Search Results for Emile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) was an innovative French sociologist who taught at the university of Bordeaux and the Sorbonne. He’s usually upheld in introductory Humanities courses as as one of great three “classical” sociologists, and one of the founders of sociology as a discipline in its own right. This academic honor also includes Karl Marx and Max Weber.
Among his many achievements and insights, Durkheim is seen as a pioneer in the use of scientific method. Durkheim focused on society instead of the individual. He believed that “collective representations” emerged from many minds that interact in a social environment. Depending on their character, these collective representations had variable but statistically demonstrable effects on society.
In addition, he tended to view society as a doctor would look at a patient. This is often called Durkheim’s “organic metaphor.” His outlook predates what would come to be called structural functionalism. As such, he believed that some social forms were healthier than others.
Durkheim sought to create one of the first rigorous scientific approaches to social phenomena. Along with Herbert Spencer, he was one of the first people to explain the existence and quality of different parts of a society by reference to what function they served in maintaining the quotidian (i.e. by how they make society “work”). He also agreed with his organic analogy, comparing society to a living organism. Thus his work is sometimes seen as a precursor to functionalism. Durkheim also insisted that society was more than the sum of its parts.†
Unlike his contemporaries Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber, he focused not on what motivates the actions of individuals (an approach associated with methodological individualism), but rather on the study of social facts. As a result, Durkheim contrasted mechanistic social types (where individuals cooperate less, relying on tradition and punitive authority) to organic solidarity (where individuals cooperate more, working together to satisfy mutual needs). And for Durkheim, the former is inferior to that latter.
Durkheim also wrote on alleged “elementary” forms of religion, building his theories on the anthropological studies available at the time. And he did (secondary) statistical analyses of the sociological facts of crime and suicide, trying to link their frequency to particular social conditions and beliefs.
What makes Durkheim unique to most sociologists is his blending of theory, method and observation. In most cases Durkheim provides a detailed outline and defense of his scientific approach before engaging in a particular study. After completing his research, a theoretical analysis of his data follows. However, most of Durkheim’s observations are secondhand. He used the statistics and case studies available to him at the time, and rarely – if ever – went out in the field to do his own primary research.
While this kind of approach wouldn’t wash today in social psychology, many academic sociologists can still get away with armchair philosophy, making pretty obvious statements and distinctions that hard core philosophers have already covered in far greater detail. The only difference is that the sociologist applies conceptual distinctions to everyday life in ways that are more easily understandable and up-to date.‡
‡ Forwarding simplified versions of existing philosophical distinctions is evident in the works of Peter Berger and Erving Goffman. However, Berger talked about the importance of data collection while Goffman usually went a step further, actually going out into the field and getting his own data.
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Deviance is a statistical term but it’s also an area of study in sociology, psychiatry, psychology and criminology.
In the social sciences deviance is about trying to understand why people break social norms and what this means for the individuals who live in and, together, comprise society. At least, that would be a good beginners definition. But in reality the social sciences dig much deeper and ask some tough questions about the why’s and how’s of deviance.
For starters, the social understanding of normality and abnormality varies dramatically across cultures and throughout history. What’s okay here is not necessarily okay there. And what’s okay now was not necessarily okay back then.
In the West, studies indicate that, on the whole, our correctional institutions do not really correct criminal offenders. On their release from prison, many resume a life of crime and become repeat offenders.
Interestingly enough, some functionalist sociologists say that society needs or, at least, indirectly benefits from crime and high recidivism rates. Criminality keeps large sectors of the labor force employed, especially those connected to law enforcement and the justice system, as well as those businesses that benefit from selling crime deterrent products (e.g. alarm and surveillance systems, locks, encryption and anti-theft software).
Also, the pioneering sociologist Emile Durkheim suggested that deviance serves another positive social function. It forces us to realize just what our rules and regulations are. And in so doing, deviance actually strengthens the social bond among the majority who, so they believe, are not deviant.
Imagine, for instance, taking a ride in an elevator. Suddenly a stranger takes their shirt off and asks you to rub their shoulders. Our society does have a place where this kind of behavior is socially acceptable among strangers—namely, the massage and physiotherapy clinic. But it is not acceptable on the elevator! And if someone tried to do that, most of us would instantly know that it wasn’t, and this knowledge would reinforce our sense of belonging to the larger clan. That is, society.
Other thinkers say that to passively accept the supposed functional aspect of deviance is to deny the possibility of a world without crime or, at least, one in which crime is not pandemic to society.
Postmodern thinkers like Michel Foucault note the relativity of the term deviance and suggest that its meaning is derived through social power. For Foucault, power discursively marks off the deviant from the normal individual. In so doing, the deviant becomes marginalised—that is, deprived of the goods, opportunities, rights, privileges and other pleasures that the normal person is entitled to. This process may occur somewhat automatically when different professionals become consciously (or unconsciously) convinced of their own unshakeable authority in determining the normal, the moral and the legal.
