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.

93 Replies to “SOCIOLOGY – Émile Durkheim

  1. 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.

  2. 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 :))

  3. 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.

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

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

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Compare illustrations in http://www.lulu.com/shop/jose-a-fadul-and-ronan-s-estoque/a-textbook-for-an-introductory-course-in-sociology-2nd-edition/ebook/product-18582166.html

  13. 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)

  14. 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…

  15. 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.

  16. "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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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?

  22. It is sad that the French and the native americans "ear to ear" and all that. I wonder about the EU Brexit 🙂 #Mindhunter s1:e4 Ep4 45:51

  23. What a logarithm!! I was just finished watching Mindhunter on netflix when they mentioned deviant sociology and Durkhiem, and youtube just suggested me this video!

  24. 'Excessive hope' really got me thinking about the current entrepreneur culture, and also how social media tricks young people into believing that if they are not a boss and millionnaire by 25 they have failed life.

  25. Good stuff, need to read this guy. Seems a better answer than Marxist bs. Probably capitalism needs to repair itself a bit.

    Who is the guy doing this clips? The swiss guy?

  26. I have an exam tomorrow and I'm trying to catch up on the classic sociologists, but don't want to spend too much time on it so these videos are perfect! Really grateful for your work here, thank you!

  27. It does raise the question of what is science? Is Durkheim science? Sociology science? Arguments science? I say they are. I need to come up with some justification.

  28. This is an extremely biased and misleading video. My students essay brought me here and if you intend to use this as an academic source …. simply Don't!

  29. This is a wonderful exposition of capitalism by Émile Durkheim, in a very short video. I would also like to add that his findings are more valid today as capitalism is facing greater crisis due to its internal contradictions. We often tend to forget that mother nature has made the human race as interdependent social beings. If any system tries to take away the closely-knit social bonding and make humans behave as individuals, then happiness is bound to be a casualty. No amount of wealth can heal the deep insecurity and unhappiness within us.

  30. DK Publishing's "The Sociology Book" brought me here. I'm currently in my 21st year of study at Dorling Kindersley University.

  31. How we see his influence in modern say social engineering …..
    scape goating for social cohesion and stratifications.
    Social control expert s learned from this guy

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