A Durkheimian Quest

A Durkheimian Quest: Solidarity and the Sacred

W. Watts Miller
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    A Durkheimian Quest
    Book Description:

    Durkheim, in his very role as a 'founding father' of a new social science, sociology, has become like a figure in an old religious painting, enshrouded in myth and encrusted in layers of thick, impenetrable varnish. This book undertakes detailed, up-to-date investigations of Durkheim's work in an effort to restore its freshness and reveal it as originally created. These investigations explore his particular ideas, within an overall narrative of his initial problematic search for solidarity, how it became a quest for the sacred and how, at the end of his life, he embarked on a project for a new great work on ethics. A theme running through this is his concern with a modern world in crisis and his hope in social and moral reform. Accordingly, the book concludes with a set of essays on modern times and on a crisis that Durkheim thought would pass but which now seems here to stay.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-567-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    An encyclopaedia entry on Durkheim would not be doing its job, if it just gave his name and dates of birth and death:

    Durkheim, Emile (1858–1917).

    It should at least give a reason for having heard of him:

    Durkheim, Emile (1858–1917) One of the founders of sociology.

    A detailed entry can then pick and choose its way through various kinds of more or less ‘factual’ biographical information. For example:

    Durkheim, David Emile (1858–1917) One of the founders of sociology, he was born in eastern France, the son and grandson of rabbis yet nonetheless from a relatively modest...

  6. Part 1 Investigations of a Project
    • CHAPTER 1 The Idea of a Social Science
      (pp. 1-18)

      So in investigating Durkheim’s work, a way to begin is with an effort to understand his very idea of a social science.

      It is meant to be objective. Yet it isn’t neutral. It is committed. This is made clear from the start. He emphasizes how a science of moral life, far from having a merely academic interest, can help to identify the ideal. His ambition is to explore a route from ‘is’ to ‘ought’. He attacks ‘mystics’ who just assert this is impossible, and who accordingly ‘put human reason to sleep’ (vi / xli).

      In Durkheim’s work, solidarity is a...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Creation of The Division of Labour
      (pp. 19-36)

      A way to get to know a work is to get to know about its creation, and a way to investigate the creation ofThe Division of Labouris through three basic questions. When was it written? How was it part of a larger project? What was its context?

      Durkheim arrived as an eighteen-year-old student in Paris in 1876, in the middle of a period of crisis that finally saw the establishment of a new Third Republic. He was later to recall his feelings of youthful enthusiasm during these events of ‘twenty years ago’ (1898c: 276). It was in this...

    • CHAPTER 3 In Search of Solidarity: The Division of Labour
      (pp. 37-74)

      Durkheim’s thesis sets out in search of a solidarity of modern times. Yet what it ends up describing is a world in crisis, in everyday scenes of alienation, anomie, class war and injustice. This is why it is necessary to dig around in search of its whole underlying problematic of a modern solidarity.

      All three core conventional meanings ofsolidaritésoon turn up in a single page of his thesis. Solidarity is discussed both as an internal moral phenomenon outwardly symbolized by law, and as a holistic integration of society (1893a: 66 / 1902b: 28).

      A way to bring out...

    • CHAPTER 4 An Intellectual Crisis
      (pp. 75-92)

      How did Durkheim get toThe Elemental Forms?¹ A draft can be found in lectures of 1906 and 1907, when he also wrote in a letter:

      It was only in 1895 that I had a clear sense of the key role played by religion in social life. It was in this year that, for the first time, I found a way to take a sociological approach to the study of religion. It was for me a revelation. (1907b: 404)

      Yet wasn’t this somewhat dramatic story of the past influenced by the present, and work on his new book itself? Or...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Creation of The Elemental Forms
      (pp. 93-110)

      The creation ofThe Elemental Formsmight be divided into three periods. The first is from 1900 to 1906, the year a draft of the work began to appear in lectures on religion. The central period is 1906/1907, the year of these lectures. The final period is from 1908 to 1911, the year the manuscript of the work was completed.

