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Roger COTTERRELL. – “Introduction: Durkheim on Justice, Morals and Politics,” p. vii-xxiv in R. Cotterell (ed.), Emile Durkheim: Justice, Morality and Politics, Farnham (UK), Ashgate, 2010
S. Romi MUKHERJEE, ed. – Durkheim and Violence, Chichester (UK)/Malden (MA), Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, 200 p
Alexander T. RILEY. – Godless Intellectuals?: The Intellectual Pursuit of the Sacred Reinvented, Oxford/New York, Berghahn Books, 2010, 298 p
Tara MILBRANDT and Frank PEARCE. – “Émile Durkheim,” pp. 236-282 in G. Ritzer and J. Stepnisky (eds.), The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Major Social Theorists, vol. 1, Chichester (UK)/Malden (MA), Wiley-Blackwell, 2011

1The works discussed here are indicative of productive and serious tensions in English Durkheimian studies concerning ontology (materialist, realist, idealist) and axiology (liberalism, socialism, conservatism), much of it dealing with The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. William Ramp (2010) well highlights the contours of these recent debates, arguing for a “culturalist realism” (p. 68). Yet, substantive sociological tension is also present. This tension is between focusing on either the routine organisation of social life and its conditions of existence and possibility, together with the elaboration of the means for rendering sociological analyses and evaluations of it; or, on the constitutive intensities of the social.

2Tara Milbrandt and Frank Pearce provide a comprehensive, evaluative introduction to Durkheim’s sociology, including judicious engagements with English language Durkheimian scholarship. They provide a biographical overview, description of his professional life in Bordeaux and Paris and treatment of its political context. They contextualise Durkheim’s work in relation to the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, the emergence of republican electoral victory in 1877, the Dreyfus Affair, his advocacy of positive human rights, the First World War and “liberal internationalism” (p. 242). Special attention is paid to The Division of Labour, Durkheim’s various writings on socialism, The Rules, Suicide and The Forms, supplemented by a broad range of Durkheim’s other works. Durkheim’s thought is explicated in terms of the reasoning behind its theoretical and empirical interventions and all major theorems are addressed. Careful attention is paid to the formation and theoretical effects of Durkheim’s concepts. Milbrandt and Pearce stress the importance of “justice” in industrial societies as a regulative ideal about societal well-being dependent on substantive equality in Durkheim’s sociology (p. 251, 253).

3They do not ignore Durkheim’s limitations, responding fairly to “Durkheim’s alleged conservatism” (pp. 272-275), pointing out that for him, “it was only through evolutionary changes of and within major societal institutions – generally a slow process – that he thought meaningful and enduring social transformations could be achieved” (p. 273). And while Durkheim sympathized with socialism, he opposed civil servants’ unions and “all forms of extra-parliamentary political action” and “inadvertently,” […] colluded with the relative disempowerment of working-class people » (p. 273). Durkheim’s aversion to feminism is also discussed, since revealing “a clear failure on his part to fully follow through on his own sociological program” (p. 274; see Ramp, p. 58). But, they caution that Durkheim cannot be simply considered an “anti-feminist” thinker. The assessment is followed by a discussion of Durkheim’s impact on the social sciences and humanities. The piece concludes with a list of recommended English books on Durkheim and Durkheimianism published since 1972. Montesquieu’s impact on Durkheim is unfortunately neglected, central as it is to Durkheim’s comparative historical method, conception of law and emphasis on “the necessary connexions which follow from the nature of things” (Durkheim 1997 [1892], p. 45 e).

