Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim: The Pioneers of Sociology


Among the pioneers of sociology, Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim are at the top of the list. Both have had a significant impact on the evolution of social science. The concept of alienation and Durkheim’s idea of anomie are two instances of their philosophies. The two have quite different perspectives on society, but despite their great contrasts in viewpoint, these sociologists were both deeply concerned with the creation of contemporary capitalism, particularly the establishment of the modern structure of distribution of resources and the growth of a free market economy. Both address these trends by emphasizing the consequences of market interactions on cooperation and society’s capability to perpetuate itself. As a result, both had to contend with the origins and consequences of important advancements in industrialization in general, and important occurences such as the infamous revolution in France.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx was indeed a socialist theorist and activist, a prominent player in economic as well as philosophical thinking histories, and a huge social prophet. While Marx was a fairly obscure individual during his lifetime, his views and the doctrine of Marxism began to have a significant impact on revolutionary movements immediately after his passing. Marx’s views on civilization, economy, and governance, known as Marxism, contend that all societies evolve via class struggle (Le Thi, 2019). He was openly contemptuous of the existing socio-economic structure of life, capitalism, which he referred to as the “dictatorial regime of the bourgeoisie,” thinking it to be managed only for the advantage of the rich privileged (Le Thi, 2019). Thus, he prophesied that it would ultimately generate internal conflicts, leading to its self-destruction and substitution by a new socialist society.

Marx maintained that under socialism, humanity will be dominated by the working class according to what he dubbed the ‘totalitarian regime of the proletariat.’ He thought that socialism would be supplanted by a borderless, classless society known as pure communism (Le Thi, 2019). His primary intellectual achievements comprise, first and foremost, the development of the conflict framework of society, notably the idea of cultural change associated with social class frictions (Le Thi, 2019). Secondly, the realization that power is essentially derived from economic output. Thirdly, he is interested in the societal causes of estrangement.


Marx differentiates amid an item’s ‘the usage value’ as well as the ‘value of exchange’ in describing the essence of capitalist production. Unlike political theorists, Marx offered a “labor concept” in which individual work is the central repository of every benefit. Human labor does have the distinct ability of producing more worth than it consumes in reproduction. In his early writings, he refers to this twin process of commodifying labor exploitation as a practice of marginalization (Le Thi, 2019). It occurs because people are compelled to interact with one another through competing; thus, abuse causes alienation. Marx saw labor as the principal mechanism by which humans realized themselves in society and evolution. According to Marx, alienation cuts people’s basic link to the self-defining feature of laboring action.

Marx distinguished four aspects of isolation, the first of which is product alienation, which happens when employees feel isolated from the commodities they create. The output of their labor does not remain to the laborers but rather to the entrepreneurs, who may use it whatever they choose, frequently marketing it again. Secondly, workers are alienated from meaningful work, which implies they do not operate for themselves to meet their wants. Rather capitalism reduces individuals’ efforts to nothing more than a means of meeting their material requirements (Le Thi, 2019). They are paid a pittance in exchange for granting capitalists the ability to exploit the employees in whatever way they see proper.

Finally, there is detachment from the human race, in which people perform very little as people as they are forced to function like animals or heartless robots. Species alienation severs people’s connection to their awareness, numbing and eventually destroying it when relationships with other humans and the environment deteriorate. Fourthly, there is estrangement from one’s fellow beings and the entire social group. Marx assumed that individuals fundamentally need and wish to collaborate to gain what they want to thrive. People, many of whom are strangers, are compelled to labor side by side for the capitalist, frequently in direct rivalry to generate more or perform better (Le Thi, 2019). As worldwide competitiveness becomes the trend, employees in capitalism tend to become distanced from their coworkers due to isolation and relational animosity.

Emilie Durkheim

Emile Durkheim is undoubtedly France’s most famous sociologist since he was one of the pioneers of social anthropology and thought that society shapes our minds and influences our conduct. Durkheim considered ‘individualism’ to be contemporary society’s ethics, its belief system, with the teacher replacing the clergy (Wandi et al., 2021). His work covered topics such as educational theory, community cohesion, the division of work, the family and kinfolk, suicidal behavior, religious sociology, and cognitive sociology.

Durkheim’s approach was a systematic study of social processes; consequently, ‘conscience collectives’ are how the team supports itself with the elements that impact it. His methodology was conceptually more rigorous and uncompromising than his counterpart’s. His adoption of the scientific process was more accurate and rigorous and, in specific investigations, more fiercely empirical. This theoretical viewpoint is more appropriately constrained in-depth, which means that it has logical clarity and is adequately defined by an exact characterization of its actual subject (Wandi et al., 2021). Durkheim’s theory declarations were devoid of the fallacy of ethical assessment, and his work generally is far less anchored in any unclear speculative logic and metaphysics.

Durkheim’s study on social truths distinguishes society from psychology and philosophy. Situational factors encompass the way a system is built, as well as the rules and standards that apply to people who finally adhere to them. On the other hand, societal expectations are not legally obligatory on the person. According to Durkheim, social facts could therefore be examined effectively. According to him, there are two kinds of social truths: material and immaterial. He was more interested in studying the intangible, specifically ethics, collective mind, systemic manifestations, and sociological currents.

The work of Durkheim is distinguished by about two simultaneous technical objectives, with the first one being the establishment of sociological science as a distinct and well-defined technical topic. This involved two huge endeavors, the first of which was defining a distinct group of occurrences that necessitated a true sociological examination. His second priority was to develop a concept of social modification. This was to provide a rigorous scientific study of certain forms of contemporary, industrialized societies and propose appropriate answers to the challenges raised by the so-called “questions of life” (Wandi et al., 2021). This latter problem is central to his first significant work, the division of labor.


