Based on materials presented in lectures so far, a sociological topic or theme that interests me is the study of suicide, as it is a topic I strongly feel about.
Le Suicide by French founding sociologist Emile Durkheim is a classic text of sociology that is commonly taught to students of psychology. Published in 1897, the book was the first to present a sociological study of suicide, and at the time it was revolutionary to suggest that suicide could result from social causes rather than from individual temperaments. Suicide’s text offered an examination of how religion at the time differed in suicide rates. Durkheim examined differences between Protestants and Catholics in particular. He found a lower suicide rate among Catholics, theorizing that this was attributed among them to stronger types of social control and unity than among Protestants.
In Durkheim’s Study findings, he found that suicide was more common among men than women, more common among individuals than romantically associated individuals, and not as common among those with children. He also found that soldiers commit suicide more frequently and surprisingly, suicide rates are higher in peacetime than in wartime. Durkheim identified four types of suicide in coherence with relative existence or lack of integration and control.
- Egoistic Suicides
Egoistic suicide is a deep reaction of people who feel detached from society. People are usually integrated into society through work roles, family and community ties, as well as other social ties. The likelihood of selfish suicide increases when these bonds are weakened by retirement or loss of family and friends. Elderly people who are most deeply affected by these failures are highly susceptible to selfish suicide.
- Anomic Suicide
This form of suicide is caused by lack of social regulation. A sense of mutual disconnection and a sense of non-partnership arising from diminished social cohesion. A person can feel so confused and isolated in such circumstances that they choose to commit suicide.
- Altruistic Suicide
This is perhaps due to excessive control of individuals by social forces in such a way that a person can be driven to destroy himself for the sake of a cause or society as a whole. An example is someone who committed suicide for religious or political reasons. Individuals are so heavily embedded into social expectations and society itself in such social circumstances that they will sacrifice themselves in an effort to achieve group goals.
- Fatalistic Suicide
This takes place in circumstances of extreme social repression, culminating in situations of exploitation and deprivation of identity and power. In such a scenario, a person may choose to die rather than continue to endure the intolerable circumstances, such as prisoner suicide.
Durkheim’s study helps to establish sociology as a discipline with its own subject matter, and his fundamental argument in his book on suicide retains its strength: that to fully grasp even the seemingly most personal act of suicide requires a sociological explanation rather than simply an exploration of personal motivation.