Sociology Seminar 28 September 2011

Dr Matt Dawson (University of Glasgow)
Durkheim's Libertarian Socialist Critique
4.30pm, Room 916, Adam Smith Building

Discussions concerning Durkheim’s relation to socialism and socialist theory have generally been concerned with answering two questions.  Firstly: the question of whether Durkheim was personally a socialist.  This is mostly a question for intellectual biographers, but many Durkheim scholars have considered the impact his identifying (or not identifying) as a socialist would have had on his sociological project, with mixed, often contradictory, conclusions.  The second question has concerned Durkheim’s discussion of socialism as a ‘social fact’, particularly what this discussion tells us about Durkheim’s conceptualisation of organic solidarity and his repudiation of Marxism.  In this paper I ask a third question: did Durkheim have a socialist theory?  To which I answer yes.  To explore this I will discuss how Durkheim’s socialist critique concerned factors such as: the dominance of the market economy; economic polarisation; class conflict; the role of the state in furthering capital accumulation; and the impossibility of universal individual realisation under capitalism as Durkheim found it.  From here we will see how Durkheim’s normative socialist critique led him to construct the beginnings of a framework for an alternative, socialist, society.  This alternative, with its advocacy of political organisation in ‘associations’ as a means via which individualism can ‘flourish’, can be located within the tradition of ‘libertarian’ socialism, most prominently that found in the work of the early 20th Century English social theorist, G.D.H. Cole.  The radical libertarian socialist critique contained in Durkheim’s greatly overlooked political sociology is not only of relevance for Durkheim scholars, but has an added relevancy by providing a sociological critique of contemporary public policy discussions which advocate associational forms of political organisation, such as the ‘Big Society’ and ‘Blue Labour’.

All Welcome

Supported by the McFie Bequest

Any enquiries about the seminar programme should be addressed to:
Dr Kirsteen Paton, Sociology, Adam Smith Building, University of Glasgow G12 8RT
Tel: 0141 330 5070 or email:

First published: 4 November 2011