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Émile Durkheim (1858–1916) was the founder of theoretically grounded empirical sociology in France. He acknowledged the opacity of the social world and identified the ways in which an excessive reliance on experience tended to lead to a misrepresentation of its nature. He developed his own unique form of “scientific rationalism” in order to discover and clearly present its inherent properties, modes of existence, and forms of organization.

Durkheim was born in a small town in Alsace-Lorraine, in a family of modest means; his mother supplemented their family income with her embroidery shop. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were rabbis, but Émile decided while still a schoolboy that this was not to be his vocation. After attending his local school, he went to Paris to study and ...

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