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Evaluation of Emile Durkheim's Suicide Theory

Info: 7562 words (30 pages) Dissertation
Published: 1st Nov 2021

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Tagged: Sociology


Background of the Study

At the time of very beginning, human beings had always been submerged in their social worlds. Their relationships were cooperative, long term and had always involved common sense. After the Industrial Revolution, the way of traditional life style has changed gradually. Societies have shifted in unparalleled ways and formed new collective of complexities that would have never occurred before. Especially, Western countries were transformed and development of knowledge made changes and altered society at every level. These pre and post-industrial changes impacted all societies in positive and negative ways. Along with that, it created severe social conditions and new social problems (Giddens, 1989).

These new severe social conditions and social problems required a new science that was unique from any scientific disciplines of the day. These changes and complexity in the human society had introduced and developed a new path to the world. The thinkers of the day found a need for a new science of societies and introduced the concept “Sociology”. It is not very old like other discipline and it was developed and influenced by the industrial revolution during the early nineteenth century. Sociology is considered as the scientific study of human behaviour, origins, development, organization and institution. After the introduction of sociology to this world, people started to speculate and theorised about behaviours of human and organization of the society by applying scientific methods (Dolgon & Baker, 2011).

Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Webber were the pioneers of sociology. The term “Sociology” was coined by the father of sociology, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), to this world. He is the first person to recognize the path to understanding the world and society is based on science. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) along with Comte talked about Social Evolution and Organic Analogy. Karl Marx (1818-1883) is well known for his “Socio-Political theory of Marxism” that argues progress of the society through class struggle. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) mainly focused on division of labour, suicide and religion. Max Webber (1864-1920) is well known for his thesis “The Protestant Ethics and Spirit of Capitalism”, religion, bureaucracy, power and authority. The contributions of pioneering scholars to the sociology have generally been considered to be very important to the development of sociology in many areas in both micro and macro perspectives in the contemporary period too (Rao, 1990).

The dramatic changes in the human society always deal with both positive and negative consequences of its outcome. As the human beings have become civilized, the severity of social problems also becomes increasing gradually. The term “social problem” refers to social conditions that damage the society. These social problems have negative consequences on people which are generally considered as a situation that needs to be addressed (Rao, 1990). There are a number of social problems such like divorce, crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, suicide, poverty, prostitution, unemployment and sexual abuse, etc. existing in the current competitive world.

Suicide is considered as one of the serious social problems existing in the world. It varies between genders, age groups, geographical expansion with the influence of socio-political structure of society. The occurrence and the impacts of this suicide is a threat to the society. This suicide is not a recent phenomenon and it has a long term history. Sociology of Social problem also highly focused on the existence and expansion of suicide since the early period of introduction of sociology as a distinct field.

This study focused on one of the important social problems existing in the world called “Suicide” which was studied and theorised by father of sociology Emile Durkheim. This study was based on secondary data which were already published by different authors. Books, journals, review reports, magazines, articles and reliable websites were used to collect the sufficient data. Content analysis method was used for this study to get the needed information. Collected data were summarized and presented in text and figure in an appropriate manner that can be easily understandable and utilized by the readers.

EMILE DURKHEIM (1858 – 1917)

Personal Life

David Emily Durkheim was born in April 1858 in Epinal, France in a traditional Jewish family. His father, grandfather and forefathers were all priests. However Durkheim lost his religious faith at an early age and started to study philosophy at Ecole Normale Superiere in 1879. He graduated in 1882 and then taught in Paris. He visited Germany in 1885 where he became influenced by the work of psychologist Wilhelm Wundt. Durkheim taught Social Sciences and Pedagogy at University of Bordeaux after returning to France in 1886. He married Louise Dreyfus in 1887 and had two children (Hughes, Sharrock , & Martin, 2003).

