Emile Durkheim is acknowledged as the first French scholar who influenced the development of the discipline of sociology in the mid-19th and late 20th centuries. As a proficient and an adversely talented academician, Durkheim was influenced by the great work of Max Weber, Auguste Comte and Karl Max who are accredited as the principal founders of the discipline of modern sociology. Throughout his career as an academician, Durkheim published numerous literature materials and made significant contributions in the development of modern sociology. As an author, Durkheim is widely recognized for publishing several literature materials including the Division of Social Labor, Elementary Forms of Religious life and Suicide, to mention, but a few (Durkheim& Kenneth 98). Some of his chief contributions and claims in the development of modern sociology include the application of scientific and empirical methods to study sociology and other social sciences and the use of a holistic approach to advance ideas and knowledge about the reality of the society. Initially, many scholars held the view that sociology was not an independent and a scientific discipline, but Durkheim wanted to change this notion and credit sociology as one of scientific disciplines.
In an attempt to achieve this goal, Durkheim borrowed and used a few constructs from Comte’s positivism approach to delink sociology from other social sciences. In the same breath, Durkheim employed Spencer’s evolutionary model to study the discipline of sociology empirically and scientifically (Layder 90). The application of Comte’s positivism approach and Spencer’s evolutionary model enabled Durkheim to employ comparative and scientific methods to study the field of sociology; an aspect that marked the turning point in the development of the field of modern sociology.
As a studious and dedicated student at Ecole Normale Superieure College, Durkheim had an opportunity to form cordial relationship with other students including Jean Jaures, Henri Bergson and Piere Janet, who made major contributions in the field of psychology, philosophy and sociology. While at Ecole Normale Superiure College, Durkheim was influenced by some of his teachers, especially Fustel deCoulange, who taught him the application of critical methods in historical studies, and Emile Boutroux who taught him the fundamental of discontinuities between the various echelons of phenomena and stressed “emergent properties”.
In the analysis, Durkheim defines the concept of emergent properties as the novel aspects, which emerge as one move from one level of analysis to another (Heritage 265). The concept of emergent properties is applicable in many scientific disciplines and involves the use of theoretical and methodological elements to analysis novel aspects in an emergent system. Historically, the concept of emergent properties is envisioned in philosophical tradition and John Stuart Mill is accredited for introducing this concept. Over the years, other classical scholars have reviewed this concept to enhance its relevance and valid in the discipline of sociology and other fields. Talcott Pearson is one of the classical scholars who have expounded this concept under the structural- functionalism approach.
In an attempt to expound on this concept, Durkheim employed the Strand theory that distinguished two levels of effects in understanding the dynamics of the society. Durkheim argued out that the properties of an emergent system cannot be perceived and analyzed as the sum of the properties of the individual constituents in the system. This means that the properties of each constituent novel aspect cannot be understood and analyzed by averaging the behaviors or actions of each constituent aspect, rather by describing each constituent element on its own (Layder 78). This fact is premised on the fact the properties or characteristics of an emergent system differs in many aspects from the properties of the constituent elements in the system. In essence, the properties of the constituent elements do not replicate the properties of an emergent system and vice versa, but the two constructs influence the properties of each other.
In an attempt to substantiate his claims, Durkheim argued that one should employ the concept of emergent properties to study the society scientifically and empirically. In his view, Durkheim challenged the assertion raised by the early philosophers that the novel aspects of the society were to be studied subjectively and artificially. He postulated that one should perceive the society as an emergent system that needs to observed objectively and analyzed through the use of the scientific methods. To achieve this goal, sociologists should study social facts such as law, economy, politics, religion and language, as collective phenomena because they are independent realities, which are different from the individual behaviors, actions and reactions. This means that one cannot understand the various realities of the society by observing and analyzing behaviors and actions of individuals because individuals’ actions are influenced by other external and internal social constructs (Seligman, Donald & Emile 679). In the same breath, Durkheim argued that since social facts are defined as “rules”-that determine the way members of the society should think, behave and interact with others, they should be analyzed empirically because they are objective realities, which can only be expressed through individuals. To elaborate on this fact, Durkheim postulates that the society is not formed by a group of individuals who reside in a given geographical location; rather it is a collection of beliefs, values, norms and customs, which are exhibited via individuals (Heritage 263). This move creates a platform that allows individuals to interact with other people thus promoting conscience among the people.
Based on this assertion, it is evident that the concept of emergent properties is imperative in understanding the society because it enables researchers to apply a holistic approach in analyzing the various levels of novel aspects. In the same breath, the concept of emergent properties allows the researchers to employ scientific methods to study the social facts in the society. This implies that all social facts should be observed and analyzed empirically because they are objective realities, which need to be observed as independent entities. This means that one should study the properties of each constituent elements of an emergent system to understand entire society.
Durkheim, Emile, and Kenneth Thompson. Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Heritage, John. "A Galilean Moment in Social Theory? Language, Culture and their Emergent Properties." Qualitative Sociology 34.1 (2011): 263-270. Print.
Layder, Derek. Understanding social theory. 2nd ed. London: Sage Publications, 2006. Print.
Seligman, Adam B., Donald A. Nielsen, and Emile Durkheim. "Three Faces of God: Society, Religion and the Categories of Totality in the Philosophy of Emile Durkheim." Contemporary Sociology 29.4 (2000): 679. Print.