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Durkheim Epistemology .docx

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Sociology 2270A/B
Scott Schaffer

Lecture 7 Tuesday October 22 nd Durkheim’s Epistomology: The Sum is more than its parts Durkheim, positivism & society • Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) o Originally a philosopher (though scored second to last in his agrégation class) o Taught lycée (high school) originally o Studied sociology in Germany o Established first course and department of la sociologie in France • Key elements of his interests o Foster a sense of solidarity, make one unified body o Interested in the ways in which a society can maintain itself over time • So how to study this? Durkheim influenced bympositivist, idealist philosophers, especially Comte • Believed in possibility of studying society in scientific manner • Refresher on positivism - truth of the world exists in the world, can be discerned through use of appropriate tools • Characterised by unified science, empiricism, objectivism, value freedom, instrumentalism, technicism • Durkheim proposes using the approach of the natural sciences in studying social phenomena: • “To treat facts of a certain order as things is therefore not to place them in this or that category of reality; it is to observe towards them a certain attitude of mind. It is to embark upon the study of them by adopting the principle that one is entirely ignorant of what they are, that their characteristic properties, like the unknown causes on which they depend, cannot be discovered by even the most careful form of introspection.”(RSM,CST 201-02) o You cannot look inward you must look outward o Detach yourself from what you know about society • Problem: Social phenomena are phenomena that we play a part in making, and which play a part in making us. o You cannot escape this in sociology, presumes that independence and social phenomena are intertwined • Solution: “What it demands is that the sociologist should assume the state of mind of physicists, chemists, and physiologists when they venture into an as yet unexplored area of their scientific field.As the sociologist penetrates into the social world he should be conscious that he is penetrating into the unknown. He must feel himself in the presence of facts governed by laws as unsuspected as those of life before the science of biology was evolved.” o We must assume the same kind of mindset of physicists and biologists, treat the world like it is outside us, as if we know nothing about it • Back to O-Week - what makes it uniquely social, and what begets the sociological perspective (as opposed to psychological, political, etc.)? • In other words, what is society? • “At times the word is simple and obvious - it refers to some specific social group.At other times its meaning is darker and more mysterious. It is not identical with ‘the group of individuals that compose it and their dwelling place.’Rather, ‘it is above all a composition of ideas, beliefs and sentiments of all sorts which realise themselves through individuals. Foremost of these ideas is the moral ideal which is its principal raison d’être. To love one’s society is to love this ideal, and one loves it so that one would rather see society disappear as a material entity than renounced the ideal which it embodies.’Not only is society not identical with an external ‘material entity,’it is something deeply inner, since for Durkheim it is the source of morality, personality, and life itself at the human level.’” (Robert Bellah, “Introduction” to Durkheim: On Morality and Society” • Or: “For a society is not made up merely of the mass of individuals who compose it, the ground which they occupy, the things which they use and the movements which they perform, but above all is the idea which it forms of itself.” (EFRL, CST 251) • So how to study such a nebulous - and not directly observable - thing? o Hard to answer, but that gives us… • The social fact: o Defined: “Asocial fact is any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the individual an external constraint; or: which is general over the whole of a given society whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its individual manifestation.” (RSM, CST 209-10/147) • Part 1: “Asocial fact is any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the individual an external constraint” o Anything we feel the need to repeat as if it is normal or normative • Part 2: “which is general over the whole of a given society whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its individual manifestation.” o It is a usual practice, it is not a subculture or accidental o It is a general phenomenon, and has its own existence • Taken together, a social fact is: o An epistemological claim  You get a claim about what is knowable and how one can know it o Amethodological claim  Tells us how it is we should study this thing o
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