He established a reputation as one of the founders of sociology in France through the publication of his doctoral dissertation for the University of Paris titled “The Division of Labour in Society” in 1893. He accomplished full professorship at Bordeaux in 1896, founded the Journal L’Année Sociologique” in 1896 and served as an editor. Durkheim was given promotion and chaired as head of the department of Science of Education, which later became the Department of Science of Education and Sociology. He gained full professorship in 1906. The World War I killed many of his pupils and his son also died in battle in 1915. After this incident Durkheim was emotionally distressed and never recovered. He died in Paris due to a prolonged illness in 1917 by leaving his on-going last work on “Morality” with an introduction. However, Durkheim’s ideas had and still continue to have a strong impact in the field of sociology and anthropology (Hughes, Sharrock , & Martin, 2003).

Major Works and Contribution to Sociology

Durkheim stood in opposition to the individualism and systematically applied scientific method to study the society as a distinct field. Intellectually, Durkheim gave many lectures and published numerous sociological essays during his life time. Durkheim focused on social phenomena such as religion, education, labour, suicide, crime and morality. Each of his works confirmed the sociological method for unveiling relationships between different strata of the total social phenomenon (Hughes, Sharrock , & Martin, 2003).

Durkheim published his first major work “The division of labour in Society” in 1893 that talks about the changes in labour in pre-industrial and post-industrial societies. He made a comparison between the primitive and civilized societies in terms of social solidarity. Durkheim introduced the concept on anomie, the breakdown of the social norms among individuals within a society. The next major work was “The Rules of the Social Methods” where he outlined a methodology for sociology and talked about positivistic approach to sociology and statistical methodology which was purely empirical based. Durkheim published his third major work on “Suicide” which is a case study exploring the different suicide rates between Protestant and Catholics in 1897. Durkheim paid attention to religion and he published his fourth major work on “The Elementary forms of Religious Life” in 1912. He analysed religious beliefs, practices, symbols, rituals and the organization. He talked about the concept of totem, a spiritual symbol. Durkheim also concerned about the French educational system and its significance in the socialization process. His work “Education and Sociology” was published in 1922 (Thompson, 1982).



Durkheim came up with an argument that “why did a definite number of people kill themselves in each society in a definite period of time? Could this be explained by reference to individual psychological factors?” This argument directed Durkheim to go through an empirical investigation on “Suicide” (French: Le Suicide) which was the first book published in 1897 that presented a sociological study. Theory of Suicide was one of the major classic works of Durkheim and it was the first methodological study of a social problem in the context of society. It is still considered as a classical text in sociology and provides the basis for most sociological theories of suicide in post-modern period too. Durkheim gave a sociological explanation to suicide. He defined suicide as: “The term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result” (Durkheim, 1951).

Durkheim tried to figure out what makes people commit suicide and what factors might drive them to end their valuable life. At the starting point of his study Durkheim thought that economic difficulties, religion, marriage and military activities would influence his findings. Though, at the ending point of his study he realized that there were some other factors which contributed to commit suicide among the people. He came up with case studies which proved that the suicide is not fully based on individual act and gives an experimental explanation of how one can understand or describe the state of mind that leads a person to end his own life. Suicide theory of Durkheim offers an examination of suicide rates differed by religion between Protestants and Catholics (Durkheim, 1951).

Specifically, Durkheim compared the suicide rates between Catholics and Protestants and found that suicide rates were higher among Protestant than Catholics and Jews. Suicide rates were higher among men than women. Also, he found that, suicide rates were less common among single than those who are in a sexual relationship and romantically partnered. Suicide rates were higher among people without children than people with children. Suicides rates were higher among soldiers than civilians. Suicide rates were higher in times of peace than in times of war. Suicide rates were higher in Scandinavian countries. Further, Durkheim recognised that, higher education level made individuals to choose suicide and there is more connection between religion and suicide rate than education (Durkheim, 1951).

Typology of Suicide

Durkheim based on his analysis of data and findings argued that suicide is caused by social factors rather than individual psychological factors. Durkheim conceived that lower rate of suicide among Catholics was due to their stronger forms of social control and cohesion than Protestants. He reasoned that, the more socially integrated people less likely to commit suicide and if the social integration decreases people are more likely to commit suicide. He stated that there are two dimensions of social influence on individuals such as “social integration” which is defined as the degree of connection between an individual and “social regulation” which is defined as the degree of influence that society has over an individual (Adams & Sydie, 2001).

