Emile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He is credited with establishing the discipline of sociology for academic purposes and is widely regarded as the chief architect of modern social science. During his lifetime, Emile Durkheim published several works on topics like morality, religion, and education. He also played a major role in the development of sociology and anthropology as disciplines.
Renowned sociologist and intellectual Pierre Bourdieu is best remembered for his theory of habitus. Initially sent to Algeria as part of the French Army, he later taught and conducted ethnographic research there. His best-known work remains La Distinction, and he also inspired a hit French documentary.
Renowned sociologist and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard is remembered for introducing concepts of hyperreality and simulacrum. Initially a teacher of German literature in schools, he later taught sociology at Paris X Nanterre. He coined the phrase the desert of the real, which was later used in the film The Matrix.
A qualified civil engineer, Vilfredo Pareto had initially worked for the railways and the ironworks. However, he gradually deviated to philosophy, sociology, and politics and gained fame for his application of math to economic issues and his introduction of Pareto efficiency. Mind and Society remains his best-known work.
Holberg Prize-winning French sociologist and anthropologist Bruno Latour had initially studied theology and even received his PhD in the subject. His later research Ivory Coast drew him to anthropology, and he soon gained fame as a renowned academic in the field, having co-written iconic books such as Laboratory Life.
Sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss is regarded as the Father of French Ethnology. Shunning his family business, he became influenced by his uncle, sociologist Émile Durkheim. His best-known work remains Essai sur le don, or The Gift. He also influenced Claude Lévi-Strauss, who founded structural anthropology.
French social psychologist Gustave Le Bon is best remembered for his research on crowd psychology. In his iconic work La psychologie des foules, or The Crowd, he stated that people are driven by their emotions and not by their intellect when they act as part of a crowd.
French philosopher, Christian anarchist, and social scientist Jacques Ellul initially wished to be a naval officer but was pushed to study law. He is best remembered for his iconic volume La Technique, or The Technological Society. He taught social history and the history of law at various universities.
One of the greatest Marxist philosophers ever, Henri Lefebvre is remembered for introducing iconic ideas such as right to the city and the production of space. He initially mingled with the Surrealists and the Dadaists before moving toward Communism. His Dialetical Materialism remains one of his most celebrated books.
Best known as the partner of legendary French philosopher Michel Foucault, Daniel Defert was initially a professor of sociology. After Foucault died of AIDS, Defert turned into an AIDS activist and formed AIDES, France’s first AIDS awareness organization. He inherited Foucault’s estate, despite opposition from Foucault’s family.
Best known for his book The Opium of the Intellectuals, Raymond Aron was one of the most influential thinkers of his time. While he initially taught social philosophy, he also served the French air force during World War II. He also had long-term stints as a columnist for Le Figaro and L’Express.
French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard initially wished to be a monk and even a painter. He started his career as a school teacher in Algeria and later various socialist groups. While he later taught French and philosophy at various institutes, he also became a leading figure of the postmodernist movement.
Tzvetan Todorov was a Bulgarian-French historian, philosopher, literary critic, and sociologist. He completed his doctorat ès lettres at the University of Paris and had a brilliant academic career. He helped to found the journal Poétique and served as one of its managing editors. He authored many books, including Conquest of America: The Question of the Other.
Sociologist and criminologist Gabriel Tarde is best remembered for his theory of social interaction. Initially a magistrate, he later taught modern philosophy. He is remembered for his ideas on imitation and his criticism of the concept of the atavistic criminal. He also penned a sci-fi novel.
Born Edgar Nahoum, sociologist and philosopher Edgar Morin changed his surname while fighting for the French Resistance. He was part of the French Communist Party and the French Occupation Army in Germany. He is remembered for his studies on complex thought. He also introduced transdisciplinary research.
Apart from being an essayist and a filmmaker, Alain Soral is also a far-right extremist, who has been in trouble for his antisemitic tendencies. Once imprisoned for racism and Holocaust denial, he also established his own political organization, Égalité & Réconciliation, with the help of far-right students’ unions.
Helene Rytmann was a French sociologist and revolutionary who played an important role in the French Resistance. Widely regarded as a historically important Jewish woman, Helene Rytmann was murdered by her husband Louis Althusser. The case was never properly investigated and the scandal of Rytmann's murder inspired the 2002 novel Shroud which was written by Irish novelist William John Banville.
Urban sociologist Loïc Wacquant is best known for his work on topics such as the body, ethnography, and racial inequality. A University of California, Berkeley professor, he has also been a MacArthur Prize Fellow and a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows. He also co-founded the journal Ethnography.
French scholar Roger Caillois is best remembered for his work Man, Play and Games, which studied the concept of play and games in the social context. He also established the UNESCO-funded journal Diogenes and received honors such as awards such as the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière.
Maurice Halbwachs was one of the few French sociologists to work empirically. One of the brightest students at École Normale Supérieure, he later joined socialist movements. Though appreciated for his work on memory and its social conditions, he was detained by the Nazis and died in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Jurist and political scientist Maurice Duverger is best remembered for proposing the Duverger's law, related to the formation of a two-party system. He taught at the Sorbonne and had also been an MP, representing the Italian Communist Party first and then the Democratic Party of the Left.
Gilles Lipovetsky is a French sociologist, philosopher, and writer. He also serves as a professor at the prestigious Stendhal University in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France. An influential figure, Lipovetsky has written about important topics like globalization, feminism, consumerism, and modern culture.
Lucien Lévy-Bruhl was a French scholar best remembered for his contributions to the fields of ethnology and sociology. Although he was trained in philosophy, Lévy-Bruhl helped further anthropology. His work had a major influence on the works of Carl Gustav Jung, especially his psychological theory.