Recently I have read the following book. Some of its main points are:
Emile Durkheim.1952. Suicide: a Study in Sociology; translated by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson; edited with an introduction by George Simpson. London: Routledge.
Emile Durkheim in the early chapters devotes to negating the belief that ascribed suicide to extra-social factors. He uses a process of elimination to rule out non-social factors for suicide, leaving only social factors. This conclusion was used as a foundation for reaffirming his thesis that the suicide-rate was a phenomenon that could be studied in its own term (14).
According to Durkheim, currently suicide could not be explained by its individual forms.
Durkheim explains 3 categories of suicide. One of them was egoistic suicide which was resulted from lack of integration of an individual into society. Regarding religious society, Durkheim notes that the suicide rate was low among Catholics yet high among Protestants. Egoistic suicide was seen in where there was weak integration of the individual into family life. In area where individual was rigorously governed by custom and habits, suicide was altruistic: due to religious sacrifice or political allegiance (15).
Egoistic suicide and altruistic suicide might be considered to be symptomatic of the way which the individual was structured into the society; in the former case inadequately, in the latter case, over-adequately.
There was another kind of suicide, the anomic suicide, which was the result of lack of regulation of the individual by society. Instance such as when a person had a sudden wealth thus upsetting the upper and lower limits of his scale of life. Or it happened in a divorce, a situation when one could not handle properly.
In addition to the three types, Durkheim suggests that there might be a mixed form of suicide, such as ego-anomic, altruist-anomic, and the ego-altruist.
The aggregate of individual views on life was more than the sum of the individual view. It was an existence in itself, what he called collective conscience. It was a common sentiment.
When the rates of suicide increase, it was symptomatic of a breakdown of collective conscience which was a basic flow in the social fabric.
For ameliorative measures, we had to go to the question of social structure.
Book’s main points:
-After doing some analysis, Durkheim concludes that the definition of suicide would be applicable to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knew would produce this result (44).
-Suicide did not form a distinct group; they were merely the exaggerated form of common practices (45).
-Suicide was a new fact sui generis, with its own unity and its own nature (46). The statistics expressed the suicidal tendency in each society had a collective effect (51). To study this was the duty of sociologists (51).
-The three steps of the book were: 1. to know whether the phenomenon could be explained by extra-social cause or purely social cause, 2. to determine the social causes, 3.to state what the social element of suicide consists and the means to counteract it (52).
-There were two sorts of extra-social causes that one may, a priori, attribute an influence on the suicide-rate: organic-psychic disposition and the nature/physical environment (57).
-After some discussion Durkheim concludes that all suicides of the insane were either devoid of any motive or determined by pure imaginary motives, many voluntary deaths fall into neither category, not every suicide could be considered as insane (66).
-Using statistics Durkheim shows that the social suicide rate bore no definite relation to the tendency to insanity (76); also after some discussion, Durkheim shows that a society’s number of suicides was not related to having more or fewer neuropaths or alcoholics cases (81).
- Durkheim rules out hereditary origin for suicide (99). And after some lengthy discussion, Durkheim ruled out the cosmic factors (climate and seasonal variation) as a factor for causing suicide (121).
-After some lengthy discussion Durkheim ruled out imitation as the cause of suicide.
-Because the cause of suicide could not be explained by organic-psychic condition of an individual, nor the nature of physical environment, through a process of elimination, he concludes that it must be depending on social causes (145).
-Durkheim instead of determining the suicide cases by classifying them based on the described character, he makes classification bases on the social types of suicide. In a word, instead of being morphological, it would be aetiological. Once the nature of the causes was known, he would try to deduce the nature the effect, with the aid of data on the morphology, he would descend from cause to effect (147).
-He determines the productive causes of suicide directly, concerning the forms of a particular individual. He would look into various social environments: religion, family, political etc. (151). Only then he would return to the individual, to study how these general causes become individualized (151).
