Karl Marx vs. Emile Durkheim

Throughout the history of mankind, there have arisen men and women who have influenced the society to a certain magnitude thus being able to alter the history of mankind and change the trends that existed at that particular time while laying down a foundation for a new approach to dealing with specific issues in the society. These men and women have influenced the leadership structure in the society, its economic outlook, sociological issues in this society, etc. The 19th century as period in history is not an exception. This century saw a rise of men and women who changed the course of life in the society through their work and their way of life. Something that has been noted in this century is the growing need for sociological reforms that saw a rise of many sociologists among them Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim. This essay will begin by looking at a brief biography of these sociologists and proceed on to critical analyze their work, by comparing it with one another and then finally accessing their legacy to sociology in both theory and practice.

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 in Trier Germany to a middle class family. According to History Guide (2008), his family comprised of a long lineage of rabbis with both his parents’ lineage emanating from rabbinic background. Karl Marx spent his early years in Germany and it is recorded that at the age of 17 years, he enrolled at the University of Bonn in the Faculty of Law. While at the University of Bonn, he got engaged to a daughter of a man who has arguably been cited as the one responsible for Karl Marx’s interest in Saint-Simonian politics and Romantic literature. However, he did not spend a lot of time at the University of Bonn as his father send him to University of Berlin the following year, where he stayed for four year, dropping his romanticism and adopting Hegelianism which was prominent at that time in Berlin. He later on joined the Young Hegelian movement which was a strong critique of the Prussian government and Christianity. Later on he joined journalism and was employed by Rheinische Zeitung newspaper that was banned later on by the Prussian government due to its criticism, especially through the articles that were written by Karl Marx. After the closure of this newspaper, Karl Marx moved on to France, arriving in France in the late 1843. However, his criticism on sociological and economic issues did not die out. Instead, he spend his time writing for different magazines, thus being in a position to agitate the minds of his readers. There are numerous works that have been done by Karl Marx, especially in regard to political economy.

Émile Durkheim on the other hand was born in 1858 in Épinal in Lorraine, France. While Karl Marx descendent from long lineage of Rabbi Families, Émile Durkheim descendent from French Jews lineage, with a father, grandfather and great-grandfather who had served as Rabbis. Despite having had an opportunity of being born in a religious family, he failed to follow a religious course in life and instead worked tirelessly to prove that religion was as a result of social factors rather than divine factors in the society. According to Émile Durkheim website, he is cited as the founding father of sociology, by first making it a science and then influencing it to become a subject of study in the French universities. Among his principle works include the Division of Labor in Society, The Rules of Sociological Method, and Suicide: A Study in Sociology and the Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (Émile Durkheim 2002). His work has influenced scholar who have pursued their dreams in the sociological field, with most of them finding his works as the main foundation to the study of sociology.

There are various theories that are associated with these sociologists. To begin with, Émile Durkheim was among the first sociologists to come up with the theory of functionalism. This theory argues that there is a distinction between the society from an individual comes from and the society itself. As a result of this, there are issues that when they put into practice by the society, they do not necessarily affect the individual and vice versa. These arguments are particularly applied when studying the issues such as the suicide in the society whereby suicide is perceived as an independent entity in the society and therefore does not necessarily affect the whole society when one has been affected (Schutt 2006).

There are various divisions of functionalism that were developed by Émile Durkheim. First, there is the functionalism theory education. In reference to Stephens and Leach (1998, p.203), functionalism perceives education as a factor that is necessary for enhancing the general outlook of the society and strengthening the interrelationships that exists in the society. Therefore, Émile Durkheim proposed that schools should work out on different ways that could be employed to educate people on the societal norms and culture and how one can be able to live or rather dwell within a particular society without violating the rules and regulations that this society has. As has been noted by Andersen and Taylor 2006 (p.154), there are also the functionalist theories of deviance that based their arguments on different ways in which deviance behaviors in the society were portrayed. Functionalism as put forth by Durkheim, the society perceives deviance behavior as a form of dysfunction in the society whereas this should not be the case (p.154). Durkheim argues that social norms would not have a meaning in the society if there are no deviant behaviors. Therefore, deviant behaviors in the society act as a reference point for what is right and what is wrong in the society.

Rosenberg and McShea 2008 (p.188), there are different theorists who have adopted the arguments of functionalism as a way expressing their theories in the society. Thus, much significance of functionalism theories is seen in the way it has been like a foundation to many other theories in the sociological world. On the other hand, there are different institutions that whose roles were not recognized in the society despite their efforts to shape the behaviors of people in these societies and form a foundation for different social norms that have proved to be critical for the overall existence of the society. Among the theories that are fully based on the theory of functionalism is the theory of Structural functionalism that was propagated by Levi-Straus and other social theorists.

