Apr 152019

Today is the birthday (1858) of David Émile Durkheim (the David part is usually omitted), a French sociologist who was one of the principal architects of modern social science.  Although principally a sociologist, many of his works had a profound influence on the development of anthropology at the beginning of the 20th century. Much of Durkheim’s work was concerned with how societies maintained their integrity and coherence in the modern era when traditional social and religious ties had waned in importance and new social institutions had come into being. What kept societies together?

Durkheim’s first major sociological work was The Division of Labour in Society (1893), which introduced the concept of an “organic” society: a society held together (like the organs of a body) because different parts of the society performed different functions, all of which were necessary for the wellbeing of the whole. Furthermore, an organic society is not simply the sum of its parts; its coherence is an entity in its own right – greater than, and different from, the individuals that make it up. In 1895, he published The Rules of Sociological Method and set up the first European department of sociology, becoming France’s first professor of sociology. In 1898, he established the journal L’Année Sociologique.

He published Suicide in 1897, pioneering modern social research and distinguishing social science from psychology and political philosophy. In Suicide he argues for suicide being a “social fact” as well as an individual event, and that social facts and individual events are completely different entities. For example, if economic conditions worsen in a society the number of suicides per annum will increase (and the amount of the increase can be predicted within a range). However, statistics cannot predict which individuals will commit suicide. The aggregate number of suicides and the cause of the number’s rise and fall are social facts; who actually commits suicide is an individual fact. Sociology deals with social facts, psychology deals with individual facts. They are separable sciences with different methods and purposes.

The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life of 1912 was Durkheim’s foray into anthropology and cross-cultural comparison, and on the whole is not highly thought of these days in anthropological circles in its specifics because it is based on a fallacious 19th century conception of the evolution of culture. The simple equation that Durkheim uses – indigenous Australians have the most primitive technology in the world, therefore their religion must also be the most primitive – is just plain wrong. The broad strokes are still used, though. Durkheim argues that religion is a metaphor for society itself, and that God and society are the same thing (just put in different terms). People realize that there is a collective force binding them together as a society, and call that force “God” – and even worship or revere it because it is unknowable yet enormously powerful. If the God is angered, the society is disrupted, therefore it must always be appeased.

Durkheim was deeply preoccupied with the acceptance of sociology as a legitimate science. He refined the positivism originally set forth by Auguste Comte, promoting what could be considered as a form of epistemological realism, as well as the use of the hypothetico-deductive model in social science. For him, sociology was the science of institutions, if this term is understood in its broader meaning as “beliefs and modes of behavior instituted by the collectivity” and its aim being to discover structural social facts. Durkheim was a major proponent of structural functionalism, a foundational perspective in both sociology and anthropology (now largely superseded in anthropology on a conscious level, but still active deep down). In his view, social science should be purely holistic. That is, sociology should study phenomena attributed to society at large, rather than addressing the specific actions of individuals.

He remained a dominant force in French intellectual life until his death in 1917, presenting numerous lectures and published works on a variety of topics, including the sociology of knowledge, morality, social stratification, religion, law, education, and deviance. Durkheimian terms such as “collective consciousness” have since entered the popular lexicon.

Durkheim was a left-wing patriot, more tied to his country than to international socialism. The outbreak of the Great War caused him considerable anguish because it promoted right-wing nationalist sentiments in France. Furthermore, several of his students and his own son André died in the trenches, and he never recovered from the emotional shock.  Durkheim collapsed of a stroke and died in Paris on November 15th, 1917 at the age of 59.

Durkheim was born in Lorraine in the Vosges district, famous for quiche and chocolate. It is also renowned for bouchées à la Reine, a kind of vol-au-vents made with mushrooms. In Lorraine, morels are the preferred mushrooms and they can be found in the abundant old apple orchards. Here is a video for you. It’s in French, but should not be too puzzling for you:


Feb 232018

Today is the birthday (1868) of William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois, a U.S. sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to Alfred and Mary Silvina (née Burghardt) Du Bois. His mother’s family was part of the very small free black population of Great Barrington and had long owned land in the state. She was descended from Dutch, African and English ancestors. William Du Bois’ maternal great-great-grandfather was Tom Burghardt, a slave (born in West Africa around 1730) who was held by the Dutch colonist Conraed Burghardt. Tom briefly served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, which may have been how he gained his freedom during the 18th century. Du Bois’ paternal great-grandfather was James Du Bois of Poughkeepsie, New York, an ethnic French-American of Huguenot origin who fathered several children with slave women.

Great Barrington had a majority European-American community. He attended the local integrated public school and as an adult wrote about racism partly based on the experience of being a minority in the town. His teachers recognized his ability and encouraged his intellectual pursuits, and his rewarding experience with academic studies led him to believe that he could use his education to empower African-Americans. Du Bois graduated from the town’s Searles High School. When Du Bois decided to attend college, the congregation of his childhood church, the First Congregational Church of Great Barrington, raised the money for his tuition.

