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  • Writer's pictureVânia Penha-Lopes


Today is "tax day" in the U.S. It would also be Emile Durkheim's 162th birthday. That is important for us sociologists because Durkheim is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of our discipline. Although Auguste Comte (1798-1857) coined the term and established the parameters of sociology--and has a bust in front of the Sorbonne in recognition--, it was Durkheim who really developed the field by creating the French School of Sociology, characterized by intense academic work in sociology and anthropology and represented by a prestigious journal, L'année Sociologique. Durkheim wrote books about how to practice sociology (The Rules of Sociological Method, 1895), what keeps society together (The Division of Labor in Society, 1893), and the role of religion for social organization (The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1912). He is also the author of the first sociological study based on statistical analysis: Suicide (1897), in which he argued that what is considered the ultimate individual act is also a social fact. Durkheim is famous for a number of concepts, including anomie, a state of normlessness that may happen when social norms are rapidly changing and may lead to turmoil, including suicide. Having grown up during a dispute between France and Germany over the Alsace and having lost relatives during World War I (he died in 1917), I think he would have a field day analyzing the current pandemic and "social distancing."

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