The study of suicide by Durkheim
Durkheim was a sociologist of French origin who was born in 1958 and died on the November of 1917. He instituted various academic disciplines and is considered as the current social science principal architect. He actually maintained dominancy in the field of social sciences until the time of his death. Durkheim also presented several sociological knowledge papers alongside religion. His studies such as the suicide study have actually picked a popular discourse.
Most of Durkheim’s work involved social facts’ study, term which he developed so as to depict phenomena that is self-existent and which cannot be affected by individuals’ actions (Lukes, 1985). Durkheim considered social facts to possess sui generis, which is a self-sufficient existence which is greater as well as more objective when compared to the individuals’ actions which make up the society (Martin & Lee, 1994). Contrary to the facts covered under natural sciences, “social” facts thereby refer to particular phenomena category and they as well exist independently, free from individual manifestations (Durkheim, 1951). Social facts of this kind are actually endowed with coercion power due to their capability to take control of personal behaviors (Martin & Lee, 1994). In accordance to Durkheim, these types of phenomena should neither be condensed to psychological nor biological grounds (Martin & Lee, 1994). Therefore, the phenomena which is considered as most “individualistic”, for instance suicide, would end up been classified as a fact which is socially objective. Durkheim further argued that the persons who compose the society do not cause suicide directly (Ritzer, 1992). He based his argument on the fact that suicide being a social fact, its presence in the society is independent in spite of the prevailing desires of the individuals forming the society (Ritzer, 1992). Consequently, the departure of any individual from the society will have no effect on the suicide fact as the society which the individual leaves behind still contains suicide. Sociological tasks entail the discovery of various social facts characteristics which can only be revealed by the means of either experimental or quantitative approach (Hassard, 1995). For the case of the suicide study conducted by Durkheim, he particularly depended on statistics (Bellah, 1973).
Durkheim is considered to be amongst the initial structural functionalism founders. In general, Durkheim discarded reductionist arguments (Durkheim, 1951). Instead, he focused on the cultural values and norms, social structures alongside social facts; which he considered as being external to every human being. Durkheim’s study classified suicide into four categories and provided evidence to one of his theories which states that suicide rate differences are as a resultant of changes in the immaterial social facts (Durkheim, 1951). Durkheim is famous due to his social reality macro-level views and its relationship at individual level. Actually, Durkheim managed to make major contribution on the structural functionalism development alongside sociology in general.
Basically, Durkheim explored the various suicide rates amongst different religious groups and specifically between the Catholics alongside the Protestants. He discovered that the suicide rates were lower amongst the Catholics when compared to the Protestants (Stark & William, 1996). Durkheim believed that the low rates of suicide among the Catholic were a result of the religion’s vibrant social control mechanisms (Stark &William, 1996). Consequently, he attributed the escalated suicide frequencies among the Protestants to the region’s big freedom space. In Durkheim’s perspective, the catholic society integration level was normal but the Protestant’s integration levels were low (Stark &William, 1996). However, this interpretation was faced by two major problems. First, Durkheim had relied on earlier researchers’ data, specifically Wagner, A. and Morselli, H (Stark &William, 1996) who had basically generalized their individual data. Secondly, succeeding researchers discovered that the suicide rates differences amongst the Protestants and Catholics tended to be prominent in the German-Speaking European part and thereby may only have been other factors’ spurious reflection (Pope & Danigelis, 1981). In spite of its limitations, Durkheim’s suicide study has really influenced the control theory proponents (Pope & Danigelis, 1981).
Durkheim came up with four categories of suicide which included Egoist suicide, Fatalistic suicides, Altruist suicide alongside Anomic suicide (Thompson, 2002). Durkheim considered Egoistic suicides as those that result from the weakening of individual bonds that naturally integrate collectivity (Thompson, 2002). In different words, Egoistic suicides are caused by the social integration breakdown or even decrease. Durkheim associated this suicide type to “excessive individuation” implying that most victims initially become more detached from the other community members (Thompson, 2002). Generally, the individuals who are insufficiently committed to specific social groups: - end up with minimal social support and hence the likelihood of them committing suicide is high (Thompson, 2002). For instance, Durkheim revealed that the unmarried people, specifically males, committed suicide more often than their married counterparts due to their less bondage with the established social norms’ goals. Apparently, similar problems affected the widows. Among 1Million widows aged 65 years, 628 of them committed suicide while amongst I million men aged 65 years, only 461 did commit suicide (Lukes, 1985). The sample composition was appropriate as the age bracket comprised of married men to the large extend (Almost 90%) (Lukes, 1985). Durkheim’s analysis however indicated that despite the fact that the widows had a higher likelihood of committing suicide than married persons, their suicide rate was lower when compared to that of single individuals (Ritzer, 1992). Durkheim linked the figures to the family factor as he was of the view that a simpler conclusion would turn out as problematic (Ritzer, 1992). It would be problematic due to the changes in the marriages numbers that occurred during this period as the suicide rates tripled. Significantly, Durkheim was quick to note that the factor was not simply marriage but a marriage that had children (Ritzer, 1992). This is because marriages with children had lower suicide rates when compared to infertile families (Thompson, 2002). Thus, the main factor was considering family like a basic social unit but not marriage. Additionally, Durkheim further studied the wars and crises roles on suicide rates. He discovered during the course of social crises (for instance, revolutions) alongside wars; the suicide rates dropped remarkably. In overall, he found out a more religious society had lower suicide rates and also the strength of family relationships determined the magnitude of suicide rate (Thompson, 2002).
Moreover, the society integration greatly affected the suicide rate.
