"Collective tendencies have an existence of their own; they are forces as real as cosmic forces, though of another sort; they, likewise, affect the individual from without..." Suicide, Durkheim's third major work, is of great importance because it is his first serious effort to establish an empericism in sociology, an empiricism that would provide a sociological explanation for a phenomenon traditionally regarded as exclusively psychological and individualistic.
Durkheim proposed this definition of suicide: "the term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows wil produce this result" (1982, p. 110 [excerpt from Suicide]). Durkheim used this definition to separate true suicides from accidental deaths. He then collected several European nations' suicide rate statistics, which proved to be relatively constant among those nations and among smaller demographics within those nations. Thus, a collective tendency towards suicide was discovered.
Of equal importance to his methodology, Durkheim drew theoretical conclusions on the social causes of suicide. He proposed four types of suicide, based on the degrees of imbalance of two social forces: social integration and moral regulation.
Egoisitic suicide resulted from too little social integration. Those individuals who were not sufficiently bound to social groups (and therefore well-defined values, traditions, norms, and goals) were left with little social support or guidance, and therefore tended to commit suicide on an increased basis. An example Durkheim discovered was that of unmarried people, particularly males, who, with less to bind and connect them to stable social norms and goals, committed suicide at higher rates than unmarried people.
The second type, Altruistic suicide, was a result of too much integration. It occurred at the opposite end of the integration scale as...