Émile Durkheim

By: Brooke Harmon

Background Information

David Emile Durkheim was born on April 15, 1858 in Epinal, capital town of the department of Vosges, in Lorraine. He was a French sociologist who rose to promminence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Along with Karl Marx and Max Weber, he is credited as being one of the principal founders of modern sociology. Mélanie, his mother, was a merchant's daughter and Moïse, his father, had been a rabbi of Epinal since the 1830's, and also was a Chief Rabbi of the Vosges and Haute-Marne. He still remained a product of close-knit, orthodox Jewish family.

10 facts

  • In 1885–1886 Durkheim took a year’s leave of absence to study in Germany.
  • Part of his early education was spent in a schoolboy, and soon after his arrival in Paris he would break with Judaism altogether.
  • He was an outstanding student at the Collège d'Epinal, skipped 2 years, and easily obtained his baccalauréats in Letters (1874) and Sciences (1875), and distinguishing himself in the Concours Général.
  • Wanted to become a teacher after attending the school.
  • Left Epinal for Paris to prepare for admission to the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure.
  • Installed at the pension for non-resident students, however, Durkheim became utterly miserable, and father's illness left him anxious over his family's financial security.
  • After failing at the entrance examination two times, 1877 and 1878, he was finally admitted near the end of 1879.
  • Though ill through much of 1881-82, Durkheim successfully passed his agrégation, and began teaching philosophy in 1882.
  • Developed a new methodology, which focuses on what he calls social facts, or elements of collective life that exist independently of and are able to exert an influence on the individual.
  • Using that method, he published influential works on a number of topics and in these works he analyzes different social interactions and the roles they play in society.
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