In 2006 a Polish translation of Émile Durkheim’s Le suicide was published in Warsaw. Polish sociology is one of the most active in the European sociological tradition, both drawing and contributing to this, and has developed in close touch with the world’s centres of sociology. Yet Le suicide was not translated into Polish until more than one hundred years after the original edition. The paper explores this paradoxical situation, and traces the work’s career from its early reception in Poland, through the inter-war years, the post-Stalinist ‘thaw’ after 1956, the Solidarity movement and the crisis of the 1980s, up to the present day. But also, in taking the example of Le suicide and Poland, it aims to show how a classic work created in the centre of Europe spreads across other countries; which paths it takes; how it reaches a country situated far from the metropolis; how it is perceived there, accepted or rejected; how it is assimilated and included in the body of public and scientific work.
Analysis of the Spread and Reception of a Sociological Classic
The Political Transformations of Durkheimianism
The article begins with Pierre Rosanvallon's account of the mutations of 'Jacobin ideology' and the function of sociology in criticising this in France at the end of the nineteenth century. I suggest it was not Durkheim's intention simply to criticise a 'Jacobin' form of political ideology. Rather, it was to construct an affinity between sociological explanation and social facts, such that sociological discourse would appropriate the sphere of the political and take part, by so doing, in the constitution of a participative social democracy. I then touch on the post-mortem academicisation of Durkheim's work in France between the wars, to ask if the emergent Durkheimianism neutralised Durkheim's original socio-political intentions. This leads to a discussion of the resurgent domination of the discourse of politics in the 1960s, as manifested in Aron's critiques of Durkheim and in his defence of constitutional law at the beginning of the Fifth Republic, but also to an examination of Bourdieu's attempt to retrieve Durkheim's original orientation and to revive the political dynamism of social movements. I comment on the analysis, made in the 1970s by Bourdieu (and Boltanski), of the construction of the dominant postwar ideology in French politics, which includes their critique of 'planification' and of the work, amongst others, of Jacques Delors. They saw the language used by the newly dominant political managers as exploiting the sociological discourse of 'solidarity' and 'social exclusion', not to realize its intentions, but to reinforce their own control. I briefly consider the argument's implications for an analysis of European Commission social policy initiatives during the presidency of Delors, comment on the British Conservative government's objections in the 1980s and 1990s to the very use of this language, and ask if the Labour government's adoption of the discourse of 'social inclusion' in 1997 was indicative of either a political or a social agenda. Finally, I return to Rosanvallon and situate his work politically within the ideological debate of 1995 between him and Bourdieu. It is to conclude with the suggestion that Rosanvallon's apparent disinclination to recognize the importance of Durkheim's work is indicative of his present position-taking, which necessarily entails a suppression of Durkheim's real intentions.
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