Rules of Sociological Method.

I. Introduction:
     Durkheim: Brief bio:

    The Rules were written in 1895, and represent Durkheim’s hope to develop a systematic sociology.  Substantively, Durkheim was interested in that which held society together, and was writing in response to two types of arguments he disagreed with.  In his conceptualization of a social fact, he is arguing against social contract theorists, such as Hobbes and Rousseau, who saw all of life in contractual terms.  On their view, individuals were constrained by society, but deliberately so: people designed the constraints to guide society through the repression of individual will with a strong state.  Social contract theorists posit an initial agreement among people that binds society together.  Thus social life springs from individual choices.  In his work on social facts, Durkheim is also arguing against thinkers like Spencer who see society in functional terms (more on just what that is below): such that the social end was the cause of an event.

II.  What is a social Fact


"[social facts] consist of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him.”" [ p. 142].


“A social fact is identifiable through the power of external coercion which it exerts or is capable of exerting upon individuals.” (p.146)


 "A social fact is every way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations." (p. 147).

    Durkheim defined two types of social facts:

Why are the characteristics of 'social facts' ?

In what way are social facts 'external to the individual

In what way do they constrain and individual?

How are they ‘general’?

Because social facts exist external to and above individuals, they are very slow to change.  Socialization and education are key to the transmission of social facts (we  will see  this again in Bourdieu’s conception of Habitus), as the young of a society learn the set of acceptable behaviors (see also, (Elias 1994)

Does this mean that people are puppets of the social system?
What are some of the questions this conception of social life raises?

What types of things are not social facts?

 III.  Rules for the Explanation of Social Facts.

This section of the reading is a little frustrating because he is writing against other authors (Spencer, Compte, Hobbes, Rousseau, etc.). This means that he will walk through another persons’s argument, then show why it is wrong (or at least argue that it is wrong), leading to a series of negative examples.

1) The causes of a social fact cannot be found in the functions of a social fact.

"Therefore when one undertakes to explain a social phenomenon the efficient cause which produces it and the function it fulfils must be investigated separately.” (p.150)


Thus we seek the cause of something in that which precedes it, not in the things that it does.

BUT ---

 “…to explain a fact which is vital, it is not enough to show the cause on which it depends.  We must also – at least in most cases – discover the part that it plays in the establishment of that general harmony.” (p.151)


E.D. says that function is important for explaining why a certain social fact survives, but does not explain how it comes into being.  To do that, we must make reference to an earlier social fact. "It is therefore in the nature of society itself that we must seek the explanation of social life." (p. 152).

2) Social facts are not the result of psychological or individual facts.

 “Since their essential characteristics is the power they possess to exert outside pressure on individual consciousnesses, this shows that they do not derive from these consciousnesses and that consequently sociology is not a corollary of psychology.” (p.152)

Two principles for explaining a social fact:

 1) “The determining cause of a social fact must be sought among antecedent social facts and not among the stats of the individual consciousness.” (p.155)

 2) “The function of a social fact ought always to be sought in its relation to some social end.” (p.155)

Where do we look for social facts that could cause other social facts?

·  The first origins of all social processes of any importance should be sought in the internal constitution of the social group.  This is what E.D. calls the ‘Social Milieu’

·  The social milieu consists of THINGS and PERSONS

·         ‘Things’ includes material objects, but also laws, customs etc.

·          However, things contain no volition, no motor, they can’t put something into action (but see Marx on the springs of a given social system).  Thus we have to look toward people’s interaction to find the motor of social facts.

·         “The principle task of the sociologist ought to be, therefore, to discover the different aspects of this milieu which can exert some influence on the course of social phenomena.” There are two types:

o        The number of social units, the ‘size of society

o        the degree of social interaction, what he calls the ‘dynamic density’.

“Dynamic density may be defined … as the function of the number of individuals who are actually having not only commercial but also social relations, i.e. who not only exchange services or compete with one another but also live a common life.”


    Patterns of relations in high school we discussed in class. The cultural forms of a school will vary depending on the structure of friendships in that school.