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Durkheim & Deviance

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Durkheim & Deviance
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



References: Access Sociology, 2009. Introduction to suicide. Dunman, L., 2003. The Emile Durkheim Archive. [Online]. Available at http://durkheim.itgo.com/suicide.html [accessed 2009] Durkheim, E., 1951.Suicide. A Study in Sociology. New York: The Free Press. p. 110. Giddens, A., 2006. Sociology Fifth Edition. London: Polity. Gingrich, P., 1999. Social facts and Suicide. [Online]. Available at: http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/o26f99.htm [accessed 2009] Jary, D.J.&.J., 2000. Sociology (Third Edition). Glasgow: Collins. Smith, R.D., 1998. Durkheim. [Online]. Available at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/r.d.smith/Durkheim.html [accessed 2009]

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