Emile Durkheim
    About Lesson

    Early Life

    David Emile Durkheim, also known as Emile Durkheim, was born in Epinal, Lorraine, France, on April 15, 1858, to Melanie and Moise Durkheim. He came from a long tradition of devoted French Jews. Durkheim started his studies at a rabbinical school since his father, grandpa, and great-grandfather were all rabbis. He began studying the Hebrew language, the Old Testament, and the Talmud at a young age. However, he changed schools at a young age, preferring not to continue in his family’s paths.


    Durkheim gained admission to the Ecole Normale Superieure after his third attempt in 1879. Durkheim studied at the ENS under the guidance of Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges. He also participated in intellectual and political discussions among the students, including future luminaries such as socialist Jean Jaures, philosophers Henri Bergson and Maurice Blondel, historians Henri Berr and Camille Julian, and psychologist Pierre Janet.

    Durkheim got interested in a scientific approach to society early in his career after reading Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer simultaneously. After that, however, Durkheim considered humanistic subjects boring and shifted his focus from psychology and philosophy to ethics and sociology. Finally, in 1882, he earned a degree in philosophy.

    Employment and Academic Life

    In 1882, he graduated and started teaching the subject in France. He taught philosophy at different provincial schools from 1882 until 1887. Then, he left for Germany in 1885, where he studied sociology and social studies at the universities of Marburg, Berlin, and Leipzig for two years. As Durkheim said in various works, it was at Leipzig that he came to admire empiricism and its language of concrete, complex forms, as opposed to the Cartesian method’s more abstract, clear, and simple concepts. By 1886, he had finished the draft of his The Division of Labour in Society as part of his Ph.D. dissertation and was striving to develop a new field of sociology.

    Durkheim’s time in Germany resulted in the publishing of several essays on German social science and philosophy; Wilhelm Wundt’s work especially inspired Durkheim. As a result, he was chosen to teach Social Sciences and Pedagogy at the University of Bordeaux in 1887, allowing him to teach the first formal sociology courses in France.

    Durkheim had significant success during his stay at Bordeaux, writing his Ph.D. thesis On “the Division of Social Labor” (1893), “The Rules of Sociological Method” (1895), and “Suicide: A Study in Sociology” (1900). (1897). In 1898, he founded the famous “L’Année sociologique,” further solidifying sociology’s standing in academia.

    Durkheim was ultimately promoted to the chair of the Science of Education at the Sorbonne in 1902. In 1906, he was promoted to full professor, and in 1913, his position was formalized to include sociology. He was appointed chair of the Science of Education and Sociology. He delivered lectures on a variety of topics. He produced several noteworthy articles and his last and most crucial major book, “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” (1912).

    Sociological journal L’Année sociologique

    Durkheim significantly impacted the formation of sociology, but his influence was not limited to it. Much of his influence in other domains stemmed from his founding of the magazine L’Année sociologique in 1898. Although the issue had an original essay by Georg Simmel, the magazine was mostly a compilation of book reviews and bibliographic resources. Its goal was to “challenge the still prevalent notion that sociology is a part of philosophy” and to challenge “popular sociology of the day.”

    Although Durkheim, the editor, certainly did most of the work, particularly in the magazine’s early issues, this was a joint effort that brought together philosophers and sociologists devoted to establishing a rigorous scientific sociology. In addition, Durkheim utilized the L’Année sociologique to bring together a group of like-minded researchers, which was critical to the advancement of scientific sociology. Celestin Bougle, Gaston Richard, Francois Simiand, Henri Hubert, and Durkheim’s nephew Marcel Mauss were among the prominent individuals. The task was demanding, taking up at least four to five months of the year. Although vital, the emphasis on book reviews and bibliographies upset Durkheim since it distracted him from the equally crucial responsibility of performing original sociological work.


    Durkheim married Louise Dreyfus in 1887, with whom he had two children, Marie and André. Louise assisted Durkheim in his scholarly efforts. Louise was involved in the administrative editorial work of the prominent multivolume magazine that Durkheim launched and in copying manuscripts and correcting proofs.

    Impact of World War I and Later Life

    Durkheim suffered devastating repercussions when World War I broke underway. Many of his most promising students were killed in the war, and his son, Andre, was killed in battle in 1915. Durkheim never recovered from this, and he died of a stroke in November 1917, leaving only a rough introduction to his last great work, La Morale (Morality). He was laid to rest at Paris’s Montparnasse Cemetery.

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