Reading Durkheim in Darkness
15 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2018
Date Written: December 2018
This article is a contribution to the occasional series dealing with major books that have influenced the authors. Previous contributors include Stewart Macaulay, John Griffith, William Twining, Carol Harlow, Geoffrey Bindman, Harry Arthurs, André‐Jean Arnaud, Alan Hunt, Michael Adler, Lawrence O. Gostin, John P. Heinz, Roger Brownsword, Roger Cotterrell, and Nicola Lacey. I have chosen Émile Durkheim's Division of Labor in Society (1893). As for many social scientists, Division was part of my introduction to anthropology, especially for its key concepts of collective consciousness and social solidarity. A standard reading of it formulates Durkheim's idea of law as the expression of collective consciousness; however, later circumstances of rereading gave me a sense of his own doubts on this very possibility. As my ethnographic work has increasingly focused on the strategic aggrandizement of federal power in the United States, I have been surprised to find myself repeatedly reaching for Durkheim's book – particularly for its association of the value of social science with the vulnerability of modern society to democratic crisis.
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