Durkheims Study On Suicide Sociology Essay Example
Durkheims Study On Suicide Sociology Essay Example

Durkheims Study On Suicide Sociology Essay Example

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  • Pages: 7 (1702 words)
  • Published: August 3, 2017
  • Type: Autobiography
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Durkheim, a French sociologist, was born in 1958 and died in November of 1917.

He introduced various academic subjects and is recognized as the leading figure in contemporary social science. He continued to dominate the field of social sciences until his death. Durkheim also published several sociology papers on topics related to religion. His studies, such as the suicide study, have gained significant attention and sparked widespread discussions.

Durkheim coined the term "societal facts" to describe phenomena that are self-existent and not influenced by individual actions. He believed that these facts possess a unique and objective nature that surpasses the actions of individuals in shaping society. Unlike facts in the natural sciences, "social" facts refer to specific phenomena that exist independently from individual manifestations. These social facts have the power to control personal behavior due to their coercive nature.


In accordance with Durkheim's beliefs, these phenomena should not be attributed solely to psychological or biological evidence. Thus, even though self-destruction may be seen as a highly individualistic phenomenon, it should still be classified as a socially objective fact. Durkheim further argued that the individuals who make up society do not directly cause suicide. He based his argument on the notion that suicide, being a social fact, exists independently in society regardless of the desires of its members. Therefore, the departure of an individual from society would have no effect on the existence of suicide, as it would still persist within the society left behind. Sociological research involves the investigation of various features of social facts, which can only be uncovered through experimental or quantitative methods.

Durkheim conducted a self-destruction survey, relying on statistics, specifically mentioned in Bellah's article

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from 1973. He is acknowledged as one of the early founders of structural functionalism. Rather than accepting reductionist explanations, Durkheim prioritized cultural values, societal structures, and external societal facts that he believed were separate from individuals. His survey classified suicide into four categories and provided evidence for his theory that differences in suicide rates are the result of changes in intangible societal facts.

Durkheim is well-known for his theories on macro-level positions in society and their impact on individual behavior. He made significant contributions to the development of structural functionalism within sociology. One of his notable studies compared suicide rates among different religious groups, particularly Catholics and Protestants. Durkheim found that the suicide rates were lower among Catholics compared to Protestants. He theorized that the strong social control mechanisms provided by the Catholic faith contributed to these lower rates. In contrast, he attributed the higher suicide frequencies among Protestants to the greater freedom allowed within the religion.

Durkheim claimed that Catholic society had greater social integration than Protestant society. Nevertheless, two primary objections were raised against this explanation. First, Durkheim relied on the research of Wagner, A., and Morselli, H., who had extrapolated their individual data.

Secondly, researchers found that the differences in suicide rates between Protestants and Catholics were particularly prominent in German-speaking Europe, suggesting that there may have been other factors influencing these observations. Despite its limitations, Durkheim's study on suicide has greatly influenced control theory advocates (Gianfranco, 2000). Durkheim identified four categories of suicide, including Egoistic suicide, Fatalistic suicide, Altruistic suicide, and Anomic suicide. Egoistic suicides are those that occur as a result of weakened social bonds that naturally connect individuals within a community. In

other words, these suicides are caused by a breakdown or decrease in social integration. Durkheim associated this type of suicide with "excessive individualization," indicating that most victims initially become more detached from other members of their community.

Those who lack strong commitment to specific societal groups often have minimal support from society, which increases the likelihood of them engaging in self-destructive behavior. For example, Durkheim discovered that unmarried individuals, particularly males, were more prone to suicide compared to their married counterparts due to their weaker connections with established societal norms. The same patterns could be observed among widows. Out of 1 million widows aged 65 years, 628 of them resorted to suicide, while among 1 million men aged 65 years, only 461 committed suicide. The sample composition was appropriate as the majority of individuals in that age group were married (almost 90%).

Durkheim's analysis, however, revealed that although widows had a higher likelihood of committing suicide compared to married individuals, their suicide rate was lower than that of single individuals. Durkheim attributed these figures to the presence of a family unit, as he believed that a simpler explanation would be questionable. This is because during this period, there were significant changes in marriage numbers, resulting in a tripling of suicide rates. Importantly, Durkheim noted that it was not just marriage itself, but rather marriages with children that had lower suicide rates compared to childless households. Thus, the primary factor to consider was the presence of a family as a basic social unit, rather than solely focusing on marriage.

