Durkheim's Dream

A Society of Justice and Charity

in Durkheimian Studies
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This essay explores a key issue in Durkheim’s work, namely the relationship between justice and charity, and argues that the key to this, in turn, is to be found in an analysis of the gift. Beginning with his early lycée lectures and their account of justice and charity in relation to the moral law, it goes on to suggest that throughout his work there is an underlying concern with the gift – even or especially in his concern with the contract. This is evident in his vision of a society based on a ‘spontaneous’ division of labour, as well as in his critique of the inequalities built into existing society through the institution of inheritance. But the essay also draws on modern French discussions of the gift, and their concern with issues of mutuality, reciprocity and recognition. This helps to identify the approach to the gift that underlies Durkheim’s sociology, and to bring out its interest and importance.