French social theorist Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917) was one of the founders of modern sociology. Durkheim’s work focused on establishing sociology on a foundation of scientific methodology and establishing sociology in academia. Durkheim, a son of a rabbi, was born in French province of Lorraine. He attended the prestigious École Normale Supérieure and studied philosophy despite his desire to pursue a social science. His most influential works were The Division of Labour, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, and The Rules of the Sociological Method. Durkheim most enduring idea is that “social facts,” laws and customs that are external to and precede the individuals, can be study and analyzed by social theorists in a similar manner that biological facts are analyzed by scientists.
Selecting an Area of Interest for Your Sociology Paper
One of the biggest mistakes undergraduates make when planning a paper is they do not narrow down their topic enough. Make sure to focus a specific area in you paper. Below are some suggestions and some helpful hints.
Durkheim and the Establishment of Sociology in Academia: Terrific subject. Will need to write about Comte’s and Spencer’s efforts and influence on Durkheim. Be sure to give details on his appointment at the University of Paris and his editorship of the first sociology journal. Refer to Durkheim’s Philosophy of Science and the Sociology of Knowledge: Creating an Intellectual Niche by Warren Schmaus which can be previewed through Google Scholar.
A Word of Warning: It’s always more reading and work to write a paper that includes more than one thinker and the influence of one theorist on another.
Rules of Methodology: A little boring, but easy to do thanks to Durkheim’s text being available for preview online and so many college professors outlining the methodology on their class notes, reviews, and sociology websites.
A Word of Warning: It is great to use someone else’s outline, but be sure to track their citation back to the source. It is good to read over the source so you are sure you get a feel for how Durkheim or someone else explains their idea. As an undergraduate you are not expected to introduce a unique perspective. However, you are required to dig a little deeper and not plagiarize.
Social Facts: Good subject. A little dry, but easier than attempting to write a paper on Durkheim’s rules of methodology. See Durkheim and Social Factsby PD Casteelin EBSCO Research Starters. Also see chapter 27 in Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science by Michael Martin and Lee C. McIntyre which is available through Google Scholar.
A Word of Warning: Though social facts have enjoyed a comeback under the guise of cultural studies be careful to draw a distinct line between what in culture is and what is not a social fact.
Mistakes to Avoid: Though social facts can be studied by an individual they cannot be changed by an individual. Durkheim believed it takes a social movement to alter or create social facts.
Suicide favorite topic of students. Try to be original. There is a ton of information on the web on this work. This is at its core a work about the secularization of society.
A Word of Warning: If you can’t be original don’t do it.
Mistakes to Avoid: Be careful not to attribute a longing for a more religious era by Durkheim. He is not taking this position.
Books and Sources on Durkheim
The Durkheim Archive is a great online resource and gives a good overview of Durkheim. Significant parts of The Division of Labour, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, and The Rules of the Sociological Method are available through Google Scholar. Specific items can be searched on Amazon.com. The best selections of work have been edited by Anthony Giddens and are titled Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings. Remember to use text search on Amazon.com to find your topics. If your college gives you access the J-Stor or EBSCO databases there are a number articles that summarize Durkheim’s work and cites many other sources.
- Remember to include some critiques of Durkheim in your paper.
- Best Tools for Writing a Sociology Paper Without a Book
- The Gutenberg Project has many full text books available and searchable online.
- Amazon.com allows you to search many academic books online.
- Google Scholar has many books online available for full or limited preview.
- Professors love to put many of their class notes, new ideas, and old papers online.
If your college provides you with J-Stor or EBSCO access there are numerous papers available that summarize a thinker’s works and contributions. If you have access to EBSCO Research Starters even better. This site summarizes topics specifically for undergraduates.
One last hint: Talk to your professor about Durkheim and get their opinion. Durkheim has been championed by many different schools of thought with very different views on the role of sociology. The last thing you want to do is write a paper from a perspective that will annoy your professor.