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1Durkheim was familiar with several foreign languages and reviewed academic papers in German, English, and Italian at length for L’Année sociologique, the journal he founded in 1896. It has been noted, however, at times with disapproval and amazement by non-French social scientists, that Durkheim traveled little and that, like many French scholars and the notable British anthropologist Sir James Frazer, he never undertook any fieldwork. The vast information Durkheim studied on the tribes of Australia and New Guinea and on the Eskimos was all collected by other anthropologists, travelers, or missionaries. 1Durkheim was familiar with several foreign languages and reviewed academic papers in German, English, and Italian for the journal.[...] It has been noted, at times with disapproval and amazement by many social scientists, that Durkheim traveled little and that, like many French scholars of the time and the notable British anthropologist Sir James Frazer, he never undertook any fieldwork. The vast information Durkheim studied on the aboriginal tribes of Australia and New Guinea and on the Inuit was all collected by other anthropologists, travelers, or missionaries.
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3This was not due to provincialism or lack of attention to the concrete. Durkheim did not resemble the French philosopher Auguste Comte in making venturesome and dogmatic generalizations while disregarding empirical observation. He did, however, maintain that concrete observation in remote parts of the world does not always lead to illuminating views on the past or even on the present. For him, facts had no intellectual meaning unless they were grouped into types and laws. He claimed repeatedly that it is from a construction erected on the inner nature of the real that knowledge of concrete reality is obtained, a knowledge not perceived by observation of the facts from the outside. He thus constructed concepts such as the sacred and totemism exactly in the same way that Karl Marx developed the concept of class.3Neither provincialism nor inadequate attention to the concrete seems to have been the case. Durkheim did not intend to make venturesome and dogmatic generalizations while disregarding empirical observation. He did, however, maintain that concrete observation in remote parts of the world does not always lead to illuminating views on the past or even on the present. For him, facts had no intellectual meaning unless they were grouped into types and laws. He claimed repeatedly that it is from a construction erected on the inner nature of the real that knowledge of concrete reality is obtained, knowledge not perceived by observation of the facts from the outside. He thus constructed concepts such as the sacred and totemism exactly in the same way that Karl Marx developed the concept of class.
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