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by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Compare and Contrast

We link Durkheim with social fact, and Weber withVerstehen.  Durkheim's writings led to functionalism while Weber's writing led to symbolic interactionism.

Both were "Fathers" of sociology, and wrote mainly in the late nineteenth century.

Both called for applying the scientific method to the study of society, and both wanted sociologists to be objective (although they had different ideas about objectivity).

Both contributed to the sociological perspective.  Both criticised Marx, but in different ways.

The main difference between them was that Durkheim coined the term "social fact" to indicate that there were forces beyond the individual that affected their behaviour, while Weber said we needed to understand the meanings people put on their behaviour to understand society.

The approach by Weber has developed into modern perspective of sociology called symbolic interactionism.

Durkheim's study of suicide to show how rates of suicide differed between groups with different social characteristics, although we do not have enough information to predict which individuals would commit suicide.

Suicide rates are quite predictable, when based on specific social characteristics. Durkheim used this to explain "social fact."

The idea of seeing social facts as external to the individual was Durkheim's contribution. See "Inside or Outside?"

In contrast, we see Weber'sverstehen as a "deeper understanding" (which is why we use the German term rather than the weaker English equivalent) of the society which we all carry within us.

Although we might at first see these differences as mutually exclusive and un-reconcilable, Weber's "internal" approach and Durkheim's "external" approach, we must integrate these two perspectives.

Modern sociology requires that you see them both as valid and operating simultaneously.

Weber made other important contributions, eg to the study of bureaucracy and to the factor of religious beliefs and values in social change.

Similarly, Durkheim made many other contributions, such as differentiating between organic and mechanical solidarity, and explaining anomie.

Weber's study of the rise of capitalism, and his thesis that it was caused by the rise of the Protestant ethic, can be used to contrast him with Marx.

See: Dead Sociologists Society.

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