4Alexander Riley takes a new approach to Durkheimism, providing means for relocating it in relation to the sacred. The central thesis is that Durkheim’s academic life and work separated the sacred from religion to generate a reflexive basis for fundamentally modern existential concerns with “ultimate values” (p. 7) and with it, the potential for a beneficial displacement of egoism in an acknowledgment of the social in both thought and practice, expressly distanced from religiosity and philosophy. Durkheim’s concern with the sacred “is an attempt by the intellectual class to speak to a problem of […] the disappearance of the sacred, and the response of the Durkheimians was to endeavor to find a way to reconstruct it and thereby retain its primordial social energy, not simply to destroy it, as contemporary materialist intellectuals suggested” (p. 273). The sacred was a resource for answering three key questions that Riley argues orient Durkheim’s work. They concern “1) the appropriate political role of the intellectual, if any; 2) the parameters and limits of scientific knowledge of human experience and action; and 3) the appropriate moral institutions and theories to replace the institution that had previously provided the moral center for French society, the Roman Catholic Church, and with which to most effectively organize society” (p. 3). Drawing upon his own critical synthesis of recent developments in the sociology of ideas, Riley executes a careful examination of the imbrication of sociological discourse in a specific intellectual habitus, with its relationships, rituals and institutions.

5Riley argues that Durkheimian sociologists in France took two directions: ascetic and mystic. Durkheim himself is shown to have taken an “ascetic” path of disciplined commitment inspired by a rabbinical upbringing and by Fustel de Coulanges. Riley’s discussion of Fustel makes a welcome and suggestive contribution pointing to important commonalities between The Forms and Fustel’s The Ancient City (see Ramp, pp. 57-58). Chapter 3 analyses the intellectual milieu of fin de siecle Paris accounting for the battles over education, morality, sociology and philosophy. Chapter 4 discusses the decisive impact of the Dreyfus Affair on Durkheim. Durkheim’s orientation to it provides a way for Riley to connect Durkheim’s sociologically reflexive concern with the sacred (especially the “cult of the individual”) to political matters of immediate concern. Useful too is the comparative discussion in Chapter 7 of Judaism, socialism and nationalist republicanism as resources through which Durkheim variously answered the three questions noted above. Chapter 8 distills Durkheim’s concept of the sacred as a foundational category with a morally ambiguous referent. Riley’s important work requires rethinking emphasizing an “idealist turn” accompanying Durkheim’s 1895 revelation about religion because Riley presents ample evidence that a concern with ultimate values is a constant existential reference point for Durkheim (see Ramp, p. 60).

6Violence is not typically addressed in Durkheimian studies, not least “because in claiming to base society on solidarity one always runs the risk of masking the reality of violence that is part of collective life” (Jacques Plouin, in Durkheim and Violence, p. 52). Durkheim and Violence (abbrev. DV) remedies this oversight. This book is stimulating and rich. In his introduction, Mukherjee pushes Durkheimian discourse to its limits and makes a compelling case for the centrality of a concern with violence in Durkheim. His approach is suggestive of linkages between Durkheim and Deleuze and Guattari, rereading Durkheimism for its economies of affective intensities. Similar sensibilities are found in his article on Roger Caillois’s approach to festivals, vacations and war in which he develops a novel Durkheimian conception of “the political somatic” (DV, p. 120). Mike Gane discusses Durkheim’s conception of the constitutive power of “social energies” as means for theorizing violence. Social energies, over the course of societal development, may become overly concentrated and hence tyrannical, thwarting a movement toward a cult of the individual, leading to violence. Plouin’s chapter “Durkheimism: a model for external constraint without a theory of violence” is a gem, forceful in its explication of Durkheim’s conception of “constraint” as a methodological device for conceptualising how the externality of the social “acts on individuals” (DV, p. 52) in a relativist, mechanist way, thus challenging a prioristic normative theory. This allows Plouin to argue that “violence is neither irrational nor subjective; it is the indication that a norm is being resisted, since individuals and groups are sensitive to the violation of norms that drive or structure them.” Consequently, “manifestations of violence are the mechanical result of conflicts of norms in a society” (DV, p. 60). Plouin has done a service with his explication of the naturalist logic in Rules, including a cogent Durkheimian critique of the distinction between facts and values.

7Sue Stedman Jones traces Durkheim’s defence of humanism and renunciation of violence as a desirable form of political intervention to the impact of the Paris Commune of 1871. Her argument focuses on Durkheim’s considerations of the “causes and conditions of violence” (DV, p. 81) covering his critiques of revolutionary socialism, social Darwinism and absolutism (theories that justify violence), suicidogenesis and the Paris Commune. Stedman Jones then leverages this in a normative direction to argue that Durkheim’s work should be read as a theory about how to “prevent violence” (DV, p. 81).

