Review of Emile Durkheim on the Division of Labor in Society by G. Simpson

Ellsworth Faris

Elsewhere in this issue of the Journal appears an article on Durkheim's Division of Labor, and this review may well be brief. Published when the author was thirty-five years old, the work accepts as accurate the crude misconceptions of the 1880's concerning the life of primitive man as set forth in the books of those who were no more competent to describe them than a botanist would be to write a treatise in his field without ever having seen a plant.

The whole argument of the book rests, essentially, on three propositions: (1) there is no division of labor among primitive people; (2) primitive people are all alike and have no differentiation of personality; (3) primitive people have only punitive "law."

All of these are now known to be untrue. Dr. Watson, studying only thirty tribes, has listed 1,485 different occupations of these primitive peoples.[1] The striking differences of personality among them are familiar to anyone who has done even a week of field work, and the presence of otherforms of "law" among them is known and recorded the world around.

Not to be severe with a writer who, forty-one years ago, accepted as true what is now known to be untenable, it would at least seem that ex-tended discussion of an argument based on abandoned premises might be considered an unnecessary expenditure of energy.

As to the translation, it is hard to speak with restraint. Incredible as it may seem, the author actually translates conscience by the English word "conscience" throughout. The result is sometimes amusing and some-times ludicrous. In comparing this translation with the fifth French edition, there was hardly a page of a score of pages taken at random which did not contain a mistranslation, sometimes a complete reversal of meaning. The work is the effort of an earnest and ambitious young man who attempted a task for which he lacked adequate preparation. Durkheim

( 377) has been familiar to American scholars for a generation. No European author is more frequently quoted and referred to by our writers. And yet the translator expresses his ambitions in these words: "This volume I hope marks the beginning of interest in this country in Durkheim's work." (Italics mine.)



  1. Walter T. Watson, "A New Census and an old Theory: Division of Labor in the Preliterate World," this Journal, XXXIV, 632-52.

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