Suicide may be seen as the ultimate individual act, and yet it has been written about by sociologists perhaps more than any other subject. This stemmed from a deliberate choice by Durkheim who believed that if sociology (in effect the study of people in groups) could say something about suicide, then it would have in effect proved its wider relevance.
Qn: What factors might make a person more likely to commit suicide? What social characteristics might the typical suicide have?
Durkheim used what is called the comparative method. He looked at the suicide rate in different countries and then correlated the rate against other social factors such as family size, gender, religion etc. He then established what he thought were the social factors that seemingly made people most predisposed to suicide. He found that some factors were particularly important. For example it seemed that countries that were predominantly Catholic had lower suicide rates than protestant countries.
Qn: Up until recently the suicide rate in Ireland was zero. Does this provide evidence to support Durkheims view?
Durkheim developed the concept of anomie later in Suicide, published in 1897. In it, he explores the differing suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics, explaining that stronger social control among Catholics results in lower suicide rates. According to Durkheim, people have a certain level of attachment to their groups, which he calls social integration. Abnormally high or low levels of social integration may result in increased suicide rates; low levels have this effect because low social integration results in disorganized society, causing people to turn to suicide as a last resort, while high levels cause people to kill themselves to avoid becoming burdens on society.
He classified suicides into the following categories.
• Egoistic - inadequate integration
• Altruistic - excessive integration
• Anomic - inadequate regulation
• Fatalistic -...
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