Durkheim developed a theoretical typology of suicide where social integration and social regulation push individuals to commit suicide. He formed and theorised four different types of suicide as Egoistic suicide, Altruistic suicide, Anomic suicide and Fatalistic suicide. Durkheim in his typology of suicide split the imbalances of social integration into two types as Altruistic suicide and Egoistic suicide and then he looked and separated the degree of social regulation that the person had in their life as Anomic suicide and Fatalistic suicide (Adams & Sydie, 2001).

Durkheim’s Types of Suicide

Egoistic Suicide

Egoistic Suicide is the first type of suicide thatindicates too weak integration occurs when people feel totally detached from society. It reflects a continued sense of not belonging and not being integrated in a community. Egoistic suicide increases when these bonds are weakened, and they gain a little social support, and are within a limited social network and so the individuals realise that their death would not affect the society. Durkheim criticized that high rate of suicide rate prevailed among adults who were unmarried than married people at the same age (Durkheim, 1951).

Altruistic Suicide

Altruistic Suicide is the second type of suicide which is opposite to egoistic suicide that results from extreme social integration. This type of suicide happens when the degree of social integration is too high. Durkheim stated that this suicide occurs in strong social circumstances where individuals are attached to social expectation, they tend to realise that the society’s needs are more than individual needs and kill themselves to achieve the societal goal. Military suicide is an example of altruistic suicide (Durkheim, 1951).

Anomic Suicide

Anomic Suicide is the third type of suicide that occurs when the degree of social regulation is too low. Individuals commit suicide when they experience anomie which is considered as a feeling of disconnection from larger society. Durkheim conferred two forms of economic anomie as acute economic anomie and chronic economic anomie and two forms of domestic anomie as acute domestic anomie and chronic domestic anomie. Acute economic anomie suicide happens in booms and declines in economic condition. Chronic economic suicide occurs where long term economic troubles do not bring happiness among individuals. Acute domestic anomie suicide was demonstrated by widowhood that faces difficulties to adapt to the new circumstances. Chronic domestic anomie is a situation where material regulation affects the equilibrium of needs of men and women. Bachelors’ experience higher suicide than married men and divorcees also face same situation (Durkheim, 1951).

Fatalistic Suicide

Fatalistic Suicide is the final type of suicide oppose to the anomic suicide developed by that occurs when a person is overly regulated by the society. This kind of extreme social regulation potentially pushes individuals to rather die than survive in oppressive situations. People don’t like to live under the rigid regulation and they have a feeling of losing their own self due to this extreme regulation. Durkheim claimed that if there is too much of control and regulation over a person’s life it will lead to increase the suicide rate among them. Example for this fatalistic suicide is suicide among prisoners, because some prisoners ought to finish their life where they face continuous abuse and too much regulation (Durkheim, 1951).

Intellectual and Social Context of Suicide Theory of Durkheim

The purpose of this part is to discuss about the intellectual and social context of suicide theory of Emile Durkheim. The historical transformation from traditional to industrial societies created new social problems in the world (Giddens, Sociology, 2001). Suicide remains as a significant social problem globally from the past. Suicide was highly increased in European countries including Germany, Italy, France and England in the 19th century where it had come to a point of requiring explanation on the basis of social problem. In this regard, Durkheim’s book on “Suicide” was the first systematic scientific study which talked about suicide (Emirbayer, 2003).

The pioneers of sociology Auguste Comte, Hebert Spencer and Karl Marx acknowledged the importance of using scientific methods to study the society, though none of them actually used it. Durkheim’s study on Suicide can be viewed as a practical demonstration and interpretation of society. Durkheim was really interested in studying suicide and he did not limit his ideas to mere speculation. Durkheim expressed his analysis, findings and conclusion about the social factors behind the suicide based on the analysis of larger amount of statistical data that was collected from various European countries (Adams & Sydie, 2001).

