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Durkheims Suicide

Durkheims Suicide was the first methodological study of a social fact in the context of
society.
What does that mean? Well, it means that Durkhiem wanted to look at suicide, a known
occurrence in society, and do it scientifically. He wanted to break the social causes of
suicide, back them up with research, and present them to the greater world via this book.
He splits this book into three parts which are outlined below; the most important of which
for our concerns is Book Two. This book explains his theories of the social causes of suicide
and the different types he defined.
Durkheims main argument was that suicide is not an individual act, as was previously
thought by leading scientists of his time. Accordingly, his theory was that suicide was a
social fact that was tied to social structures. He defined suicide as a social fact because it
was something that happened driven by social causes, however hidden they were.
In order to test his theory he studied suicide rates across time and place
(throughoutEurope, spanning many years). Once he had completed his preliminary
research and analyses, he came to the conclusion that, despite major differences in suicide
rates between individual societies, rates within a society remained stable over time.
Distribution of the Different Kinds of Death Among 1,000 Suicides (Both Sexes Combined)
Countrie Years Strangulatio Drownin Fire Leapin Poiso Asphyxiatio
s
n and
g
g from n
n
Hanging
arm a High
s
Spot
1872 426
269
103 28
20
69
France
France

1873

430

298

106

30

21

67

France

1874

440

269

122

28

23

72

France

1875

446

294

107

31

19

63

Prussia

1872

610

197

102

6.9

25

Prussia

1873

597

217

95

8.4

25

4.6

Prussia

1874

610

162

126

9.1

28

6.5

Prussia

1875

615

170

105

9.5

35

7.7

England

1872

374

221

38

30

91

England

1873

366

218

44

20

97

England

1874

374

176

58

20

94

England

1875

362

208

45

97

Italy

1872

174

305

236

106

60

13.7

Italy

1873

173

273

251

104

62

31.4

Italy

1874

125

246

285

113

69

29

Italy

1875

176

299

238

111

55

22

By looking at thsi table from page 291 of "Suicide" we can see that over the years, each
type of suicide has a relatively stable rate in each place. The numbers may vary across the
places, but for each locale, there is consistency.
Durkheim then proceeded to theorize three different types of suicide that are found in all
societies. These include:
1) Egoistic suicide, which results from lack of integration of the individual into
society. (Page 14)
~This means that a person is not included in many things that happen in society,
they feel unattached, helpless and useless. Due to these feelings of inadequacy,
the person takes his of her own life.
2) Altruistic suicide . . . it results from the individuals taking his own life because
of higher commandments. (Page 15)
~This means that the individual feels that something larger than himself is causing
him to take his own life, such as religious Martyrs or suicide bombers.
3) Anomic suicide . . . which results from lack of regulation of the individual by
society. (Page 15)
~This means that the society is going through some sort of change, where the rules
of the society are not as clear as they were. The individual feels confused and
does not know how to handle the major changes occuring around him/herself,
and thus commits suicide.
The relevance of Durkheims Suicide Theory on sociology is seen very well through a series
of quotes from the editor/translator:
his work on suicide remains the prototype of systematic, rigorous and unrelenting attack
on the subject with the data, techniques, and accumulated knowledge available at any given
period. (Page 9, Editor's Preface of "Suicide")
Le Suicide is among the first modern examples of consistent and organized use of
statistical method in social investigation. (Page 9, Editor's Preface of "Suicide")

. . . Durkheim is seeking to establish that what looks like a highly individual and personal
phenomenon is explicable through the social structure and its ramifying functions. (Page
10, Editor's Preface of "Suicide")