However, corruption theorists point to the hypocrisy of societies that incarcerate low-status, petty criminals with tough sentences while government leaders and business elites caught engaging in illegitimate activities are usually given a proverbial slap on the wrist.
Others believe that deviance is largely a genetic problem. That is, criminals inherit bad genes and there’s not too much that can be done about it. To counter this claim, many sociologists say that learning and cultural deprivation have much to do with the making of a deviant.
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Not until fairly recently has corruption been recognized as a valid topic within the social sciences, perhaps partly because it’s not easily verified. Also, shrewd researchers wishing to avoid repercussions in an imperfect world may know when it’s best to keep quiet.
Corruption most often involves bribery and abuses of legitimate authority.¹ In business and government corruption may take place between as few as two people or among a relatively small number or insiders. Some examples in government would be employing a less qualified person than others or closing a business deal as a result of clandestine social and/or economic connections. In business, examples would be market collusion and all types of fraud involving more than one person.
Extreme conspiracy theorists contend that a so-called ‘culture of fear’ is purposefully orchestrated by inherently deceptive governments in order to legitimize wars and bolster certain markets. Along these lines, some believe that corruption has permeated Western culture to a degree formerly associated with so-called third and second world countries. But again, proof is usually hard to find and, most likely, always will be.
Within psychology and especially theology, the term corruption refers to specific individuals or groups whenever an action is deemed morally degrading by another group claiming moral authority. In some circles of Eastern and Western mystical theology corrupt acts are said to “pollute” the individual soul (or in Buddhism, to attract negative skandhas).
These two ideas of corruption – the social vs. the psychological and theological – may at first seem separate. But on closer inspection, they’re arguably connected. As Jesus puts it in Matthew 7:18, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit.” True, Christ is talking about true and false religious prophets in this passage, but it seems fair to generalize this idea to all aspects of life.
So what does this mean for the average person in our imperfect world? Even the upright schoolteacher or respected academic has probably photocopied material that is under copyright. And many decent folks made cassette tapes of their favorite albums back in the day.
The answer to this question has spawned a lot of debate in philosophy and theology about ethics, and clever thinkers have come up with a range of ideas from “situational ethics” to “necessary evil” to try to grapple with the realities of imperfect beings living in an imperfect world.
Moreover, in sociology and economics were hear arguments about the alleged positive aspects of crime–for instance, crime is said to be good for anti-crime businesses and services (e.g. anti-virus software), as well as for neutral market areas (e.g. the old cassette tape). And even the classical sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that a limited amount of crime was good for society because it helped to define boundaries for acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior, this awareness strengthening society as a whole.² But ultimately, it seems only God can know what’s right and wrong, this also being one of Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 7:1).
¹ For a good list of these potential abuses, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption.
² For a good discussion on Durkheim’s view, see http://misssrobinson.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/how-do-functionalists-explain-crime
Corruption - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (plato.stanford.edu/entries/corruption)
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Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908- ) was a Brussels-born French social anthropologist who was influenced by the pioneering sociologist, Emile Durkheim.
Levi-Strauss studied the kinship, ritual and myths of so-called primitive societies from the perspective of structuralism. He observed that the human mind uses language to classify cultural objects. And he believed that it does this in a series of binary classifications (e.g. black vs. white, hot vs. cold, raw vs. cooked, dead vs. alive).
All objects are understood in relation to other objects. For Lévi-Strauss this way of understanding outer reality mirrors fundamental structures within the the human mind.
Lévi-Strauss generalized a theory, one originally based on specific groups, to try to explain universal cultural patterns. This theory suggested that the so-called savage and civilized mind were essentially the same.
During his intellectual development he also asked whether the tendency to structure the environment came from inside (i.e. inherited brain structures) or outside (i.e. arbitrary social and cultural structures).
In contrast to John Locke’s tabula rasa, Lévi-Strauss came to see the external environment as an object classified according to innate mental structures. Lévi-Strauss believed that Freud’s theories contributed to a structuralist perspective because Freud tried to explain human history and psychology according to underlying laws.
In The Raw and the Cooked (1966) Lévi-Strauss suggests that music behaves like a mythology because both “appeal to mental structures that the different listeners have in common.”
His Mythologiques (1964-72) forwards the notion that a systematic order lies behind all forms of cultural expression. He has been critiqued for generalizing his own way of structuring data onto others. Also, contemporary psychiatry notes that individuals brains can differ significantly by the degree of differentiation for a given area or areas of the brain. Einstein, for instance, apparently had an unusually high degree of differentiation in the areas associated with abstract thinking.
