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Tourville, Henri de



Henri de Tourville (1842-1903), French sociologist, was the son of an eminent lawyer who belonged to the old aristocracy. De Tourville spent three years at the Paris faculty of law and one year at the Ecole des Chartes studying history before he decided, in 1865, to enter the seminary at Issy-les-Moulineaux. In 1873 he became vicar at St. Augustine’s church in Paris and continued in his ecclesiastical career for eight years. The year 1873 also marked de Tourville’s first encounter with Le Play, and he soon joined the circle of disciples that frequented Le Play’s home. Beginning in 1876, de Tourville played a leading role in organizing a series of semipublic lectures designed to propagate Le Play’s doctrines. These activities were terminated in 1881, when recurring illness forced de Tourville to abandon Paris for his family estate, where he spent most of the remaining years of his life.

Le Play’s monographs on individual families had frequently been criticized because they failed to develop any systematic linkage between the individual family and the rest of society. In an attempt to fill in what Le Play had left out, de Tourville developed what he called the Nomenclature of Social Facts. A general scheme for societal analysis, the Nomenclature is part of a long and continuing tradition. Its primary function is to provide a classification of the diverse “elements” and clusters of elements in a given society. The Nomenclature includes 25 major elements and over one hundred subelements; families may be classified according to their geographic location, occupation, property relationships, wages, education, and religion; they are placed in broader context through analysis of the neighborhood, the parish, the city, the province, the state, and the relations of the state with foreign societies. De Tourville thus avoided Le Play’s more restricted focus on individual income and expense ledgers in the study of family life. The Nomenclature permits comparison of its elements (or variables) within subsectors of a single society and cross-national comparison of patterns of interrelationships. These comparisons will generate hypotheses that can be tested and that eventually produce two types of laws: laws of causality (if x, then y) and laws of coexistence (if x varies, then y varies).

Comparison of different types of family relationships in France, England, and the United States led de Tourville to a further conceptual innovation, again based on a revision of Le Play’s ideas. Le Play believed that the instability (by which he often meant political instability) of most western European countries is related to an unstable family organization. In many traditional, more stable societies, family organization is essentially patriarchal: several sons, with their nuclear families, hold property in common and live under the father’s authority. With the death of the father, property and authority are transferred in toto to one of the sons. Le Play held that such a patriarchal arrangement results in greater stability than does a pattern of isolated nuclear families, each of which inherits an equal share of the paternal estate.

De Tourville, however, largely influenced by Paul de Rousiers’s study of American society, American Life, felt that the pattern of child rearing and the general types of values inculcated in the younger generation are more important than the specific mode of transferring property. He consequently developed a classification of four types of families, based on childhood socialization patterns and types of values: (1) The patriarchal family emphasizes the importance of the family community over the individual; self-denial is taught, individuality is suppressed, and children are not expected to form new family communities on their own. Societies in which patriarchal families dominate are generally conservative and stagnant. (2) The quasi-patriarchal family develops a certain minimum of initiative in members of the younger generation, but on the whole maintains the patriarchal family organization; individual members may leave for a certain period of time, but since they generally lack the initiative to form their own family community, they often return. These first two types were dominant in eastern and central Europe. (3) The particularist family instills in its children a strong sense of individuality and personal initiative; children are expected to manage their own affairs at a relatively young age and to form their own separate nuclear families. The particularist family was dominant in most Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon countries. (4) The unstable family instills neither the respect for authority and tradition found in the patriarchal family nor the sense of individual initiative of the particularist family. To fill the void, the state must provide remunerative employment and moral direction; isolated individuals and unrelated nuclear families depend on a centralized governmental bureaucracy for support. Such families were found in France and Germany. This general typology continues to be used, although sometimes with modifications, by de Tourville’s followers up to the present time.