Durkheim also examined the effects of wars and crises on suicide rates. He found that during times of social crises,

such as revolutions and wars, suicide rates decreased significantly. Additionally, he discovered that societies with stronger religious beliefs had lower suicide rates, and the quality of family relationships influenced the magnitude of suicide rates. Furthermore, the level of social integration in a society had a significant impact on suicide rates (Thompson, 2002).

On the other hand, Durkheim classified Altruistic self-destructions as those which occur in highly integrated societies in which the whole society's needs are prioritized over individual needs. Altruistic self-destructions, therefore, occur on a scale of integration that is opposite to that of egocentric self-suicide. Durkheim stated that the suicide rate in selfless societies was generally low as personal interests were not considered important. Durkheim viewed the military from this perspective and was surprised to discover that suicide rates were high within the military.

The military, similar faiths, and cohesive societies should display strong solidarity and physical fitness. It is incorrect to attribute suicide causes to hatred of military service or difficulty adapting to military routines. Suicidal rates are directly correlated with the length of military service. Senior officers have higher suicide rates compared to juniors. Elite units experience higher suicide rates than regular units. Units with weaker military spirit have lower suicide rates.

Durkheim argued that senior military officers had to reject personal individualism in order to meet the demands of the service, as this increased their risk of committing suicide (Lukes, 1985). He classified Anomic suicides as those that occur due to moral deregulation and the absence of legitimate goals defined by societal norms. This leads to a breakdown in social order and individual moral conscience. It also reflects a failure of economic development and

the division of labor to result in Durkheim's concept of organic solidarity. In this situation, people do not recognize their proper roles in society. Durkheim described this state of moral disorder as one where individuals have limitless desires, which ultimately leads to personal disappointment.

Last, according to Durkheim, fatalistic self-destructions usually happen in oppressive societies where people choose death rather than continuing to live in such societies. This is generally one of the least common reasons for an individual to commit suicide. However, fatalistic self-destructions are commonly seen in prisons, as individuals prefer death over enduring the abusive and overly regulated prison life that hinders them from fulfilling their desires. Durkheim's classifications of suicide types were based on the dual societal forces of moral order and social integration.

Durkheim's research demonstrated the impact of societal issues, such as war, on various aspects of society. These impacts can include an increase in altruistic behavior or disruptions in the economy, as well as the occurrence of anomie during times of disaster. Through his analysis of suicide rates, Durkheim revealed how societal factors, distinct from biological and psychological factors, can influence individuals' actions. Suicide rates are considered societal facts that reflect larger social trends and their effects on individuals and society as a whole. While studying psychology is important for understanding individual motivations and the process that leads certain individuals to commit suicide, it is equally important to analyze these circumstances within the context of broader societal influences (Pickering, 1975).

Durkheim's research revealed that suicide rates were higher among males than females, unmarried individuals compared to married individuals, and infertile couples in relation to fertile couples. When examining religion as a

factor, Protestants exhibited higher suicide rates than Catholics and Jews. Soldiers had a greater likelihood of committing suicide when compared to civilians. Interestingly, peaceful times saw higher suicide rates than wartime periods. Nordic countries also experienced elevated levels of suicides. Additionally, individuals with higher levels of education faced an increased risk of suicide. However, Durkheim's study on suicide has encountered criticism due to its reliance on aggregate statistics and logical errors in drawing conclusions about individual behavior based on group data – which have been considered misleading.

The reason for this is that the Simpson's paradox has demonstrated the inaccurate analysis of micro events in macro properties. However, there are conflicting opinions on whether Durkheim's work should be labeled as ecological fallacy. Scholars like Van Poppel and Day contend that the differences in suicide rates between different religious groups (such as Catholics and Protestants) can be fully explained by how these groups classify deaths. For instance, while Protestants classified "sudden deaths" and "deaths resulting from unspecified causes" as suicides, Catholics did not.

Durkheim's mistake would be considered empirical rather than logical. Other researchers, including Gibbs, Inkeles, and Johnson, claim that Durkheim's main goal was to socially analyze suicide from a holistic perspective, in order to explain fluctuations in suicide rates among social environments rather than specific individuals' suicides. Additionally, recent researchers like Berk have also questioned Durkheim's theory of micro-macro linkages. Berk specifically raises the point that Durkheim mentioned a "collective current" that represents the shared disposition flowing through the channels of social organization. However, the strength of this current determines the volume of suicides, thus introducing psychological variables such as depression that could be seen as

independent or non-social causes of suicide.

This disregards Durkheim's concept that these variables are mostly influenced by societal forces and the belief that self-destruction cannot affect individuals without these forces present (Martin & Lee, 1994).

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