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Emile Durkheim

The great French sociologist is now half forgotten, but he shaped much 20th-century social thought. The inventor of the idea of "anomie," and analyst of suicide and religion, still speaks to us

By Michael Prowse   February 2005

A few years ago I was planning a book on market capitalism—one that would demonstrate its inestimable virtues. But in a moment of candour it occurred to me that I had not exposed myself sufficiently to the arguments of the market’s critics. In particular, I had not read any sociologists. So, reluctantly, I bought some works by Emile Durkheim, the French founding father of modern sociology. They would be tedious and imprecise, I feared, but they could surely do me no lasting harm. A few afternoons in Durkheim’s company would salve my conscience without altering my convictions.

I was wrong.…

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