De Tourville became the leading theoretician and organizer of a dissenting cluster of Le Play’s disciples who in 1885 broke with the more traditional group associated with the Reforme sociale, the official Le Playist journal. The dissenters not only founded a journal of their own, the Science sociale, but also organized field trips and courses of instruction in theory and method. De Tourville himself published relatively little, but from 1886 until his death in 1903 he carried on an active correspondence with his numerous disciples, whose work he influenced considerably. These followers—in contrast with most Durkheimian philosophy graduates of the Ecole Normale Superieure, who were of middle-class origin—were generally recruited from relatively conservative upper-class backgrounds and had studied law or science and engineering at one of the Grandes Ecoles. Aside from a devoted core— Edmond Demolins, Robert Pinot, and de Rousiers, among others—most of the Science sociale group did not become full-time scholars but followed careers in business, law, or diplomacy.

After World War i the Durkheimians, long in control of the Sorbonne, came to dominate the entire national university system, while the ranks of the Science sociale group were decimated and it declined rapidly. Paul Bureau and Paul Descamps did continue important work in the Science sociale tradition after World War i, but, for the most part, French social science has largely neglected the contributions of de Tourville and his colleagues. Outside France, however, de Tourville’s work has influenced a number of British social scientists (Victor Branford, Patrick Geddes, A. J. Herbert-son), Canadians (Leon Gerin), and Americans (P. A. Sorokin, C. C. Zimmerman).

Terry N. Clark

[For the historical context of de Tourville’s work, see the biography ofle play.]


None of de Tourville’s writings appeared in book form during his lifetime. His Nomenclature was developed in a series of articles in 1886. Another series of articles on the historical development of the particularist family was published posthumously in book form in 1905.

1886 La science sociale, est-elle une science? Science sociale 1:9-21, 97-109, 289-304; 2:493-546.

(1897-1903) 1907 The Growth of Modern Nations: A History of the Particularist Form of Society. London: Arnold. -> First published between 1897 and 1903 as a series of articles in Science sociale. First appeared in book form in 1905.

Henri de Tourville, d’apres ses lettres. With an introduction and notes by Marie Andre Dieux. Paris: Bloud & Gay,1928.

Lumiere et vie. With a preface by Felix Klein. Paris: Bloud Gay, 1924.

Ordre et liberte. With an introduction by Marie Andre Dieux. Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1926.

Pie’te conftante. With a preface by Felix Klein. Paris: BloudGay, 1949.

Precis de philosophie fondamentale d’apres la methode d’observation. With an introduction by Pierre Mesnard. Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1928.


Bouvier, Claude 1907 Un pretre continuateur de Le Play: Henri de Tourville 1842-1903. Paris: Bloud.

Bureau, Paul 1903 L’oeuvre d’Henri de Tourville. Science sociale 35:465-496.

Champault, Philippe 1913 La science sociale d’apres Le Play et de Tourville. Science sociale New Series Whole issue 109.

Clark, Terry N. 1967 Empirical Social Research in France: 1850-1914. Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia Univ.

Demolins, Edmond 1903 Henri de Tourville. Science sociale 35:186-188.

Demolins, Edmond; pinot, robert; and rousiers, paul de 1904 La methode sociale: Ses precedes et ses applications. Science sociale New Series Whole issue 1.

Descamps, Paul 1933 La sociologie experimental. Paris: Riviere.

Desmonts, Abbe 1903 Henri de Tourville. Science social 35:269-272.

Dieux, Marie Andre 1931 L’abbe de Tourville, 1842-1903. Paris: Flammarion.

Lazarsfeld, Paul F. 1961 Notes on the History of Quantification in Sociology: Trends, Sources and Problems. Isis 52, part 2:277-333. -” Reprinted in the same year on pages 147-203 in Harry Woolf (editor), Quantification: A History of the Meaning of Measurement in the Natural and Social Sciences. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill.

[Perier, P.] 1947 Deux humanitis; Orient-Occident: Blocs mondiaux, by Jean Philippe Robert [pseud.]. Paris: Firmin Didot.

Recueil d’études sociales à la memoire de Frédéric Le Play. 1956 Paris: Picard.

Rousiers, Paul de 1892 American Life. London: Cas-sell. -> Published in French in the same year.

Tourville, Henri de

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