On the other hand, Durkheim classified Altruistic suicides as those which occur in highly integrated societies in which the whole society’s needs are more prioritized than individual needs (Thompson, 2002). Altruistic suicides therefore come about on a integration scale which is contrary to that of egoistic suicide (Thompson, 2002). Durkheim stated that the suicide rate in altruistic societies was generally low as personal interests were not viewed as important (Thompson, 2002). Durkheim viewed the armed forces with this perspective and was really surprising to find out that suicide rates occurred at a high rate within the military service (Thompson, 2002). It was startling due to the fact that the military, just like religions as well as cohesive societies should exhibit strong solidarity and moreover the people in the military are usually the most physically fit in the society (Durkheim, 1951).Besides, it was not right to attribute the suicide causes to either the military service hatred or even the failure to get used to military service routines (Durkheim, 1951).This was because it was evident that suicide rates were directly proportional to the military service length (Durkheim, 1951). Additionally, senior officers committed suicide at a higher rate than their juniors (Bellah, 1973). Moreover, the elite units were affected by higher suicide rates than the normal units (Bellah, 1973). Finally, the suicide rate was low in the units which demonstrated weaker military spirit (Bellah, 1973). Therefore, Durkheim stated that the senior military officers had to abandon the personal individuality to cope with the service requirements as it increased their risk of committing suicide (Lukes, 1985).
Durkheim classified Anomic suicides as those which arise due to moral deregulation alongside the absence of legitimate aspirations definition through restrictive social ethic, which has the potential of imposing a different individual conscience meaning as well as order (Ritzer, 1992). This is indicative of economic development failure as well as the labor division to result to the organic solidarity of Durkheim (Ritzer, 1992). In this situation, people fail to recognize their appropriate positions in the society. Durkheim explained this moral disorder state as that which the desires of the individuals are limitless, thereby resulting to personal infinite disappointments (Ritzer, 1992).
Lastly, Durkheim suggested that Fatalistic suicides mainly occur in the exceedingly oppressive societies which make people to opt for death other than continue living in such societies (Durkheim, 1951). Generally, this is one of the rarest reasons which can push an individual to committing suicide (Durkheim, 1951). However, fatalistic suicides are common features in prisons as individuals choose to die other than going on with the abusive, excessively regulated prison life which denies them the opportunity to fulfill their desires (Durkheim, 1951).
The Durkheim’s suicide types had their basis on the twin social forces imbalance degrees which are the moral regulation alongside the social integration. Durkheim revealed how impacts of different predicaments on the social aggregate such as; war can lead to increased altruism, booms in economy or catastrophe contribute to anomie. Durkheim’s suicide analysis indicates the way in which social facts on the contrary to biological as well as psychological facts can be stressed upon, and bring about constructive methods of examining individuals’ actions. Besides, suicide rates are considered as social facts as they express social currents that affect people and the society as whole. Despite the fact that psychology study is also essential in resolving individual motives and the process through which certain circumstances push people to committing suicide; it is equally important to undertake circumstances analysis within the prevailing individual’s social currents (Durkheim, 1951).
Durkheim as a matter of fact established that the suicide rates in males were higher than in females; the singles had a higher rate of committing suicide than the married; suicide rates were also higher in the infertile couples than the fertile ones; protestants committed more suicide incidences as compared to the Catholics alongside Jews; Soldiers were more vulnerable to suicide than Civilians; there were more suicide incidences in the peaceful times than in war periods; Scandinavian countries exhibited higher suicide rates and lastly the people who had accomplished higher education level were at a higher risk of committing suicide.
However, the Durkheim suicide study has received a wide range of criticism from various sources. It has actually been criticized as the perfect example of logical error which is commonly termed as ecological fallacy (Freedman, 2002). Durkheim’s conclusions on personal behavior on the basis of aggregate statistics have been termed as misleading (Freedman, 2002). This is because the Simpson’s (1987) paradox has revealed how erroneous it is to analyze micro events in macro properties terms. Nevertheless, diverging views have arisen on whether Durkheim’s work should actually be classified as ecological fallacy. Researchers such as Van Poppel (1996) alongside Day (1996) have proposed that suicide rates differences between different religious groups (such as the Catholics alongside the Protestants) could be entirely explained in terms of how the social groups categorized deaths. For example, while the protestants recorded “sudden deaths” alongside “deaths resulting from unspecified causes” as suicides, this was not the case on the Catholics side (Thompson, 2002). Thereby, Durkheim error would be considered as empirical other than logical. Other researchers such as Gibbs, Inkeles, alongside Johnson have alleged that the main intention of Durkheim was to socially analyze suicide on the holistic perspective with the intention of expounding social environments variation within suicide incidences but not specific individuals’ suicides. In addition, researchers of the recent times like Berk (2006) have also queried the Durkheim’s work micro-macro linkages. Berk (2006) particularly noted that Durkheim spoke of “collective current” reflecting the joint inclination going down the social organization channels (Freedman, 2002). However, the current intensity is the determinant factor of the suicides’ volume thereby bringing about psychological variables like depression which could be viewed as independent or non-social suicide cause (Freedman, 2002). This thereby, ignores Durkheim’s conception of considering these variables as the mostly influenced by the wider social forces and the notion that suicide can not affect such individuals in the absence of these forces (Martin & Lee, 1994).
Apparently, Durkheim brings out issues that affect people directly. In addition, he tends to possess vibrant structural society view, as well as the mode in which everyone within the society is affected by various social facts and how it is a must for each to comply with them. Durkheim indeed tried to have the situation where the social roles are distinguished from psychological, economical alongside biological roles. This is actually be observed within his social influences view on the rate of suicides, in which he studies several factors and determines their effect on the propensity to commit suicide (Ritzer, 1992).