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Volume 7, Number 1

Spring 2009

A Book Review of 
For Durkheim: Essays in Historical and Cultural Sociology
by Edward A Tiryakian
Duke University

Reviewed by
George H. Conklin
North Carolina Central University

    In 17 chapters Edward A. Tiryakian provides the reader with an exhaustive analysis of the sociology of Emile Durkheim and his influence on the discipline today.  In a lifetime of scholarship about Durkheim, the book For Durkheim pulls together for the first time in one place the author's detailed analysis of many aspects of Durkheim's scholarship which have been influential over the past 100 years.  Several of the chapters are available for the first time in English.  This book is useful  for any advanced undergraduate student and essential and required for graduate students, and will serve as the basis for many additional professional articles on the role of theory in modern sociology. Every college library must order this book.

    Durkheim is one of the few scholars in any field, and certainly one of the few sociologists, whose ideas are so central to a discipline that his works must be cited and considered 100 years after their initial publication.  Several fields of sociological study are so closely tied to Durkheim's work that even if current results disputes Durkheim's predictions, the scholar still must cite Durkheim and explain why he/she might disagree.  Suicide scholarship is one such area.  Durkheim's reintroduction into common usage of the term anomie has also become a standard sociological reference point. 

    Tiryakian argues that Durkheim needs to be seen today not only as a great researcher, but as a moralist also.  Suicide can be used as a example, but is only one of many of the complex and sophisticated arguments developed by the author.  A strong point of the essays in this book is how Tiryakian looks for information about topics such as suicide and what he calls Durkheim's concept of sexual anomie in all of Durkeim's work, not just in Durkheim's book on suicide itself.  This is important, because it enlarges Durkheim's views on suicide well beyond the usual quotations.  Here is an example of how the author proceeds to discuss suicide from the point of view of Durkheim:

    Tiryakian finds that

the suicide rate is for Durkheim a salient indicator of social happiness or social health.  In brief, we can say that Durkheim approaches marriage as being beneficial to man by socializing his sexual conduct in regulated channels, and that this stabilizes man....  (T)his implies that sexual anomie will refer to that which deregulates the conjugal bond, e.g., divorce, separation, and death of the spouse.  The deleterious effects of sexual anomie will be noted in terms of their manifestation in differential suicide rates.... (p. 231). 
    Logically this implies that society ought to view divorce as a negative and to encourage the stability of marriage.  This is precisely what he did, being happily married himself.  But Durkheim also realized that his conservative views on marriage were no longer in fashion.
Durkheim's admission in "Divorce by Mutual Consent" that public opinion is moving against all regulations, even those involving marriage, is one which bridges the distance separating Durkheim from our own social world; in fact, by virtue of it we can almost view him as our contemporary (p. 236).
    So while today we tend to know that Durkheim thinks that as divorce goes up, suicide will go up also, it is less commonly known that Durkheim also against divorce by mutual consent. 
Durkheim the sociologist rejoins Durkheim the stressing that conjugal and domestic relations cannot be dropped at the whim of consenting individuals: man's happiness and satisfaction of sexual wants, like the satisfaction of his economic wants, depends upon his being regulated, moderated, disciplined.  Marriage serves this basic function (p. 235).
    Tiryakian thus places Durkheim in the middle of our moral universe, as well as a pioneer in the study of his examination of the social facts of suicide. The author concludes "Rather than an epiphenomenon of social structure and social change, the problematics of sexuality, including individual and collective identity, might well be viewed as core problems of modernity (p. 251)."  It is ironic that Durkheim, despite his statistical studies, ended up endorsing the conservative Roman Catholic view on marriage, where divorce is almost always prohibited.  As Tyrakian shows, Durkhim's concern with suicide can be found throughout his carrer and in many different essays and books.  

    Trying to summarize a book at complex as For Durkheim is rather like the blind men feeling different parts of the elephant.  Yet "(t)he concern with morality as a topic of sociological analysis... (may be) the core nexus providing a fundamental unity to all his works.... (pp. 307-308)."  However, those of us who have studied French culture are often amazed of the fear of French intellectuals of social chaos, staring with the French revolution.  Even Comte argued that sociologists needed to become priests after the rules of  the social order were figured out, once again reestablishing order through a priesthood, even after overthrowing the Roman Catholic one. So it is not surprising to find that in the end Durkheim was also afraid of the unregulated life and made marriage the socially correct form of regulation for the sexual side of life.

    The French fear of moral chaos leads Tiryakian to find one of Durkheim's weaknesses as illustrated by the title of Chapter 14, "Neither Marx nor Durkheim...Perhaps Weber," where Weber, not Durkheim,  is seen as best at explaining modern American public life because social stability in the United States never required an official religion but acceptance of  many different sects (religions), even as Puritanism seems to have inspired public culture of the nation.   About this realization Tiryakian notes, "Let me admit that it has not been an easy journey for me, if only because most of my own sociological roots are in the Old World and my existential roots are not in the Puritan culture which I have emphasized (p. 325)." 

    The above examples are only a small sample of the complex arguments put forth by Tiryakian on Durkheim as a moral thinker.  Too often today we tend to think of Durkheim's conclusions but neglect the more complex moral character of his work to our intellectual detriment.  

    While the title For Durkheim might tend to suggest the author thinks Durkheim is perfect, the contrast with Weber is interesting because it also shows that Durkheim had his limitations and was not as cross-cultural as he might have been.  Since Weber and Durkheim completely ignored each other, for reasons that Tiryakian can only speculate about, what we are missing today is any idea of what might have happened if the two men had met and discussed their approaches and conclusions.  And that is one of history's great mysteries. 
    For Durkheim is a book of very serious and deep scholarship.  The book is essential for understanding why the work of Emile Durkheim remains as important today to sociology as it did 100 years ago.  

For Durkheim.
Published by
Ashgate, June 2009, Price £55.00. 
ISBN: 978-0-7546-7155-8,  378 pages.

Contents: Introduction: why For Durkheim?; Part 1 (Re)Discovering Durkheim: Emile Durkheim's matrix; On discovering Durkheim; Emile Durkheim and social change; Durkheim and Husserl: a comparison of the spirit of positivism and the spirit of phenomenology; Durkheim, Mathiez and the French revolution: the political context of a sociological classic; Situating Durkheim's sociology of work; Durkheim, solidarity and September 11. Part 2 Durkheim and Cultural Change: Contextualizing the emergence of modern sociology: the Durkheimian school in search of bygone society; Avant-garde art and avant-garde sociology: 'primitivism' and Durkheim ca. 19051913; From Durkheim to Managua: revolutions as religious revivals; Sexual anomie, social structure and societal change; No laughing matter: applying Durkheim to Danish cartoons. Part 3 Durkheim and Weber: A problem for the sociology of knowledge: the mutual unawareness of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber; Neither Marx nor Durkheim perhaps Weber; Durkheim and Weber: first cousins?; Collective effervescence, social change and charisma: Durkheim, Weber and 1989; On the shoulders of Weber and Durkheim: East Asia and emergent modernity; Appendix; Index.


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