Major 19th Century Theorists
1) Auguste Comte (1798-1857)
- generally considered the founder of sociology; he coined the term “sociology” and defined it as the
scientific study of human society and social behavior
- pushed for the use of positivistic methods to uncover invariable sociological laws of social statics and
- distinguished between pure and applied sociology
- his “law of three stages” held that all societies develop gradually and unidirectionally from a
“Theological Stage” to a “Positive Stage,” passing through an intermediate “Metaphysical Stage”
2) Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)
- provided justification of the field of sociology
- published more than 500 articles, books, and reviews
- founded the first sociology research institute in the world
- trained a large number of graduate students
- organized and edited a major sociological journal (l’Annee sociologique)
- Durkheim saw society as a sui generis reality with unique properties. The emergent characteristics are
referred to as “social facts,” which include the degree of social integration, the amount of division of
labor, or the rate of change in a society. These characteristics cannot be reduced to mere statements
about particular persons.
- Social facts are characterized by externality and constraint; that is, they have a thinglike “external”
existence that does not depend on the will or wishes of individuals, and they influence, inhibit, or
constrain human activity.
- Durkheim used social facts to explain other social facts (e.g., by demonstrating a relationship between
level of social integration and suicide rate)
- His earliest works depict social change in terms of a movement from mechanical to organic forms of
social organization, with accompanying change in human nature. Much social change is a process of
differentiation of parts and specialization of activities.
a) Simple mechanical societies – individuals live in small, simple societies where they share all the
collective representations. Individualism is hardly developed, and unity is based on likeness of world
view, similarity of activity, and near-total identification with the society. Characterized by altruistic
b) Complex organic societies – more specialized, complex societies where individuals pursue different
occupations, develop separate identities, and have a degree of difference in their world views.
Individuals are bound together not only by similarities (which are much fewer than in mechanical societies) but also by the functional dependenc