The Life and Career of Emile Durkheim: The Sociologist Who Contributed to the Development of Social Theory and the Study of Suicide

Emile Durkheim, born in France in 1858, was an eminent French sociologist, who is best known for establishing a broad framework for the study of modern social theory. His sociological theories and research made great contributions to advance the field of sociology, and is often referred to as one of the founding fathers of modern sociology. He was particularly known for his work on suicide, morality, and religion. In addition, his work has led to a deeper understanding of social phenomena such as crime, deviance and social order. Thus, his research and insights have had a profound effect on informing methods of sociological research and theory making.

Early Life and Education

Emile Durkheim was born in Épinal, in Alsace (a part of Germany at the time), to a Jewish family. His father was a direct descendant of Tobias Durkheim, a rabbi. Durkheim’s father was a deeply committed religious man and his mother was a strict Catholic, which exerted a strong influence over Durkheim’s early years, leading him to advocate for a heterogeneous union of Jewish and Christian beliefs. Durkheim moved to Paris in his late teens where he received an education from schools including the University of Bordeaux and the École Normale Supérieure. Durkheim received a degree in philosophy and science from the University of Bordeaux and later graduated from the École Normale Supérieure in 1882. During his tenure in Paris, Durkheim developed relationships with prominent figures such as Fayol and Wundt, who were later significant in his research.

Work and the Study of Suicide

Durkheim is most well known for his work on suicide and its relation to social phenomena. He wrote a book titled “The Suicide” which explored the causes of suicide in society and it was the first notable investigation into this topic that caused the stigmatization of suicide to be challenged. In “The Suicide,” Durkheim analyzed data from countries around the world, from which he concluded that rates of suicide differ according to the type of society in which it takes place. By studying the relationship between suicide and social forces, Durkheim concluded that suicide is not just a result of individual mental illness, but that it can indicate broader issues within a particular society, such as social alienation and demoralization. In his analysis of suicide, Durkheim also looked into the moderating force of religious values, which he found to be greater in societies with large numbers of religious adherents.

Durkheim also wrote extensively on other topics in the field of sociology. In 1895, he published a book titled “The Rules of Sociological Method,” wherein he developed structural functionalism as a means to approach the analysis of social phenomena. According to structural functionalism, every component of a society is interconnected and has an effect on other components. This theory was used by many sociologists in the future for sociological analyses. Durkheim has also written extensively on topics related to morality and religion, and used these concepts to explain the development of social structures and social norms.

Durkheim’s Legacy

Emile Durkheim’s influence on the field of sociology remains unparalleled. His work has helped shape and establish sociology as an academic discipline, and he is often referred to as the ‘father of sociology.’ His work has had a profound influence on the development of social theory and the study of suicide, and his research has been hugely influential in informing the methods and approaches used in sociological research today.

Due to his immense contributions to the field of sociology, Jurow declared Durkheim to be ‘one of the three major founders of sociology, positioning him in a group of select scholars alongside Karl Marx and Max Weber.’ Durkheim’s legacy will be remembered for many generations to come, as he has profoundly impacted social theory and the study of suicide.

Emile Durkheim contributed heavily to the field of sociology and in particular, the development of social theory, and the study of suicide. His work has been hugely influential in sociology, and he is often referred to as one of the founding fathers of modern sociology. Durkheim’s legacy will endure for many generations to come and future sociologists will look to him for advanced research into suicide and social theory.