Steve Fuller

The First Sociologist

Emile Durkheim: A Biography

By

Polity Press 866pp £45 order from our bookshop

Every sociology student learns that Emile Durkheim was the first proper sociologist. Durkheim, born in 1858, is credited with having rescued the word ‘sociology’ from the person who coined it, Auguste Comte, an outré ideologue who meant by the term something like ‘scientific socialism’ (though Marx and Engels later criticised Comte as a bourgeois utopian). By contrast, Durkheim engaged in the hard graft of discipline-building, writing carefully reasoned and amply documented works that undermined what economists had to say about the division of labour, psychologists about suicide and theologians about religion. He also built up an enduring school – one that included his cleverer relatives – that extended its influence from the education faculty in Bordeaux to a powerful chair at the Sorbonne. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,
    • Domestic scandal, sexual abuse and serial killers are on the menu in April's crime round-up. revie… ,
    • What did Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, James Boswell and Edmund Burke all have in common? Clare Bucknell reveal… ,