Durkheim and Suicide

Durkheim and Suicide

Durkheim's "Suicide" is a classical work in the sociological tradition. 

  • Identities social factors involved in a very personal and intimate individual behaviour 
  • Helps define - the subject matter of sociology and the relationship between the "private troubles" and "public issues" (sociological imagination)
  • It is based on empirical and statistical data
  • Gives arise to an "objective" and quantative research method of sociology 
  • Durkheim's findings are based on old data. 
  • However his analysis has not lost its revelance (one of the major theoretical sources on suicide). 
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Suicide in Canada

  • Suicide is the 3rd cause of death in Canada (more 4%) 
  • Age groups - the second highest cause of death (suicide) of youth aged 10-24
  • Gender - in 1991, the rate of suicide for young men was 6 times greater than for young women 
  • Young girls are more likely to attempt suicide - 12-14 years - 10% of girls; 4% of boys. Grade 8 - 20% of girls; 13% of boys. 
  • Aboriginals - the suicide among Indian youth was 5 times that of the total Canadian population 
  • Well integrated Aboriginal
    • Some had low or non-existent rates of suicide - self-government; settling land claims; control over community social services; engaging in traditional cultural healing practices
  • Professional groups - farm operators (lower rate) RCMP - half that of the comparable general population
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Suicide in Canada (2)

Causes of suicide:

  • Fewer important persons in the kinship network
  • More conflicts with this network 
  • A strong experiences of being lonely and alone 
  • Depression & self-esteem 
    • 12-18 - feeling really depressed once a month - 43% of young women; 23% of young men; feeling good about themselves - 30% of young women; 43% young men. 
  • Inequality - suicide risk among young males is increased when those around them are perceived to be more advantaged 
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Egoistic Suicide

  • Suicide and religion - Protestants are found to kill themselves much more often than Catholics 
  • In Durkheim's view - is more hierarchical than Protestantism; protestantism concedes a greater freedom to individual because it has fewer common beliefs and rituals 

3 aspects of social integration: 

  • Rituals - such as baptism, communion, wedding, confession 
  • Beliefs - more religious beliefs regulate the individuals life 
  • Organisation: Catholicism is more hierarchical than Protestantism 

Happiness - results from the fulfilment of our needs. Human needs are - physical

  • Their source is our body; they are fixed and given by our physical constitution; their aim is our bodily existence; their development is individual - "we are self-sufficient" 
    • As limited to bodily needs 
  • Transcendental (beyond our bodily needs - higher needs) - the sentiments of sympathy and solidarity. Not an essential and fixed part of human nature. Acquired by people as they become adult and socialised. 
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Egoistic Suicide (2)

  • "The child and the old" - "are not so dependent on these transcendental higher needs" 
  • "The civilised adult" - "has many ideas, feelings and practices unrelated to organic bodily needs." 

The social origin of the higher needs 

  • Society - creates "the sentiments of sympathy and solidarity drawing us toward others." Fills us with religious, political and moral beliefs 
  • The social conditions of our higher needs - their satisfaction depends on the presence of others and on our interaction and relationship with others (i.e. someone to love, to express our sympathy for, some one to play or listen to music with) 
  • The social aims of our higher needs - they are not just for us to enjoy them individually but rather their aims are to enhane our relationships, to enrich our common life i.e. our social existence. 
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Social Detachment and Unhappiness

Detachment from society deprives us from:

  • The conditions required for the fulfilment of our higher needs (i.e. our connection to and interaction with others)
  • The aims and purposes of our higher ends. 
  • Lower rates of suicide among 
    • Children and the aged - "physical man, in both, tends to become the whole man." 
    • Women - less social - "can endure life in isolation more easily than man." 
  • Durkheim's bias against women - Woman's "sensibility is rudimentary rather than highly developed" // Man by contrast "is a more complex social being" 
    • Is a reflection of the women's condition in his time. He incorrectly generalises it by assuming that it represents women's nature in general. 
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Egoistic Suicide (3)

Defined - egoism refers to a social condition which breeds egoism, leading to depression and suicide. 

Egoism - on the one hand refers to: A wrong belief that our interests and purposes are limited to our "ego, that we are always motivated by self-interest and ought to do what is in our self-interest." 