Du Bois attended Fisk University, an historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1885 to 1888. His travel to and residency in the South was Du Bois’ first experience with Southern racism, which at the time encompassed Jim Crow laws, bigotry, suppression of black voting, and lynchings. The latter reached a peak in the next decade. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Fisk, he attended Harvard College (which did not accept course credits from Fisk) from 1888 to 1890, where he was strongly influenced by his professor William James, then prominent in American philosophy. Du Bois paid his way through three years at Harvard with money from summer jobs, an inheritance, scholarships, and loans from friends. In 1890, Harvard awarded Du Bois his second bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in history. In 1891, Du Bois received a scholarship to attend the sociology graduate school at Harvard.

In 1892, Du Bois received a fellowship from the John F. Slater Fund for the Education of Freedmen to attend the University of Berlin for graduate work. While a student in Berlin, he traveled extensively throughout Europe. He matured intellectually in Berlin while studying with some of that nation’s most prominent social scientists, including Gustav von Schmoller, Adolph Wagner, and Heinrich von Treitschke. After returning from Europe, Du Bois completed his graduate studies; in 1895 he was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

In the summer of 1894, Du Bois received several job offers, including one from the Tuskegee Institute, but he accepted a teaching job at Wilberforce University in Ohio. At Wilberforce, Du Bois was strongly influenced by Alexander Crummell, who believed that ideas are necessary tools to effect social change. While at Wilberforce, Du Bois married Nina Gomer, one of his students, on May 12, 1896. After two years at Wilberforce, Du Bois accepted a one-year research job from the University of Pennsylvania as an “assistant in sociology” in the summer of 1896. He performed sociological field research in Philadelphia’s African-American neighborhoods, which formed the foundation for his landmark study, The Philadelphia Negro, published in 1899 while he was teaching at Atlanta University. It was the first case study of a black community in the United States. By the 1890s, Philadelphia’s black neighborhoods had a negative reputation in terms of crime, poverty, and mortality. Du Bois’ book undermined the stereotypes with experimental evidence, and shaped his approach to segregation and its negative impact on black lives and reputations. The results led Du Bois to believe that racial integration was the key to democratic equality in American cities. His later point of view became much more complex.

While taking part in the American Negro Academy (ANA) in 1897, Du Bois presented a paper in which he rejected Frederick Douglass’s plea for black Americans to integrate into white society. He wrote: “we are Negroes, members of a vast historic race that from the very dawn of creation has slept, but half awakening in the dark forests of its African fatherland.” In the August 1897 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Du Bois published “Strivings of the Negro People”, his first work aimed at the general public, in which he enlarged upon his thesis that African Americans should embrace their African heritage while contributing to American society.

By the turn of the 20th century Du Bois became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Du Bois rose to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists who wanted equal rights for blacks. Du Bois and his supporters opposed the Atlanta compromise, an agreement crafted by Booker T. Washington which provided that Southern blacks would work and submit to white political rule, while Southern whites guaranteed that blacks would receive basic educational and economic opportunities. Instead, Du Bois insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation, which he believed would be brought about by the African-American intellectual elite. He referred to this group as the Talented Tenth and believed that African Americans needed the chances for advanced education to develop its leadership.

Racism was the main target of Du Bois’s polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. His cause included people of color everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in colonies. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for the independence of African colonies from European powers. Du Bois made several trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After World War I, he surveyed the experiences of American black soldiers in France and documented widespread prejudice in the United States military.

Du Bois was a prolific author. His collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, was a seminal work in African-American literature, and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that African-Americans were responsible for the failures of the Reconstruction Era. Borrowing a phrase from Frederick Douglass, he popularized the use of the term color line to represent the injustice of the separate but equal doctrine prevalent in American social and political life. He opens The Souls of Black Folk with the central thesis of much of his life’s work: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.”

He wrote one of the first scientific treatises in the field of American sociology, and he published three autobiographies, each of which contains insightful essays on sociology, politics and history. In his role as editor of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis, he published a number of influential pieces. Du Bois believed that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and he was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life. He was an ardent peace activist and advocated nuclear disarmament. The United States’ Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death.

