the time of his graduation, Durkheim had settled upon his life's
course. His was not to be the traditional philosopher's calling.
Philosophy, at least as it was then taught, seemed to him too far
removed from the issues of the day, too much devoted to arcane and
frivolous hairsplitting. He wanted to devote himself to a discipline
that would contribute to the clarification of the great moral questions
that agitated the age, as well as to practical guidance of the affairs
of contemporary society. More concretely, Durkheim wished to make
a contribution to the moral and political consolidation of the Third
Republic which, in those days, was still a fragile and embattled
political structure. But such moral guidance, Durkheim was convinced,
could be provided only my men with a solid scientific training.
Hence he decided that he would dedicate himself to the scientific
study of society. What he considered imperative was to construct
a scientific sociological system, not as an end in itself, but as
a means for the moral direction of society. From this purpose Durkheim
since sociology was not a subject of instruction either at the secondary
schools or at the university, Durkheim embarked upon a career as
a teacher in philosophy. From 1882 to 1887 he taught in a number
of provincial Lycees in the neighborhood of Paris--except for one
year when he received a leave of absence for further study at Paris
and in Germany. Durkheim's stay in Germany was mainly devoted to
the study of methods of instruction and research in moral philosophy
and the social sciences. He spent most of his time in Berlin and
Leipzig. In the latter city the famous Psychological Laboratory
of Wilhelm Wundt impressed him deeply. In his subsequent reports
on his German experiences, Durkheim was enthusiastic about the precision
and scientific objectivity in research that he had witnessed in
Wundt's laboratory and elsewhere. At the same time he stressed that
France should emulate Germany in making philosophical instruction
serve social as well as national goals. He heartily approved of
the efforts of various German social scientists and philosophers
who stressed the social roots of the notion of moral duty and sought
to make ethics an independent and positive discipline.
the publication of his reports on German academic life, Durkheim
became recognized at the age of twenty-nine as a promising figure
in the social sciences and in social philosophy. In addition to
his German studies, he had already published a number of critical
articles, including reviews of the work of the German-language sociologists
Gumplowicz and Schaeffle, and the French social philosopher Fouille.
It was not surprising, therefore, that he was appointed to the staff
of the University of Bordeaux in 1887. What was surprising, however,
was that at the instigation of Louis Liard, the Director of Higher
Education at the Ministry of Public Education, a social science
course was created for him at the Faculty of Letters at that university.
This was the first time a French university opened its doors to
this previously tabooed subject. Only a decade earlier, the furious
examiners at the Faculty of Letters of Paris had forced the sociologist
Alfred Espinas, a future colleague of Durkheim at Bordeaux, to suppress
the introduction to his thesis because he refused to delete the
name of Auguste Comte from its pages!
Bordeaux, Durkheim was attached to the department of philosophy
where he was charged with courses in both sociology and pedagogy.
Some commentators seem to feel that the teaching of pedagogy was
a kind of academic drudgery that Durkheim was forced to accept.
This was not the case. He continued to teach in the field of education
throughout his career, even when he was clearly free to determine
for himself the courses he would offer. Education, as will be seen
later in more detail, remained for Durkheim a privileged applied
field where sociology could make its most important contribution
to that regeneration of society for which he aimed so passionately.
about the time of his academic appointment to Bordeaux, Durkheim
married the former Louise Dreyfus. They had two children, Marie
and Andre, but very little is known of his family life. His wife
seems to have devoted herself fully to his work. She followed the
traditional Jewish family pattern of taking care of family affairs
as well as assisting him in proofreading, secretarial duties, and
the like. Thus, the scholar-husband could devote all his energies
to his scholarly pursuits.
Bordeaux years were a period of intense productive activity for
Durkheim. He continued to publish a number of major critical reviews,
among others of Toennies' Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, and the
opening lectures of some of his courses were published in the form
of articles. In 1893, he defended his French doctoral thesis, The
Division of Labor, and his Latin thesis on Montesquieu. Only two
years later The Rules of Sociological Method appeared, and within
another two years Le Suicide was published. With these three major
works, Durkheim moved into the forefront of the academic world.
He noted in the preface of Suicide that sociology was now "in
fashion." Not that his work was universally praised; on the
contrary, it created a number of famous controversies and polemical
exchanges. But the fact that so many theorists were moved to regard
Durkheim as their privileged adversary testifies to his impact on
the intellectual world. Then, as later, Durkheim was the center
of continued controversy and disputation.
having established sociology as a field of interest to a wider public,
Durkheim soon felt the need to consolidate these gains by setting
up a scholarly journal entirely devoted to the new discipline. L'Annee
Sociologique, which he founded in 1898, soon became the center for
an extraordinarily gifted group of young scholars, all united, despite
a variety of specific disciplinary interests, in a common devotion
to the Durkheimian approach to sociology. Each year the Annee analyzed
the current literature of sociology in France and elsewhere. These
critical accounts allowed the French public for the first time to
gain an overall view of the depth and breadth of the sociological
enterprise. The Annee also contained independent major contributions
from the pen of Durkheim and from his close collaborators. The reviews
and papers were all meant to emphasize the need for building conceptual
bridges between the specialized fields of the social sciences and
the correlative need for factual, specific, and methodical research.
The Annee was successful from the beginning, and the continued collaboration
of its key contributors helped to weld them together into a cohesive
"school," aggressively eager to defend the Durkheimian
approach to sociology against all who opposed it.
the same year the Annee was born, Durkheim published his famous
paper on Individual and Collective Representations, which served
as a kind of manifesto of sociological independence for the Durkheimian
school. A series of other seminal papers, some published in the
Annee and some elsewhere, followed in the next decade and a half.
These included "The Determination of Moral Facts," "Value
Judgments and Judgments of Reality," "Primitive Classification"
(with Marcel Mauss), and "The Definition of Religious Phenomena."
years after having joined the faculty of the University of Bordeaux,
Durkheim was promoted to a full professorship in social science,
the first such position in France. He occupied this chair for six
years. In 1902, now a man fully recognized stature, he was called
to the Sorbonne, first as a charge de cours and then, in 1906, as
a Professor of the Science of Education. In 1913, the name of Durkheim's
chair was changed by a special ministerial decree to "Science
of Education and Sociology." After more than three quarters
of a century, Comte's brainchild had finally gained entry at the
University of Paris.
his Paris years, Durkheim continued to edit the Annee and offered
a wide range of courses in ethics, education, religion, the philosophy
of pragmatism, and the teachings of Saint-Simon and Comte. He appears
to have been a masterful lecturer who held his audience so much
in thrall that one of his students could write, "Those who
wished to escape his influence had to flee from his courses; on
those who attended he imposed, willy-nilly, his mastery."
the last few years of his stay in Bordeaux, Durkheim had already
become interested in the study of religious phenomena. At least
in part under the influence of Robertson Smith and the British school
of anthropology, he now turned to the detailed study of primitive
religion. He had published a number of preliminary papers in the
area, and this course of studies finally led to the publication
in 1912 of Durkheim's last major work, The Elementary Forms of Religious