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DURKHEIM'S 'SUICIDE' - A CLASSIC ANALYZED

NCJ Number
44396
Author(s)
W POPE
Date Published
1976
Length
238 pages
Annotation
THE THEORETICAL AND EMPIRICAL ADEQUACY OF EMILE DURKHEIM'S 1897 TREATISE ON SUICIDE AND THE VALIDITY OF HIS CASE FOR SOCIAL REALISM ARE ASSESSED.
Abstract
DURKHEIM CONSIDERED SUICIDE RATES TO BE A MEASURE OF THE HEALTH OF THE SOCIAL BODY. FOCUSING ON COMPARISONS OF SUICIDE RATES AMONG SOCIAL CATEGORIES, DURKHEIM SOUGHT A STRICTLY SOCIOLOGICAL EXPLANATION OF SUICIDE, CLASSIFYING TYPES OF SUICIDE (EGOISTIC, ALTRUISTIC, ANOMIC, AND FATALISTIC) ACCORDING TO THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SOCIAL CONDITION LEADING TO SUICIDE. DURKHEIM'S TWO MAJOR EXPLANATORY VARIABLES ARE INTEGRATION AND REGULATION. EGOISM AND ALTRUISM REPRESENT OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE INTEGRATION CONTINUUM; ANOMIE AND FATALISM ARE THE TWO EXTREMES ON THE REGULATION CONTINUUM. ANALYSIS OF DURKHEIM'S THEORY OF SUICIDE SUGGESTS THAT REGULATION DOES NOT DIFFER IN BASIC SOCIOLOGICAL CONTENT FROM INTEGRATION, THE IMPLICATION BEING THAT DURKHEIM'S THEORY POSES TWO, NOR FOUR, CAUSES OF SUICIDE. RESTATED, THE THEORY IS AS FOLLOWS: THE MORPHOLOGICAL STRUCTURE OF SOCIETY DETERMINES THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN A GIVEN GROUP OR AREA, WHICH DETERMINES THE RATE OF SOCIAL INTERACTION, WHICH DETERMINES THE STRENGTH OF COLLECTIVE SENTIMENTS, WHICH DETERMINES THE LEVEL OF INTEGRATION-REGULATION (SOCIAL CONTROL), WHICH DETERMINES BOTH THE MEANS-NEEDS PROPORTIONALITY AND THE MEANING ATTACHED TO CONTINUED EXISTENCE, WHICH TOGETHER DETERMINE THE SOCIAL SUICIDE RATE. EXAMINATION OF DURKHEIM'S EMPIRICAL DATA AND ANALYTICAL METHODS POINTS UP LIMITATIONS IN THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE DATA SUSTAIN THE THEORY, IN THE APPROPRIATENESS OF THE VARIABLES CONSIDERED, AND IN THE ABILITY OF THE THEORY TO EXPLAIN VARIATIONS IN SUICIDE RATES BY AGE, SEX, AND REGION. DURKHEIM'S WORK ON SUICIDE WAS PART OF A LARGER EFFORT TO LEGITIMIZE SOCIOLOGY AS A SCIENCE BY PROVING THAT SOCIETY IS REAL. DURKHEIM WAS NOT ENTIRELY SUCCESSFUL IN DEMONSTRATING THAT SOCIAL PHENOMENA, SUCH AS SUICIDE, CANNOT BE EXPLAINED BY NONSOCIAL FACTORS. HOWEVER, THE WIDESPREAD ACCEPTANCE OF SOCIOLOGY AS AN ACADEMIC AND SCIENTIFIC DISCIPLINE IS LARGELY ATTRIBUTABLE TO DURKHEIM AND HIS WORK ON SUICIDE.