Rethinking Emile Durkheim: Two Guest Lectures by Michael Halewood

Michael Halewood's guest lectures also in Helsinki (Turku, see:

Michael Halewood, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Essex (UK)

Friday 9. 5. 2014 12 pm – 4 pm

Porthania, University of Helsinki, Yliopistonkatu 3


"The Social is Natural"

Lecture Hall Porthania 723, Friday 9. 5. 2014, 12 pm

Bruno Latour has, notoriously, seemed to undermine some of the most important concepts and assumptions of sociology. He has questioned the very existence of “the social” itself, as well as the validity of purely “social” explanations. Many elements of his argument could be seen as aimed at the work and approach of Durkheim.

In this talk, I aim to present some of my thoughts based on a recent re-reading of Durkheim in the light of Latour’s critique. My aim is not to defend Durkheim against Latour, nor do I want to say that Durkheim is “right”. However, I do want to suggest that Durkheim may have been maligned. He does get things wrong (to my mind) but in an interesting way. We may have underestimated the strangeness of Durkheim’s argument.

In order to outline this strangeness I will insist that, for Durkheim, society and nature are not opposed for the social is natural. Furthermore, I will argue that the concept of society is a problematic one for Durkheim and he never manages to define it. It seems that not only can animals have societies (in the Durkheimian sense) but that societies are based on association. This will bring us back to Latour, in that he wants to set out his own “sociology of associations”.


Toward a “Philosophy of the Social”: Sociology, Philosophy and Speculation

Lecture Hall Porthania 723, Friday 9. 5. 2014, 2 pm

In recent years there has been something of a resurgence in interest in the relationship between philosophy and sociology. This has involved a shift away from the traditional philosophy of social science. Even more recently, there has been a suggestion that we should, or could, use speculation as an important tool within sociology.

In this lecture, I will not talk about speculative realism. Instead, I will suggest that we can learn from the late work of Durkheim (The Elementary Forms of Religious Life), that such concerns have a long history. I will argue that Durkheim developed a kind of philosophy of the social, though he did not refer to his work in such terms. I will look at: Durkheim’s approach to “Things” and “Force”; whether his categories are Social or Natural; his discussions of Collectivity and Totality.

Rather than argue that we should somehow agree with Durkheim, I will suggest that he points up the kind of problems which endure within sociology and which still need addressing philosophically. I will conclude by building on the work of Isabelle Stengers and Bruno Karsenti in order to sketch my own approach which I have termed “the philosophy of the social” and the opportunities and constraints that are offered by speculation.


Michael Halewood is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Essex (UK).

His research covers the intersection between philosophy and social theory and he has written on topics such as the work of A. N Whitehead, the concept of the social and its relation to the natural, the body, sexual difference, contemporary theorizations of subjectivity and materiality, and the work of Marx, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler and John Dewey in various journals such as: 'The British Journal of Sociology'; 'Theory, Culture and Society' and 'Configurations'. His last book "A. N. Whitehead and Social Theory. Tracing a Culture of Thought" has recently been reprinted in paperback. Currently, he is working on a book titled "Rethinking the Social. Towards a Philosophy of the Social" which revisits the work of Durkheim, Marx and Weber in light of contemporary concerns. He will base his lectures on some of the material developed in the preparation of this text.

For further information concerning the guest lectures please contact

Seppo Poutanen (seppou at – tel- 0407238993).