So although Lévi-Strauss’ structuralist theories may be attractive to some who wish to simplify our complex world to simple binary oppositions, they’re really yesterday’s news, at best.
- Claude Lévi-Strauss by Patrick Wilcken – review (guardian.co.uk)
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The word myth is derived from the Greek mythos, meaning anything passed on orally.
Homer used mythos to signify stories and conversation based on fact instead of fiction. Later, Plato used mythos to refer to discourses containing shades of truth but which, for the most part, are fiction.
Among its contemporary meanings, myth often points back to a quasi-historical epoch or heroic character.
The term mythology may be used synonymously with myth or, more commonly, with a body of myths. ‘Mythology’ also involves a somewhat analytical (as in scholarly or philosophical) view of myths. A mythologist is someone who studies myths in this way, whereas a mythographer is more a compiler of myths.
Some mythologists trace historical conditions and archeological findings under the assumption that myths are just stories loosely based on historical events (as with the Hindu Ramayana).
In The Greek Myths Robert Graves says this about all myths—i.e. myth is something like a political cartoon.
Some rationalists contend that myth is an early protoscience that attempts to explain natural mysteries, not unlike contemporary science.
The functionalist theory sees myth as serving a positive social purpose. Emile Durkheim, for instance, argued that so-called primitive religion bonded community members and defined precise social classes and roles. The notion that social roles are defined and legitimized by mythology and sacred scripture seems to be partially supported by the Hindu caste system, by Greek and Nordic social stratification and by the Bible and the Koran.
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory views myth as a folk tale that reveals more about psychological than historical truths. Freud sees myth mostly in terms of wish-fulfillment, denial and sublimation.
Despite Robert Graves’ attack on C. G. Jung for being too metaphysical, Jung himself says myths are “psychological truths” that are historical because they reveal the attitudes of a group at a particular juncture in history. Interestingly, Jung admits to creating his own modern myth through his psychological theories. He also admits to using scientific language to convince otherwise skeptical readers as to the relevance of his ideas.
In a sense, then, Jung’s approach to myth-making could be seen as somewhat postmodern in that he knows full well he’s creating a social truth, if not a permanent truth. While some third-rate thinkers may see this as some kind of moral threat, it’s not that at all. Jung’s goal in myth-making is to create a sense of meaning and purpose appropriate to his times.
Joseph Campbell notes that myth, in combination with rites and ceremonies, serves a pedagogical function. Campbell says myth provides a thread of sensibility running through various stages of life, teaching us how to belong and contribute to society, from birth to childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age and eventually to the grave.
In the Tibetan Book of The Dead, the importance of myth extends beyond the grave.
The structuralist theory of Claude Levi-Strauss looks at myth as something arising out of pre-set, universal linguistic structures. For Levi-Strauss, meaning is not separate but explicit to the structure of myths, which apparently pose a series of binary oppositions (e.g. good-evil, male-female, hot-cold, helpful-harmful) that demonstrate how the human mind thinks.
Levi-Strauss’ views have been challenged by Sir Evans Pritchard who says not all mythic systems are constructed in simple binary oppositions. Other opponents say that meaning may exist on top of structure. The statement “the yellow laugh looked wet” for example, is grammatically correct but most would see it as meaningless.
The poststructuralist Michel Foucault sees practically all statements and related practices in terms of myth or ‘fictions.’ For Foucault, societal morals, scientific truths as well as economic, ideological and political imperatives are myths which, when invested with social power, exhibit tangible effects. Sometimes these very real effects of myth are pleasurable and other times not.
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Representation in both the literary and artistic sense refers to depicting through language, music, visual art or dance some psychological, social, political or spiritual idea or environment.
C. G. Jung believed that representation was essential to the healthy growth of the psyche. He envisioned the conscious ego as a relatively small entity that must, through representation, express and therefore control the immense powers of the archetypes of the collective unconscious.
Postmoderns question to what degree representation actually represents some supposed thing and to what degree the process of representation creates it. Further distinctions are made in anthropology, philosophy and theology between second-order, conceptual realities and first-order sense datum.
In abstract art some believe that the personality and personal message of the artist can be removed from the overall representational message, whereas others say this is impossible–i.e. the artist, artwork and viewer will always exist in some kind of relationship.
In Platonic philosophy and much of the theology of the Middle Ages questions were raised as to the possibility of eternal, unchanging essences or ideas which are imperfectly represented in our world of change and decay.
» Active Imagination, Archetypal Image, Barthes (Roland), Bultmann (Rudolf), Cockburn (Bruce), Durkheim (Emile), Emic-Etic, Icon, Object, Participation Mystique, Surrealism, Wittgenstein, Ludwig (Josef Johann), Yoni
The issue of suicide has plagued humanity since ancient times.