The theories by Karl Marx on the other hand are based on the fact that there are social factors that need to be taken care of in order for life to run in a normal way. There are various theories that were formulated by Karl Marx in his quest to explain in details how life should be or run in the society. One of these theories is the theory of human nature. In reference to Leopold (2007, p.224), there are human behaviors and characters that distinguishes human beings from animals and other living species in nature. These behaviors are universal everywhere and throughout the generations. Marx argued that human beings have mutable elements that have contributed to varying behaviors among them that have made them unique beings in the society while at the same time revealing unique behaviors from other living creatures in the universe.

The theory of human nature by Karl Marx has contributed significantly to the study of human behaviors in the society. In reference to Wood (1991, p.477), this theory has aided scholars that have been there since the time of Karl Marx to understand the issues that propels certain behaviors in the society to be exhibited. For example, social evolution in the history of mankind has led to a formulation of different schools of thought such as capitalism and communism in the society as they work on different societal structure that can enable their societies to benefit most from their interrelationships. For example, there are disparities in the way labor is exhibited in the society, with some societies eliciting great disparities between the formal and informal labor. As a result, the theory of human nature in the society helps in the understanding of human behaviors in the society and how these behaviors can be tamed in order to form a rational society.

Another theory that has been put forward by Karl Marx is the theory of knowledge. Taylor and Powell 1989 (p.29) asserts that there are different means and ways that can be used by a person to be in apposition to obtain knowledge that helps one to interact well as a social being in the society. Karl Marx argued that knowledge can be grouped into different classes and these classes differ in the way knowledge is absorbed by people in these groups. Karl Marx also found out that objective knowledge is presently impossible in human behavior since the influence of social structure is such that only ideologies and not objective ideas arise (p.31). There are also arguments by Marx that truth is diverse and cannot be contained in a single piece of knowledge that is available in the society. However, this does not imply that there is no possibility of ever attaining absolute truth in the society and therefore, there is need for more soul searching for different pieces of truth that when pieced together, they can give rise to absolute truth. Thus, according to Karl Marx, knowledge plays an important role in ensuring that there is enough information that would aid human beings to find the truth (International Marxist Tendency 2005).

The theory of knowledge in the society remains as one of the most important theories that were ever formulated in to explain different issues that have arisen in the society for a long period now. According to Easton (1983, p.5) Marx argued that knowledge is created, i.e. one is able to gain more knowledge as he/she interacts with the surrounding world. Therefore, one was able to gain more knowledge when they interacted with the world around them, and the bigger the interaction circle, the high the knowledge that one obtained in his/her life. Therefore, one was able to increase knowledge by a continued interaction with the world around. This therefore means that the society is able to increase in knowledge if it was willing to expand its interaction circles. On obtaining more knowledge, the society too will be placed at a point whereby it was able to grasp some truths that were necessary for its existence.

There various approaches that are were used by these two theorists in identifying sociological issues in the society that would later on form the foundation of their work. Much of Karl Marx’s work is based on the fact that they were social issues during his time that did not excite him and he needed an immediate change to be made. As a result, Karl Marx observed different factors that led to a rise in certain social behaviors and norms in the society and came up with theories that would aid in rectifying them. On the other hand, the perception of Émile Durkheim towards these sociological issues was so intense in such a way that he saw it important for the whole society to engage and learn sociological issues in the society that would result an understanding of how different interrelationship in the society were formed and how they could be maintained. Therefore, Durkheim approach included pushing for an integration of sociology as a subject of study in the overall education system, a factor that would result in the introduction of sociology in the learning institutions in France and later on across Europe and other parts of the globe (Rosenberg and McShea 2008).

The 19th century saw a rise of different caliber of social theorists whose work has had a great impact on the society and on the overall sociological world. Most of the work that was done by these theorists still has an impact on the current social perceptions while other pieces of work has led to further research on the behavior of human beings in the society. However, the work by these theorists has not been without challenges and criticism. The criticism of Durkheim’s work resulted in the formulation of the structural functionalism theory. Similarly, the work by Karl Marx has been criticized heavily. However, something that is worth noting is that their work is still relevant to the modern’s world sociology and thus cannot be discredited in any way. Instead, it still remains as the backbone of modern sociology and a basis of study of social behaviors, trends and norms in the modern society.

Order now

Related essays