Saturday, 24 March 2018


Le Suicide, Durkheim’s third major work is of great importance. Because it is his first serious effort to establish an empiricism in sociology. An empiricism that would provide a sociological explanation for a phenomenon traditionally regarded as exclusively psychological and individualistic.
Durkheim sought to develop a sociological theory of suicide which meant that suicide had to be explained in terms of social causes. Durkheim has made extremely minute and detailed study of the phenomenon of suicide. His theory of suicide is related in various ways to his study of Division of labour. It is also linked with his theory of “social constraint” and his views on “Collective conscience.” He used the method of statistical analysis displaying sociological realism. This method serves two purposes:
a.       To refute theories based on psychology, biology, genetics, climatic and geographical factors.
b.      To support with empirical evidence his own sociological explanation of suicide.
Thus the phenomena of suicide demonstrate the function of sociological theory in empirical science.
Durkheim has established the view that there are no societies in which suicide does not occur. It means suicide may be considered a normal that is regular occurrence. However, sudden increase in suicide rates may be witnessed. This he said could be taken as “an index of disintegrating forces at work in a social structure.” He also came to the conclusion that different rates of suicide are the consequences of differences in degree and type of social solidarity. Suicide is a kind of index to decay in social solidarity.
According to Durkheim, suicide refers to “every case of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative death performed by the victim himself and which strives to produce this result.” Durkheim used this definition to separate true suicide from accidental deaths. He then collected several European Nations suicide rte statistics, which proved to be relatively constant among those nations and among smaller demographics within those nations. Thus a collective tendency towards suicide was discovered.
Of equal importance to his methodology, Durkheim drew theoretical conclusions on the social causes of suicide. According to Durkheim, the causation of suicide should be referred to social structure and its ramifying functions. These may perform three functions:
a.       Inducement
b.      Perpetuation
c.       Aggravation of suicide potential
According to Durkheim, it is the social circumstances and the influence of the collective consciousness which are mainly responsible for the phenomenon of suicide. He says, “Suicide is an act which society disapproves of expiation.” Durkheim also showed that all other views regarding it are as a matter of fact conditioned by the prevailing social conditioned and mirror the collective consciousness. According to Durkheim a depressed man commits suicide not because of depression but due to heightened sensitivity to social conditions in a depressed man.
Durkheim proposed four types of Suicide, based on the degrees of imbalance of two social forces:

  1.  Social Integration 
  2.   Moral regulation

i.      Egoistic or Individualistic Suicide: According to Durkheim, when a man becomes socially isolated or feels that he has no place in the society he destroys himself. This is the suicide of self-centred person who lacks altruistic feelings and is usually cut off from main stream of the society.
For example, He found that among the Catholics suicides were comparatively less than among the Protestants. He also found that Catholicism is able to integrate its members more fully into its fold. On the other hand, Protestantism fosters spirit of free inquiry, permits great individual freedom, lacks hierarchic organizations and has fewer common beliefs and practices. It is known that the Catholic Church is more powerfully integrated than the Protestant church. It is in this way the Protestants are more prone to commit suicide than the Catholics. Hence, Durkheim generalized that the lack of integration is the main cause of egoistic suicide.
ii.      Altruistic Suicide: This type of suicide results from high level of integration of the individual into his social group. Durkheim found another type of relationship of the individual with the moral order i.e. excessive binding of the individual to society which often leads to suicide.
There are three different types of altruistic suicide.
a.       Obligatory altruistic suicide. In obligatory altruistic suicide, individual is so strongly governed by customs and traditions that there is repeated tendency among individuals to sub-ordinate personal interests and sacrifice one’s life in order to achieve social ends. This is seen among the societies which impose ancient forms of obedience. So it is common among the primitive people. The practice of “sati” which was once in practice in North India is another example of this kind.
b.      Optional altruistic suicide. This type of optional altruistic suicide is not so much so obligatory or imposed by the society on the individuals. They are optional in nature. Japanese sometimes illustrate this type of suicide. They call it “Harakiri.” In this practice of Harakiri, some Japanese go to the extent of taking off their lives for the sake of the larger social unity. They consider that self-destruction would prevent the breakdown of social unity, self-immolation by Buddhist monks are the examples.
c.       Acute altruistic suicide. Here individual commits suicide purely for the joy of sacrifice and for higher existence. Durkheim states that altruistic suicide is a characteristic of less advanced societies. However durkhem finds in modern society the example of the solider in the army. Wherever altruistic suicide is prevalent, man is always ready to sacrifice his life for a great cause, principle, ideal or value.
iii.      Anomic Suicide: This type of suicides are concerned with social disorganization and imbalance. Anomie means normlessness. Anomie describes the situation in which normative framework breaks down-goals again outrun the means and suicide rate increase. Anomic suicide is more likely to occur when the regulative powers of society are disrupted. Such disruptions are likely to leave individuals dissatisfied because there is little control over their passions. Rates of anomic suicide are likely to rise whether the nature of disruption in positive or negative. This type of suicide occurs during industrial or financial crises, it is not because they cause poverty, since crises of prosperity have the same result, but because they are crises of the collective order.
Anomic suicide was of particular interest to Durkheim. So he divided it into four categories.
a.       Acute economic anomie. Sporadic decrease in the ability of traditional institutions such as religion, guilds, pre-industrial social systems etc. to regulate and fulfill social needs.
b.      Chronic economic anomie. This was a product of long term diminution of social regulation of the relation between means and ends. The erosion of the influence of agencies that had exercised moral restraint over economic relations, particularly religious and occupational groups, resulted in industry being regarded as an end in itself. Thus, the suicide rates were higher in manufacturing and commercial occupations than they were in agriculture, because the latter still had traditions and customs that exercised restraint. Constant economic strife for limitless goals could not bring happiness as was shown by the fact that the higher socio-economic strata had higher rates of suicide than the poor.
c.       Acute domestic anomie. Sudden changes on the micro-social level resulted in an inability to adapt and therefore higher suicide rates. Widowhood is a prime example of this type of anomie.
d.      Chronic domestic anomie. It refers to the way marriage as an institution regulated the sexual and behavioural means-needs balance among men and women. Marriage provided different regulations for each. However, Bachelors tended to commit suicide at higher rates than married man because of a lack of regulation and established goals and expectations. On the other hand, traditionally marriage has served to over regulate the lives of women by further restricting their already limited opportunities and goals. Unmarried women, therefore, do not experience chronic domestic anomie nearly as often as do unmarried men.
iv.      Fatalistic Suicide. Fatalistic suicide was at the high extreme of the regulation continuum. He described it as suicide of “persons with futures pitilessly blocked and passions violently choked by oppressive discipline”. Durkheim sees it as rare phenomena in the real world and found where there is an excessive norm and regulations prevail. For examples such as the situation of childless married women (presumably where divorce was difficult), young husbands, and slaves.
Emile Durkheim’s most famous work, “Suicide: A Study in Sociology” was prepared to flout common sense and excite the imagination of people. It is widely regarded as sociology’s exemplary piece of research because it skillfully interrelates theory and data, using data to test and develop theory, and using theory to explain data. It is an approach which allowed Durkheim to reject competing biological and psychological theories while validating his sociological theory of variation in suicide rates.

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