Durkheim’s Suggestions

Having eliminated all the above ideas, at least to a certain degree, Durkheim detailed findings of his own, primarily using statistics. It became apparent to him that suicide rose in times when social life is most active, and declines when it is less active. He saw this as being a consequence of the intensity of social life. This may well be a cause in what he termed “Altruistic suicide. ” Durkheim came up with two basic sociological causes of suicide: integration and regulation. Altruistic suicide occurs when there is too much integration into one’s society.

An individual is so devoted to his or her culture that they intentionally take their lives on its behalf, out of a sense of moral duty. A historical example would be Hindu widows killing themselves at their husband’s funeral. More recently, kamikaze pilots and suicide bombers have been deemed to fall into Durkheim’s pattern of altruism. On the opposite end of the spectrum occurs egoistic suicide. In such a case, an individual is not well enough integrated into their society, and lacks a sense of belonging. They therefore take their life to escape the trauma.

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One major demonstration of this type of suicide is the high rate of Protestant suicides in comparison to that of their Catholic counterparts. He analysed the differing rates between these religions in both France and Germany and found the rate among Protestants to be over 5 times higher than Catholics in the former, and over 3 times higher among Protestants in the latter (Durkheim, 1978, p88). Catholicism is very community-orientated, whereas Protestantism is more diverse and, in some measure, more liberal.

As such, Protestants do not have such a high instance of social solidarity and are less integrated into their culture, becoming more isolated from it. This makes them more susceptible to egoistic suicide. Durkheim also identified people without a family role to play as being more at risk from egoistic suicide. As Haralambos and Holborn put it, “the unmarried and childless were less integrated into a family… the former had less responsibility for others and as a consequence were more prone to egoism and a high suicide rate. ” (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000, p 976).

Within the concept of regulation, Durkheim categorised two further types of suicide, one of which was fatalistic. Fatalistic suicides were seen by Durkheim to be the least relevant in the modern world, but of some significance in times gone by. In the case of a fatalistic suicide, society had controlled and oppressed a person too much. Durkheim supposed it accounted for the high suicide rate among people like slaves. Anomic suicide saw an individual killing him or herself due to low regulation in society, ie, when norms and values were disturbed.

Durkheim thought this was a very relevant type of suicide in modern society, due to the many crises industrialism brings with it. One instance in which it frequently occurs is in times of economic depression. Durkheim details various economic “crashes” such the Paris Bourse in 1882. Yet, it is not merely economic crashes this type of suicide; as Durkheim puts it, “no living being can be happy or even exist unless his needs are sufficiently proportioned to his means. ” (Durkheim, 1978, p 246).

So, if someone requires more than they can realistically achieve, not only are they unhappy, but also it is unlikely they can survive. With this in mind, it is clear that any type of upheaval in society – such as a revolution or a period of national grief, perhaps – may be factors in an anomic suicide, as the lack of custom in such an era often results in the loss of personal requirements. Responses to Durkheim Durkheim has been the object of both criticism and praise alike.

There is no right or wrong opinion; as Hindess says, studies undertaken by a sociologist can be seen as merely the interpretation of a particular sociologist (Hindess, cited by Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). One main criticism of Suicide was that it relied heavily on statistics to prove its points. J. D. Douglas (cited by Haralambos and Holborn, 2000) disagreed with the use of statistics in determining a true suicide rate. Douglas pointed out that it was up to a coroner to determine whether a death was a suicide or not, and a number of witnesses helped in this and may well have been biased in their observations.

J Maxwell Atkinson (cited by Haralambos and Holborn, 2000) goes into further detail regarding coroners, theorising that a certain number of factors being fulfilled will result in a death being recorded as suicide – as a result, some deaths will be deemed suicide when they are not, and some suicides will not be deemed so. Taylor (1989) disagrees with this claim. He remarks: “… it must be proved that the deceased died as a direct result of his own actions, and that he intended to die from them. ” Two points arise from this determination:

1) This may be a coroner’s ultimate aim in a case, but surely it would be next to impossible to work out what an individual intended or did not intend. 2) The fact that an individual intended to die as a direct result of his actions is a different viewpoint from Durkheim’s definition of suicide, which claims an individual can die as an indirect consequence of his actions (as well as direct), and that while he knows his actions will ultimately result in death, it is not necessarily his goal. Another valid point mentioned by Taylor is the so-called ‘non-suicide’ rate.

Since suicides are, per force, a tiny number, it is argued that using episodes of it to exhibit the natures of different cultures and societal groups is illogical. Taylor went onto produce his own types of suicide. He too determined two main reasons behind this form of death: ectopic and symphysic. Within ectopic suicides, there are two types, the first of which is submissive. In this case, a person believes him or herself already dead. They feel certainty about themselves and their death. People with terminal illnesses are the most likely candidates for this type of suicide.

Thanatation is the second type of ectopic suicide. It is not always intended to result in death. The person is uncertain about themselves and whether they survive or not is a question of fate. Symphysic suicides include sacrifice suicides, where a person feels that others are making their life miserable. It is in some way intended as revenge against the object(s) of the suicide’s anger, who should be ostracised as the cause of the death. Appeal suicides are an uncertain reaction to how others feel about an individual.

Taylor includes attempts under this heading too, believing them to be a way in which the victim establishes how others feel about them. Baechler (1979) also came up with his own suicide types (escapist, like Durkheim’s egoistic and Taylor’s submissive, to a certain degree; aggressive, like Taylor’s sacrifice; oblative, like Durkheim’s altruistic; and ludic, like Taylor’s thanatation), which are a mixture of those of Durkheim and Taylor, although generally speaking he was critical of Durkheim, believing that suicide must always have some personal element.

Taylor criticises Baechler as suicides can fit into a number of his categories. Conclusions As I said at the beginning, I expected to agree generally speaking with Durkheim’s theory. His use of statistics may have come under fire but it is the easiest way to determine rates among different groups, which is what he set out to achieve in the first place. Figures may be unreliable, as is seen in the analysis of coroners, but they cannot be wholly misleading: this would imply that coroners were almost always wrong, and that data was incorrectly recorded.

Durkheim’s categorisations of suicide seem fair, based on witnessing suicides and suicide attempts on a personal basis. One thing that Durkheim does not account for is that suicide attempts exist often as a “cry for help. ” Taylor offers clarification in this instance with the conception of symphysic suicides. He also points out that suicides are, to some extent, personal, and that they often have more than one motive.

In general, though, Taylor is in support of Durkheim declaring that an attempt to disprove Durkheim resulted in “… agreement with many of his fundamental principles… ” (Taylor, 1982, p 196). Durkheim’s theory alone is original, informative and interesting, but on it’s own goes only so far in explaining the phenomenon of suicide. When combined with the work of Taylor, however, which acknowledges personal factors, one gets a truer sense of the general causes of the tragedy of suicide, and a clearer idea of how to help prevent it.

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