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Gabriel Tarde

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Gabriel Tarde
Portrait by Eugène Pirou
Born12 March 1843
Died13 May 1904
Paris, France
Alma materUniversity of Toulouse
University of Paris
Scientific career
FieldsSociologist, criminologist and social psychologist
InstitutionsCollège de France

Gabriel Tarde (French: [taʁd]; in full Jean-Gabriel De Tarde;[1] 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 (much as if it were chemistry), the fundamental forces being imitation and innovation.



Tarde was born and raised in Sarlat in the province of Dordogne.[2] He studied law at Toulouse and Paris. From 1869 to 1894 he worked as a magistrate and investigating judge in the province. In the 1880s he corresponded with representatives of the newly formed criminal anthropology, most notably 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.[3] In 1900 he was appointed professor in modern philosophy at the Collège de France. As such he was the most prominent contemporary critic of Durkheim's sociology.



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. Tarde was very critical of Émile Durkheim's work at the level of both methodology and theory[4] such as during the Tarde-Durkheim debate in 1903. However, Tarde's insights were ridiculed as "metaphysics" and hastily dismissed by Durkheim and his followers who went on to largely establish the "science" of sociology, and it was not until U.S. scholars, such as the Chicago school, took up his theories that they became famous.[5]



Tarde took an interest in criminology and the psychological basis of criminal behavior while working as a magistrate in public service. He was critical of the concept of the atavistic criminal as developed by Cesare Lombroso. Tarde's criminological studies served as the underpinning of his later sociology.[1]

Tarde also emphasized the tendency of the criminal to return to the scene of the crime and to repeat it, which he saw as part of a wider process of repetition compulsion.[6]



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.[7]

Tarde highlighted the importance of the creative exemplar in society, arguing that "genius is the capacity to engender one's own progeny".[8]

Science fiction


Tarde also wrote a science-fiction novel entitled Underground Man (Fragment d'histoire future, 1896). The plot is a post-apocalyptic story of an Earth destroyed by a new Ice Age. Humanity must rebuild a new civilization underground. The choice is made to lay the foundation of their utopia on music and art.



For example, in Difference and Repetition, Deleuze's milestone book which affected his transition to a more socially-aware brand of philosophy and his writing partnership with Guattari, Deleuze in fact re-centered his philosophical orientation around Tarde's thesis that repetition serves difference rather than vice versa.[12] Also on the heels of the re-release of Tarde's works has come an important development in which 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.[2]

A book, The Social after Gabriel Tarde: Debates and Assessments, edited by Matei Candea, was published by Routledge in 2010. It provides a set of mature critiques of the recent renaissance of Tarde as well as suggesting models for scholars to use Tarde's thought in their scholarship. This book includes contributions that philosophically reflect the Latourian (including a contribution from Latour himself) as well as Deleuzian approaches to Tarde, and also highlight a number of new ways Tarde is being adapted in terms of methods in contemporary sociology, particularly in the area of ethnography, and the study of online communities. Additionally, in 2010, 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.

Tarde's work has further influenced affect philosophy. For example, in 2012 Tony D Sampson's book Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks used a Tarde inspired imitation thesis to describe the tendency for emotions, feelings and affects to spread "accidentally" on digital networks.[13]


  • La criminalité comparée (1886)
  • La philosophie pénale (1890) - Translated by Rapelje Howell and published as Penal Philosophy in 1968
  • Les lois de l'imitation (1890) — (1903). The Laws of Imitation. Translated by Elsie Clews Parsons (2nd ed.). New York: Henry Holt & Company. Retrieved 3 November 2023 – via Internet Archive.
  • Les transformations du droit. Étude sociologique (1891)
  • Monadologie et sociologie (1893)
  • La logique sociale (1895)
  • Fragment d'histoire future (1896) – Translated by Cloudesley Brereton and published as Underground Man in 1905
  • L’opposition universelle. Essai d'une théorie des contraires (1897)
  • Écrits de psychologie sociale (1898)
  • Les lois sociales. Esquisse d'une sociologie (1898) – Translated to English by Howard C Warren and published in 1899 as Social Laws - an Outline of Sociology
  • L'opinion et la foule (1901)
  • La psychologie économique (1902–3)

See also



  1. ^ "Gabriel Tarde". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. ^ Tosti, Gustavo (1897). "The Sociological Theories of Gabriel Tarde". Political Science Quarterly. 12 (3): 490–511. doi:10.2307/2139668. JSTOR 2139668.
  3. ^ Renneville, Marc (1 August 2018). "Gabriel Tarde, the Swallow of French Criminology". In Leroux, Robert (ed.). The Anthem Companion to Gabriel Tarde. Anthem Press – via HAL Archives Ouvertes.
  4. ^ Thomassen, p. 231-249
  5. ^ Armand Mattelart, Invention of Communication, University of Minnesota Press, 1996, p. 257.
  6. ^ Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) p. 514
  7. ^ Ellenberger, p. 528
  8. ^ Quoted in Ellenberger, p. 891
  9. ^ a b Szakolczai, Arpad; Thomassen, Bjorn. "Gabriel Tarde as Political Anthropologist" (PDF). International Political Anthropology. 4 (1): 43–62.
  10. ^ Sigmund Freud, Civilization, Religion and Society (PFL 12) p. 116.
  11. ^ David Toews, "The Renaissance of philosophie Tardienne", in Pli: the Warwick Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 8, 1999.
  12. ^ David Toews (2003) "The New Tarde: Sociology after the End of the Social" Theory Culture & Society Vol. 20 No. 5., 81-98.
  13. ^ Sampson, Tony D. (2012). Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-7005-5.


  • Thomassen, Bjørn (1 August 2012). "Émile Durkheim between Gabriel Tarde and Arnold van Gennep: founding moments of sociology and anthropology". Social Anthropology. 20 (3): 231–249. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8676.2012.00204.x..
  • ^ Bruno Latour (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • ^ See also: Pietro Semeraro, Il sistema penale di Gabriel Tarde, Padova 1984.

Further reading

  • Pietro Semeraro, Il sistema penale di Gabriel Tarde, Cedam, Padova 1984.
  • Realino Marra, Tra pena infamante e utilità del reato. Tarde contro Durkheim, ovvero l'espiazione della colpa a fondamento del diritto criminale, in «Dei Delitti e delle Pene», III-1, 1985, pp. 49–92.
  • Massimo Borlandi, Tarde et les criminologues italiens de son temps, in Gabriel Tarde et la criminologie au tournant du siècle, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, Villeneuve d'Ascq, 2000.
  • Matei Candea, The social after Gabriel Tarde : debates and assessments, Routledge, New York, 2010.
  • J. S. McClelland, The Crowd and the Mob (2010).
  • Robert Leroux, Gabriel Tarde, vie, oeuvres, concepts, Paris, Ellipses, 2011.
  • Jaap van Ginneken, 'The era of the public – Tarde, social psychology, and interaction', Ch. 5 in JvG, Crowds, psychology and politics 1871-1899, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Tony D Sampson, Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8166-7005-5
  • Tony D Sampson: The Assemblage Brain: Sense-Making in Neuroculture, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5179-0117-2