‘SUICIDE’ by Emile Durkheim “Collective tendencies have an existence of their own; they are forces as real as cosmic forces, though of another sort; they, likewise, affect the individual from without… ” Suicide, Durkheim’s third major work, is of great importance because it is his first serious effort to establish an empericism in sociology, an empiricism that would provide a sociological explanation for a phenomenon traditionally regarded as exclusively psychological and individualistic.
Durkheim proposed this definition of suicide: “the term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows wil produce this result” (1982, p. 110 [excerpt from Suicide]). Durkheim used this definition to separate true suicides from accidental deaths. He then collected several European nations’ suicide rate 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. He proposed four types of suicide, based on the degrees of imbalance of two social forces: social integration and moral regulation. Egoisitic suicide resulted from too little social integration. Those individuals who were not sufficiently bound to social groups (and therefore well-defined values, traditions, norms, and goals) were left with little social support or guidance, and therefore tended to commit suicide on an increased basis.
An example Durkheim discovered was that of unmarried people, particularly males, who, with less to bind and connect them to stable social norms and goals, committed suicide at higher rates than unmarried people. The second type, Altruistic suicide, was a result of too much integration. It occurred at the opposite end of the integration scale as egoistic suicide. Self sacrifice was the defining trait, where individuals were so integrated into social groups that they lost sight of their individuality and became willing to sacrifice themselves to the group’s interests, even if that sacrifice was their own life.
The most common cases of altruistic suicide occurred among members of the military. On the second scale, that of moral regulation, lies the other two forms of suicide, the first of which is Anomic suicide, located on the low end. Anomic suicide was of particular interest to Durkheim, for he divided it into four categories: acute and chronic economic anomie, and acute and chronic domestic anomie. Each involved an imbalance of means and needs, where means were unable to fulfill needs.
Each category of anomic suicide can be described briefly as follows: * Acute economic anomie: sporadic decreases in the ability of traditional institutions (such as religion, guilds, pre-industrial social systems, etc. ) to regulate and fulfill social needs. * Chronic economic anomie: long term dimunition of social regulation. Durkheim identified this type with the ongoing industrial revolution, which eroded traditional social regulators and often failed to replace them.
Industrial goals of wealth and property were insufficient in providing happiness, as was demonstrated by higher suicide rates among the wealthy than among the poor. * Acute domestic anomie: sudden changes on the microsocial level resulted in an inability to adapt and therefore higher suicide rates. Widowhood is a prime example of this type of anomie. * Chronic domestic anomie: referred to the way marriage as an institution regulated the sexual and behavioral means-needs balance among men and women.
Marriage provided different regulations for each, however. Bachelors tended to commit suicide at higher rates than married men because of a lack of regulation and established goals and expectations. On the other hand, marriage has traditionally served to overregulate 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.