8Jean-Christophe Marcel and Dominique Guillo explicate Durkheim’s appropriation of biology and conception of “the struggle for life” that strives for a “harmony of functions” (DV, p. 99). Their work is fruitful and sweeping in its coverage of major concepts in Durkheimian sociology including morphology, organisation, social development and class inequality. Their economic sociology arrives at the Durkheimian aversion to revolutionary political violence discussed by Stedman Jones by another route. Ivan Strenski’s contribution cautions against the cavalier use of the term “violence,” arguing for a more prudent distinction between injustice and acts of physical violence. He provides evidence that the pragmatic approach to policy in Durkheimism was driven by a rejection of political violence. Strenski questions the rather severe tone of Durkheim’s approach to educational discipline and his repression of the violence inherent in much sacrifice. He also poses important reflexive questions inspired by Foucault about the extent to which Durkheimian sociology “is implicated in regimes of power or violence” (DV, p. 101). Strenski’s critical analysis of links between Durkheimism and imperialism and Durkheimian political sociology in the Turkish context surrounding Kemalism, offers persuasive answers to issues raised by critics of Durkheim. For Strenski, no necessary link exists between Durkheimian knowledge and violence; rather “it aids the forces of moderation and democratic empowerment…” (DV, p. 116).

9Stjepan G. Mestrovic and Ryan Ashley Caldwell analyse the data gathered from courts martial pertaining to events at the American controlled military detention centre in Iraq, Abu Graib, to retheorise anomie and responsibility. The anomic/ “deranged” (i.e., “dérèglement”, DV p. 140) regulatory environment obtaining at Abu Graib is shown to facilitate violence and inmate abuse. The failure to link authority and responsibility made lower-ranking soldiers easy scapegoats for the abuses. They stress the issue that “society expects soldiers to obey authority, but also expects authority to reflect society’s standards of justice” (DV, p. 153). They thus provide a means for recuperating a critical and reflexive way of theorizing “collective responsibility” (DV, p. 140).

10Alexander Riley draws on a Durkheimian reading of Baudrillard’s conception of the radical exclusion of death in the capitalist nexus of exchange to analyse the 1987 mass-mediated graphic suicide of R. Bud Dwyer, an American politician. Rejecting the binaries of mass-mediated violence as facilitative of either sympathy or apathy, Riley argues that this system of judgment needs to be understood in terms of a “cultural nexus of values and beliefs that also requires explanation and perhaps critique” (DV, p. 160). He links suicide to Durkheim’s explanation of piacular rites in The Forms: mass-mediated violence aims to restore a livable equilibrium for the community. Mass-mediated violence is thus argued to be a context for a collective, if distanciated, experience of the group’s capacity to survive threats to its existence. My own contribution develops a neo-Durkheimian alternative to Giorgio Agamben’s conception of state sovereignty and sacral violence via a critique of his misreading of Foucault and a deployment of Durkheim’s conception of governmental authority to map the sacred exclusion of politics in post-political administration.

11Roger Cotterrell’s Emile Durkheim: Justice, Morality and Politics largely brackets discussion of the intensities of social life. The book is comprised of twenty previously published English language journal articles from 1979-2008. Cotterrell’s introduction argues for renewed interest in the neglected thematic of justice in Durkheim and consideration of appropriate institutional arrangements for the moral and democratic organization of social life in a conscientious way. This emphasis is driven by the concern with “What is really wrong with our society?” (xi-xii) such that human potentials are thwarted and suffering persists. Crucial here is the commitment to “see something done about the problematic conditions sociology identifies” to “advocate change, to put forward proposals” (XII). For Cotterrell, Durkheim’s concern with justice has two features: “(I) ensuring justice in social relations and (II) developing the society-wide value system of moral individualism; both of these being necessary, in Durkheim’s view, for the flourishing of a complex modern society” (xii-xiii). Cotterrell usefully theorizes justice on horizontal and vertical axes, unwittingly echoing the Judaic conceptions of mishpat (human justice; horizontal) and tzedakah (divine righteousness; vertical). Horizontal justice concerns “interpersonal relationships [that] need to be organized to ensure harmonious relationships between individuals, to satisfy their expectations in everyday dealings with each other” (xiv). The vertical axis concerns the constitution of “ultimate values and beliefs” with a moral authority pertaining to the whole (xiv). Cotterrell thus argues that “philosophical idealism must be built on sociological study of the possibilities and limits of transnational communication, organization, justice and reciprocity” (Cotterrell xvii). However, risks lie here too for this raises reflexive questions. To echo Strenski’s Foucauldian cautions and Milbrandt and Pearce’s discussion of Durkheimian socialism (p. 253), Cotterrell’s Durkheimism may supply rationalisations for post-political technocracy, justifying sociological imperialism about social coordination and a monopolization of the discourse of moral individualism.

