School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Emile Durkheim -
The Sociology of Knowledge

 


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
 

Durkheim's sociology of knowledge is intimately tied to his sociology of religion. In the latter, he attempts to show that man's religious commitments ultimately can be traced to his social commitments (the City of God is but a projection of the City of Man). His sociology of knowledge postulates that the categories of man's thought--his ways of conceiving space and time, for example--can be traced to his mode of social life.

Durkheim maintained that spatial, temporal, and other thought classifications are social in origin, closely approximating the social organization of primitive people. The first "classes" were classes of men, and the classification of objects in the world of nature was an extension of the social classification already established. All animals and natural objects belonged to this or that clan or phratry, residential or kinship group. He further argued that, although scientific classifications have now become largely divorced from their social origins, the manner in which we still classify things as "belonging to the same family" reveals the social origins of classificatory thought.

Durkheim attempted a sociological explanation of all fundamental categories of human thought, especially the central concepts of time and space. These, he claimed, are not only transmitted by society, but they are social creations. Society is decisive in the genesis of logical thought by forming the concepts of which that thought is made. The social organization of the primitive community is the model for the primitive's spatial organization of his surrounding world. Similarly, temporal divisions into days, weeks, months, and years correspond to periodical recurrences of rites, feasts, and ceremonies. "A calendar expresses the rhythm of the collective activities, while at the same time its function is to assure their regularities."

Although in the light of later critical discussions of this thesis it can be said that Durkheim failed to establish the social origins of the categories of thought, it is important to recognize his pioneering contribution to the study of the correlations between specific systems of thought and systems of social organization. It is this part of Durkheim's contribution, rather than some of the more debatable epistemological propositions found in his work, that has influenced later development in the sociology of knowledge. Even when one refuses assent to the proposition that the notions of time and space are social in origin, it appears that the particular conceptions of time and space within a particular society and at a particular time in history are derived fro specific social and cultural contexts. Here, as in his study of religion, Durkheim was concerned with functional interrelations between systems of beliefs and thought and the underlying social structure.

From Coser, 1977:139-140.

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