School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Emile Durkheim

 

"The first and fundamental rule [of sociology] is to consider social facts as things...a social fact is every way of acting which is capable of exercising an external constraint upon the individual"
(The Rules of Sociological Method, 1895)

The Person The Work
Introduction General Approach
Durkheim's Academic Career Individual and Society
Public Involvement The Sociology of Religion
  The Sociology of Knowledge
  Functional Explanation
 

Of all the summaries, interpretations, introductions and idiot's guides written for those studying Durkheim, the above quote is the one to bear in mind. Sociology has to begin by treating social facts as things. A social fact is anything which constrains individual behaviour. And that includes almost everything. Language, money, gender, class, ethnicity, what we read, where we live, whether we are considered fat or thin, stupid or clever. These things will not have much to do with us as indivduals, they may be things over which we have little or no control, yet precisely because of that they control almost every aspect of our behaviour. What you do, where you do it, where you live, who you fall in love with, how often you have sex, how much you drink, what movies you watch, all are constrained by social facts. This sounds like a pessimistic prescription, and it certainly can be taken that way. However, Durkheim is the last of the terminal optimists of the sociological world. He was convinced that the development of a complex division of labour would lead to human beings becoming increasingly conscious of their reliance upon each other, and the fact the individual well being of each depends upon the well being of all. From this awareness of our need for each other would develop a deep and abiding compassion for all humanity. It is up to your judgement whether the history of this century bears him out (AB).

Websites On Durkheim Work By Durkheim
The Division of Labour and the Elementary forms of Religious Life (External Link) Division of Labour
  What is a Social Fact?
   
   



These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010