Durkheim on Moral Individualism, Social Justice and Rights: A Gendered Construction of Rights

Marcela Cristi


A standard interpretation of Durkheim’s theory of individualism is that he advocated the rights and dignity of the individual, and a social order based on the principles of equality and justice. Contemporary scholars discuss his notion of individual rights in neutral terms, as if Durheim applied it equally to both sexes, ignoring the fact that women are excluded from Durkheim’s vision of a just society. This article places Durkheim’s theory of moral individualism and social justice in the context of his views on women, and offers a critique both of his theory and its present-day interpretation. It is argued that while Durkheim refers to the “individual” in generic terms, his approach to a just social order and universal rights is essentially articulated around the male individual. While Durkheim never problematized gender inequality, he strongly objected to class stratification and proposed practical solutions to lessen economic injustices and inequality.


■ individualism ■ individual rights ■ justice ■ sexual inequality ■ class inequality

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