Durkheim was not the first who collected and analysed the data on suicide rate. From the middle of the 19th century number of statisticians and criminologists collected and analysed demographic figures on suicide and amazed by the regularity of suicide rates. But no one came up with behind factors of suicide. Durkheim was the person who went beyond to think about suicide in sociological perspective. He tried to elaborate that suicide rate is nothing to do with mental illness or climatic changes and explained it with social facts like social integration and social regulation in sociological perspective (Adams & Sydie, 2001).

Durkheim carried out his study on suicide by using hypothesis that could be tested empirically and results came out with fair discussion with records and reports which is one of the characteristics of a scientific study. This study on suicide came up with some arguments on a death of soldier or a death of an elderly parent or a death of a prisoner or a death of a young man. This study did not come to a conclusion by testing the suicide rate in one country. Mass amount of data were collected and tested with hypothesis in different countries too. For an instance suicide rate was tested in France and also in Germany for validation to form new theory to the world (Emirbayer, 2003).

It is appropriate to go for the basic inspiration of Durkheim’s study on suicide. Human beings are born in natural environment but natured in cultural environment. Society shapes individuals according to its culture, norms and values (Giddens, Sociology, 1989). Durkheim criticized about the existing social organization due to its characteristics after the Industrialization. Old forms of organizational relationships were declined. The societal transition from traditional societies characterized by “mechanical solidarity” to industrial societies characterized by “organic solidarity” created complexities and individual found little attachment, integration and moral support with the society, where rigid rules and regulation pushed individuals to find their own way of ending their precious life (Emirbayer, 2003).

If suicide was something that goes with individual’s actions, then why different societies might reveal different suicides rate which would be stubborn over time. This concept of Durkheim was challenging for that time and he cleared it as individuals were not having complete control over their actions. By looking at the empirical data on suicide one can predict and explain the expansion of suicide rates. Durkheim encouraged discovering more about suicide and he came up with his master piece of work in scientific way to prove his idea on suicide which was widely accepted and still has the impact in the existing thoughts.

Sociological Theoretical Tradition of Suicide Theory

One can find four major theoretical perspectives in sociology such as functionalism, conflict, symbolic interactionism and utilitarianism. Not all the sociologists shared their ideas in same perspective, though everyone has accepted in their own ways of explanation that social backgrounds and factors affect people’s attitude, behaviours and life styles and deal with crisis and problems in their own ways of explanations (Turner, 1987). Emile Durkheim was a renowned sociologist and still become influenced in sociological background. He is well-known for his contribution to the structure of society where he focused on historical transition of societies and its functions.

Functionalistic perspective stood up after the French Revolution and Industrial revolution in 18th and 19th centuries respectively. These revolutions led to many changes in the society and created social problems due to the breakdown of traditional social order. To response to this situation Durkheim started to write on society. The functionalism emphasizes the role and the importance of social institutions such as family, religion, education, law and order, politics and economy for maintaining a stable society (Turner, 1987).

Suicide theory of Durkheim is the first study that characterises the vision of functionalistic perspective. Suicide is defined on how different social phenomena controls over individuals and affects social outcome as a whole. Durkheim’s study on suicide emphasized with number of examples where social functions breakdown. This study elaborated about how variations in social institutions like family and religion play a direct and clear role in inducing the individuals to commit suicide. Destruction of social institutions, normlessness, and anomie which results from social changes is made social ties weaker. In these crisis situations people become unclear about how to deal with problems (Durkheim, 1951).

Theory of suicide has been the first study in the sociological tradition where Durkheim used scientific approach and hypothesis to prove the facts beyond mere speculation. Theory of suicide gives the basis for most sociological theories of suicide based on epidemiological studies. This theory stated that there are two dimensions which influence individuals to sacrifice their life in the name of suicide such as social regulation and social integration which are the basis of society’s development. These two forces may lead to four different types of suicide as altruistic suicide resulting from extreme social integration, egoistic suicide resulting from lack of social integration, anomic suicide resulting from lack of social regulation and fatalistic suicide resulting from extreme social regulation (Emirbayer, 2003).

