Durkheim was a French sociologist who sought to give sociology a better understanding of its subject of study. One of his most important works was The Suicide, which was written with the intention of showing how a sociological study should be conducted. In this case study he focused on “ all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result” .
In his work, Durkheim compared the suicide rates between the Catholic and Protestants, but also made some divisions based on marital status, military status and economic conditions. He found that the suicide rate among Catholics was lower because they were more integrated, while Protestants were more individualists. Men were more likely to commit suicide than women, even more if they were divorced or single. Individuals that lived in denser families were less likely to commit suicide. Soldiers were more likely to commit suicide than civilians. Finally, Durkheim found that in times of social crisis or war suicide rates were lower.
The sociologist described three kinds of suicide and their causes. The first one is called egoistic suicide which is caused by weak integration of the individual to society or family. In times of crisis society tends to integrate more, so suicidal rates drop. The second kind is known as altruistic suicide, which happens when an individual values his group more than himself and is overly integrated. The last kind of suicide happens when an individual used to some form of regulation suddenly stops being regulated, or his regulation patterns are upset. This is known as anomic suicide. One example of anomy is when a man used to the regulations imposed by marriage divorces. All the needs and satisfactions that were regulated by the institution of marriage are now detached from the old rules, so the individual might feel a lack of direction or boundaries.
One other conclusion Durkheim reaches is that there is no immorality in the act of suicide and cannot be classified as a criminal action. In fact all societies are expected to have a suicide rate, but if that rate climbs too rapidly, it is a symptom that society is not operating normally. Personally, I tend to agree with this conclusion because suicide is not an act against other people so it should not be condemned, though I also agree with Durkheim in that it should be prevented by encouraging social integration.
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This Beatles song talks about two people that, while living in society and bound by institutions such as the church and marriage, were not sufficiently integrated to it. Eleanor Rigby lived alone and detached, without family and unmarried. Father McKenzie was also detached from the social group he belonged to, as he wrote sermons he felt no one would pay attention to, and buried people that he hardly knew but lived in his community. These two cases are examples of individuals with weak social integration and no strong family ties, and were likely to commit egoistic suicide.
Durkheim, Emile. Suicide; A Study in Sociology. Glencoe: The Free Press, 1951. Book.