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What are some major contributions to the field of sociology by Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx?

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David Émile Durkheim (April 15 1858–November 15 1917) is a French thinker and is often identified as the founder of sociology, in concert with Weber and Marx. His major innovation was to realize that people act in groups or societies in ways that cannot simply be explained by the sum of their motives and desires as individuals. He was an important innovator in showing how morality and religion are social constructs and mechanisms which serve to organize and regulate social groups.

Karl Marx (May 5 1818–March 14 1883) was a German philosophic, economic, and politic thinker whose work influenced the development of sociology. His major contribution was his analysis of class dynamics and how economic factors affected society. Another major innovation was his concept of ideology as constructed by economic collective self-interest. His analysis of the internal tensions of economic systems, leading to their eventual collapse and the birth of new systems, not only influenced political and social thought but contributed to widespread political movements and shaped the course of the Soviet Union, China, and other countries in the twentieth century.

Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (April 21 1864–June 14 1920) was a German sociologist interested in the rise of capitalism and its institutional and social structures. He analyzed the intersection of religion and economics and how they gave rise to modern society. Another major contribution of Weber to sociology was his analysis of the nature of bureaucracy.

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Emile Durkheim's great contribution was to provide a systematic framework for thinking about human behaviors in sociological contexts. In other words, he claimed that one could better understand a subjective phenomenon, behavior, or institution, with religion being a very prominent example, by studying the the social organizations from which it emerged, looking for relationships between the two. This is the heart of sociological practice. He also explored the relationship between the individual and society, and concluded that conflict emerges from differences between individual imperatives and those of society.

Max Weber, while interested in similar questions, has become most famous for exploring the role that ideas play in the formation of value systems and othe social structures. In his famous work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, for example, he argued that capitalism emerged first in Protestant society because Protestants, specifically Calvinists, valued money-making but eschewed shows of wealth. Therefore Calvinist businessmen invested earnings back into their businesses as capital. In this way, Weber was attempting to explain capitalism as a set of values.

Karl Marx's great contribution to sociology was his claim that human institutions and behaviors can only be understood in terms of their relationship to the means of production. Religion, for example, was understood by Marx to be another way for the bourgeoisie to keep working people subjugated, happy, and quiet. Marx sought to find an economic, or materialist basis for all of human behavior. While both Weber and Durkheim imposed major revisions on Marx's work, it remains influential, and he is still considered one of the fathers of sociology.


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