Obviously, the study of suicide is a master piece in sociological tradition which looks at the society and its members. Most of the scholars criticized and came up with the argument that, Durkheim focused on social facts rather than individual facts which supported to increase the suicide rate, though Durkheim did his study with the purpose of addressing this issue of suicide among individuals which is the basis of the sociology. Sociology is not only a study of revealing the facts or forming theories, it also an applied study of changing the society through proper guidance. This study is highly contributed to go for external reasons of suicide where people had lack of social awareness at that time of industrialization.

This is the first scientific study in sociological theoretical tradition which gave a way to other thinkers to go for empirical studies and develop sociological theories on individual actions in social context. The theory of suicide acts as a pioneer study on functionalist formation and has captured an important part in sociological theories. Suicide generally denotes an important turning point and helps for the development of sociological studies and has an enormous impact on sociological thought.


Theory of suicide is considered as a classical text, praised by many and used for more than 100 years as an excellent example of positivistic study in sociology. Apart from its importance of theoretical tradition, Durkheim’s theory of suicide has been criticized for some reasons by the followers and other prominent thinkers. This section focused on criticism made by other thinkers on Emile Durkheim’s theory of Suicide.

Durkheim’s study of suicide has been mostly criticized internally where criticism arose within the positivist perspective. The functionalist sociologist Halbwachs (1930) criticised that Durkheim has overestimated the role of religion in his study of suicide by exploring the factors behind the Protestants and Catholics. He suggested that urban and rural differences are also a key factor that contributed to suicide where he found that suicide rates were lower in rural area compared to urban settings (Turner, 1987). Gibbs and Martin (1964) argued that Durkheim’s concept of social integration is too vague and unclear and he did not properly define the concept of integration. He pointed out that there is no adequate operational definition of social integration mentioned in the whole text (Gibbs & Martin, 1964).

Most of the other thinkers like Alex Inkeles (1959) and Johnson (1965) criticized that Durkheim only anticipated explaining the factors behind suicide sociologically where he focused on suicide as a variation among social environments rather than individual actions. Hulten and Wasserman (1992) emphasized that the suicide theory of Durkheim hardly touched on the concept of economic contribution to the increase of suicide rate. He further concluded that economic downturns have been linked to higher suicide rates by examining unemployment and suicide rate in the society (Hulten & Wasserman, 1992).

Theory of suicide was mostly criticized from the outside in the positivist perspective because of its usage of its official statistics and claim for the scientific status. Interpretivists sociologists who prefer humanistic qualitative methods criticized on theoretical and methodological grounds of suicide theory of Emile Durkheim. J. Douglas (1967) suggested that Durkheim did not give enough consideration to how the official statistics on suicide were collected. The investigation on one person’s death was influenced by the person’s family members or the officials. Douglas pointed out that the role of the family of the dead person and the investigation of the officials on the particular death are crucial to define a person’s death whether it was suicide or not. The unreliability of official statistics on suicide gives an inadequate and misleading concept on the explanation of suicide (Douglas, 1967)

J. Maxwell Atkinson (1971) criticised on the Durkheim’s use of official statistics. Atkinson questioned how a death is considered as a suicide. He suggested that the suicide is an interpretation of a situation that is interpreted by the investigator of the death. Atkinson claimed that Durkheim had stricken to the statistics which had the reflection of coroner’s decisions and failed to understand that suicide is constructed by coroners (Atkinson, 1971). Wilkins (1970) also examined the demand features of a coroner’s work on death where their interpretation influences on the decision of a death. He concluded that the influences of family doctors to protect their clients and interest of police in homicides mainly affect the validity of reporting suicide. Atkinson, Kessel and Dalgaard (1975) also suspected that suicides rates were the product of coroners’ judgements, one cannot come to a conclusion based only with official data and investigation (Atkinson, Kessel, & Dalgaard, 1975).

