November 07, 2005


Suicide, Durkheim's third major work, is of great importance because it is his first serious effort to establish an empericism in sociology. He proposed four types of suicide, based on the degrees of imbalance of two social forces: social integration and moral regulation.
  • Egoisitic suicide resulted from too little social integration. Those individuals who were not sufficiently bound to social groups (and therefore well-defined values, traditions, norms, and goals) were left with little social support or guidance, and therefore tended to commit suicide on an increased basis. An example Durkheim discovered was that of unmarried people, particularly males, who, with less to bind and connect them to stable social norms and goals, committed suicide at higher rates than unmarried people.
  • The second type, Altruistic suicide, was a result of too much integration. It occurred at the opposite end of the integration scale as egoistic suicide. Self sacrifice was the defining trait, where individuals were so integrated into social groups that they lost sight of their individuality and became willing to sacrifice themselves to the group's interests, even if that sacrifice was their own life. The most common cases of altruistic suicide occurred among members of the military.
  • On the second scale, that of moral regulation, lies the other two forms of suicide, the first of which is Anomic suicide, located on the low end. Anomic suicide was of particular interest to Durkheim, for he divided it into four categories: acute and chronic economic anomie, and acute and chronic domestic anomie. Each involved an imbalance of means and needs, where means were unable to fulfill needs.
  • The final type of suicide is Fatalistic suicide, "at the high extreme of the regulation continuum" (1982, p. 113). This type Durkheim only briefly describes, seeing it as a rare phenomena in the real world. Examples include those with overregulated, unrewarding lives such as slaves, childless married women, and young husbands. Durkheim never specifies why this type is generally unimportant in his study.

Durkheim felt that his empirical study of suicide had discovered the structural forces that caused anomie and egoism, and these forces were natural results of the decline of mechanical solidarity and the slow rise of organic solidarity due to the division of labor and industrialism. Sources: Thompson, Kenneth. 1982. Emile Durkheim. London: Tavistock Publications.

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