Sociological Epistemology: Durkheim’s Paradox and Dorothy E. Smith’s Actuality

Randle J. Hart, Andrew McKinnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Emile Durkheim first outlined the problem of the categories for sociologists after Kant: how do we acknowledge the socially constituted nature of all knowledge and yet still make claims about social reality? In Durkheim’s late work he identifies two opposite responses to this problem: empiricism, which denies the problem; and idealism (or constructionism), which finds it difficult to talk about anything beyond our conceptions of social conceptions. In this article we argue that the sociological work of Dorothy E. Smith provides a better solution to this problem than Durkheim does. Her work provides a useful map for studying social ‘actuality’ without succumbing either to relativism or to naïve realism, all the while maintaining the possibility of telling the truth about the actual social world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1038-1054
Number of pages17
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • categories
  • concepts
  • Dorothy E. Smith
  • Durkheim
  • epistemology
  • institutional ethnography
  • feminist theory
  • social constructionism


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