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Durkheim and Suicide


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Durkheim and Suicide

  1. 1. Suicide • Can we think of any famous suicides?
  2. 2. Thought shower POSITIVISM
  3. 3. Suicide • Think about suicide for a second – no not about doing yourself in but about the act • In a way it is the singular most individual act anyone can do – the decision to end your own life
  4. 4. Durkheim Durkheim’s classic work, first published in 1897 is essential reading in Sociology for one major reason. It looks at an area of behaviour which had always been considered the province of psychology – how can we understand or describe the state of mind that leads a person to end their own life – and showed that it was a proper area of sociological study.
  5. 5. Durkheim – how did he show that suicide was not an individual act? By demonstrating that the annual rates of suicides in different societies were extraordinarily stable. It was almost as though some sociological God decreed every year that only so many people in each country would kill themselves. How, Durkheim argued, could this be explained by reference to individual psychological factors? ‘Why did a definite number of people kill themselves in each society in a definite period of time?’
  6. 6. Durkheim’s Typology of Suicide EGOISTIC Bonds too weak Regulation too weak Regulation too strong FATALISTIC ANOMIC ALTRUISTIC Bonds too strong
  7. 7. Durkheim’s four-fold typology of suicides Egoistic – integration Anomic – regulation too low too low Altruistic – integration too high Fatalistic – regulation too high
  8. 8. Durkheim’s Four types. Key – modern industrial societies Traditional non-industrial Egoistic – bonds which unite groups weaken, and individuality increases. Too little integration Altruistic – bonds between groups too strong, so individuals sacrifice themselves. Too much integration into norms/values Anomic – individuals are not regulated by norms and values of the group, or social order. Too little regulation Fatalistic – norms of society oppress too much and stifle individuals. Too much regulation by rules of society
  9. 9. 1. Allocate each of the following cases of suicide to one of the four types identified in Durkheim’s typology of suicide: a) A rural migrant who is bewildered by city life b) A servant who kills himself on the death of his master c) A bravery stunt with a gun that works too well d) A prisoner facing a life sentence in a tough labour camp e) A person’s attempt to make an ex-lover return f) An educated person who has just lost his wife and children but cannot turn to religion
  10. 10. Evaluation of Durkheim by later positivist approaches Seen by many as sociological classic and praised by many positivists and used for over 70 years as an excellent example of positivistic research. However even inside positivism his theory has been criticised: 1 Overestimated the role of religion, Halbwachs (1930) suggested that living in urban, rather than rural areas was also a key factor 2 Gibbs & Martin (1964) argue that Durkheim’s concept of social integration is too vague – to them he did not operationalise social integration (define it such a way that it can be measured) 3 Relied on official statistics too much and these statistics may well have been invalid and incomplete. In the 19th century knowledge of causes of death was still limited. Also many countries lacked the organisational structures needed to collect reliable statistics on suicides. 4 His results cannot be verified or classified as scientific sociology should strive to do.