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The Posterity of Durkheim  (1858-1917), a Hundred Years Later

The posterity of a great thinker’s work can be gauged as much by its limitations as by its continuations, by the criticisms of those who assert their dissidence, as well as by the fidelity and orthodoxy of those who claim themselves as heirs. Voluntary or involuntary vulgarizations, caricatures, counterfeits and even mutilations of such works often reveal as much about the influence of a masterpiece as do its most authorized and well founded interpretations.

One might say that in the long term a masterpiece shows its value as much by way of its by-products as by its products, by what it reveals as well as through the things remained unsaid, through what it has expressed, as well as what has been surmised about it. Like any great work of art, the writings of a great thinker become a monument which can be freely explored, whose visitors are not obliged to know of the intentions of its architect or to respect the advice of the guide. More so even in the scientific domain where the hypotheses inspired by a scientist’s work are sometimes more important than the conclusions which such work authorizes. The perspectives opened more or less implicitly by such works, and the imaginaries which they inspire, even the contradictions derived from them, can be considered contributions to the evolution of knowledge to come and to the progress of science.

The fertility of a school of thought is made apparent just as clearly, and often more so, by its indirect than it is by its direct descendants, by its illegitimate as by its legitimate heirs, in the same way as the unacknowledged offspring who claim their membership in a family that rejects them, are sooner or later easily identified by the genealogist.

To examine the posterity of Durkheim’s work (1858-1917) a hundred years after his death is to step back from those normative and erudite stances which legitimately exist in an academic world in order to define and evaluate the breadth and content of a great author work. Rather than revisiting once again the master’s work in order to deepen our ‘objective’ knowledge about it, the aim here is to evaluate Durkheim’s lasting influence on sociology and sociologists today.

What does our discipline owe to the works of the man who is known as being one of its founding fathers? What new questions and answers have been inspired by his ideas? How have we embraced them and what have the consequences been in theoretical, conceptual and methodological terms? Have his ambiguities, aporias and failures been resolved and if so how? Have these been enriching and stimulating? One might also question whether Durkheim’s influence has inhibited certain developments, or hindered the progress of French sociology as compared to its counterparts in other countries. What have Durkheim’s contributions gained or lost during their travels abroad, and by way of their exports and imports.

In short, why and what does contemporary sociology owe, for better or for worse, to the scientific writings of Durkheim as well as to his ideological positions, or even to the publication and institutionalization of his works?

Here are the questions which we submit to our colleagues. They may examine them either as specialists and historians of Durkheim’s work, or simply as reflexive practitioners of their discipline who have encountered his ideas in their research or particular discipline, regardless of the use made or judgments developed about the sociologist. Be they sociologists, economists, political scientists or anthropologists, the thematic scope of Durkheim’s research program is sufficiently broad to welcome representatives of the diversity of social sciences.

The international conference the posterity of Durkheim’s work a hundred years later will be held in Bordeaux on June 1-3, 2017, in the city that welcomed the sociologists first lectures. It is organized by the mixed research unit which owes its name to the sociologist who settled in Bordeaux between 1887 and 1902 and in order to mark its attachment to the comparative method which he championed : the Centre Emile Durkheim (UMR 5116).

The conference is organized by Charles-Henri Cuin and Ronan Hervouet, under the patronage of a scientific committee composed of : O. Cousin, C.-H. Cuin, M. Della Sudda, Y. Deloye, F. Dubet, C. Dufy, R. Hervouet, É. Macé, P. Ragouet, A. Roger, S. Rui, C. Schiff, A. Smith, C. Vigour et J. Zaffran.

Mise à jour le 16/03/2016