Furthermore, S. Taylor (1982) showed that coroners who investigated the death of a person construct a suicidal biography, negotiate and make judgement on the number of deaths as what they want to be. After the investigation of officials or agency, the decision of a death whether suicide or homicide has recorded on a death certificate and handed over to the government statistical office for maintaining records (Taylor, 1982). Berk, Dodd & Henry noticed that Durkheim spoke on “Collective current” that imitates the collective preference flowing down from the channels of social institutions. An individual variable, like depression, has become an autonomous cause of suicides. He claimed that Durkheim’s theory of suicide overlooked the concept of social forces and omitted individual phenomenon of suicide (Berk, Dodd, & Henry, 2006).

Finally most of the other thinkers came up with a number of criticisms related to the methodology of Durkheim’s work as he failed to consider the reliability and validity of the information. They criticised that statistics are product of a long process of interpretations, negotiations, reconciliations and finally come to a position of decision making of a death whether it is suicide or homicide or accidental death. This official statistics are demanded for reliability and validity. And also Durkheim failed to avoid subjectivity and defined suicide based on subjective state of the victim of suicide. Durkheim quickly came to a value judgment on healthy and diseased society based on suicide.


Reviews on Suicide Theory of Emile Durkheim

Human development and changes in their life style created number of positive and negative outcomes in all spheres of life. Along with these continuous development process social problems also started to increase among human society. Scholars and experts try to address these issues by giving all sort of contributions, especially through their impressive studies and writing. French sociologist, Emile Durkheim is a key figure in the development of sociology who conducted an empirical study on “Suicide” in 1897 which is considered as the first scientific study in sociological tradition (Hughes, Sharrock , & Martin, 2003).

Durkheim’s theory of suicide is based on statistical data that were collected from various countries in Europe. Collecting huge amount of data was not an easiest process in that era. By looking at the massive data that was collected, Durkheim analysed the suicide rate among Protestants and Catholics and he identified that, suicide rates were lower among Catholics compared with Protestants. And also he explored that suicide rates were higher among men than women, suicide rates were more common among single people those who are unmarried, suicide rates were higher among those who had no children, suicide rates were higher among soldiers than civilians and surprisingly suicide rates were higher during peacetime than during war period. He was correct as he guessed (Durkheim, 1951).

By looking over the analysis of data, Durkheim came to a point that suicide is not an individual phenomenon. Durkheim claimed that suicide can be produced by social factors such as social integration and regulation on how individual attached or detached and over regulated or under regulated by society. If these functions break down, the individuals will lose their self-control which leads to increase the chances of suicide. Durkheim developed four types of suicide as Altruistic suicide, Anomic suicide, Egoistic suicide and Fatalistic suicide. Durkheim divided the imbalances of social integration into two types of suicide as Altruistic suicide and Egoistic suicide and then he divided the degree of social regulation that the person had in their life as Anomic suicide and Fatalistic suicide (Durkheim, 1951).

Egoistic Suicideis the first type of suicide which resulted from too little social integration. Normally, individuals tie up with family members, friends and community but if an individual feels total detached from the social group he belongs to then it will lead him for egoistic suicide (Adams & Sydie, 2001). Enough integration is very essential to the process of socialization. Drug addicts are the practical example for this suicide because they have poor social integration among family members, peer group and in the society, and finally without anyone’s support they commit suicide.

Altruistic Suicide is the second type of suicide which is another extreme level of social integration. According to Durkheim, this suicide results from too much social integration (Adams & Sydie, 2001). Durkheim had a wide range of thinking in this type of suicide; even we can still find this kind of suicide in modern civil societies too. Most of the individuals who belong to some groups which have common purposes either good or bad sacrifice their life for the attainment of group’s goal, as an example we can say that a suicide bomber from a terrorist organization.

Anomic Suicide is the third type of suicide. This type of suicide occurs when the social regulation is low. Durkheim emphasized that people are controlled and restricted by the norms, values and culture which guide a person to live in a good way. He divided this suicide in to four types as acute and chronic economic anomie and acute and chronic domestic anomie (Adams & Sydie, 2001). Marriage and family life are good ways which could fulfil the needs of individuals. Nowadays young generation are in the condition of lack of social regulation. They behave like they want and practice to deviant behaviours. Durkheim stated that bachelors’ experience higher suicide than married men.

