durkheim question

Is Durkheim’s Suicide (1897) the first sociological study to use statistics? I do not know the answer.

Written by fabiorojas

March 15, 2011 at 12:10 am

13 Responses

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  1. This might depend on how you define “sociological study”. According to this BBC documentary, the Swedes invented social statistics in the 18th century.


    Benjamin Geer

    March 15, 2011 at 12:59 am

  2. What about Quetelet’s social physics?

    I haven’t read it, but Wikipedia makes it sound like he was doing criminology statistics in 1831.



    March 15, 2011 at 1:50 am

  3. Don’t forget William Petty’s political arithmetic (1660s).



    March 15, 2011 at 2:10 am

  4. Not completely certain of this, but I think Gabriel Tarde had Durkheim beat by about a decade as well.


    Andrei Boutyline

    March 15, 2011 at 2:43 am

  5. Even if you narrow it down to “the first statistical study conducted by somebody who had no problem being called a ‘sociologist’,” I think Le Play’s studies of working class life (1850s) would have Suicide beaten.



    March 15, 2011 at 2:46 am

  6. Alexander von Oettingen’s “Die Moralstatistik und die christliche Sittenlehre” might be an example (cited frequently by Durkheim in Suicide — just was thumbing through my beautifully forboding, bright red (with white lettering) free press paperback of the book).

    Here’s the book –



    March 15, 2011 at 3:33 am

  7. No, it was AndrĂ©-Michel Guerry’s Essay on the Moral Statistics of France (Essai sur la statistique morale de la France, 1833). According to Rodney Stark’s foreword in the 2002 translation (its first in English) it is ‘the foundation document of sociology and criminology. Yet, it was almost forgotten for more than a century, buried beneath the academic imperialism of Emile Durkheim and his circle.’ (



    March 15, 2011 at 4:26 am

  8. Or any of the aforementioned studies, depending on who you talk to. Stigler’s History of Statistics is a great reference, he discusses Quetelet at length.



    March 15, 2011 at 4:31 am

  9. Ian Hacking’s The Taming of Chance says a lot about Durkheim’s social statistics and his ancestors



    March 15, 2011 at 8:14 am

  10. Quetelet (and I guess a larger group o “moral” statisticians– interesting about Guerry’s eassy) was just not prior to Durkheim, but his concept of normal behavior derived from aggregate statistics clearly had a huge influence on Durkheim’s theories, not just his method (and of course Quetelet’s work wouldn’t have been possible without Petty and some others, and the state statistical bureaus that they spawned– so you could really say that at this stage, it was the statistics that drove the analysis– and perhaps also the theory!). I wrote a paper on this in my senior year of college, but don’t remember much about it now. I do remember the 1987 AJS paper by Piers Beirne to be very useful. And if you do a jstor search, it appears that there are a few other useful cites:



    March 15, 2011 at 11:18 pm

  11. I’m pretty sure Marx and Engels used some elementary surveys.



    March 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm

  12. I think Jason may be right. If my memory is correct, Engels included some statistics about Manchester in his book “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.”



    March 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm

  13. John Graunt discovered sex ratio skews (more boys are born than girls) by analyzing London christening records. He published his work in the 1660s. He is one of the first demographers.

    John Arbuthnot extended Graunt’s analysis by using probability theory to determine that the Graunt’s skew couldn’t not be the result of chance. Arbuthnot’s work appeared in the early 1700s.


    Andre Ariew

    March 16, 2011 at 11:09 pm

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