Rediscovering the classical roots in the sociology of emotion: Comte, Pareto, and Durkheim

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Virginia Tech

This study details the extent to which classical scholars -- Comte, Pareto, and Durkheim -- conceptualized emotion as reflected in their respective works. This interpretive work seeks to further substantiate a classical grounding for the sociology of emotions, that is, to show that there is a breadth of material in the classical repertoire that has gone untapped by contemporary scholars of emotion, and further, that this neglected material may inform current discussions of emotions.

It is clear from the review of the three theorist’s works that each maintained a conceptualization of emotion, and considered emotion to be a central concept in the discipline. Pareto’s conceptualization of emotion most clearly resembles an organismic account. Comte’s conceptualization of emotion is both an organismic and an interactive account, and Durkheim’s conceptualization of emotion most clearly resembles an interactive account. Comte’s career in particular is characterized by a shift from a theory that holds no place for emotion to a theory that is clearly dependent on the conceptualization of emotion.

Each of the three theorists reviewed conceptualized emotion as a source of motivation for action. In addition, Comte and Durkheim, viewed emotion as an integral part of the process of social cohesion, as instrumental in the integration of individuals into the various institutions that comprise society.