A N Assessment Of Durkheim

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A N Assessment Of Durkheim’s Theory Of Suicide Essay, Research Paper Unlike most others before him who believed that influences such as inherited mental disorder are of paramount importance in causing suicide, Emile Durkheim chose to look instead at suicide purely as a social fact, rather that the act of an individual. Through analysis of government figures on suicide rates, Durkheim tried to measure and explain suicide as a social phenomena. In his book, “Suicide: a study in sociology”, Durkheim was critical of both physical an psychological explanations of suicide as he claimed that neither accounted for the stability f suicide rates over time and space, and in looking at the act of suicide as a social phenomena, Durkheim developed a way of examining the social world

that was both unique to him at the time, and of continued importance to this day. At the time preceding Durkheim’s writings on suicide (published 1897), increasing rates of suicide had led to great speculation as to what was the cause, the main body of thought being that social change was an important factor in determining suicide rates. Durkheim, almost ten years before he wrote “Suicide”, stated that, “…it is quite certain that a consistent increase in suicides always attests to a serious upheaval in the organic conditions of society…” and attempted to prove this through examination of official government statistics on suicide rates in Europe. From his analysis of these figures, Durkheim made three conclusions: that suicide rates remain constant over time in any

one society, changing only in times of social change and upheaval; that suicide rates differ between societies; and that suicide rates differ within groups in any one society. One of Durkheim’s greatest contributions to the study of sociology was his methods for ‘variable analysis’, that is, his attempts to measure the effects of various variables on others. For example, Durkheim believed that religion was an important factor in determining suicide rates, and therefore he attempted to prove this by the elimination of other variables that may have been a causational factor in suicide. Firstly he examined the differences in suicide rates between catholics and protestants in the same country and found that consistently there was a higher rate of suicides among protestants than

among catholics. He then took this analysis still further and examined whether the relationship was still relevant within regions. He discovered that region and national culture were not relevant and thus he could then claim that the relationship between religion and suicide was one of a causational nature. Through methodology such as this , Durkheim was able to discover what he claimed were three basic types of suicide. Egotistic suicide, he believed, is the most common form of suicide and was caused by under-integration with society, and excessive individualism. He based this theory on the discovery that suicide was less common among married people with children (although breakdown of the family will make suicide likely); in wartime when there was a common cause to unite

people; and within religions such as catholicism, due to beliefs of that particular religion that condemns suicide as a sin against their god. Altruistic suicide, which for Durkheim is the opposite of egotistic suicide, is caused by over integration with society, when individuals become so immersed into their social group that they will sacrifice their lives. This could be seen in the past when Hindu women threw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre, or in the acts of the Japanese kamikaze pilots during the second world war, both can be said to be a result of insufficient individualism. Durkheim’s third type of suicide is termed as Anomic suicide, and occurs at times such as the ‘Wall Street Crash’ in America during 1927, when economic change disrupts the social