The final type of suicide is fatalistic suicide. Durkheim defined that this type of suicide happens when a person is overly regulated in the society by the societal norms and values (Adams & Sydie, 2001). Under the concept of “Too much of anything is good for nothing”, if individuals’ future and their career and development are blocked by any outer forces, it will lead them to commit suicide. However, this type of suicide is rare in the modern world and it is hard to find overregulated lives today due to the advancement of knowledge and technology and the trends of modernization. An example for this suicide is the life of prisoners, slaves, widows in ancient India, childless women etc.

As a functionalist Durkheim did great job on writing about suicide. Durkheim’s theory of suicide and his analytical methods are unique for multiple reasons. This is how a true sociologist could value suicide as a cause of external stimuli. It is must for sociologists to expose and understand the human actions in societal perspective as the foundation of societal influences. In other words, salute to Durkheim for his vital work to guide followers of sociology and other thinkers to be an inspiration and role model.

Critiques on Suicide Theory of Emile Durkheim

This study has already talked about the important criticisms made by other thinkers on Durkheim’s theory of suicide regarding findings and way of findings. Durkheim in his study of suicide mostly tried to establish the scientific status of sociological explanation that drove him to go for excessive arguments about the social factors behind the suicide. Durkheim was only worked along with hypothesis and strict to his idea on the light of findings. This study of suicide failed to focus in subjective perspective. Individual phenomenon and factors are very crucial in personal decision making. One cannot fully study an individual in external stimuli. Suicide is not an easiest act like other actions. So considering only the society’s regulation and integration one cannot always go for extreme decision, there should be personal derives to sacrifice one’s life. So, theory of suicide failed to focus subjective factors and excluded subjective components which also drove to commit suicide.

Durkheim gave more priority to the role of religion in his study of suicide. As one of the social institutions religion plays an immense role in shaping up human behaviour through its teaching. Most of the religions teach that suicide is a sin. Durkheim was also born in the traditional Jewish family where his fore fathers are priests. Though, Durkheim turned towards the secular view of religion and lost his faith on religion at an early age. Religious perspective differs from person to person. Due to the lack of religiosity or over regulation of religion cannot make everyone to go for suicide. Durkheim categorized suicide into four as egoistic, altruistic, anomic and fatalistic suicides. Is it possible to put people’s suicide in a box depending on their level of social integration and social regulation by examining the level after the death of a person? Durkheim came to a fixed point too early by considering on the quantitative data. So, this theory easily came to a conclusion that suicide falls under a box of four extreme levels of social integration and social regulation.

Durkheim’s study on suicide has misconception which is considered as logical error. By viewing two religious people in some countries we cannot go for a final conclusion. The study needs to go for more comparison among other religions and ethnic groups. These types of sudden conclusions which explain about the individual events of micro level in the view of macro level are often misleading the causes behind the suicide. This study was mostly relied on official statistics and these statistics may be invalid and incomplete. Still most of the countries lack in the accuracy of data collection process on suicide. The case files in the police stations are even not closed and still investigations are pending. In 19th century the knowledge on the causes of death would be limited and also many countries didn’t have proper system which is essential to collect reliable statistics on suicide. In this condition, how it can be possible to prove that the sources on suicide are reliable. Durkheim’s study on suicide is fully based on secondary data that were already recorded. Rather than depending on statistical data on suicide, if Durkheim had gone for a primary data collection tools such as field observation and interviews among the victims’ family members for limited number of cases, this study would be more practical and acceptable in the scientific tradition.

Durkheim failed to talk about the role of economy in suicide rate. This competence of accumulating money might also be a reason behind suicide at that era. Durkheim also failed to focus on crimes and suicide rate, because people often were tied up with crimes, especially rape, murder, homicide in the societal transformation period. This condition also supported to the increase of the suicide rate at that era. How can we differentiate the accidental death and suicide? If someone died accidently without having any sort of purpose of committing suicide, how can we define it clearly?

