Assignment Question: Assess Durkheim’s contribution to our understanding of suicide.
This essay will explore the sociological contributions provided by functionalist Emile Durkheim, the ideas he posited and the criticisms both internal and external that were prompted by his theory of suicide. Suicide is undeniably one of the most personal actions an individual can take upon oneself and yet it has a deep social impact. Could this be because social relationships play such an important role in its causation? In a sociological study Emile Durkheim produced his theory of suicide, and its relationship with society. Or when written more precisely, his theory was about society, and its relationship with suicide.
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 will produce this result’ (Durkheim, 1951) Durkheim set about the study of suicide in 1897 with an aim to establish sociology as an academic discipline chiefly concerned with the social dynamics of society. Using a scientific and methodical approach Durkheim wanted to illustrate that it was society that had an effect on suicide rates and that it was not merely the product of individual psychology. The netral idea was to prove that even a highly personal act like suicide is influenced by the social world. Previous studies on suicide did acknowledge social factors (Giddens, 2006) but considered factors such as climate, mental disorder and race to explain an individuals likelihood to commit suicide.
Durkheim was the first to insisted on a sociological explanation and argued that suicide was a social fact and was a ‘social phenomenon that bore patterned properties’. (Giddens, 2006) To show that sociology could explain suicide Durkheim employed positivist methods in order to demonstrate that this was possible. He believed that this was possible by adopting a scientific and empirical approach the value of sociology would thus increase and therefore by classed as a science. Durkheim examined the official statistics for suicide recordings in various European countries, and in doing so, uncovered that the rate of suicidevaried between religion, family size, political/national crises, economic conditions and occupational groups. These rates also varied from county to country although the variations were consistent within groups of the same countries. This allowed Durkheim to catogorise types of people who were more likely to commit suicide. Durkheim discovered that there were more suicides among than women, among Protestants compared to Catholics, among the wealthy as opposed to the poor and also among single people over those that were not married. (Giddens, 2006)
It was these findings that Durkheim used to conclude that external factors such as ‘social force’ play a key role in the rate of suicides within society. Durkheim rejected individualistic explanations of suicide and instead equipped with these findings related his idea of social solidarity and to two types of social bond within society. These bonds were ‘social integration’ which refers to an individual’s commitment to norms, values and beliefs. The second was ‘social regulation’ or ‘moral regulation’ refers to societal control over individual desires. Durkheim believed that those who were strongly integrated and whose aspirations were regulated by social norms, were less likely to commit suicide. This idea was promptly supported by Durkheim’s identification of four types of suicide which were Egoistic, Altruistic, Anomic and Fatalistic. Egoism refers to when an individual’s ties to others in the society are weak, they are only weakly integrated into society and therefore, their suicide will have little impact on society. In other words, there are few social ties to keep the individual from taking their own life. Altruism is a state opposite to egoism, in which...
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