Forms of Radicalism

Theoretical and Social Radicalism in Durkheim

in Volume 10 (2004): Issue 1 (Dec 2004)
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In the following discussion I am not going to examine point by point the arguments that shape this charge, basically because I believe that we are dealing with a wrongly addressed criticism. What I mean is that this charge draws its meaning from a conceptual framework too extrinsic to Durkheim's one, and in fact from the Marxian framework. It seems to me that the critics, but also the defenders, of Durkheim's work either explicitly or implicitly judged his theory's 'critical power'-its analytical capacity to read modernity, and its normative capacity to criticize its pathologies-with a single yardstick, namely the Marxian one. Pearce's The Radical Durkheim (1989) is perhaps the most explicit case in point. But it is still a judgement at work in the background-even when the 'critical power' of Durkheim thought is not directly at stake-as in the account of Durkheim's intellectual development in the certainly very instructive writings of Jeffrey Alexander (1982 and 1989). My point, on the contrary, is that Durkheim was not so obsessed with the confrontation with Marx. His theory was constructed with other material and was concerned at least in part with different problems, so that it cannot just be assessed with the same yardstick.