A Durkheimian Quest: Solidarity and the sacred by William Watts Miller.

Author:Hirsch, Mike
Position:Book review

Miller, William Watts. A Durkheimian Quest: Solidarity and the Sacred. New York: Berghahn, 2012. xviii + 257 pages. Hardcover, $90.00.

It is impossible for sociologists to escape the importance of Emile Durkheim. References to his work shows up in basic texts for a variety of courses, including Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, Criminology, Deviance, Social Theory, Social Research Methods, and Sociology of Religion. Fellow sociologist William Watts Miller agrees, and argues in A Durkheimian Quest that Durkheim is among the "totems of the tribe" (p. x). Miller draws upon his association with the British Centre for Durkheimian Studies at Oxford to create a remarkable account of Durkheim and his work. His text is in large measure an exploration into how Durkheim envisioned sociology's contribution to our understanding of society. Miller focuses on "solidarity in The Division of Labor and a quest for the sacred in The Elemental Forms" and "how he got from one to the other" (p. xiii).

Miller's work is ambitious and complex. In his examination of Durkheim's work he digs deep into the archives and draws upon both significant published works and obscure materials written by Durkheim and his contemporaries. Miller also incorporates material written about Durkheim and uses material from Durkheim's lectures. He highlights the important concepts Durkheim incorporates into his works, which, in addition to solidarity and the sacred, include such terms as "collective consciousness" (p. 4), "mechanical solidarity (and) organic solidarity" (p. 13), "effervescence" (p. 75), and "mana" (p. 99). He also meticulously compares various drafts of Durkheim's work, especially The Division of Labor and The Elemental Forms, and links together texts to understand the progression of Durkheim's thought. We learn, for example, how Durkheim's early work, especially his thesis on Montesquieu, became the basis for The Rules of Sociological Method and later served as a supporting document for The Division of Labor. Miller also revisits Durkheim's launch of the journal Annee sociologique, his partnership with fellow French sociologist Marcel Mauss, and the ways in which both informed the writing of The Elemental Forms.

In his study, Miller contextualizes Durkheim's work in time and place. The young Durkheim was influenced by France's Third Republic, a continuing unfolding of the French Revolution and the subject of "(his) last publication..." before The Division of...

To continue reading