Emile Durkheim and Suicide: Suicide as a Sociological Phenomenon

Emile Durkheim and Suicide: Suicide as a Sociological Phenomenon

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Sociologists argue that suicides occur as a result of the failure of society’s control over its members.

The vast majority of sociological theories have been influenced by Durkheim’s theory. Durkheim conducted a study investigating the causes of suicide, which is the first study in which statistical methods were used in social sciences.

Statistics show that the annual sum of suicides in a given society for five to ten years remains almost the same. For this reason, the causes of suicide should be sought in the society rather than the individual.

Before dealing with the social causes of suicide, Durkheim focuses on the non-social causes and tries to determine their relationship with suicide. He statistically compares suicide rates for non-social causes such as psycho-organic and physical environment.

According to him, there is no necessary relationship between suicide and psycho-organic traits such as mental illness, drunkenness, and race. The rate of mental illness is higher in women, whereas the rate of suicide is higher in men. Again, while the rate of insanity is high among Jews, the rate of suicide is low. Although alcohol consumption is higher in some regions of Germany than in others, the low rate of suicide in these regions and the different rates of suicide in each Germanic community indicate that there is no relationship between variables such as drunkenness and race and suicide.

He also states that there is no obligatory relationship between climate and cosmic factors and suicide, by showing the change in suicide rate from age to age in a particular society. The increase in the suicide rate in some seasons or the fact that the suicide rate is higher during the day than at night is because the social life took a more intense form at that time.

While Durkheim states that there is no necessary relationship between non-social factors and suicide, he does not deny the indirect effects of these factors.

Durkheim classifies suicide events by taking into account social causes and divides suicides into three according to social causes:

1) Selfish (Egoistic) Suicides

Religion, political group, family, etc., to which the individual belongs. due to not being protected. That is, it appears when social ties are loose and the individual feels lonely. As the group ties to which the individual belongs weaken and his dependence on the group decreases, the individual is left alone with his own special interests; feels lonely. Life loses its meaning for the person; however, he needs to live in connection with society. Considering the suicide statistics of European societies, the suicide rate is low in Catholic societies and high in Protestant societies.

Suicide in Million Population by Religion

Protestant societies > 190
Mixed communities of Protestants and Catholics > 96
Catholic societies > 58

Durkheim shows that Protestantism is more free and tolerant than Catholicism as the reason for this.

It is not only the religious group that connects the individual to the society. Durkheim, saying that the family and the political group do the same job, the suicide rate of singles is higher than civilians in all societies; He proved this claim with statistics by claiming that married people are more childless than families with children.

The political group also protects people. He states that political turmoil and major social depressions reduce the suicide rate. During these periods, social life intensifies, it hugs the soul of the individual tightly, and the individual does not feel alone. Therefore, selfish suicides decrease.

2) Altruistic Suicides

An individual commits suicide not only when he is cut off from society and feels alone, but also when he is too attached to society. Durkheim, for example, cites the death of women in India as cremation (suttee) at the funeral of their husbands.

In this type of suicide, the person who kills himself performs this act in order to fulfill a social duty. Anyone who does not fulfill this obligation is accused of dishonor, and is often punished by religious punishment. In short, society collapses on such people with all its weight, puts pressure on them and tries to drag them to suicide.

In handicap suicides, the person’s life did not lose its meaning, he sacrificed his life for a purpose that he considered superior to his life; He hopes that his action will be rewarded.

In today’s societies, suicides of this kind are not common because the individual personality is well stripped of the collective personality, but even though it is rare, there are people who kill themselves to protect their honor and to get rid of shame because they do not follow any orders given to them.

There is a particular social circle in which domestic suicides still persist today, and that is the military. According to Durkheim; Suicide in the military is a remnant of suicide in primitive societies. Because military morality is, in some ways, a remnant of primitive morality.

3) Anomic (Anomic) Suicides

Such suicides are the result of some social depressions, changes in the structure of the society, and the upside and downside of the individual’s lifestyle and values.