Georges Ambroise Davy, French sociologist, was born in Bernay (Eure) in 1883. He entered the École Normale Superiéeure in 1905 and became agrégé de philosophie in 1908 and docteur ès lettres in 1922. After teaching at colléges in Nice and Lyons, Davy joined the University of Dijon in a teaching capacity in 1919 and in 1931 entered university administration as rector of the university division of Rennes. In 1938 he became general inspector of public instruction in France. He returned to teaching in 1944, occupying the chair of sociology at the Sorbonne until 1955.
Davy may be considered a member of the Durkheim school. His early book reviews in L’année sociologique (from 1910 on), particularly the reviews of books in the fields of the sociology of morals and of law, discussed the judicial theories of the time in the light of Durkheim’s ideas. In 1922 he published Le droit, l’idéalisme et I’expérience (1922a), a collection of essays on Raymond Saleilles, Maurice Hauriou, Léon Duguit, Francois Geny, and Emmanuel Lévy, asserting that the postulate of the reality of a collective mind permits the sociological explanation of the idea-content of the law.
In the debate between sociologists and psychologists that took place in France after Durkheim’s death, Davy’s position was a dogmatically “sociological” one: His article “La sociologie” (1924) presented Durkheim’s approach without even the occasional restrictions imposed by Durkheim himself. Yet Davy later modified his position. In an inaugural address at the First World Congress of the International Sociological Association, he stressed that psychology must also play a part in the explanation of social facts, and he asserted that the way the conscious individual determines his behavior must be related to the way social conditions determine his behavior (1950).
Davy’s most significant work, La foi jurée (1922b), was an attempt to reconstruct the formation of contractual law. Davy argued that there is a continual change from statute to contract and that even before a contractual relationship comes into existence, its function is performed by the adaptation of relationships established by statute. Specifically contractual relationships appear only when certain social transformations have taken place: a transformation of totemism that turns names and blazons into objects of exchange introduces a contractual element into social status; a change in descent patterns conduces to male heredity and supremacy and the emergence of a kind of male individualism characteristic of feudalism. Davy’s analysis, based largely on the accounts of the potlatch that became known in France through the work of Marcel Mauss, interprets Kwakiutl society as being in a state of transition and revealing the transformations requisite to the development of contractual law.
1919–1920 Émile Durkheim Revue de métaphysique et de morale 26:181–198; 27:71–112.
1922a Le droit, I’idéalisme et I’expérience. Paris: Alcan.
1922b La foi jurée: Étude sociologique du problème du contrat, la formation du lien contractuel. Paris: Alcan.
(1923) 1926 Moret, Alexandre; and Davy, GeorgesFrom Tribe to Empire: Social Organization Among Primitives and in the Ancient East. London: Routledge; New York: Knopf. → First published in French.
1924 La sociologie. Volume 2, pages 765–810 in Georges Dumas (editor), Traité de psychologie. Paris: Alcan.
(1931) 1950 Sociologues d’hier et d’aujourd’hui. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. → A collection of essays on Espinas, Durkheim, McDougall, and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, with an introduction on French sociology from 1918 to 1925.
1939 Les sentiments sociaux et les sentiments moraux. Volume 6, pages 153–240 in Georges Dumas (editor), Nouveau traité de psychologie. Paris: Alcan.
1950 La recherche sociologique et les relations internationales. Cahiers internationaux de sociologie 9:3–16.
1952 Le social et 1’humain dans la sociologie durkheimienne. Revue philosophique 142:321–350.
1956 Droit et changement social. Volume 1, pages 33–46 in World Congress of Sociology, Third, Amsterdam, 1956, Transactions. London: International Sociological Association.