Significant Similarities and Differences

When comparing Marx’s and Durkheim’s ideas, the former tends to overlook the importance of social systems outside of the economic domain. He maintained the core political economics discrimination: the dominance of economics over the societal aspects. According to G.A. Cohen, an empirical Marxist thinker, the Marxist philosophy has given inadequate consideration to the issue of who people are, Cohen remarked that an enquiry is typically countered in relation of country or theology instead of economical status. It is also clear that, although Marx ties social theory to some aspects of economics, Durkheim steers the same toward cultural anthropology (Le Thi, 2019). Though their critical involvement with modernization is more in agreement than commonly acknowledged, particularly amongst the individuals who associate Durkheim with traditionalism, both theorists reach fundamentally diverse conclusions. Durkheim sees the division of labor as a fresh and effective form of unity, but Marx sees it as a way of establishing subtle and widespread class domination. As a result, Durkheim contends that attempting to remove the specialization of labor could be a diversion away from the truth and into either a happy history or a hypothetical idealistic prospect.

Marx and Durkheim’s perspectives are that Durkheim considers that a person’s behavior is heavily affected by the characteristics of the society in which they reside and one that they are socialized within. However, in every person, there is a conflict between egoistic urges and those with an ethical leaning. Marx does not subscribe to such a psychological paradigm; he believes that such antagonism between the people and community has no social foundation (Le Thi, 2019). The constants underlying the ideas of isolation and loss of identity are strikingly similar. Both Marx and Durkheim emphasized that human traits, wants, and intentions are largely the result of social evolution. The two see a fault in political, economic theory, which considers egoism the cornerstone of a theoretical framework order. Marginalization is thus the systemically enforced disintegration of the interconnectivity that Marx considers an essential aspect of life, at least in an ideal sense (Le Thi, 2019). Anomie is the state made by unfettered economic growth in society.

Similarly, the two theorists arrive at radically different conclusions on insurgency being the tool for social transformation. Although acknowledging the power of societal events and communal depictions, Durkheim differed with Marx’s faith in the liberatory possibilities of far-reaching accomplishment as a blueprint for some prospective communalist structure of civilization. On the opposite, Durkheim sees any popular uprising whose objective is a stateless society of communists being a futile endeavor to foster some sort of unity appropriate for the humanity and different to the present one. While Marx believes that the capitalism flaws are embedded in it and could therefore simply be rectified inside the post-capitalist system, Durkheim believes that modernized capitalism has intrinsic inclinations toward both self-destruction and self-regeneration. This is due to Marx’s methodical connection of the capitalist distribution of resources to a particular platform of possession and excess value exploitation (Le Thi, 2019). On the other hand, Durkheim sees it as a social instead of a technical phenomenon that is only tangentially tied to the problem of owning and of more relevance than the capitalist-employee relationship.

In different ways and for various motives, both Marx’s and Durkheim’s assumptions about the world have a special immediacy presently. It would be a willful delusion to claim that the collapse of communalism did not curtail the social thinking of Marxist. However, succeeding events have produced circumstances in which at least some components of Marx’s critique have regained significance and credibility. These occurrences include rising inequality between richer and poorer nations or within them, as well as the commercialization of labor power as a result of privatization. Secondly, the state’s partial retreat from welfare functions (Le Thi, 2019). Durkheim was also concerned about the rising divide between the state and those who had no say in decision-making. Consequently, his dread of self-hollowing out from society by unregulated markets has managed to lose minimal of its significance over time.

Division of Labor and its Influence on Social Harmony

According to Durkheim, stratification delivers cohesion since it develops an overall structure of roles and responsibilities among men that binds them together long-term. Nevertheless, he states that the division of labor does not always lead to social solidarity—it can sometimes produce different, even contradictory, results (Le Thi, 2019). As civilizations shift from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity, there is a timeframe period of adjustment that the effect of the collective psyche is destabilized and organic solidarity has not yet become firmly developed.

Different from Marx’s point of view, Durkheim does not believe that collective status is the foremost predictor of the personal mind. Nevertheless, he sees status distinction as a uncontrolled byproduct of modernization. Furthermore, he recognizes the distribution of resources as a cause of social togetherness rather than a means of class exploitation. The difference between old and modern pluralistic societies, according to him, is in the types of solidarity that are used to maintain community stability.

Customary societies are distinguished through ‘mechanical commonality as well as deep feelings of common bond. Members of pre-modern civilizations have an inadequate individual identity but a sense of common purpose due to a lack of high underlying distinction or an advanced delegation of authority. In comparison, in contemporary, diverse societies, there is an observable greater sense of individuality and a proportionately weakened proof of identity with society. These discrepancies, according to Durkheim, could be seen in how these two sociocultural forms discipline wrongdoers. For instance, in pre-modern societal structure, the general public exacts vengeance on the person who broke the rules. Civilized democracies, on the other hand, strive to recover the ‘deviant’ to that of a regular state of affairs, to take them back to a functional duty inside the labor stratification.


In conclusion, as previously stated, Marx and Durkheim are two of the finest sociological minds who held multiple opposing viewpoints. On the other hand, the two individuals regarded the religious doctrine as an important area of society. They both presumed it was culturally conditioned; spirituality did not create man, but man did introduce the religious practice. Religion was founded by humanity to fulfill the requirements of the people. More notably, the two gentlemen contributed to the definition and establishment of sociology as an academic subject.


Le Thi, H. (2019). Karl Marx conception of labor distribution equality – Applying to Vietnam in the trend of technological revolution 4.0. Developing Country Studies, 28-32.

Wandi, J., Afnita, N., & Hefni, H. (2021). Study of “functional structure” Emilie Durkheim reviewed from educational anthropology on character and behavior society. Ikhtisar: Jurnal Pengetahuan Islam, 1(1), 39.

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