Brock University

Contemporary Durkheimian Sociology: Durkheimian analyses of contemporary social phenomena

In recent decades, Durkheimian social theory has engaged with new debates, controversies and modes of sociological practice. In promoting, pursuing and reviewing an array of substantive and comparative studies, Durkheim and his allies treated theory-building and research as inseparable. The time is now ripe to showcase new substantive research engaged with contemporary social developments, issues and crises in a Durkheimian or neo-Durkheimian light. This session is open to researchers applying Durkheimian insights (including those of Mauss, Hubert, Halbwachs, Hertz, Davy, etc.) in fields such as the following (as examples only):: political sociology (political virtue; representation; power; state formation and deformation; social movements; nationalism; populism; insurrection; post-politics): sovereignty and governance (states of exception; de-democratization; corporatism; insurrection): sociologies of personhood, identity, rights (subject-formation; moral injury; injustice; consumerization of personhood or rights; post-individualism): economic sociology (economic subject-formation; economic crises and responses to them; economic fatalism): cultural and media sociology (symbolic representation; performance; disruption; cultural formation or destruction; de-legitimation): sociology of violence (war; abuse; institutional violence; institutionalized destruction; symbolic or spectacularized violence; terrorism): sociology of religion (effervescence and excess; sacrifice; expiation; ritual; fundamentalisms; implicit religion): historical sociology (modernization or post-modernization; nostalgia; post-historical cultures): studies of collective memory (narrative; politics of memorialization)

Session Organizer: William Ramp, The University of Lethbridge,


Ritual and Rudeness in Everyday Life

Mervyn Horgan, University of Guelph,

Sociologists have long connected a cohesive social order with a vibrant civil society characterized by civilized encounters between strangers (Elias 1994; Tocqueville 1994; Durkheim 1974; Alexander 2006). At the dawn of the 21st century, some suggest that we are witness to a rapid decline in social trust and an upswing in incivilities.

Incivilities research has traditionally been the domain of social psychology and criminology. Save for a few notable exceptions (Anderson 1999; Goffman 1963; Smith, Philips & King 2010), sociological research into incivilities is relatively poorly developed. This is surprising given that the study of incivilities has much to offer sociologists across a wide range of theoretical concerns.  Curiously, very little work has been conducted on the meanings that ‘perpetrators’ and ‘victims’ attach to incivilities and on the discourses that talk about incivility both makes available and draws upon.  Making use of a growing bank of interview and focus group data with both ‘perpetrators’ and ‘victims’, this paper examines a range of experiences and interpretations of incivility. We identify three ways that incivilities can be interpreted (signaling, spiraling and solidarizing), and find that ordinary talk about incivility reveals an ongoing commitment to the sacred character of social order and solidarity.


On Regarding the Photographs of Others: Neo-Durkheimian Insights

Tara Milbrandt, University of Alberta, Augustana Faculty,

New categories and distinctions have emerged and crystallized around the relatively easy and pervasive visual representation of selves and others in our digitally connected environments and visually mediated public spheres. A host of enduring and emergent legal, ethical and social tensions pertaining to the dignity of the person are alluded to through categories from “malicious images” and “atrocity photos”, to “revenge porn” and even “funeral selfie” sites. Durkheimian social theory is well suited to the study of such phenomena, yet surprisingly little has been written to this effect. Drawing from a selection of contemporary instances, I propose directions for theorizing these phenomena in a uniquely Durkheimian light. I argue that Durkheimian approaches to moral individualism and the modern sacralization of the person offer valuable insights for understanding the conditions under which regarding the photographs of others emerges as a compelling public issue.


Eric Klinenberg and Durkheim’s Cult of the Self

Stephen Gray, King's University College,

Over the last decade NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg has published a series of three important studies addressing the phenomenon of social alienation and the cult of the self. Heatwave (2002) is a “social autopsy” of the 1995 heat wave in the metropolis of Chicago; Fighting for Air (2007) is an examination of the corporatization of the mass media in the United States; Going Solo (2012) speaks to the increasing percentage of people choosing to live alone. In these texts Klinenberg articulates and elaborates the social phenomenon of self-imposed isolation, a condition whereby people valuing their individuality elect to live alone, and sometimes to a fault. Where the modern social theory of Émile Durkheim is concerned, Klinenberg finds the tension between the empowered individual and the prospect for a more strengthened organic solidarity. In the age of the “selfie”, explained by some as evidence of our narcissistic tendency, Klinenberg agues that Durkheim could not recognize the extent to which the cult of the self has transcended the need for group identity. Perhaps, the phenomenon of bowling alone, as sociologist Robert D. Putnam so titled his 2000 study, is giving way to bowling alone in our own basement alleys. Like anything, this growing tendency of social isolation is a positive benefit of political economic development, where people are empowered to support themselves because of high wages and social services. In this paper we examine the tension between individualism and collective solidarity in US society as presented by Klinenberg in his corpus, with the goal of discussing the tension between the individual and the collective, the two tendencies of social development in the first decade of the 21st century America.


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