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Suicide was one of the groundbreaking books in the field of sociology. Written by Émile Durkheim and published in 1897 it was a case study of suicide, a publication unique for its time, which provided an example of what the sociological monograph should look like.
Most contemporary studies of suicide focused on individual characteristics. Durkheim studied connections between individuals and society. In this book Durkheim developed the concept of anomie. He explores the differing suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics, explaining that stronger social control among Catholics results in lower suicide rates. According to Durkheim, people have a certain level of attachment to their groups, which he calls social integration. Abnormally high or low levels of social integration may result in increased suicide rates; low levels have this effect because low social integration results in disorganized society, causing people to turn to suicide as a last resort, while high levels cause people to kill themselves to avoid becoming burdens on society. This work has influenced proponents of control theory, and is often mentioned as a classic sociological study.
Durkheim found out that:
- Suicide rates are higher for widowed, single and divorced than married.
- Suicide rates are higher for people without children than with children.
- Suicide rates are higher among Protestants than Catholics.
Reasons for these differing suicide rates include; -most importantly how the coroner interprets the death in question. Thus, due to slight differences between Protestants and Catholics -- specifically because suicide is a sin for Catholics -- the coroner in Catholic a country is less likely to record the death as a suicide. Take into account that if no suicide note is left, its all down to coroners interpretation. Another possible explanation is the fact that Catholic countries tend to be slightly more integrated than Protestant with closer family ties and so on. This is basically the same point for why people who are married and/or have children commit less suicide. Simply put, they have more to live for.
According to Durkheim, Catholic society has normal levels of integration while Protestant society has low levels. Durkheim thus defined suicide as the act of severing social relationships and concluded that suicide may be caused by weak social ties.
He differentiated between four types of suicide:
- Egoistic suicide: a state in which the ties attaching the individual to others in the society are weak.
- Altruistic suicide: a state such that individuals have no life of their own and strive to blend in with the group to have a sense of being.
- Anomic suicide: a state brought on by dramatic changes in economic and/or social circumstances.
- Fatalistic suicide: a state in which there is no hope of change and thus oppressive discipline against which there is no chance of release.
- Durkheim, Suicide, (1897), The Free Press reprint 1997, ISBN 0684836327
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