During the 1950s, the U.S. government’s anti-communist McCarthyism campaign targeted Du Bois because of his socialist leanings. The FBI began to compile a file on Du Bois in 1942, but the most aggressive government attack against Du Bois occurred in the early 1950s, as a consequence of Du Bois’ opposition to nuclear weapons. In 1950 Du Bois became chairman of the newly created Peace Information Center (PIC), which worked to publicize the Stockholm Peace Appeal in the United States. The primary purpose of the appeal was to gather signatures on a petition, asking governments around the world to ban all nuclear weapons. The U.S. Justice department alleged that the PIC was acting as an agent of a foreign state, and thus required the PIC to register with the federal government. Du Bois and other PIC leaders refused, and they were indicted for failure to register. After the indictment, some of Du Bois’ associates distanced themselves from him, and the NAACP refused to issue a statement of support; but many labor figures and leftists – including Langston Hughes – supported Du Bois. He was finally tried in 1951 represented by civil rights attorney Vito Marcantonio. The case was dismissed before the jury rendered a verdict as soon as the defense attorney told the judge that “Dr. Albert Einstein has offered to appear as character witness for Dr. Du Bois. Du Bois’ memoir of the trial is In Battle for Peace. Even though Du Bois was not convicted, the government confiscated his passport and withheld it for eight years.

Ghana invited Du Bois to Africa to participate in their independence celebration in 1957, but he was unable to attend because the U.S. government had confiscated his passport. By 1960 – the “Year of Africa” – Du Bois had recovered his passport, and was able to cross the Atlantic and celebrate the creation of the Republic of Ghana Du Bois returned to Africa in late 1960 to attend the inauguration of Nnamdi Azikiwe as the first African governor of Nigeria.

While visiting Ghana in 1960, Du Bois spoke with its president about the creation of a new encyclopedia of the African diaspora, the Encyclopedia Africana. In early 1961, Ghana notified Du Bois that they had appropriated funds to support the encyclopedia project, and they invited Du Bois to come to Ghana and manage the project there. In October 1961, at the age of 93, Du Bois and his wife traveled to Ghana to take up residence and commence work on the encyclopedia. In early 1963, the United States refused to renew his passport, so he made the symbolic gesture of becoming a citizen of Ghana. While it is sometimes stated that he renounced his U.S. citizenship at that time, and he did state his intention to do so, Du Bois never actually did. His health declined during the two years he was in Ghana, and he died on August 27, 1963, in the capital of Accra at the age of 95.

I could give you a string of quotes from Du Bois, but this one says it all:

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: … How does it feel to be a problem? … One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder … He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

In answering a questionnaire Du Bois wrote that his favorite food was bread and milk (and his favorite drink was ginger ale). Bread and milk is something of a surprise because it is not something I would ever think of as comfort food. To make it is simplicity itself. Tear up fresh bread into bite-sized pieces, place them in a bowl, sprinkle them with sugar, and pour in whole milk. Not my thing. I would jazz it up by using the kind of sweet, buttery French bread the bakers make here in Cambodia, probably use cream rather than milk, and sprinkle over some spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.

May 272013

Ibn Khaldoun

Today is the birthday (1332) of Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī (بو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي) commonly known as Ibn Khaldoun, one of the greatest thinkers in the fields of history, economics, sociology, and anthropology of all times, and is now rightly considered by many experts in those fields to be their great-great grandfather.  Yet most of his work remained unknown in the West for centuries until it was rediscovered in the nineteenth century when many of his fundamental ideas were reinvented by scholars.  Even now in the social sciences his name is hardly a byword.  I first learned about him in graduate school when I took a class on the pre-modern history of anthropology.  Many of his ground breaking theories are current to this day.

Ibn Khaldoun (or Ibn Khaldūn) was an Arab Muslim born in Tunis into an upper-class Andalusian family of Arab descent, the Banu Khaldūn. His family, which held many high offices in Andalusia, had emigrated to Tunisia after the fall of Seville to Reconquista forces around the middle of the 13th century. After the fall of Tunis to the sultan of Constantinople in 1352, he relocated to Fez (Morocco) where he took up the position of writer of royal proclamations for the sultan, Abu Inan Fares I.  However, he got himself in hot water fairly soon for scheming against the sultan and landed in prison for 22 months. He was released on the sultan’s death but had mixed fortunes subsequently.  He decided to move to Granada, capital of the province of Granada in Andalusia, where he expected to be well received because in his time at Fez he had assisted the sultan of Granada, Muhammad V, regain power following his exile. There he came into conflict with the sultan’s vizier and so relocated to North Africa once again where he bounced around, because of his seemingly insatiable desire to cause trouble, finally ending up in Egypt, where he died in 1406. During his time in North Africa and Egypt he mostly devoted himself to writing and some teaching.  These were the years that produced his greatest works.

