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David Emile Durkheim

Exploration of Durkheim's "Suicide"

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Durkheim's Suicide ....No he didn't kill himself, but he wrote about other people killing themselves.

Durkheim’s Suicide

 

Durkheim’s Suicide was the first methodological study of a social fact in the context of society. 

 

What does that mean?  Well, it means that Durkhiem wanted to look at suicide, a known occurrence in society, and do it scientifically.  He wanted to break the social causes of suicide, back them up with research, and present them to the greater world via this book.

 

He splits this book into three parts which are outlined below; the most important of which for our concerns is Book Two.  This book explains his theories of the social causes of suicide and the different types he defined. 

 

Durkheim’s main argument was that suicide is not an individual act, as was previously thought by leading scientists of his time.  Accordingly, his theory was that suicide was a social fact that was tied to social structures.  He defined suicide as a social fact because it was something that happened driven by social causes, however hidden they were. 

 

In order to test his theory he studied suicide rates across time and place (throughout Europe, spanning many years).  Once he had completed his preliminary research and analyses, he came to the conclusion that, despite major differences in suicide rates between individual societies, rates within a society remained stable over time.

 

 

Distribution of the Different Kinds of Death Among 1,000 Suicides (Both Sexes Combined)

Countries

Years

Strangulation and Hanging

Drowning

Fire-arms

Leaping from a High Spot

Poison

Asphyxiation

France

1872

426

269

103

28

20

69

France

1873

430

298

106

30

21

67

France

1874

440

269

122

28

23

72

France

1875

446

294

107

31

19

63

Prussia

1872

610

197

102

6.9

25

3

Prussia

1873

597

217

95

8.4

25

4.6

Prussia

1874

610

162

126

9.1

28

6.5

Prussia

1875

615

170

105

9.5

35

7.7

England

1872

374

221

38

30

91

England

1873

366

218

44

20

97

England

1874

374

176

58

20

94

England

1875

362

208

45

97

Italy

1872

174

305

236

106

60

13.7

Italy

1873

173

273

251

104

62

31.4

Italy

1874

125

246

285

113

69

29

Italy

1875

176

299

238

111

55

22

 

 

By looking at thsi table from page 291 of "Suicide" we can see that over the years, each type of suicide has a relatively stable rate in each place.  The numbers may vary across the places, but for each locale, there is consistency.

 

Durkheim then proceeded to theorize three different types of suicide that are found in all societies.  These include:

 

1)      “Egoistic suicide, which results from lack of integration of the individual into society.” (Page 14)

 

~This means that a person is not included in many things that happen in society, they feel unattached, helpless and useless.  Due to these feelings of inadequacy, the person takes his of her own life.

 

2)      Altruistic suicide “. . . it results from the individual’s taking his own life because of higher commandments.” (Page 15)

~This means that the individual feels that something larger than himself is causing him to take his own life, such as religious Martyrs or suicide bombers.

 

3)      Anomic suicide “. . . which results from lack of regulation of the individual by society.” (Page 15)

 

~This means that the society is going through some sort of change, where the rules of the society are not as clear as they were.  The individual feels confused and does not know how to handle the major changes occuring around him/herself, and thus commits suicide.

 

The relevance of Durkheim’s Suicide Theory on sociology is seen very well through a series of quotes from the editor/translator:

 

“his work on suicide remains the prototype of systematic, rigorous and unrelenting attack on the subject with the data, techniques, and accumulated knowledge available at any given period.”  (Page 9, Editor's Preface of  "Suicide")

 

“Le Suicide is among the first modern examples of consistent and organized use of statistical method in social investigation.” (Page 9, Editor's Preface of  "Suicide")

 

“. . . Durkheim is seeking to establish that what looks like a highly individual and personal phenomenon is explicable through the social structure and its ramifying functions.” (Page 10, Editor's Preface of  "Suicide")

 

 

 

 

All quotes and tables on this page taken from:
 
Suicide: A Study in Sociology by Emile Durkheim, translated by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson, and edited with an introduction by George Simpson.  Copyright 1951 by The Free Press