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Durkheim and Sociology I: Social Facts. Main points 1. Durkheim wants to set up sociology as a properly scientific discipline 2. He models it on the hard.

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Presentation on theme: "Durkheim and Sociology I: Social Facts. Main points 1. Durkheim wants to set up sociology as a properly scientific discipline 2. He models it on the hard."— Presentation transcript:

1 Durkheim and Sociology I: Social Facts

2 Main points 1. Durkheim wants to set up sociology as a properly scientific discipline 2. He models it on the hard natural sciences 3. He tries to prove society really exists; Its not just a collection of individuals 4. Main thing to examine: social facts These strongly constrain and shape individuals thoughts and actions

3 OUTLINE 1.Durkheims life 2.Durkheims aims 3.The new science of sociology 4.Social facts 5.Scientific method – positivism 6.The suicide study 7.Some problems 8.Assessment

4 Durkheims Life Born in 1858 – dies 1916 Assimilated Jewish family Committed to French Republican ideals: liberty, equality & fraternity Middle-of-the-road politics – reformist socialism

5 Main books The Division of Labour in Society (1893) The Rules of Sociological Method (1895) Suicide (1897) The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912)

6 Durkheims Aims 1)To help reconstruct French society War with Germany, 1870 Anti-Semitism Industrial unrest 2) To set up sociology as a proper science Scientifically rigorous Objective knowledge 3) To set up sociology as a distinct discipline Different from psychology

7 Durkheims Aims 4) Go beyond his predecessors Sociology already coined by Auguste Comte ( ) Durkheim influenced by Comte -Sociology is a science -Can be used to solve social problems Durkheim wants to go beyond Comte -Comtes ideas too simplistic -His version of sociology not scientific enough

8 The New Science of Sociology Sociologys subject matter: Society Against utilitarianism: -Only individuals -Self-interested and calculating Society really exists; it has an existence of its own Society is more than the sum of its parts i.e. society is more than just a collection of individuals

9 SOCIAL FACTS Society is a set of social facts Social facts have two key features: 1) Social facts are external to the individual 2) Social facts are constraining – of the individuals thoughts and actions

10 Social facts are mental in nature a) They are shared thoughts and feelings b) They are expressed in language and symbols c) They are shared – they have an existence beyond each individuals mind d) Socialisation & education = shared thoughts and feelings inculcated into the individual child e) Naturalisation – taking as natural what has been socialised into you

11 Each individual has 2 sides 1)Purely personal side – wholly individual character and personality 2) Social side - ways of thinking and feeling socialised into individual by social forces - constantly reinforced by social facts Pre-modern society: high level of 2) Modern society: higher levels of 1).

12 Social facts are moral in nature a) They divide the world up into good and bad, moral and immoral, sacred and wicked b) They encourage an individual to act in ways that society defines as appropriate behaviour c) They encourage an individual not to act in ways that society defines as inappropriate behaviour

13 Appropriate (socially sanctioned) behaviour is rewarded Inappropriate (socially condemned) behaviour is punished Breaking of everyday social norms: -low-level punishments

14 If I do not submit to the conventions of society, if in my dress I do not conform to the customs observed in my country and in my class, the ridicule I provoke, the social isolation in which I am kept, produce …. punishment[s]... I am not obliged to speak French with my fellow-countrymen nor to use the legal currency, but I cannot possibly do otherwise...

