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Emile Durkheim was a prominent French sociologist of the 19th and early 20th century. He conducted a research about suicide in with aim of formally establishing Sociology as one of the social sciences (Simpson, 2002). Together with other like-minded individuals including Max Weber and Karl Max, they are acknowledged as pioneers of Sociology as a discipline in modern social science.
Durkheim published several works touching on how the society could be ordered in the modern age by living in harmony and upholding integrity (Durkheim & Buss, 2006). Most sociologists of his time were concerned with understanding the changing society where the social and religious practices of the past were being eroded by modernization.
Although Durkheim conducted several studies and wrote on many topics in the field of sociology, this essay will discuss his views about suicide. It will explain the differences between anomic, altruistic and egoistic, as well as fatalistic suicide.
View about Suicide
In 1897, Durkheim published the findings of his study in the Suicide which is still a favorite reference for modern day sociologists. He was known as a fierce critique of the approaches use by sociologists. According to him, sociologists should use sociological data that examines the rates of given behavior instead of psychological data (Simpson, 2002).
Determined to establish sociology as a social science, he used various data which had been collected for administrative purposes to scientifically analyze the suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics. The decision to use the already existing data to analyze rates of behavior was aimed at established the concept of social fact; that all social phenomena exist in and of themselves and are not determined by activities of individuals (Simpson, 2002).
Durkheim argued that religion plays a significant role in the community and influenced the behavior of the members of a given society. He posed a number of questions concerning suicide: Why do commit suicide? What goes wrong? Why are the rates varying across places? He said that understanding suicide is the key to understanding how individuals relate to society.
He concluded from the findings of his study that there were lower rates of suicide among the Catholics due to the firm grip and control this religion had on the community. He argued that people have a tendency of wanting to belong to a given group, a term the he refers to as social integration (Durkheim & Buss, 2006).
Furthermore, Durkheim pointed out that excessively high or low levels of association among members of the society were responsible for increased suicide rates. The explanation for this claim is that low levels of attachment in groups cause disorderliness in the society and in turn the chaotic state pushes individuals to commit suicide as an escape option.
According to Durkheim, a high sense of attachment in the society gives people a notion of being a burden on others and hence develop high suicidal tendencies to avoid being too much of a burden to the society (Simpson, 2002). In explaining the differing rates of suicide, he noted that normal levels of association are to be found among the Catholics while the Protestants have quite low levels social integration.
After investigating the differing rates of suicide in the society, Durkheim coined a definition of suicide as including all cases of death occurring either directly or indirectly as a result of a desirable or undesirable act of the victim himself, which he is aware that it will produce this particular result (Simpson, 2002).
In his study of suicide rates, he considered religious affiliations, economic status, marital status, as well as civilian or military status as independent variables. This means that he believed these variables explained the varying suicide rates (Lukes, 2001). In his thinking, Durkheim was convinced that being either Catholic or Protestant determine the probability of committing suicide.
The same hypotheses were made in the case of other variables. That suicide rates depends on whether one is single or married, either a soldier or a civilian, and whether one is poor or financially stable.
Anomic, Altruistic, Egoistic, and Fatalistic Suicide
As already mention, when Durkheim analyzed the secondary data, he found that suicide rates were higher among Protestants compared to Catholics and Jews (Pickering & Walford, 2000).
Catholics, on the other hand, were more likely to commit suicide than Jews. It also emerged that single people were likely to commit suicide than married people especially those with children. Soldiers, especially officers recorded higher rates of suicide than ordinary citizens. Suicide rates were found to increase in times economic difficulties and booms and decreased during periods of financial stability.
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The above findings were established by Durkheim after brilliant analysis of the collected data. It was after further analysis that he identified four outstanding suicide patterns among people. The four different patterns include anomic, altruistic, egoistic, and fatalistic suicide. According to Durkheim, egoistic suicide is pattern of suicide that is usually committed by individuals who are not closely associated with an established group known to support its members in times of need (Pickering & Walford, 2000).
Being outsiders, they are forced to rely on their own motivation with no group goals or guiding principles in the course of their lives. These people have been known to develop a strong feeling of isolation and neglect especially during stressful moments or situations.
Altruistic suicide, on the other hand, is a form of suicide that is common people who are strict adherents of group norms and set objectives (Emirbayer, 2003). They have lower regard for their own lives and would commit suicide for the sake of a group cause. The third pattern of suicide, anomic suicide, has been found to be common among people living in a society faced by crisis and dramatic changes (Lukes, 2001).
These occasions are associated with breakdown or weakening of traditional societal norms resulting in a state of normlessness. Individuals may see life as meaningless and hence commit suicide. Contrary to anomic suicide is the fourth pattern known as fatalistic suicide pattern. It occurs in situations where people are subjected to oppressive experiences characterized by stringent rules for maintaining a certain order in the society.
This pattern was common during dictatorial regimes and slavery. In conclusion, Durkheim contributed a significant sociological perspective of understanding how societal forces influence suicide rates (Lukes, 2001). His suicide theory complements the psychological perspective of understanding suicide.
Durkheim, E., & Buss, R. (2006). On suicide. New York, NY: Penguin
Emirbayer, M. (2003). Emile Durkheim: sociologist of modernity. New Jersey, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell
Lukes, S. (2001). Emile Durkheim, his life and work: a historical and critical study. California, CA: Stanford University Press
Pickering, W. F., & Walford, G. (2000). Durkheim’s suicide: a century of research and debate. New York, NY: Routledge
Simpson, G. (2002). Suicide: a study in sociology (5th ed). New York, NY: Routledge