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Durkheim and Suicide

Page history last edited by jen 14 years, 12 months ago

Emile Durkheim  began his study of suicide as a way to legitimate the field of sociology. Durkheim considers suicide to be the most subjective behavior. Therefore, he thought, if the sociological expression can explain suicide it can explain anything. This was the first effort of positivist sociology.


As a sociologist Durkheim studied the rate of sucide occurances, as opposed to the personal objectives of those who attempt to commit or are successful in committing suicide. Through his findings on the rates of suicide Durkheim was able to categorize suicide into three types: altruistic suicide, egoistic suicide, and anomic suicide.


Egoistic suicide occurs when individuals are no longer integrated within a sector of society. Thus, as the cult of the individual grows, egoistic suicide rates increase. Durkheim points to examples such as an increase in suicides of Protestants over Catholics: Catholicism is centered on rituals and the authority of religious leaders, whereas Protestantism leaves its followers much more personally accountable and individualistic. Likewise, Durkheim notes that married people are less likely to commit suicide than single people. However, suicide rates decrease during wartime, when countries are typically unified around a cause. These trends indicate that a loss of interpersonal relationships and unified convictions leads the individual to feel disconnected from what might have added meaning to life.


Altruistic suicide occurs when one is overly bonded to society and is unable to distinguish the self from society because of a strong conscience collective. Occurances of this type of suicide increase when the division of labor is low and decrease when the cult of the individual is raised. A clear example of this type of suicide can be see in the case of suicide bombers. They are unable to distinguish the importance of self from the importance of their society, they are willing to do anything, even die for their society. Hence the name altruistic suicide. However, this is not a truly altruistic act because suicide bombers are often promised rewards in the after-life by their societies' leaders, like, virgins in heaven.


Anomic suicide is perhaps the most complex type of suicide Durkheim distinguishes, because it is so closely related to egoistic suicide. Essentially, as it's name suggests, anomic suicide results from moral deregulation - when societal rules are no longer clear - and the suffering that ensues. Anomic suicides are influenced by economic conditions. Changes in the economy (both upswings and downswings) always correspond to an increase in suicide among those who have experienced a change in fortune. This indicates that these suicides are caused by the difficulty of adapting to new economic situations. Durkheim clarifies anomic and egoistic suicide by saying, "In egoistic suicide it is deficient in truly collective activity, thus depriving the latter of object and meaning. In anomic suicide, society's influence is lacking in the basically individual passions, thus leaving them without a check-rein" (Lemert, 2004:83). However, some theorists contend that anomic suicide is simply a type of egoistic suicide. Durkheim's main argument against this is that egoistic suicide is an unavoidable consequence of the growth of the cult of the individual. Anomic suicide is not inevitable and is considered pathological.





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