Durkheimian Theories Applied to Buffalo Creek

Topics: Émile Durkheim, Sociology, Anomie Pages: 5 (1974 words) Published: May 31, 2002
This essay will describe Emile Durkheim’s concepts of social integration and social/moral regulation and will explain how Durkheim connects them to suicide. It will then utilize those concepts to analyze the social effects of the Buffalo Creek flood, as described in the book “Everything In Its Path”, by Kai T. Erikson, showing other consequences besides higher suicide rates. Durkheim’s concept of social integration refers to social groups with well-defined values, traditions, norms, and goals. These groups will differ in the degree to which individuals are part of the collective body, also to the extent to which the group is emphasized over the individual, and lastly the level to which the group is unified versus fragmented. Durkheim believed that two types of suicide, Egoistic and Altruistic, could stem from social integration. Egoistic suicide resulted from too little social integration. Those people who were not sufficiently bound to a social group would be left with little or no social support in times of crisis. This caused them to commit suicide more often. An example Durkheim discovered was that of unmarried people, especially males, who, with less to connect them to stable social groups, committed suicide at higher rates than married people. Altruistic suicide is a result of too much integration. It occurs at the opposite end of the social integration scale as egoistic suicide. Self sacrifice appears to be the driving force, where people are so involved with a social group that they lose sight of themselves and become more willing to take one for the team, even if this causes them to die. The most common cases of altruistic suicide occur to soldiers during times of war. Religious cults have also been a major source of altruistic suicide. In Durkheim’s concept of social/moral regulation, society imposes limits on humans to regulate their passions, desires, expectations, ambitions and roles. When these limits or social regulations break down, the controlling authority the society once had no longer functions and people are left on their own to make their own plans. In societies that have low levels of social regulations, a state of Anomie, or normlessness, can occur and affect the whole society or just some of its groups. Anomic suicide was more prevalent in this type of society. Anomic suicide basically involves an imbalance of means and needs, where the means were unable to fulfill the needs. It is also typified by a condition in which an individual’s desire is no longer in harmony with the norm and where, as a result, people are left without any moral guidance in the pursuit of their goals. Finally, we have Fatalistic suicide, which occurs in societies with high levels of social regulation. This is only briefly discussed in Durkheim’s work, as he saw Fatalistic suicide, “as a rare phenomena in the real world.” (I1) An example might be someone with an overregulated and difficult life, like a slave. In order to understand how Durkheim’s concepts apply to the Buffalo Creek disaster, you must first know some things about Buffalo Creek, West Virginia. Prior to the disaster in 1972, Buffalo Creek was a typical coal mining community, home to some five thousand people. It had changed over the years, population rose and fell with the periodic coal booms, the population had actually risen to two or three times its present size in 1972. Most of the people who came and left were mainly temporary, just following the work. However, some who left were lifelong residents and “an even more substantial number of young persons who had grown up in the area.” (23) They left for the same reasons that all young people leave this type of community; they did not want to be cast in the roles of previous generations. So, before the flood on February 26, 1972, the resident’s of Buffalo Creek had very high levels of social integration and social regulation. It was a very “Gemeinschaft” type of community with great...
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