12Recent work by David Inglis (2011) points to the possibility of combining much of the above work into a Durkheimian cosmopolitan sociology. He argues that Durkheim’s reformulation of Kantian cosmopolitanism, mediated by Saint-Simon, facilitates the analysis of newly emergent regulative ideals. Durkheim’s terms “la patrie humaine” and “world patriotism,” help account for responses of an international conscience collective to violations of human rights. Durkheim is criticised for his take on imperialism even while conceptualising “the creation and operation of a shared [global] culture” generating a shared “global mental and moral space, for human rights, justice and humane norms.”

13A Durkheimian conception of cosmopolitan justice may well help us further address means of regulating violence and pathological inequalities. Perhaps we are witnessing, in the treatment of Greek sovereign debt by the European Union, a form of capitalistic cosmopolitan scapegoating that sends a message about futures and expectations, producing the effect of strengthening a capitalist global conscience collective, subtended by both an anomic and forced global division of labour, to be resolved by fiscal sacrifices in turn being resisted by collective political violence? The current crisis quite contrasts with the 2010 global festivities of World Cup football and the totemic function of the vuvuzela! But, both of these economic and sacred social currents are indicative of a global conscience collective that the above work may help us better understand.

14The stakes in the metatheoretical debate about Durkheim are indicated by the extreme cautiousness about Durkheim evinced by Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi (2011). She takes a limited idealist/culturalist reading of The Forms privileging consciousness and representations (e.g., p. 45; see Ramp 2010) and the affective, irrational attachment to the social whole ostensibly depicted therein. Durkheim’s turn to primitive religion is alleged to have “isolated the social from the political, as well as the ‘primitive’ from the modern” (p. 41; see Ramp, p. 59) and played a substantial role in this displacement of politics. Durkheimian scholars are likely to find this explication of Durkheim a distortion, neglecting its material and morphological components, political sociology and commitments to justice and moral individualism. The claim that Durkheimian sociology “was meant to be cleansed of all politics” (p. 45) undermines the author’s position especially when compared with the more comprehensive treatments found in Cotterrell, Stedman Jones (DV) and Strenski (DV) for instance. The logic of the book implies that “fascism” has something like an essence, characterised by an emotional attachment to totality so central to The Forms, traces of which lead to justifications for fascism. Ironically then, the logic of the author’s concern is mimetic of her conception of fascism, i.e., based on a belief in the unreason of a sacral contagion attached to an essence deemed to be inherent in a concern with the Durkheimian concept of the sacred itself.

15Most problematic in this book is the endorsement of Svend Ranulf’s “Scholarly Forerunners of Fascism” and his accusations that Durkheim’s valorization of Gemeinschaft, critique of individualism and idealisation of the past amounts to “fascist propaganda” (p. 211). On this point I can do no better than quote Strenski: “Most critics have treated Ranulf far too gently” (DV, p. 113). He continues: “Ranulf never cites a single instance of any fascist who ever claims to have been so influenced by Durkheim. Instead Ranulf indulges in a kind of impressionist exercise. That is, he states that one result of the Nazis following of Durkheim’s lead was giving the group a certain priority in human affairs. Durkheim was thus, according to him, a “scholarly forerunner of fascism”. […] We know how committed Durkheim was to a renovation of liberalism that opened individualism to the social whole from his defence of Dreyfus” (Strenski in DV, p. 113).