Durkheim’s main argument was that there had been four different types of suicide; egoistic, altruistic, anomic and fatalistic. Just reviewing the suicide rate among Catholics and Protestants, one cannot draw a conclusion that too low social integration leads to egoistic suicide. The way of religious practices differs from religion to religion and person to person. Religious teachings work on how individuals are willing to follow it. Altruistic suicide could occur when individual thinks societal need is better than individual need. A few individuals, whether soldiers or civilians sacrifice their life for common purposes, we cannot put everyone into this box. Because some people commit suicide for economic purposes, they lose their life for money. Fatalistic suicide was not common among every individual and Durkheim failed to signify the unimportance of this kind of suicide.

This theory of suicide somewhat has come to a point of out-dated one today. Georg Simmel’s “Philosophy of Money” is only working in the contemporary society. There is no importance given by people in the contemporary world to social integration and regulation. Human society is in the peak of individual self-sufficiency. So no one is ready to care about society. Human relationship is based on money and material oriented. Religion, values, norms and culture are vanished from the society today. Even there are no tears coming from the eyes by seeing the death of a loved one. In this state, social regulation and social integration are nothing to do with most of the individuals in the society.


Sociology, a scientific study of human society has emerged as a distinct field after the rapid changes in the human society. Number of eminent sociologists like Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Webber contributed through their revolutionary writing to address the social changes and social problems at that era. Social problems have been evolving rapidly from the past and destruct the basic social institutions. Suicide is considered as one of the serious social problems and sociology highly focused on the existence and expansion of suicide since the early period.

A French sociologist, Emily Durkheim (1858 – 1917) who is considered as one of the Father of Sociology stood up in opposition to the individualism and systematically applied scientific methods to study the society. Durkheim published his third major work “Suicide”, an empirical study in 1897 which is the first scientific methodological study of a social problem in the context of society. Durkheim tried to figure out what makes people to commit suicide by dealing with in-depth case studies on suicide. The study on suicide came up with important conclusions that suicide rates were higher among Protestant than Catholics, higher among men than women, less common among single than married, higher among people without children than people with children, higher among soldiers than civilians, higher in peace time than in war time and higher in Scandinavian countries.

Durkheim was highly interested to discover more about suicide and he came up with his master piece of work in scientific way to prove his idea on suicide which was widely accepted. Durkheim defined suicide as a social fact that would require explanation in terms of social facts. Durkheim drew a conclusion that suicide is occurred due to social factors such as social integration and social regulation on how individuals are attached or detached and over regulated or under regulated by the society. Durkheim developed four types of suicide based on the imbalance of two social forces: social integration and social regulation as egoistic suicide that occurs due to too weak social integration, altruistic suicide which results from high extreme social integration, anomic suicide which occurs due to weaker social regulation and fatalistic suicide which results due to high extreme level of social integration.

Apart from its importance, Durkheim’s theory of suicide has been criticized on theoretical and methodological grounds internally within the positivist perspective and externally from the outside within the positivist perspective by the followers and other prominent thinkers. Despite the specific criticism, his theory of suicide has been greatly praised by many and used for more than 100 years as an excellent example of positivistic study in sociology. Durkheim did an outstanding job by giving such an inspirational study to the complex world. Theory of suicide generally denotes an important turning point and helps in the development of sociological studies and has an enormous impact on sociological thoughts. Theory of suicide is still relevant and considered as a classical text in sociology and provides the basis for most sociological theories of suicide in 21st century too.



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Journal Articles

Atkinson, M., Kessel, N., & Dalgaard, J. (1975). The Comparability of Suicide Rates. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 127, 247-256.

Berk, M., Dodd, S., & Henry, M. (2006). The Effect of Macro Economic Variables on Suicide. Psychological Medicine, 36, 181-189.

Hulten, A., & Wasserman, D. (1992). Suicide among Young People aged 10-29 in Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 20(2), 65-72.

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Sociology is the field of study that focuses on societies and human behaviour. Sociology explores relationships, different cultures, social interactions, social behaviours, and other related aspects of human behaviour.

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