Separating psychology from sociology
To differentiate sociology from psychology, Durkheim proposed that sociology should focus on investigating social facts, which are phenomena that cannot be reduced to individual psychology.
Even within the confines of French academic circles, this method was shown to be problematic, and it was contested by influential personalities such as Gabriel Tarde. Celestin Bougle, who worked closely with Durkheim, referred to the dispute between Tarde and Durkheim as the “famous duel.” The debate centered on whether sociology should emphasize the individual or the collective.
Tarde’s argument that society is made up of the imitative ties between people stands in contrast to Durkheim’s social realism, which took as its starting point the independent reality of society. Instead, Tarde argued that society is made up of imitative relations. According to Tarde, there are no universally held ideas, values, or social institutions that guide humans’ actions. Instead, the transmission of ideas and values depends on people modeling their behavior after those of others. Instead of focusing on society as a whole, this perspective maintains that sociologists should investigate the psychological underpinnings of imitation.
This viewpoint was attacked by Durkheim because, in his opinion, it was speculative and founded on creative concepts rather than a thorough scientific investigation of society. Despite a recent uptick in interest in Tarde’s interpretation of sociology, Durkheim’s social realism emerged victorious and molded the trajectory of the academic field.