16There are sociological risks to focusing on the extremes of social and individual life (e.g. oscillations between intensive collective effervescence; and cool, scientifically rational pragmatic governance). Durkheim’s work itself evinces this polarity and this no doubt affects the works above. Perhaps though, we are missing attending to mundane effervescence, a kind not characterised by “the serious life” of ceremonies, economic or juridical reasoning. What of, for instance, the rather routine activity of a few friends going for lunch, or heading to the pub during the evening to just “hang out” or watch sports? Such events are an increase in the intensity of social life since one is getting together with people and frequently, there is no serious instrumental goal being pursued. Afterward, one frequently feels socially refreshed and valued in belonging. This description satisfies Durkheim’s own characterisation of the effects of collective effervescence. Mundane effervescence, akin to “the play/profane” (Pearce 2001, p. 229), adds a “normal,” enjoyable, (social) humane element to daily practicalities. Or, one can point to an academic conference, characterised by the elaboration of reasoned discourse, produced by disciplined research and self-disciplined work. The gathering is facilitative of yet more reasoning and rational debate, but there is a fun, playful and socially satisfying element to this, recognizing that there are others who share common intellectual reference points, even with disagreements. Contra Falasca-Zamponi then, “reason” and “feeling” are not mutually exclusive in Durkheim: there is feeling in moral reasoning and a feeling, an ascetic passion, for reasoning morally, distinctive in his problematic.

17While these examples may reflect my middle-class standing, rather than effacing the hardships faced by marginalised groups (e.g., the unemployed), attending to such mundane social facts rather confirms that though they are mundane, they are “normal” (in Durkheim’s sense) and what is pathological are the obstacles to on-going, rather routine, unscheduled participation in them because of substantive inequalities. Moreover, that the poor are expected to be instrumental (e.g., crafting CV’s, thus being forced into competition with each other for limited job opportunities, in turn fostering egoism) only highlights class differences. They are frequently castigated for wasting their money or time, revealing a form of moral/social exclusion. They are blamed for personal moral failings that are then tautologically linked to being the cause of their hardships. The absence of the conditions for being construed as a “moral” being leave virtually no other position to occupy except that of “moral failure” even if non-instrumental activity is exactly the opportunity presented. Moreover, to be constrained in having the means or opportunity for mundane effervescence –simply “socializing”– finding regular occasions where one feels accepted (and doesn’t worry about acceptance) is to generate conditions for “de-socialising” and hence dehumanizing those who lack the means for participating in mundane social life. Such forms of social exclusion amount to “negative rites” without however, being subsequently permitted participation in positive, socially affirming rites except as potential scapegoats or sacrificial victims (e.g., victims of “austerity measures”) in rites of “forced solidarity” (Pearce 2001, p. 129). Perhaps then, we might benefit from attending more to what happens between the peaks and valleys of social life as a way to broaden Durkheimian approaches to social reality and questions of justice.

Références bibliographiques

  • Durkheim É., 1997 [1892], Montesquieu: quid secundatus politicae scientiae instituendae contulerit, edited by W. Watts Miller, Oxford, Durkheim Press.
  • Falasca-Zamponi S., 2011, Rethinking the Political: the Sacred, Aesthetic Politics and the Collège de sociologie, Montreal/Kingston, McGill/Queen’s University Press.
  • OnlineInglis D., 2011, “A Durkheimian Account of Globalization: the Construction of Global Moral Culture,” Durkheimian Studies/Études durkheimiennes, 17, 103-120.
  • Pearce F., 2001, The Radical Durkheim, Toronto, Canadian Scholars Press International, 2nd ed.
  • OnlineRamp W., 2010, “Durkheim and after: Religion, Culture, and Politics,” 52-75 in B. S. Turner (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, Chichester (UK)/Malden (MA), Wiley-Blackwell.
Ronjon Paul Datta
Assistant professor de théorie sociale et études culturelles à l’université d’Alberta (Canada)
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