Sociology Index

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Gabriel Tarde

Gabriel Tarde (12 March 1843 – 13 May 1904) was a French sociologist, criminologist and social psychologist who conceived sociology as based on small psychological interactions among individuals, the fundamental forces being imitation and innovation. Gabriel Tarde was the most prominent contemporary critic of David Emile Durkheim's sociology, but Durkheim's sociology overshadowed Tarde's insights, and it was not until U.S. scholars, such as the Chicago School, took up his theories that they became famous.

Gabriel Tarde was also critical of the concept of the atavistic criminal as developed by Cesare Lombroso. Tarde considered imitation, conscious and unconscious, as a fundamental interpersonal trait, with the imitation of fathers by sons as the primal situation, resting on prestige. Tarde highlighted the importance of the creative exemplar in society, arguing that "genius is the capacity to engender one's own progeny." Gabriel Tarde  figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

In the 1880s he corresponded with the Italians Enrico Ferri and Cesare Lombroso and the French psychiatrist Alexandre Lacassagne. With the latter, Tarde came to be the leading representative for a "French school" in criminology. Among the concepts that Tarde initiated were the group mind, taken up and developed by Gustave Le Bon, and sometimes advanced to explain so-called herd behaviour or crowd psychology, and economic psychology, where he anticipated a number of modern developments. French sociologist Bruno Latour has referred to Tarde as a possible predecessor to Actor-Network Theory in part because of Tarde's criticisms of Durkheim's conceptions of the Social. Bruno Latour and Vincent Antonin Lepinay released a short book called The Science of Passionate Interests: An Introduction to Gabriel Tarde's Economic Anthropology, in which they show how Tarde's work offers a strong critique of the foundations of the economics discipline and economic methodology.

Sigmund Freud built on Tarde's ideas of imitation and suggestion for his work on the theory of the crowd. Everett Rogers furthered Tarde's "laws of imitation" in the 1962 book Diffusion of innovations. Even today, Tarde's work has been experiencing a renaissance. Tarde's work is being re-discovered as a harbinger of postmodern French theory, particularly as influenced by the social philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.