SOCIOLOGY – Émile Durkheim

Émile Durkheim is the philosopher who can best help us to understand why capitalism makes us richer and yet frequently more miserable. He was born in 1858 in the little french town of Épinale near the German border. Before he was forty, Durkheim was appointed to a powerful and prestigious position: as a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris. Durkheim lived through the immense, rapid transformation of France. From a largely traditional agricultural society… …to an urban industrial economy. He could see that his country was getting richer; that capitalism was extraordinarily productive and, in certain ways, that it was also liberating. But what particularly struck him and became the focus of his entire scholarly career, was that the economic system was doing something very peculiar to people’s minds. It was, quite literally, driving them to suicide. In ever increasing numbers. This was the immense insight unveiled in Durkheim’s most important work: Suicide, published in 1897. The book chronicled the remarkable and tragic discovery that suicide rates seem to shoot up once a nation has become industrialized and consumer capitalism takes hold. Durhkheim observed that the suicide rate of Britain of his day was double that of Italy but in even richer and more advanced Denmark it was four times higher than in the UK. Durkheim’s focus on suicide was intended to shed light on a more general level of unhappiness and dispair in society. Suicide was the horrific tip of the iceberg of mental distress created by modern capitalism. Across his career, Durkheim tried to explain why people had become so unhappy in modern societies, and he isolated five crucial factors: 1-In traditional societies, people’s identities are closely tied to belonging to a clan or a class. Few choices are involved; a person might be a baker, a lutheran or married to their second cousin without ever having made any self-conscious decisions for themselves. They can just step into a place created for them by their family and the existing fabric of society. But under modern capitalism, it’s the individual that now begins to choose everything: what job to take, what religion to follow, who to marry and where to belong. If things go well, the individual takes all the credit. But if things go badly, the individual is in crueler place than ever before for it seemingly means that there is no one else to blame but they themselves. Failure becomes a terrible judgement upon the individual. This is the particular burden of life in modern capitalism. Capitalism raises hopes: everyone, with effort, can become the boss. Advertising stokes ambition, by showing us limitless luxury that we could, if we play our cards right, secure very soon. The opportunities are said to be enormous, but so too are the possibilities for disappointment. In modern capitalism, envy grows rife. It is easy to become deeply dissatisfied with one’s lot, not because it’s objectively awful, but because of tormenting thoughts about all that is almost, but not quite, within reach. The cheery, boosterish side of capitalism attracted Durkheim’s particular annoyance. In his view, modern society struggled to admit life just is, often, quite painful and sad. Our tendencies to grief and sorrow are made to look like signs of failure rather than, as should be the case, a fair response to the arduous facts of human condition. One of the complaints against traditional societies, strongly voiced in Romantic literature, is that people need more freedom. Rebellious types used to complain that there were far too many social norms. Norms telling you what to wear, what you’re supposed to do on Sunday afternoons, what parts of an arm is respectable for women to reveal. Capitalism, following the earlier efforts of Romantic rebels, has relentlessly undermined social norms. Countries have become more complex, more anonymous and more diverse. People don’t have so much in common with one another anymore, the collective answers to even very important questions like who should you marry or how should you bring up your children have become weaker and less specific. There’s a lot of reliance on the phrase ‘Whatever works for you’, which sounds friendly, but it also means that society doesn’t much care what you do and doesn’t feel confident that it has good answers to the big questions of your life. In upbeat moments, we like to think of ourselves as fully up to the task of reinventing life and working everything out for ourselves. But in reality, as Durkheim knew, we’re often simply too tired, too busy, too uncertain and then there’s nowhere to turn. Durkheim was himself an atheist, but he worried that religion has become implausible just as its best side, its communal side, would’ve been most useful to repair the fraying social fabric. Despite its factual errors in its fantastical dimensions, Durkheim appreciated religion. He knew that the sense of community and consolation that religion offer are highly important to people. Capitalism has, as yet, offered nothing to replace this with. Science certainly doesn’t offer the same opportunities for powerful shared experiences. The periodic table might well possess a transcendent beauty and be a marvel of intellectual elegance, but it can’t draw a society together around it. In the nineteenth century, it had looked at certain moments, as if the idea of the nation might grow so powerful and intense that it could take up the sense of belonging and shared devotion that had once been supplied by religion. Admittedly, there were some heroic moments, but they generally didn’t work out very well. Family too seemed for a time to offer the experience of belonging that people seem to need. But today, although we do indeed invest hugely in our families, they’re not as stable as we might hope and by adulthood children are hardly tied to their parents anymore. They don’t expect to work alongside them, they don’t expect their social circles to overlap and they don’t feel and they don’t feel that their parent’s honour is in their hands. Today, neither family nor the nation are well placed to take up the task of giving us a larger sense of belonging, of giving us the feeling we’re part of something more valuable than ourselves. Émile Durkheim was a master diagnostician of our ills. He shows us that modern economies put tremendous pressures on individuals and leave them dangerously bereft of authoritative guidance and communal solace. We are all Durkheim’s heirs and still have ahead of us the task that he grappled with. How we can create new ways of belonging, how we can take some of the pressure off individuals and find a more correct balance between freedom and solidarity and how to generate ideologies that will allow us not to be so tough on ourselves for our failures and our setbacks.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. This is one of the reasons of why Sociology is not well welcome in the US lol speak the truth, if people open themself to Sociology US will become a better place to life.

