Tarde, Jean Gabriel 1843-1904

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TARDE, Jean Gabriel 1843-1904

PERSONAL: Born March 12, 1843, in Sarlat, France; died 1904; son of a judge and military officer. Education: Attended a Jesuit school in Sarlat, France; studied law in Toulouse and Paris, France.

CAREER: Held various legal posts in Sarlat, France, 1869-94; Ministry of Justice, Paris, France, director of criminal statistics, 1894-1900; held various university positions, beginning 1895; College de France, chair of modern philosophy, 1900-04.


(With Alexandre Lacassagne and others, and editor) Archives d'anthropologie criminelle, G. Masson (Paris, France), 1886-1915.

La philosophi pénale, G. Masson (Paris, France), 1890, translated by Rapelje Howell as Penal Philosophy, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1912, reprinted, Transaction Publishers (New Brunswick, NJ), 2001.

Les lois de l'imitation: etude sociologique, F. Alcan (Paris, France), 1890, reprinted, Slatkine (Paris, France), 1979, translated by Elsie Clews Parsons as The Laws of Imitation, P. Smith (Gloucester, MA) 1962.

Les transformations du droit: étude sociologique, F. Alcan (Paris, France), 1893, reprinted, Berg International (Paris, France), 1994.

Études pénales et socials, A. Storck (Lyon, France), 1892.

Essais et mélanges socialogiques, A. Storck (Lyon, France), 1895.

La logique social, F. Alcan (Paris, France), 1895.

L'opposition universelle: essai d'une théorie des contraires, F. Alcan (Paris, France), 1897.

Études de psychologie sociale, V. Giard & E. Briére (Paris, France), 1898.

Les transformations du pouvoir, F. Alcan (Paris, France), 1899.

Les lois Sociales: esquisse d'une sociologie, translated as Social Laws: An Outline of Sociology, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1899, reprinted, Arno Press (New York, NY), 1974.

L'opinion et la foule, F. Alcan (Paris, France), 1901.

Psychologie économique, F. Alcan (Paris, France), 1902.

Fragment d'histoire future, Duckworth (London, England), 1905, translated by Cloudesley Brereton as Underground Man, Hyperion Press (Westport, CT), 1974.

On Communication and Social Influence: Selected Papers, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1969.

(Rocheblave-Spenlé, Anne Mari and Jean Milet, editors) Écrits de psychologie sociale, Private (Toulouse, France), 1973.

Oeuvres de Gabriel Tarde, multiple volumes, Institut Synthélabo (Hauts-de-Seine), 1999.

Monadologie et sociologie, Institut Synthélabo (Le Plessis-Robinson), 1999.

Author's works have been translated into Spanish, English, and Russian.

SIDELIGHTS: French philosopher and sociologist Jean Gabriel Tarde made important contributions to general social theory and to the study of collective behavior, personal influence, and public opinion. He introduced the theory of social interaction, placing emphasis on individuals instead of the group.

Throughout his career, Tarde developed his own social theory, the core elements being three interrelated processes. For Tarde, the ultimate source of all human innovation and progress was "invention." The expansion of a given sector of society is directly related to the number and quality of creative ideas developed in that sector, be they economy, science, or literature. Tarde emphasized the social factors leading to invention. He believed that greater communication among creative individuals would lead to mutual stimulation and therefore, the rigid class lines separating the creative elite from the common man were necessary. Finally, he perceived cultural values as catalysts for discovery.

Because inventions are not immediately accepted, so an analysis of "imitation" must take place. Tarde's theory—which he called the laws of imitation—suggested that imitation diffuses creativity throughout a society. The third process, "opposition," occurs when conflicting inventions meet. These oppositions may be associated with social groups or they may remain inside individual minds. Either way, they can generate invention, which begins again the threefold process cycle.

Tarde believed in the necessity for quantifying his concepts and processes, and his studies included opinion polls and eventually, attitude measurement. He also suggested the collection of information on voting, industrial production, crime rates, and similar events in order to gauge shifts in public opinion.

In Tarde's theory, it was necessary for an elite group of people to govern society in order to maintain creative innovation, cultural patterns, and a minimal social and political stability. He considered crime, mental illness, and social deviance as results of the disintegration of traditional elite government. In her paper published on the Florida State University Criminology Department Web site, Gwen Williams argued that Tarde's theory of imitation is visionary and is very much applicable to modern society. "As we look at indirect contact," Williams wrote, "we think of a world in which much of our contact with people, their actions, and their beliefs are mediated by mass communications. Tarde's writing anticipated such a world of indirect imitation. He believed that the media played a central role in the proliferation of such nineteenth-century 'epidemics of deviance' as the rise in the mutilations of women. . . . In Tarde's own words, 'infectious epidemics spread with air or wind; epidemics of crime follow the telegraph.' If only Tarde had known of the coming of television, surely his law of close contact is relevant to the debate over whether violence and other forms of deviance are learned from models displayed by the mass media."

Although technological developments such as the telegraph, mass-produced books, and the railroad were important to the emergence of modern publics, newspapers were particularly crucial. They helped create public opinions and reinforce group loyalties. Tarde saw this effect as having a positive influence on individual autonomy, in part because people would facilitate more interpersonal behavior in discussing ideas and opinions presented in the newspapers.

With the exception of some criminologists, Tarde exercised little influence in his homeland. He received considerable attention in the United States, however, from social psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists.

Tarde spent the last two years of his life debating his rival, Emile Durkheim, in Paris. Durkheim was the primary representative of sociology within the French university system, and his theory embraced the rationality and impersonal discipline characteristic of the academe of his era. Tarde, on the other hand, maintained a more individualistic approach to the study of social theory. As different as their methods and approaches were, the two men agreed on fundamental conceptions.

Tarde died in Paris on May 13, 1904.



Almanac of Famous People, 6th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Palmisano, Joseph M., editor, World of Sociology, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Acta Sociologica, December, 1996, Jussi Kinnunen, "Gabriel Tarde as a Founding Father of Innovation Diffusion Research," pp. 430-441.

Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, November, 1999, Elihu Katz, "Theorizing Diffusion: Tarde and Sorokin Revisited," pp. 144-155.

Criminology, November, 1987, Piers Beirne, "Between Classicism and Positivism: Crime and Penalty in the Writings of Gabriel Tarde," pp. 785-819.

International Journal of Public Opinion Research, spring, 1992, "On Parenting a Paradigm: Gabriel Tarde's Agenda for Opinion and Communication Research" (speech), pp. 80-86.


Florida State University Criminology Department Web Site,http://www.criminology.fsu.edu/ (June 24, 2002).*