French sociologist and one of the founding fathers of modern sociology.
After he graduated from the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Durkheim taught sociology first at the University of Bordeaux and then, from 1902 until his death, at the Sorbonne. His aim was to discover the nature of society and thus the values and principles upon which education should be based; many of his views, and those of his followers, were published in the journal L'Année Sociologique, which he founded in 1896.
In his first major work, De la division du travail social (1893; translated as The Division of Labour in Society, 1933), Durkheim rejected the ideas of the English utilitarians and proposed the theory that social structures influenced individual behaviour, not vice versa. He conceived an image of social solidarity and at the same time was able to define the proper task of sociology as the study of social rather than individual facts. In his Les Règles de la méthode sociologique (1895; translated as The Rules of Sociological Method, 1938), Durkheim went on to enlarge upon this concept and successfully laid down a methodology for the science of sociology. Durkheim then focused on the ‘collective currents’ that he had suggested influenced the conduct of individuals in society, and embarked upon a major empirical investigation published as Le Suicide (1897; translated as Suicide, 1952). In this pioneering study of social statistics, Durkheim distinguished between three kinds of suicide and was able to associate each with different aspects of the social order. Durkheim gave the name ‘anomie’ to individual behaviour or the state of a society lacking moral or social standards. In his final work, Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912; translated as The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915), he interpreted the religious bond as a type of social bond expressed through ritual and defined God simply as Society. Throughout all his writings he never diverted from his collectivist point of view and his work was thus in striking contrast to that of many of his contemporaries, including Max Weber.