Presentation is loading. Please wait.

Presentation is loading. Please wait.

Durkheim and Sociology I: Social Facts

Similar presentations

Presentation on theme: "Durkheim and Sociology I: Social Facts"— 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; It’s not just a collection of individuals 4. Main thing to examine: “social facts” These strongly constrain and shape individuals’ thoughts and actions

3 OUTLINE Durkheim’s life Durkheim’s aims The new science of sociology
Social facts Scientific method – positivism The suicide study Some problems Assessment

4 Durkheim’s 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 Durkheim’s Aims 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 Durkheim’s 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 Comte’s ideas too simplistic His version of sociology not “scientific” enough

8 The New Science of “Sociology”
Sociology’s 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 individual’s 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 individual’s 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
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 Psychology’s domain: individual brains and minds Sociology’s domain: “Society” - the realm of social facts

A doctrine developed in the later 18th 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 don’t 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 Durkheim’s 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 - sociology’s findings inform government policy-making  Sociology can research social problems; find their real causes; suggest how to solve them


25 THE SUICIDE STUDY Aims: To show sociology could produce objective data
To show sociology had as rigorous methods as the natural sciences To show that human behaviour was as much socially shaped as it was driven by the individual’s personal motivations To show that psychology on its own could not explain suicide To provide information about social causes of suicide, for government to try to reduce suicide levels

26 Methods: Examine suicide rates in a number of different countries; these vary Rates accessed through government statistics 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: 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 High integration Being single 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 INDIVIDUAL’S AGENCY

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

Download ppt "Durkheim and Sociology I: Social Facts"

Similar presentations

Ads by Google