Emile Durkheim is one of the greatest sociologists and his work has contributed a lot in the discipline of sociology. Because of his outstanding contribution, Emile Durkheim is considered as the father of sociology1. The work of Durkheim was mainly concerned with social integration2.
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According to Durkheim, there is a need to maintain social integration and coherence. This will allow the society to move forward.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Durkheim studied suicide; he conducted a research to determine a number of factors that caused suicide in the society.
The study of suicide by Durkheim transformed sociology and the discipline became distinguished from psychology and philosophy3. Up to date, Durkheim’s work is still relevant in the modern society and his studies are practical in today’s world. This paper will discuss Durkheim’s integration theory (which is about suicide) as it seeks to understand the social causes of suicide in the society.
Social causes of suicide
According to Durkheim, suicide is “the most personal act” an individual can ever do4. Durkheim was interested in studying suicide because he wanted to distinguish the discipline of sociology from other subjects like psychology, political science, and philosophy. This is because other disciplines especially psychology had studied the causes of suicide.
For that reason, Durkheim began his research to explain the social causes of suicide.
To begin with, Durkheim did an extensive study of past literature. He developed a theory to explain suicide using previous studies and applying common sense/ creativity. In his theory, Durkheim argued that the greatest weakness in the society is lack of integration5. According to him, social integration is necessary for a society to move forward.
Durkheim also argued that lack of regulation in the society was another major cause of suicide in the society. He urged all societies to adopt regulation (norms, culture, believes, ethics, and values) in order to function properly.
After studying the rates of suicide in the society, Durkheim analyzed the most common social causes of suicide. He classified suicide into four major categories as follows (a) altruistic suicide, (b) fatalistic suicide, (c) egoistic suicide, and (d) anomic suicide6. In each category, Durkheim listed the social causes associated with it.
One of the major causes of suicide according to Durkheim is lack of integration in the society7. Durkheim said lack of integration is the major cause of social collapse. He concluded that lack of unity/togetherness in the society resulted in a high number of suicide cases. Durkheim provided an example of unmarried men. He said that unmarried men were committing suicide at a high rate because they were less integrated in the society.
Suicide rates according to Integration Theory and regulatory functions of society
High integration in the society can result in suicide (altruistic suicide)8. This occurs as individuals try to fight for the society. Examples can include suicide bombers, a soldier who dies in the line of duty, and a parent who dies when trying to save her child.
Oppression or lack of opportunities was also another cause of suicide (fatalistic suicide)9. Durkheim argued that people who faced discriminations especially slaves, prisoners, poor people, homemakers, and overworked students were highly likely to commit suicide.
In addition, Durkheim argued that people are likely to commit suicide when life becomes meaningless because of low integration. Lack of friends, lack of attention, depression, and lack of basic needs are examples of low integration in the society. He used the example of unmarried men who commit suicide at high rates. Durkheim said that individuals in this category find life to be meaningless.
The other cause of suicide is lack of regulation (low regulation) in the society (anomie suicide)10. Durkheim argued that people are likely to commit suicide if social values, beliefs, ethics, and norms have become ineffective. When a society lacks regulation, some individuals may feel that the society is breaking down and they commit suicide because they have no reason to live. Such people fear that war will break or perhaps, the society will change significantly.
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Are there any problems with Durkheim’s Integration Theory?
Durkheim’s findings are practical and valid in the modern society. Many researchers have also supported the theory of integration. Although his model is much generalized, his findings are convincing. In today’s world, both women and men are committing suicide, but men have high rates.
In the society, the rates of suicide are almost the same across classes, but such cases are high among the rich and extreme poor11. In addition, individuals who have recently lost their jobs are highly likely to commit suicide.
Durkheim concluded that lack of integration and regulation are the two greatest causes of suicide in the society12. Individuals who are highly integrated and those who are less integrated in the society are likely to commit suicide. In addition, high regulation as well as lack of regulation in the society can also drive people to commit suicide.
Giddens, A & Griffiths, S, Sociology, Polity Press, New York, 2006.
Berk,B, “Macro-Micro Relationships in Durkheim’s Analysis of Egoistic Suicide”, Sociological Theory, Vol. 24, no.1, 2006, pp. 78-79.
Poggi,G, Durkheim, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, pp. 3.
Halbwachs, M,The Causes of Suicide, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 2001, pp. 63-103.
1 G Poggi, Durkheim, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, p. 3
3 A Giddens & S Griffiths, Sociology, Polity Press, New York, 2006.
4 G Poggi, Durkheim, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, p. 3
5 G Poggi, Durkheim, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, p. 3
6 M Halbwachs, The causes of suicide, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 2001, pp. 63-103
8G Poggi, Durkheim, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, p. 3
9 M Halbwachs, The causes of suicide, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 2001, pp. 63-103
11 B Berk, “Macro-Micro Relationships in Durkheim’s Analysis of Egoistic Suicide”, Sociological Theory, Vol. 24, no.1, 2006, pp. 78-79.
12 M Halbwachs, The causes of suicide, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 2001, pp. 63-103