15 Religion a very important social fact - divides the world up into sacred and not-sacred (profane) things -individuals thinking & actions strongly guided by ideas of what is sacred -anyone disrespecting sacred things severely punished -Applies particularly in pre-modern societies; but also still applies in modernity

16 SOCIOLOGY AS A SCIENCE Sociology to be independent of other disciplines Especially psychology Psychologys domain: individual brains and minds Sociologys domain: Society - the realm of social facts

17 SCIENTIFIC METHOD: POSITIVISM Positivism: a)A doctrine developed in the later 18 th century – the Enlightenment b) Applied to chemistry, physics, biology c) Science can produce thoroughly objective (positive) knowledge

18 d) Real truth; beyond mere opinions -Scientists are dispassionate and objective -They dont impose their views on the data e) Science can be completely rigorous – uses reliable methods (experiments) f) Science discovers scientific laws that apply in all circumstances e.g. putting together nitro and glycerine e.g. the boiling point of water is ALWAYS 100 °C

19 Durkheims Positivism Applies positivism to sociology Sociology can be a real science if it is positivist i.e, if it is modelled on the lines of the natural sciences Sociology = the natural science of society

20 a) Sociology searches for objective knowledge about how society really works b) It uses rigorous scientific methods c) The sociologist puts her own personal biases aside - lets the facts speak for themselves -this is possible as social facts really exist -there can be true and false viewpoints on them

21 Sociology produces objective knowledge that is beyond mere opinions about society Sociologist is a scientist who knows more about society than ordinary members of it

22 d) Sociology finds the objective laws of social life e.g. high suicide rates caused by lack of social integration (At the least: sociology can spot really occurring social patterns and trends) e) Sociology uses & produces reliable statistics; these indicate social patterns & social laws

23 f) The practical point of sociology: - produce objective knowledge that can be used to help improve social conditions - sociologys findings inform government policy-making Sociology can research social problems; find their real causes; suggest how to solve them


25 Aims: 1)To show sociology could produce objective data 2)To show sociology had as rigorous methods as the natural sciences 3)To show that human behaviour was as much socially shaped as it was driven by the individuals personal motivations 4)To show that psychology on its own could not explain suicide 5)To provide information about social causes of suicide, for government to try to reduce suicide levels

26 Methods: 1.Examine suicide rates in a number of different countries; these vary 2.Rates accessed through government statistics 3.Explain varying suicide rates with reference to the key social facts that exist in each country

27 Findings – 4 types of suicide Altruistic suicide - Killing oneself for the benefit of your social group Fatalistic suicide - Killing oneself from a feeling of hopelessness & despair; when your circumstances are very oppressive Egoistic suicide - Killing oneself for wholly self-centred reasons; having no concern for anyone or anything apart from yourself Anomic suicide - Killing oneself because of a perceived lack of purpose in your life; feeling alienated from other people

28 4 types of suicide - causes Two key social facts: 1) Level of Social regulation -Degree to which individuals thoughts and actions are regulated by society (social facts) -There has to be enough regulation / too much 2) Level of Social integration -Degree to which individuals are integrated into society and social groups (e.g. family, local community, religious group, etc.) -There has to be enough integration / too much

29 Altruistic suicide - Too much social integration Fatalistic suicide - Too much social regulation Egoistic suicide - Not enough social integration Anomic suicide - Not enough social regulation

30 Different countries have different levels of suicide - Suicide rates in each country are socially shaped: - Different countries have different levels of social regulation and social integration Within a country some social groups more likely to commit suicide than others - Different social groups are subject to different levels of social regulation and integration

31 Catholicism Discourages High regulation Protestantism Encourages Low regulation Marriage Discourages High integration Being single Encourages Low integration

32 SOME PROBLEMS 1) Assumes official statistics are true and accurate representations of reality Statistics are social constructions -Who gets counted as a suicide? -Depends on the judgements of police and coroners -Sometimes actual suicides are not recorded as such e.g. Catholics

33 2) (Weber) Ignores the motivations of people committing suicide; -treats individuals as passive puppets of broader social forces -what about individuals capacities to think and choose? -overemphasises SOCIAL STRUCTURE over INDIVIDUALS AGENCY

34 ASSESSMENT 1) Durkheims view of social facts still very influential today generally 2) Durkheims positivism still (largely) accepted by sociologists working with statistics, surveys and large sets of data 3) Durkheims critics say he is naïve and simplistic – too much faith in positivism. Is he outdated or not?

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