Nouvelle parution : Durkheim in Germany. The Performance of a Classic, Journal of Classical Sociology

If the history of thinking is to be considered a series of creative errors, then the history of Durkheim’s reception in Germany is certainly a case study in creativity. In few other occasions can we observe such a long series of misunderstandings accompanied by such fruitful and innovative reflections on the grounding fields of sociology. The reasons for the split between the amount of attention addressed to Durkheim and the accuracy of the interpretations of his work are various, and this Special Issue aims to shed light on some of them. Classical sociological dichotomies such as action and structure, individualism and holism, positivism and hermeneutics all seem to suggest that this split can be explained in terms of concurring methodological traditions. From this perspective, French and German sociological debates would be understood as endogenously producing and transmitting knowledge of the social according to the epistemological programmes that characterize each tradition. However, a closer look at sociological debates shows how German and French sociology cannot be simply opposed one to the other as expressing two different predetermined realities.

Directeurs du numéro :

Gregor Fitzi est co-directeur du Centre for Citizenship, Social Pluralism and Religious Diversity à l’Université de Potsdam (Allemagne). Docteur en sociologie de l’Université de Bielefeld, il était précédemment professeur assistant à l’Institute of Sociology de l’université d’Heidelberg.

Nicola Marcucci est membre du LIER à EHESS. Il a publié dans le domaine de la philosophie morale et politique moderne, de la sociology et de la théorie critique. Sa recherche porte sur la transformation sociologique de la pensée philosophique. Son prochain ouvrage à paraître porte sur les Lumières et la sociologie classique.



Durkheim in Germany: The performance of a classic
Gregor Fitzi, Nicola Marcucci


Between facts and wills: Tönnies, Durkheim, and the sociological critique of modern obligation
Nicola Marcucci

This article explores the relation between Durkheim and Tönnies’ sociological thinking. Instead of focusing on their divergences, it shows how the content of their mutual criticisms, before being naturalized in national sociological traditions, reveals a shared epistemological aim: to rethink modern moral and political obligation via sociological theory. From this perspective, the opposition between Durkheim’s social fact and Tönnies’ social will reveals how classical sociological theory has been engaged in a general critisicm of modern natural law in order to furnish a different understanding of modern poltical concepts, in particular of the notion of state.

Dialogue. Divergence. Veiled Reception. Criticism: Georg Simmel’s relationship with Émile Durkheim
Gregor Fitzi

Simmel was the only German sociologist who directly cooperated with Durkheim. After an initial impression of convergence between the sociology of social facts and the sociology of social forms, a break between the two founders of sociology became inevitable. Yet, Durkheim and Simmel went on positioning themselves against one other in the years ahead. Durkheim’s allegation of ‘individual psychologism’ induced Simmel to a veiled reception of Durkheim’s methodological approach that permitted him to refine the sociological epistemology he eventually presented in the Soziologie published in 1908. On this basis, he was able to formulate a final criticism of the sociology of social facts as a social psychology.

Law contra sociology: The critique of the social sciences, especially Durkheimian sociology, by Kelsen and Schmitt
Jean Terrier

This article explores the reception of Emile Durkheim in Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century. In recent years, the classical assumption according to which sociology is neatly organised in distinct national traditions has been challenged. This article further contributes to this challenge by analysing the case of two prominent German-speaking legal scholars, Hans Kelsen and Carl Schmitt. Despite major differences in their political and scientific outlook, both argued against the encroachments of the social sciences into the field of legal studies. This article shows how Kelsen mounted a polemic against Durkheim, on the basis of a first-hand knowledge of his writings. Kelsen believed that Durkheim committed several errors. In particular, he interpreted Durkheim’s famous sentence according to which social facts must be treated as things’ as a clear sign of a materialistic, deterministic and positivistic attitude which neglects the power of ideas and norms. Schmitt targeted sociology by way of a criticism not of Durkheim but of Léon Duguit, who had been inspired by Durkheim and pleaded for a collaboration between legal scholars and social scientists. According to Schmitt, a sociological approach to law amounts to a dangerous denial of the centrality of the state in politics.

