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Émile Durkheim 1917-2017

Creativity: a key Durkheimian concern and problematic

William Watts Miller
p. 17-40


This article mainly employs a traditional approach of textual analysis to open up a relatively neglected topic, the question of creativity in Durkheim’s work, but especially in Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse. It is also especially in a focus on his insistence on a sui generis social realm, while in the course of this exploring his use of terms such as “substratum”, “fusion”, and “synthesis”, as well as examining issues of duality, effervescence, rhythms of life and revolutions. It concludes with his worries over a modern crisis and with his hope in the creative energies of effervescence to try to overcome it.

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Text / excerpt


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1. Creativity in Les Formes
1.1. Causality and creativity: book III
1.2. Creativity in art
1.3. Creativity in general
2. A problematic?
3. A sui generis realm of the social
3.1. Synthesis/Fusion
3.2. Duality
Conclusion: Rhythms and Revolutions

Text / first lines

Modern scholarship on Émile Durkheim’s work, life and times has blossomed in many ways, with new discoveries, new methods of research, new questions and new interests. But it still seems to me of value to pursue, as mainly done here, the rather more traditional approach of textual analysis, although I have taken advantage of the easy, indeed instant access to original editions thanks to modern digital technology, and although my concern is with opening up an issue that has perhaps been unduly neglected. Moreover, Durkheim himself never employed the term, créativité, which did not become current in French until the 1940s and 1950s.

1. Creativity in Les Formes

The issue of creativity can be seen as a key concern and problematic built into Durkheim’s sociology from the start. But a way to explore this is to begin with the approach to the issue in his last great work, Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912). The “creative”, like the “dynamic”, was one of the intellectual buzzw...

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Electronic reference

William Watts Miller, « Creativity: a key Durkheimian concern and problematic », Revue européenne des sciences sociales [Online], 55-2 | 2017, Online since 15 December 2020, connection on 20 March 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ress.3887

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About the author

William Watts Miller

University of Oxford, British Centre for Durkheimian Studies

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© Librairie Droz

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