Sociological Forum

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 263-284

First online:

Durkheim's contribution to the sociological analysis of history

  • Mustafa EmirbayerAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, New School for Social Research

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Emile Durkheim has long been viewed as one of the founders of the so-called variables-oriented approach to sociological investigation. This view ignores his considerable achievements using the methodology of “case-based” historical analysis, most prominent among them, his lectures on the history of French education (The Evolution of Educational Thought).In this paper I first outline the intimate relationship that Durkheim envisioned between historical and sociological investigation. I then turn to his work on French education for substantive illustrations of his approach. Finally, I explore certain points of intersection between Durkheim's approach to history and present-day concerns, especially in regard to the role of culture in history and the opposition between prospective and retrospective (“teleological”) strategies of historical analysis.

Key words

Durkheim historical sociology education culture