  • This belief leads to a denial of the social origin of our human needs (sympathy, cooperation, love) and their purposes. 
  • A belief that only one's self exists (an excessive or exaggerated sense of self-importance - egoism). This belief leads to a scarce feeling of needs for others or for social life in general.
  • The egoistic suicide is caused by a gap between - our socially defined needs (an undeniable condition of human life) and our socially constructed egoistic value (a denial of our social needs and our need for others and social life in general). 
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Anomic Suicide

  • Economic crisis and suicide - the statistics show that when an economic crisis occurs the rate of suicide increases. 
  • Economic prosperity and suicide - but the statistics also show that economic prosperity leads to an increase in the suicide rate. 
  • Poverty and suicide - people in poor countries are not necessarily unhappy, nor they commit suicide more than in rich advanced countries. 
    • Suicide rates (per 100,00) - Lithuania - M 73.7, F 13.7 // France M 30.4, F 10.8 // USA M 19.3, F 4.4 
  • Justice and Suicide - our perception of an undeserved poverty which is at the basis of our disappointment, and maladjustment in life. 
  • Justice and happiness - our bodily organic needs, same as animal's needs, are regulated by nature - biologically. 
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Our Infinite Needs

  • Yet our ends are not limited to our body.
  • We aim at better conditions in life.
  • Left to ourselves to decide our ends in life they - become
    • "Unlimited and unrealistic" "surpass the means", become "insatiable and bottomless abyss" 
  • If it is not restraint, our ends become a "source of torment" 
  • "To pursue a goal which is by definition unattainable is to condemn oneself to a state of perpetual unhappiness" 

How to limit our needs?

  • Some force exterior to individual - a regulative force is required 
  • However, when indiviuals' ends are "maintained by force or custome" it is superficially restrained and "peace and harmony is illusory"
  • The moral restraint - not physical restraint, conscience can limit our desires; "must come from a power obeyed through respect" 
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  • Is historical - at every movement of history there is a dim perception of the respective value of different social services, the relative reward due to each. 
  • Equal opportunity - "if the conditions (of social success) are the same for everyone." In old time, it was based merely on "birth" today only hereditary fortune and merit. 
  • Is social 
    • Gives the individuals standards to judge "what is unjust and just" e.g. "birth" vs. "merit" i.e. ascription vs. achievement. 
    • Stipulates law and estimates the reward offered to functions e.g. what a teacher, a working person, a doctor should expect. 
    • Gives the reasons for accepting the rules of justice. Justice requies sacrifices in the name of the public interest. 
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Justice (1)

When is justice disrupted?

  • When society is disturbed by some painful crisis or by beneficent but abupt transitions 
  • Lack of a framework of meaningful constraint i.e. moral influence. To teach - tolerance in the face hardship; contentment with one's position in life, "occurs mostly in the sphere of trade and industry"

Economic crisis and justice - economic disasters

  • Lead to the declassification of certain individuals (e.g. unemployment and poverty) 
  • Abrupt growth - the social resources is changed and there is a need for a new adjustment. 
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Religion in the older socities:

  • Justified social differences, promised compensation in the next world,
  • Taught that "worldly economic success" is not the "primary goal of life/must be subordinated to intangible goals." 

Modern Societies 

  • Religion is replaced by economy as the dominant social institution 
  • The government has become a servant of business and has no longer any moral function 
  • Economy (as the dominant institution) is freed from moral regulation 
  • Economic activity is regarded as the supreme end and not as a means to an end. 

The end: material sucess 

  • Desires become material wants and the pursuit of private gains. All desires considered to be possible with sufficient effort. From top to bottom of the leader, greed is aroused without knowing where to find ultimate foothold.
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Market and Consumerism

  • Industrial production (market) demands - an endless need for products
  • Market acts to extend and expand desires
  • A thirst arises for novelties, unfamiliar pleasures and nameless sensations. 
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Anomie Suicide

The anomic suicide defined 

  • Results from lack of regulation 
  • Regulation is need for -
    • regulating our ends and needs within the limits and boundaries of justice. 

Anomie can result from:

  • A lack of norms in general (abrupt changes) 
  • The unfairness of social norms (inequality) 
  • Weaknesses or lack of individuals commitment to the social norms - most important to Durkheim 
  • Egoistic suicide refers to the quality of our ends (Social vs. egoistic), anomic suicide to the quantity of our needs (our share in the social resources)
  • The issue in egoistic suicide is our values, in anomic suicide our norms 
  • One leads to depression, the other to anger and frustration 
  • One requires social integreation, the other social regulation. 
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Shortcomings of Durkheim

  • Does not provide a systematic analysis of suicide 
  • What is the relationship between egoistic and anomic suicide, between social (dis)integration and social (de)regulation. 
  • Not all "higher ends" have a positive social aim - power
  • Lacks a clear analysis of the causes of disintegration. 
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