Critique of politics: Adorno on Durkheim
Julia Christ

This paper analyzes a dual relationship between Adorno and Durkheim: on the one hand, Adorno adopts Durkheim’s perspective on society, describing it as an obscure, opaque thing that individuals cannot understand by themselves; on the other, he tries to get out of the opacity that he recognizes as a structural moment of the society he lives in. This last point engages us in a discussion of the relationship between political sociology and philosophy of emancipation, which allows to study in a new perspective the only text Adorno published in his lifetime on Durkheim: his preface to Philosophy and Sociology, the critical violence of which is well known and often interpreted as a complete rejection of Durkheim’s sociology. The thesis of this article is that the conflict between Adorno and Durkheim is a political one and that the division between the two authors lies in their evaluation of the capacity of the modern capitalist society to produce out of itself common ideals that assure the justice of the actual social order.

Justice as the sacred in language: Durkheim and Habermas on the ultimate grounds of modernity and critique
Francesco Callegaro

The article reconstructs the double movement of departure and return to Emile Durkheim’s sociology that Jürgen Habermas realized in his work in order to define the theoretical paradigm of communicative action and revive the original project of Critical Theory. It highlights, in the first part, how Habermas first used Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life to assign a phylogenetic function to ritual practices and explain modernity, from an evolutionist perspective, as the final result of a progressive linguistification of the sacred, having substituted the communion of minds in rites with the communication of reasons in the public sphere. After having discussed the two main objections that Habermas addressed to Durkheim at the time of The Theory of Communicative Action, the second part shows how he recently revised his rationalist framework through a new anthropological reading of The Elementary Forms, aimed at demonstrating, in the context of a more complex account of evolution, why the requirement of justice discloses, even in modernity, the active presence of the sacred in language and orientates the critical work of reason in the search of solidarity. Pointing out the new directions in which the hypothesis of a linguistification of the sacred must be seriously revised, it ends by suggesting how the question of social justice may open the path to a positive cooperation between sociology and Critical Theory.

The politics of the individual: Luhmann reading Durkheim
Eva Debray

In his introduction to the first German translation of Durkheim’s Division of Labour in Society, Luhmann hails the work as a “classic” of sociology, stressing its continued relevance and the need to persist in thinking with Durkheim. The present study focuses on this interpretative gesture, that is, on how Luhmann read Durkheim and set out a research program for sociology by defining its field of investigation, paying particular attention to his discussion of Durkheim’s approach to modern individuality. According to this interpretation, the French sociologist worked out a “sociological” conceptualization of the individual. On the one hand, in Luhmann’s view, Durkheim’s theory sheds light on a decrease in social control. On the other hand, he stresses that this inquiry into individuality was closely connected with a critical investigation of another conception of the individual that seems to derive from it, namely, the idea of human beings as “self-constituting.” Nevertheless, a complete examination of Luhmann’s interpretative gesture must also consider what is overlooked, namely the political conception of the individual Durkheim aimed to develop. In an attempt to fill this gap, this article highlights the political effects that such an occultation may entail.


Interview by Gregor Fitzi and Nicola Marcucci with Hans Joas on the reception of Émile Durkheim in Germany.
Berlin: Humboldt University of Berlin, 6 October 2014

The interview offers a reconstruction of the German reception of Durkheim since the middle of the 1970s. Hans Joas, who was one of its major protagonists, discusses the backdrop that finally permitted a scholarly examination of Durkheim’s sociology in Germany. Focussing on his personal reception Joas then gives an account of the Durkheimian themes that inspire his work.

Interview by Gregor Fitzi and Nicola Marcucci with Hans-Peter Müller on the reception of Émile Durkheim in Germany.
Berlin: Humboldt University of Berlin, 25 February 2015

Just after the publication of the Theory of Communicative Action in 1981, a new generation of interpreters started a different reception of Durkheim in Germany. Hans-Peter Müller, sociologist and editor of the German translation of Leçons de sociologie, reconstructs the history of the German Durkheim’s Reception and illuminates the reasons for his interest in the French sociologist. He delivers different insights into the background which permitted the post-Habermasian generation to reach a new understanding of Durkheim’s work by enlightening the scientific and political conditions from which this new sensibility emerged.


Informations techniques :
“Durkheim in Germany. The Performance of a Classic”, numéro spécial du Journal of Classical Sociology (vol. 17, n°4)
Date de parution : novembre 2017
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Citer ce billet
Eva Debray (2017, 21 novembre). Nouvelle parution : Durkheim in Germany. The Performance of a Classic, Journal of Classical Sociology. Le Carnet du Sophiapol. Consulté le 22 mai 2024, à l’adresse