14 Mar 2008 - 15 Mar 2008 9:15am St Catharines College, The Ramsden Room


Convener: Dr Matei Candea (Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge)

Once dismissed as a naive precursor to Durkheimian sociology, Gabriel Tarde is now increasingly brought forward as the misrecognised forerunner of a post-Durkheimian era. Reclaimed from a century of near-oblivion, Tarde's sociology has been linked to Foucaultian microphysics of power, to Deleuze's philosophy of difference, and to Actor Network Theory.
The venerable ancestor of sociology has known better days. Long before the neo-Tardian challenge, anthropologists and others had attacked Emile Durkheim's work as totalizing, reductionist, positivist and conservative. As a result of these attacks, Durkheim has been thinned over the years to the point of becoming a straw man. Who will give this scarecrow his brain back?

Tarde/Durkheim: Trajectories of the social aimed to bring together major actors in the recent rediscovery of Tarde with participants from a range of disciplines including anthropology, sociology, STS and philosophy who acknowledge a continuing or productively re-imagined debt to Durkheim. Participants investigated the way these rival 19th century projects for the social sciences were formed and what remained of the ways each thinker proposed to define 'the social' and partition it across one or many 'disciplines'. They asked what light this century-old debate between the two sociologists might have shed on the very different (and yet sometimes uncannily parallel) concerns facing the arts, humanities and social sciences, at the beginning of the 21st century, such as inter-disciplinarity, the 'ontological turn', empiricism, affect and scale.

The conference explored the following questions among others:

  • How much of Tarde's sociology can be reclaimed for present use, and in what form?
  • What remains of the Durkheimian legacy, and what elements of his thought have not been deployed?
  • What light can Tarde and Durkheim's divergent definitions of 'sociology' throw on
    – the promises and dangers of (inter)disciplinarity?
    – the use of 'domains' and the treatment of scale in social science?
  • What can Tarde and Durkheim respectively tell us about the place of affect in the social?
  • How should sociology and anthropology interface with philosophy and with metaphysics?
  • What would a Tardean ethnography look like?
  • How might we rethink empiricism, explanation and method, beyond self-running social theories?

As part of the conference, you were invited to… 'The Debate' … a re-enactment of a debate held in 1903 between
Gabriel Tarde and Emile Durkheim.

   Corpus Christi College, McCrum Lecture Theatre
  Friday 14th March


 Do you recall the discussion between Durkheim and my father, at the Ecole des Hautes
Etudes Sociales? Before they had even said a word, one sensed by their faces, their
looks, their gestures, the distance that lay between these two men. One knew that such
a discussion was sheer madness. 

                                                                                                   Guillaume De Tarde

A momentous debate concerning the nature of sociology and its relation to other sciences took place between Gabriel Tarde and Emile Durkheim at the Ecole des
Hautes Etudes Sociales in 1903. Unfortunately the only available record of the
event is a brief overview, which English readers may find in Terry Clark’s 1969
edited volume On communication and social influence (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press).
The present recension of the debate, therefore, is based on a script consisting of
quotations from the published works of Gabriel Tarde and Emile Durkheim,
arranged to form a dialogue. It will be acted out, in French, by Bruno Latour
(Gabriel Tarde), Bruno Karsenti (Emile Durkheim), and Simon Schaffer (The
Dean), under the direction of Frédérique Aït-Touati. An English translation of the
script, with references to the works from which extracts are drawn, will be
provided a few days before the event. 


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