  2. This is an interesting take on Durkheim. However, because his ideas were informed by positive philosophy or positivism, his primary focus was on the structures of society. This is why he was considered a structural functionalist or a functionalist theorist. He focused on individuals in the context of how structures (what he referred to as social facts) and how they changed over time influenced our social behaviour. To him, when social facts failed to fulfill their functions, people would either feel over or under integrated or over and under regulated in society. It is for these reasons people committed suicide. Your take on Durkheim is more appropriate for an understanding of Weber who was an interpretivist and who saw people as active agents in society. Weber combined both Durkheimist and Marxist thought in his work. Your analysis, while quite interesting, downplayed the true essence of Durkheim's work as a prominent philosopher and SOCIOLOGIST.

  3. So basically Durkheim says blame society for all your depression and problems,s and take no responsibility for your life and happiness. K.

  4. Hello from the Durkheim's country, love your videos
    ED showed more than that you can make several videos about it, think about that !
    i send you a lot of love bye

  5. İngilizce bilen arkadaşlar bu kanaldaki videoların Türkçe tercumelerini arttırabilirse çok makbule gecer

  6. too bad that… these videos just don't make the cut for being educational enough. Where was the mention about Comte's theory of three stages of development of society? where is Durkheim's differentiation between three sociological methodologies? these things would be on any university test, too bad they are not mentioned what so ever.

  7. So far from the truth the reality is that there is a aristocrasy of the rich and they spoil the resources and left the poor behind

  8. Durkheim is not a critical theorist. Durkheim was a sociologist with a focus on positivism and macro. That is why his research can be used to criticque capitalism, but he didn't do it himself. I like that The School of Life use the philosophy and stuff they teach to critique modern society – but it is never made clear that it is their appliance of it, not the theorist.

  9. What an articulate and insightful video. It's like you know all this stuff deep down but you could never reach inside yourself and address it. And when you hear him say it out loud, it sounds like a bloody epiphany. Excellent work!

  10. Modern Life: the burden of choice, consequence, and responsibility… confusion, punishment, and the personalised guilt of failure…

  11. This doesn´t give an accurate introduction to Durkheim. Neither the content nor the terminology is consentaneous.

  12. It’s really sad that there are no women mentioned in this playlist on Sociology neither are there any blacks mentioned. It would be very helpful if you can include the others in this playlist.

  13. Honestly, best video i've ever seen teaching/telling someone's story. Thank you very much, this video helped me a lot with my Sociology class :))

  14. People complaining on the comments this video isn´t accurate, well if this doesn´t sound enough MARXIST as you are used to in your little safe space lol then yes. Maybe this is inaccurate, but if you make it accurate its very likely the dislike radio would be 10x worst because these thinkers (mostly marxists or peers) hasn´t aged well, their ideas are stupid, irrelevant and dangerous. THis is a good video because it puts his work in a less 'mumbo jumbo look at me I talk long words and I helped make a stupid science nobody cares or understands', I like that.

  15. apperantly all our problems has already been diagnosed within the 19th century. so, why the hell we cannot overcome them yet.

  16. Durkheim's focuses are more on Modernity in an occidental manner, by this i mean giving more attention on Western civilization; but i like the "durkheimian feeling" that video gives me, that the Modern Capitalism give us the anomie that we are living in as society.

