The Transcendence of the Social: Durkheim, Weismann and the Purification of Sociology

  • Maurizio Meloni


This chapter highlights a conceptual traffic from biological views of heredity as hard (closed to environmental signals) to sociology in Durkheim’s strategic usage of German biologist August Weismann. The transcendence of the social in Durkheim is entirely isomorphic to Weismann’s transcendence of the germplasm: in both cases, they aimed to construct objective realities, radically independent and exterior from individual tendencies and peculiarities. Weismann offered Durkheim an important scientific companion to make boundaries between sociology and biology. In conclusion, by taking Weismann as an anticipator of the genetics revolution a few years later, I argue for a profound complicity between twentieth-century non-biological sociology and genetics. They both made space for a neat distinction between biological heredity and sociocultural transmission, heredity and heritage. This may no longer be a viable option for 21st century postgenomic views.



The section on Weismann and hard heredity summarizes chapter 2 of my book Political Biology (2016). Thanks to Andrew Turner for kindly revising some passages of the text. An oral version of this text was presented at the ‘Future of the History of the Human Sciences workshop organized in York by Chris Renwick and Felicity Callard. Huge thanks to the two reviewers for their extremely helpful comments and insights.


I gratefully acknowledge funding from the Leverhulme Trust for a grant on epigenetics and public policy in Sheffield (PI Paul Martin).


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maurizio Meloni
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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