Essay on The Social Causes of Suicide and Durkheim's Theory

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Durkheim was a functionalist, and theorised that a holistic social narrative could be identified which would explain individual behaviour. He argued that, whilst society was made up of its members, it was greater than the sum of its parts, and was an external pressure that determined the behaviour of the individuals within it. At that time, suicide rates in Europe were rising, and so the causes of suicide were on the agenda. Since suicide is seen as an intrinsically personal and individual action, establishing it as having societal causes would be a strong defence for Durkheim’s functionalist perspective. Durkheim used the comparative method to study the official suicide rates of various European countries. While he was not the first to…show more content…
Durkheim does not see egoism, altruism, anomie and fatalism as types of suicide, but types of social structure that highlight the presence or lack of integration and regulation. It must be stressed that this excess/lack of integration and regulation are not seen as direct causes of suicide, rather Durkheim sees a number of voluntary deaths in society as inevitable; integration and regulation are merely prophylactic to suicidal impulses, which when taken to excess or dramatically reduced, fail to act as a preventative, and so suicides occur. This clarification is an important strength of Durkheim’s theory: it allows the biography of the individuals who kill themselves to vary, while still explaining underlying pressures/lack of to explain their deaths, and the varying suicide rates between groups. There are various criticisms of Durkheim’s methods and conclusions. His first great weakness must be seen as his treatment of fatalism. Durkheim himself says it has “little contemporary importance” (1951: 276), and Bearmann (1991) and Lehmann (1995) note how little coverage is given to it. Lehmann is particularly condemning, saying, “since fatalism is restricted to primitives and women, Durkheim finds it uninteresting and relegates it to a footnote” (1995: 918). One of the main examples Durkheim
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