Animated Introductions to Three Sociologists: Durkheim, Weber & Adorno

in Economics, Education, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology | June 24th, 2015

Is sociology an art or a science? Is it philosophy? Social psychology? Economics and political theory? Surveying the great sociologists since the mid-19th century, one would have to answer “yes” to all of these questions. Sociologists like Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Theodor Adorno conducted serious scholarly and social-scientific analyses, and wrote highly speculative theory. Though it may seem like we’re all sociologists now, making critical judgments about large groups of people, the sociologists who created and carried on the discipline generally did so with sound evidence and well-reasoned argument. Unlike so much current knee-jerk commentary, even when they’re wrong they’re still well worth reading.

Having already surveyed Marx in his series on Euro-American political philosophers, School of Life founder Alain de Botton now tackles the other three illustrious names on the list above, starting with Durkheim at the top, then Weber above, and Adorno below. The first two figures were contemporaries of Marx, the third a later interpreter. Like that bearded German scourge of capitalism, these three—in more measured or pessimistic ways—levied critiques against the dominant economic system. Durkheim took on the problem of suicide, Weber the anxious religious underpinnings of capitalist ideology, and Adorno the consumer culture of instant gratification.

That’s so far, at least, as de Botton’s very cursory introductions get us. As with his other series, this one more or less ropes the thinkers represented here into the School of Life’s program of promoting a very particular, middle class view of happiness. And, as with the other series, the thinkers surveyed here all seem to more or less agree with de Botton’s own views. Perhaps others who most certainly could have been included, like W.E.B. Dubois, Jane Addams, or Hannah Arendt, would offer some very different perspectives.

De Botton again makes his points with pithy generalizations, numbered lists, and quirky, cut-out animations, breezily reducing lifetimes of work to a few observations and moral lessons. I doubt Adorno would approach these less-than-rigorous methods charitably, but those new to the field of sociology or the work of its practitioners will find here some tantalizing ideas that will hopefully inspire them to dig deeper, and to perhaps improve their own sociological diagnoses.

Note: For those interested, Yale has a free open course on Sociology called “Foundations of Modern Social Theory,” which covers most of the figures listed above. You can always find it in our collection, 1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Theodor Adorno’s Radical Critique of Joan Baez and the Music of the Vietnam War Protest Movement

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)

  1. James says . . .
    June 25, 2015 / 2:49 am

    Its funny how this post wants to emphasize these sociologists as scientists who relied on evidence. What evidence did Adorno draw on? He was just obsessed with Capitalism as an evil state. His prejudice didn’t allow him to understand Jazz music properly. His claim that listening to Schoenberg will lead to revolution or listening to Jazz would prevent it shows clearly that he was well out of the bounds of reason. Many of the things he said were against our democratic values, but because it is disguised under the title ‘elitism’ people cherish him. The type of sociologists introduced here are actually bad philosophers and confused psychologists. nevertheless it has become fashionable for the left to drawn itself in stupid thoughts rather than engaging with real issues and help people. Enjoy your opium for the intellectuals on this post people!

  2. Sam says . . .
    June 25, 2015 / 6:02 am

    I considered writing a more lengthy reply to this, but instead I’m just going to quote the article itself: “Unlike so much current knee-jerk commentary, even when they’re wrong they’re still well worth reading.”

  3. James says . . .
    June 25, 2015 / 5:28 pm

    Please do give a response because I dont know what is your criterion for “still worth reading”.

  4. Josh Jones says . . .
    June 29, 2015 / 8:00 pm

    I’m not going to engage with your broad swipes at “the left,” but as far as Adorno goes, I agree: much of his critical theory is not at all evidence-based, much of it is elitist (particularly his jazz polemics), and some of it (Aesthetic Theory), is damn near unreadable. That said, Adorno was a sociologist who did empirical research. See, for example, this: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/sociology/social-theory/sociology-theodor-adorno?format=HB

    Or his work in the influential Authoritarian Personality: http://www.ajcarchives.org/main.php?GroupingId=6490

  5. sukhjeet singh says . . .
    September 2, 2015 / 7:40 am

    I have already read in my higher study all these writer’s theories ,all are different from their’s views.

  6. Alex says . . .
    February 22, 2016 / 5:07 pm

    They are worth reading to the extent that they are wrong. Ideas that are wrong are not any less worth reading, The two best examples I can think of off the top of my head are Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto. Both books are essential reading for understanding how billions of people were/are influenced. Now, the three sociologists above might have outdated ideas but they give us a lens by which to analyse today’s society and offer us an understanding of the society in which we live.

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