  17. Jesus is the only way that you will feel complete, loved, and full of purpose! He loves you, died for you, and wants you close to Himself! Nothing in this world can ever satisfy you except the one who made you!

  18. Im sorry but this video is riddled with falsities. I am intensely studying this bright individual and have found most of your comments to be ill interpreted as well as not in depth understanding. (Opinion) His work on suicide is also arguably not his most important work… he never disapproved of a god. His work most certainly wasn't about capitalism but of morals and I would argue his idea of suicide stemmed from his work based off of education of the moral. I don't want to rant. But honestly. Please don't produce contact that's ill informed and for the sake of creating. That's not art. That's not education. It's better to enrich us with patience than perpetual nonsense. Please. Stay true to your mission statement. I visited your headquarters in Amsterdam not that long ago and was truly humbled to have proved your existence and honest hard work but when I see content such as this, that feeds into people's curiosities and vulnerabilities, it diminished my trust and respect for your establishment. Please don't discredit yourself for a few followers.

  19. this is incorrect as his suicide research was in germany comparing catholics and protestants and was based on social inclusion

  20. hmmm. Glad people are calling out the misinformation. This is not a good representation of anomie, Durkheim, or his book Suicide.

  21. Durkheim atheist???! Plz, check yours sources, Durkheim was a proud Jewish, his nephew Mauss may be considered as atheist but not the fuck Durkheim darn, he went to the synagogue, your video is bullshit.

  22. It's been said many times but this video is more opinion-biased than fact-based and lacks understanding – or refuses to admit understanding out of bias.

  23. Compare illustrations in

  24. Why is EMILE ZOLA represented on the cover of the video ? Isn't it about EMILE DURKHEIM, is it ? I know both have quite same heads and they lived during the 19th Century, but it's not normal to confuse them, above all in a video like this one.

    (sorry for the mistakes, I'm a french student who is learning english actually. That explain why i am able to clearly identify Zola to Durkheim haha. I've read too much Zola's books lol)

  25. I still remember some very badly informed teachers who simply reduced Durkheim to shallow positivism.
    His contribuition was very importart indeed. Nowadays, the state of the art in sociological studies are much closer to his approach than others…

  26. I go back and forth on you Alain. I was originally drawn in by atheism 2.0 and one of ypu status distress talks. I found some of your different videos on romantic relationships to have a bit too much "trite and truism". But having watched thia just now I think I understand the role you're trying to fill. You are trying to give that "authoritative guidance". Good on you.

  27. "He tried to keep
    a delicate balance between reproaching utilitarianism for overlooking that humans are social beings and reproaching socialism for overlooking the demands of the individual." -Mary Douglas
    on Emile Durkheim

  28. so this is why the left has a fetish for freedom to choose, so people can make more free dumb choices and victimize themselves for being stupid.

  29. Durkheim was aware of the need of social cohesion, but he was equally aware of the protection of individuality as sacred. He was heavily influenced by neo-Kantianism and its emphasis on individual autonomy. In his involvement in the infamous Dreyfus-affair, he argued against the sacrifice of an individual for the sake of the health of the community and nation at large. He always balanced between the communal and individual needs of human life.

  30. No wonder his ideas are confusing, he is an atheist, believes there is no god, therefore he believes the answers are within himself- yourself. The answers are easy, OBEY God, and he will bless you and fill you with peace, love, and happiness no matter how much money you have or what kind of car you drive, or where you live… Life on this earth is short but eternal life is forever and that is where I'll be, on the happy side – the heavenly side – the peaceful side because I do believe in God the Father, and have been Born Again of the Spirit, I am FREE in this life and for the one to come, because God's son, Jesus Christ paved the way for me, you and all of us. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved … Read the Bible for Life's answers. This Durkheim was an agnostic NUT!

  31. The apparent rise in suicide rates could have been caused by reporting bias, with fewer attempts to cover up suicide as accidental death.  Before the industrial era, a suicide might be buried at a crossroads with a stake through his heart, and all his property confiscated.  By the end of the century, suicide was seen more as a very sad psychological problem.

  32. This is why the new Capitalist Congregations have sprung up all over. It is true: Capitalism has destroyed Communalism. The lonely worker is left few options, except to fall into grips of one or another "Congregation". Woe to the worker who is Atheist! He has no place to go, except maybe a saloon. But if the worker is a well educated Atheist, and does not drink! That is a problem! Perhaps some crackpot political group?

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