His best known book is the Muqaddimah, commonly called the Prolegomena in English because it is the introductory volume in his proposed grand history of the world.  In it he lays out his basic methods and theories to be applied in the body of the work.  He starts out with a critique of previous methods in history pointing out that they are often unreliable because of 7 critical errors in method, such as writing with the purpose of currying favor with a ruler, failure to examine the reliability of sources, and bias towards a particular creed or cultural norm (what we now call ethnocentrism). My favorite of them all, the cornerstone of all cultural anthropology, is the error of  failing to place events in their proper historical and cultural contexts and, hence, failing to interpret their true meaning — a principle I live by in my own writing.

You would be amazed at the breadth of his theorizing in diverse fields, and at how well his work continues to accord with contemporary theory. In economics he expounded on markets, laws of supply and demand, labor and human capital, exchange, and the effects of taxation on productivity. In sociology and anthropology he theorized on the nature of social cohesion, the effects of nomadic versus city life on culture, and the ways in which social bonds weaken as cultures move from a subsistence base to one of surpluses, and, eventually, luxury. He proposed that this progression was the ultimate cause of the cyclic downfall of empires. His political theory might best be summarized by his definition of government: “an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself” which we must all ruefully admit is the case.   He made major contributions to the philosophy and method of history which includes such sentiments as, “History is a science,” “Myths have nothing to do with history and should be refuted,” and “To build strong historical records, the historian should rely on necessary rules for the evaluation of truth.”  Those in the know believe that Ibn Khaldoun was one of the greatest thinkers of all time.

Few people nowadays realize that what is often referred to as the “Mediterranean Diet” has strong Arab influences dating back to the Middle Ages. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Ibn Khaldoun’s ancestral, and actual, home of Andalusia in southern Spain.  This recipe is my modern adaptation from the 13th century anonymous cookbook, Kitab al-tabikh fi al-Maghrib wal-Andalus  (Book of Dishes from Morocco and Andalusia). It is for a raised dough (rather like egg bread) that is shaped into braids, shallow fried, and drizzled with scented honey then dusted with sugar. The original medieval recipe (which is typically vague about quantities and methods) calls for durum flour in preference OR plain wheat flour otherwise. You can choose your own proportions based on preference, experience with durum flour, and availability.  I prefer a 50-50 split because in bread making this makes a lighter product. The original recipe calls for both cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon.  What you buy in the stores today is Chinese cinnamon, also known as cassia. Cinnamon here means “true cinnamon” which is a different species and much more aromatic than cassia. However, you can use one or the other, or mix the two.

Dafaîr (Fried Dough Braids)



10 ½ oz (300 gm) durum wheat flour, all purpose flour, or a mix of the two
¼ cup (½ dl) water
1 package ( ¼ oz/7g) fast acting yeast
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
½ tsp powdered saffron
2 oz (56 g) coarsely chopped blanched almonds
Vegetable oil for frying and coating the dough

Honey sauce

2/3 cup (1 ½ dl) honey
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp (50g) true cinnamon, cassia, or a mix
½ tbsp (7.5 g) finely ground lavender flowers or 1- 2 drops of lavender essential oil
caster sugar for dusting.


Put the yeast into a cup with 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water. Stir and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Put the flour and salt in a bowl and incorporate the water little by little. Then add the yeast.  Knead until the dough is elastic.

Pour the saffron into a bowl with the two eggs and beat the mixture thoroughly. Then pour it over the dough, add the almonds and mix them well together. Knead the dough again for a few minutes to be sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Oil the surface of the dough and place it in a clean bowl. Cover with a moist towel and leave it to rise in a warm place.

It should take about an hour for the dough to double in size but you should check it periodically starting after 45 minutes. If a finger pressed into the dough springs back immediately it has not proofed enough. If a finger causes an indentation that remains it has proofed too long.  You ought to be able to press in and have the dough spring back after about 5 seconds. Then it is ready.

While the dough is rising, gently heat the honey so that it is slightly more runny than when cold.  Add the cinnamon, as much ground black pepper as suits your tastes, and the lavender. If you are using lavender oil, add one drop and check for flavor.  Add one drop more if the flavor is too light. Keep warm.

Divide the dough into six portions. Sprinkle the worktop and your hands with flour. Take one portion of the dough and keep the rest covered with a towel. Roll and manipulate the dough until you have a thin sausage about 15 inches long. Cut this in three equal lengths and braid them together, pinching both ends when you are done.  Repeat for the other five portions. Let the braids rest for 15 minutes.

While the braids are resting, pour vegetable oil into a heavy skillet to a depth of about ½ inch and heat until it reaches 340 F (170 C).

Place the braids gently into the skillet without overcrowding. You may need to do this in batches. Fry them  to a golden brown on the bottom , then flip them and cook the other side in the same way.

Place the cooked braids on racks over trays to drain. Don’t use paper towels because then they just continue to sit in the oil. You may pat them with paper towels though.

When the braids have drained, drizzle with the spiced honey, and sprinkle lightly with caster sugar.

Yield: 6