Emile Durkheim’s Method: Social Facts and SocietyJune 26, 2021
Durkheim’s sociology was initially conceived within the evolutionist theoretical framework of Comte and Spencer.
For Durkheim, society is an organic whole in which various elements are at work to maintain balance. Alongside Spencer’s methodological individualist interpretation and its utilitarian arguments, Durkheim also rejected the atomism that dominated the thinking of contemporary French social scientists such as Gabriel Tarde. According to him, sociological explanation should be independent of psychology and subjective consciousness. In his preface to the second volume of L’annee Sociologique, he defended the techniques of social inquiry that would reveal the types of laws and the interconnectedness of facts:
“The principle underlying this method… should be handled in harmony with the fact that all religious, legal, moral and economic phenomena are social facts. While defining and trying to explain them, it is necessary to associate them with a specific social environment, a certain type of society. (Wolf; 1964; p. 348)”
The wholes cannot be analyzed sociologically on the basis of individuals: the unit of analysis is the “environment” and it consists of the collective forces and facts that make up the object of social science. For Durkheim, the social is irreducible.