheim wanted to free sociology from the overarching identity of Philosophy and Psychology, which claimed sociology to be just an appendage to the subject matter in their discipline. According to Durkheim, Philosophy is too abstract and Psychology is too subjective to be considered as science.
He introduced the concept of the Social Facts to give a distinctive identity to sociology. It is the foundation on which he tried to build sociology as a scientific discipline. In simpler words, social facts are norms, values and the structures of the society, which are observable and can be studied empirically.
The Functionalism of Emile Durkheim
Lastly, Durkheim was a functionalist. Functionalism means society is a sum total of all the functions performed by each structure. Each structure( social, economic, political etc.) is interrelated, and society’s equilibrium rests upon the functions performed by them.
In subsequent posts, I will be dealing with these important aspects of his theory in detail.