Emile Durkheim Suicide Theory Term Paper

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Emile Durkheim Suicide Theory

Emile Durkheim's Suicide Theory is considered a groundbreaking concept in the field of sociology. Published in 1897, Durkheim's book, "Suicide," addressed the connections between individuals and society, focusing on how these connections impacted suicide rates.

Many of today's modern studies on suicide focus primarily on individual characteristics. However, Durkheim believed that suicide was mainly the result of how an individual fit into society. This paper aims to address the accuracies and inaccuracies of Durkheim's theory and determine if the theory still holds ground in modern society. I believe that the theory is strong and accurate in many ways; however, it appears that it is also flawed and in need of revision to accurately apply to suicide as we know it today.

Statement of the Problem

Durkheim's theory argues that collective social forces are more important factors for suicide than extra-social or individual factors (Dhossche, 2003). However, his theory fails to consider modern insights into risk factors for suicide, such as mental illness.

Many sociologists criticize Durkheim for his undue emphasis on social factors at the expense of individual psychological and psychiatric causes (Dhossche, 2003). Contemporary studies show that suicide nearly always occurs in people with psychiatric illness across various cultures (Cheng, 1995; Rich et al., 1986; Robins et al., 1959). While psychiatric impairment seems to be a key condition for suicide, it is not a sufficient one, as most psychiatrically ill people do not commit suicide.

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According to Dhossche (2003): "Social and interpersonal factors may be important on an individual level to explain why one person commits suicide and the other does not despite similar psychiatric impairments."

Durkheim's theory was created by gathering data and putting it to test with the theory (why people commit suicide). However, while his theory was widely accepted at the time he published it, many critics argue that it is now outdated. This paper aims to address the question: Is Durkheim's work valuable for today's society?


Term Paper on Emile Durkheim Suicide Theory Assignment

This paper hypothesizes that human nature and human problems have largely remained the same: they are timeless, universal, and still need to be studied by competent sociologists.


Using quantitative and qualitative methods, Durkheim sketched the basis for the development of sociology. He brought science to the study of society, by developing a hypothesis, gathering data and testing the hypothesis. He proved the powerful influence of society on the behavior of individuals, which, though obvious today, was unclear at the time.

Even if the 19th century created the groundwork for the modern society we live in, the problems individuals had to face a century ago are indisputably different from those to which we are today confronted. Therefore, since the analysis of suicide is linked to the issues of former times, it therefore seems legitimate to ask oneself how relevant Durkheim's theory on suicide is to modern society.

This paper aims to address this important research question by analyzing Durkheim's research, reviewing thoughts from other sociologists on his theory, and concluding which parts of his theory apply to modern society and which do not.


Emile Durkheim proposed that the "social suicide-rate can be explained only sociologically" (Durkheim, 299). He argued that "at any given moment the moral constitution of society establishes the contingent of voluntary deaths" (Durkheim, 299). These are strong words and have been harshly criticized over the years.

I believe that Durkheim's theory may be flawed. However, in many ways, it is right on target. His findings seem to support his hypothesis. Even in modern society, individuals are organized into social groups in society and it is the collective force of each social group that impacts the individual, causing the individual to be a benefactor or victim of his social circumstances. Thus, he believes that suicide is a social disease.

Durkheim identified four types of suicide (Durkheim, 1897):

Egoistic suicide: When a person is weakly connected or attached to society, he feels that his death will have little impact on the rest of society. Because he has few social ties, he believes his suicide will be no big deal.

Altruistic suicide: Sometimes, a person is extremely attached to the society and thus has no life of his own. A person who takes his life based on altruism die feels that his death can bring about a benefit to the society. Basically, when a person is heavily integrated into the society, he may commit suicide if the society's norms ask for his death, even if he does not want to die.

Anomic suicide: In cases of anomie, there is weak social regulation between the society's norms and the individual, most often brought on by major changes in economic and social circumstances. When the social norms and laws governing the society do not correspond with the life goals of an individual, suicide may occur. Since the individual does not identify with the norms of the society, suicide offers a way to escape them.

Fatalistic suicide: Fatalism exists when social regulation is completely instilled in the individual; there is no hope of change against the oppressive discipline of the society. The only way for a person to escape this state is to commit suicide.

One of the main focuses of Durkheim's theory is how religion impacts suicide (Durkheim, 1897). For example, when Durkheim studied the differences in suicide rates between Protestants and Catholics, he found that stronger social control among Catholics results in lower suicide rates. According to Durkheim, people feel a level of attachment to their groups, which he calls social integration. If this level is too high or too low, increased suicide rates may be seen. A low level can result in a disorganized society, causing people to turn to suicide because they feel lost. A high level causes people to commit suicide because they do not want to become burdens on society.

Durkheim's theory holds that (Durkheim, 1897):

Suicide rates are higher for widowed, single and divorced people than married people.

Suicide rates are higher for people without children than those with children.

Suicide rates are higher among Protestants than Catholics.

Durkheim believed that Catholic society has normal levels of integration while Protestant society has relatively low levels (Durkheim, 1897). Durkheim saw suicide as the act of severing social relationships and concluded that suicide is often the result of weak social bonds. He argued that social bonds are composed of two factors: 1. social integration (attachment to other individuals within society) and 2. social regulation (attachment to society's norms and beliefs). If either of these factors is extreme, he believed that suicide rates would increase.

Durkheim examined religious records from several European countries to analyze rates of suicide. It was indeed proven that Protestant of societies, with low levels of social interaction, have higher suicide rates than Catholic societies, with normal levels of social interaction. Durkheim believed that this higher suicide rate existed because Protestant communities are more loosely integrated and allow individuals greater religious freedom.

In today's day and age, it can be argued that Durkheim's theory is flawed because of the lack of common definition of suicide among various religions. This makes it difficult to determine the actual numbers of those who have committed suicide. However, even today, the rate of suicide seems to be influenced by religion.

Unfortunately, in his studies, Durkheim failed to look at various other religions which impact the rate of suicides and integration. Two sociologists, Bernice Pescosolido and Sharon Georgianna, states that Durkheim revised his integration theory to cite religion as having regulative aspects in a network theory. This supports Durkheim's argument because a "network perspective allows a dual conceptualization of separate functions of social ties" (Pescosolido and Georgianna, 34). They claim that "three sociohistorical trends (secularization, ecumenicalism, and evangelical revival) have altered the relationship between religion and society" (35). This statements expands Durkheim's theory… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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