Essay Bordeaux, Durkheim was very successful and

Essay question: Outline and discuss Durkheim’s
conceptualisation of suicide.

Durkheim was a French sociologist born
in 1958 and died at the age of 59 on November 15th  in 1917. He was the former various academic
disciplines and is seen today as the
principal creator of the subject of sociology with the two famous
sociologists and philosophers, Karl Marx and Max Weber. Durkheim was the one
who had the most influence in this field until his death, however he stays,
today, one of the most famous social scientist of the world. His most famous
studies were about suicide and division of social labor which had a large
impact on our today’s society. During his time in Bordeaux,
Durkheim was very successful and well known for his doctoral thesis On the Division of Social Labor (1893, Division), The Rules of Sociological Method (1895, Rules), and Suicide: A Study in Sociology (1897, Suicide). In this essay, we are going to focus on
Durkheim’s conceptualization of suicide which have picked a very popular discourse.

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is ‘suicide’ according to Durkheim? He had several definition of the term but
one of them was that it was ‘…applied to 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’  Suicide
1897 1952, p.44. Suicide written by Durkheim in 1897 is a sociological study
where the author presents methodological principles presented in “Les règles de
la methode sociologique”.

In this book, he explains that suicide is a social factor. In truth, Durkheim
tries to show two things, first of all, the social scientific view and the
political view, to see how far an apparently psychological and individual
problem could be explained sociologically, and to diagnose a pervasive cultural
problem. He was also aware of the limits of sociological explanations – people
may have many motives for committing suicide, but we can’t say anything very
direct about them. What we can do is to see if suicide rates vary over time, or
between different social groups, or between different countries. We can then
try to make sense of these variations by thinking about the strength of the
ties that bind people to the groups to which they belong. The scholarly
shortcomings of Durkheim’s study have been much discussed; some have dismissed
the study as being empirically flawed whilst others have been inspired by it
and tried to update it. But Durkheim also used it to say something important
about what he saw as the problem of modern individualism (regardless of whether
you believe his thesis on suicide proper is tenable). His influential
term for this was anomie (normlessness), which roughly means the
discrepancy between individual desires and the ability to satisfy them.

Durkheim offered various solutions to this problem in his career, from
professional associations throughout industry to more robust forms of a
unifying moral education. He wants to explore the apparently psychological
problems that the human being can, and be able to diagnose this problem.

Suicide can be very irrational, therefore we can say
that Durkheim was aware of the limits of the explanation he could give to our

what causes these suicides? According to Durkheim, ‘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 will produce this result.

(Geoffrey Walford, 2000). For Durkheim, suicide can be caused by four different
views: the egoistic suicide, the altruistic suicide, the fatalistic suicide and
finally the anomic suicide which we are going to explain one by one.


First of all, let’s look at the egoistic suicide:
Durkheim defines egoistic suicide as a way of individuals becoming self-
reliant on themselves, a person commits suicide as a result of not feeling they
belong in society, they struggle to find a reason to live. They feel isolation,
aimless, and they see their life as meaningless. Their lack relationships, and
shared beliefs, also shows a link to Durkheim’s organic solidarity in the
division of labor, where in which people do not know where they fit in within
their societies. In other words, Egoistic suicides
are caused by the social integration in which they can’t seem to be. Durkheim
associated this kind of suicide to “excessive individuation” which
explains that a lot of victims of this type of suicide becomes progressively
detached to our society and other community (Thompson, 2002).In general, the
persons who are not integrated in some sort of social groups have no moral or social
support from the society and therefore their probability of committing suicide
is very high. For example, let’s use as an example the unmarried people, and
more specifically males. They tend not to bond with a lot of people, as they
live on their own, can’t have ‘events’ with families, therefore tend to be
lacking of bonding times and  to be alone
during a lot of their time. It would also be the same case with widows, in
fact, ‘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). However, Durkheim’s shows in his study that despite the high rate of
suicide in the case of widows, it is shown that unmarried persons have ‘their
suicide rate was lower when compared to that of single individuals’ (Ritzer,
1992).  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).

Anomie is a “condition in which society provides little
moral guidance to individuals”, it is indeed a breakdown of social bonds,
standards and values between an individual and the community. The term
‘normlessness’ for Durkheim doesn’t exist he rather describes anomie as a
‘derangement’ or an “an insatiable will” (Stjepan
G. Mestrovic, 1988).

Finally he uses the term “the malady of the
infinite” because he suggests that desire to an infinite possibility can
never be realised but instead becomes more intense. ‘Anomic suicide reflects an
individual’s moral confusion and lack of social direction’ (Durkheim, which is
related to dramatic social and economic upheaval, it also has a connection to
modern society as they are free to do what they want whenever they want, there
is no accountability to society. Anomie suicide is committed through too little
regulation in a person’s life, they experience a sense of disconnection from
society and a feeling of not belonging that results from a weakened social
cohesion. Anomie often occurs during a period of serious social, economic or
political upheaval, which results in extreme changes in the society and
everyday’s life, a person may feel confused and disconnected to which they
choose to commit suicide. 


Anomic suicide is explained by Durkheim, he describes the
resulting type of death caused by ourselves. But he explains that anomie is a
state incorporated into you and not a short term disruption. He then directs
his point towards the government, religion, and occupational groups tried to
exercise and give moral constrains on individuals of our society but have in
some way, failed. Religion, since the middle ages, helped the poor in their
moral opinions helping them to see life in a brighter light, but today, we can
considerate that it has lost his power, and for the economic situation of the
individuals we would need more than that.  Emile Durkheim stated, “So far
is the increase in poverty from causing the increase in suicide that even
fortunate crises, the effect of which is abruptly to enhance a country’s
prosperity, affect suicide like economic disasters.” (Durkheim, 1897). The
government was created to organise the society in a way everyone would be
content, it chooses the regulations and all of the economic functions, but this
government can never satisfy the whole population and neither would give the
power to subordinate other social groups and unite them toward the same
objective. In the industry, “the state of crisis and anomy is constant
and, so to speak, normal. From top to bottom of the ladder greed is aroused
without knowing where to find ultimate foothold. Nothing can calm it,”
Durkheim concludes, “since its goal is far beyond all it can attain.”
Finally, we can conclude that the industrial occupations are in the hearts of
those who grants the greatest numbers of suicides.


     Additionally, Durkheim defines Altruistic
suicides, this type of suicide are those which occur in integrated societies 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 is seen as the contrary to the egoistic suicide. Durkheim explains
that the suicide rate in altruistic societies was very low as people’s individual
interested wasn’t seen as important. Additionally, we can talk about suicides
of soldiers, people in the army for example, ‘senior officers committed suicide
at a higher rate than their juniors’ (Bellah, 1973). Plus, the units where
there was higher post and were seen as the elite had much higher suicides rates
than the normal ones. However, the suicide rate in the army was still seen as
low which could show “a weak military spirit”.Finally, the suicide rate was low
in the units which demonstrated weaker military spirit (Bellah, 1973).

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