      Spencer and Gillen constitute by far the most frequent and important reference in the eventual work. But Durkheim’s effort to absorb their news from Australia didn’t lead in a straight direct line to this. It involved him in a number...

    • CHAPTER 6 In Quest of the Sacred: The Elemental Forms
      (pp. 111-150)

      Durkheim’s work generates many questions. But they could be boiled down to two. One is to do with what, in the end, he identifies as elemental forms of religious and social life. The other is to do with his use of ethnographic material, its role in the construction of his theory, and if this really depended on a trip to Australia.

      An idea has already been given of the overall architecture ofThe Elemental Forms,including the build-up of preliminary material in book 1. So it is now possible to concentrate on the rest of the work, starting with book...

    • CHAPTER 7 Transparence or Transfiguration?
      (pp. 151-160)

      This chapter attempts a number of things. One is to review the relation, in Durkheim’s reimagination of Australia, between theory and ‘facts’. Another is to rethink the issue of transparence and transfiguration. A final concern is with his own interpretation of his work, in launching and publicizingThe Elemental Forms.

      Durkheim claimed to be doing science. So it is absurd to discuss his theory without even asking about its relation with the ‘facts’. A test case is his use of Spencer and Gillen. What then becomes clear is that it is also absurd just to assert he imposed a pre-existing...

    • CHAPTER 8 Towards a New Great Work
      (pp. 161-172)

      Just after publication ofThe Elemental Formsand no doubt in part in recognition of its achievement, Durkheim was appointed in 1913 to the first official chair of sociology in France.¹ In what might be seen as capturing an ambivalence central to the book, he used the ritual of an inaugural lecture to set out his vision of sociology as science. He then went on to develop this in the course that followed, but through a critique of the philosophical claims of pragmatism, which had especially got going in the United States in the 1890s and had attracted attention in...

  7. Part 2 Essays on Modern Times
    • ESSAY 1 Power Struggles
      (pp. 175-186)

      It is careless talk to say that Durkheim was uninterested in power. A discourse of power is already evident inThe Division of Labour,but is above all mobilized inThe Elemental Forms.Indeed, a way to begin a Durkheimian exploration of modern times is through power struggles to do with energies of the sacred and forces of the profane.¹ In turn, this involves a distinction between periods of historically momentous change and periods of the more normal and routine. Thus it is possible to see the English, American and French Revolutions as foundational modern events, helping to give birth...

    • ESSAY 2 Hope
      (pp. 187-198)

      Durkheim’s work is full of hope, but comes with only a few scattered remarks on the topic. It needs to be explored with the help of more systematic accounts, and a place to begin is with the account of hope developed by the French Catholic philosopher, Gabriel Marcel. This is especially in a work written during the occupation of France in the Second World War, and in an essay during the threat of a third. In one, he identifies the core of hope as ‘I hope in thee for us’ (Marcel 1944: 81). In the other, ‘hope is perhaps nothing...

    • ESSAY 3 Art
      (pp. 199-214)

      The aim, here, is to explore what might be called a ‘total aesthetics’.¹ It builds on the account of art in Durkheim’sElemental Forms,but also in Mauss’sManual of Ethnography.These sources are essentially concerned with traditional forms of art. However, they help to bring out an issue to do with a far-reaching development nowadays. This is the impact of repro art – the art made possible by modern mass reproductive techniques.

      One of the reasons for talking of a total aesthetics is to get away from narrow, restrictive assumptions. Instead, it is to ask about art as an activity...

    • ESSAY 4 Surviving Capitalism
      (pp. 215-228)

      The issue of solidarity is fundamental to Durkheim’s effort to develop a social science. It drives the concerns, at the outset of his career, with the division of labour. It underlies the quest, later on, for the sacred. It makes a return, at the end of his life, in the plan for a work on ethics. So perhaps it is the way to conclude with some thoughts about his overall project and modern times.

      Modern societies lurch along in a crippled solidarity because they are class-divided societies, whether class conflict is ‘latent or acute’ (The Division of Labour’snew preface)...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 229-234)
  9. References
    (pp. 235-246)
  10. Index
    (pp. 247-258)