The Greek and Roman Stoics condoned suicide in certain circumstances (such as extreme illness, loss of faculties or to avoid serving a tyrant), whereas the Christian theologian St. Thomas Aquinas unequivocally says “suicide is the greatest crime,” both against oneself and society.
The pioneering French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) published a statistical study that outlined four distinct types of suicide: Egoistic, Altruistic, Anomic and Fatalistic.
For Durkheim each suicide group corresponds to a specific type of societal orientation.
- Egoistic suicide arises from excessive individualism and lack of integration with a greater social purpose. Along these lines, Durkheim believes that Protestants suicide more frequently than Catholics because the former are not as tightly knit within their Church.
- Altruistic suicide arises from a lack of individualism combined with an excessive identification with some greater social purpose, such as the Japanese kamakazi pilots of WW-II or the Middle Eastern suicide bombers of the 21st century.
Although the term “altruistic” sounds strange in this context, it should be stressed that Durkheim doesn’t make moral judgments within his theory. Rather, he tries to understand according to the type of relationship existing between the person committing suicide and their social group.
- Anomic suicide arises from a sense of alienation in a society lacking clearly defined meaning and characterized by diffuse social ideals. For instance, Durkheim found that high divorce rates coincided with high suicide rates.
- Fatalistic suicide is the opposite of anomic suicide. Fatalistic suicide is characterized by a sense of helplessness and futility in a harshly regulated social system, such as found in societies condoning master-slave relationships.
While this theory surely has his limitations, Durkheim remains important to the history of the social sciences because he looked at European demographics to try to understand suicide as a social phenomenon, just as social psychologists, advertisers and researchers gather and interpret data today.
More recently, the Hale Bopp Comet or Heaven’s Gate suicides of 1997 would probably be seen as altruistic suicide according to Durkheim’s schema.
Depending on one’s perspective, this California-based UFO cult or religious group believed the Earth was about to be destroyed. For members the only way to survive was to move on to a higher level, and to do this the group also believed they had to die at a precise cosmic moment, somewhat like jumping on a train when it’s in the station.
Because the Earth is still much the same as it was in 1997, it seems reasonable to say that this community was severely misguided.
- Revisiting Durkheim (includes an essay about Durkheim’s work, Suicide, in pdf format)
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Sociology is usually defined in terms of the ‘scientific’ or ‘systematic’ study of society, two notions that postmodern – and just serious – thinkers today openly question.
The term was coined by Auguste Comte (1798-1857), although others were thinking sociologically (i.e. examining social trends and truth claims) well before his time.
On the Web:
- For a mainline view, Wikipedia provides good coverage of the chief figures now known as part and parcel of sociology. » http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociology
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Saint-Simon, Comte Henri de (1760-1825)
Aristocrat and founder of French socialism, placed in jail during the French Revolution.
Saint-Simon’s writings remain influential in sociology. He had particular impact on the political views of Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857), especially with regard to progress.
Comte in turn influenced Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of Sociology.
Saint-Simon reacted against the brutality of the French Revolution and advocated a society where science and technology would guide the workings of religion and politics.
His work included a belief in God but he wanted to strip away the dogmas of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity to get to the core of Jesus’ message as he saw it. He was particularly interested in the plight of the poor, believing that theory and practice should go hand in hand to elevate all peoples to the highest possible good.
Unfortunately he squandered his money and lived out his last days in severe poverty.
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Weber, Max (1864-1920) Pioneering German sociologist who suffered a mental collapse and is said to have recovered through rationality.
Along with Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim, Weber is usually regarded as one of the ‘big three’ in classical sociological theory.
We don’t know if Weber was fully aware of Marx but his notions of status and party extend Marxist analysis, which focussed on the idea of class, ownership and the means of production.
For Weber, social position rests not only on economic class but also on status (i.e. social prestige, such as a priest or judge) and party (i.e. political power).
Unlike Marx, whose theory was geared toward social transformation, Weber sought only to understand.
In studying the major world religions Weber made important contributions to the sociology of religion, particularly with regard to his development of ideal types, his work on charisma and the distinction made between ethical vs. exemplary prophets.
Because of the vast scope of Weber’s work on religion, and due to his reliance on translations of original texts, some scholars argue that he constructs a ‘grand theory’ based on sometimes misunderstood scriptures.
Regardless, Weber produced a recognized classic, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which he argued that the Calvinist view of salvation fostered the development of Capitalism.
According to Weber, the Protestant ‘work ethic’ sanctioned hard worldly work and the reinvestment of profits as a fulfillment of religious duty.
The Protestant population could be simultaneously wealthy, religious and guiltless–an ethic already present among Jewish minorities throughout Europe.
» Caste, Class, Comte (August), Cylons, Ethical Prophet, Marx (Karl), Exemplary Prophet, Language, Party, Protestantism, Relations of Production, Scholarship, Sociology, Status
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