-Durkheim first focuses on religion. He found that Protestants showed far more suicides than other followers (154). He concluded that the proclivity of Protestants for suicide must relate to the spirit of fee inquiry that animates this religion (158). Liberty overthrew traditional belief (158). Protestant was a less strongly integrated church then the Catholic (159).
-Durkheim concludes that the suicide rate increases with knowledge. Man sought to learn, and man killed himself because the loss of cohesion in his religious society. Also in general religion had a preventive effect on suicide (169). What constituted a society was the existence of certain number of beliefs and practices common to all and thus was obligatory (170).
-Other social factors could also attribute to suicide: family and politics (171). After some lengthy discussion, it was concluded that just as the family was a powerful safeguard against suicide. As such the more strongly it was constituted, the greater its protection (202). He concludes that suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of social groups. The more weakened the groups to which he belonged, the less he depended on them, the more he consequently depended on himself and recognized no other rules of conduct then what were found in his private interest. He called it egoism (egoistic suicide), in which the individual ego asserted itself too excessively (209).
-If excessive individualism led to suicide, insufficient individuation had the same effect (217).This was the second category of suicide. It had three types: obligatory altruistic suicide, optional altruistic suicide and acute altruistic suicide (227). They all contrast sharply with egoistic suicide. Where altruistic suicide was prevalent, man was always ready to give his life (240).
-In dealing with anomic suicide, Durkheim concludes that if industrial or financial crisis increased suicide, it was not because of poverty causes, but was the crisis and the disturbances over the collective order (246). The state of de-regulation, or anomy, was thus further heightened by the weakening of discipline, precisely when more discipline was needed (253).
-For the whole century, economic progress had mainly consisted of freeing industrial relations from all regulation. Until recently, it was the moral forces that exerted the discipline. They were felt alike by both the poor and the rich. It consoled the rich and taught the poor to content with their lot. It governed the rich by saying that worldly interest was not man’s entire log, they must be subordinated to other and higher interest, and it should not be pursued without rule or measure (255). Now religion had lost most of its power, Government, instead of regulating economic life, had become its tool and servant (255). Nations declared to have one single or chief purpose: achieving industrial prosperity.
-Anomy was a regular and specific factor in suicide in our modern society. It was different from egoistic and altruistic suicide. It was resulted from man’s lack of regulated activity and the consequential sufferings (258).
-Egoistic suicide and anomic suicide had kindred ties; both sprang from society’s insufficient presence in individual, although the sphere of absence was not the same. Egoistic suicide was deficient in collective activities, anomic suicide was social influence lacking in individual passion, leaving them without a check-rein (in industrial or commercial world) (258). Economic was not the only anomy, the crisis of widowhood was also a factor (259).
-After doing all the grouping, Durkheim starts the morphological classification (277). Each victim of suicide had given his act a personal stamp which expressed his temperament, and a special condition that he was involved. A victim might not be completely egoistic. There was suicide mixing depression with agitation (288). The basic types were: egoistic, altruistic and anomic, the mixed types were Ego-anomic, anomic-altruistic, ego-altruistic (293).
-If there was such a science of sociology, it could only be the study of the world hitherto unknown, different from those explored by the other science (310). It implied that collective tendencies and thoughts were of a different nature from individual tendencies and thoughts. When the consciousness of individuals became grouped, something has been altered, whose characteristic qualities are not found in the element composing them (311).
-If the psychologist and the biologist regarded their study as well founded, why should not be the same in sociology? (320).
-No moral ideas existed which did not combine in proportions varying with the society involved, egoism, altruism and a certain anomy. Social life assumed both that the individual had a certain personality, that he was ready to surrender it if the community required. No people within whom these three currents of opinion do not co-exist. To let one of them exceed certain strength would become individualized; it became suicidogenetic (321). The stronger it was, the more influence it had on suicide. But his strength depended on 3 factors: composition of the society, the manner of association to the society, and the transitory occurrence which disturbs collective life such as national crisis and economic crisis (321).