First Essay Assignment: #8
March 19, 2013
Emile Durkheim’s Suicide explores the varying suicide rates by examining external social forces that individuals experience within society. Durkheim’s intense commitment to make sociology a legitimate discipline is what led him to his research on suicide rates. Instead of focusing on the psychological feelings of the suicidal individuals, Durkheim was more interested in why the rates in suicide differed. This curiosity transformed into an exploration of a delicate balance of social integration and social regulations in society.
Social integration and regulation; these two social factors are the keys to unlocking the motivational forces behind suicide. Like most things in life, too much or too little of anything is unhealthy for us. The same is true of social integration and social regulation. Too much or too little of each will result in a dangerous imbalance between needs and means (Durkheim, 2012 : p. 255).
Social integration is the degree to which an individual feels connected to the other members of their community. Durkheim introduced this idea as a way to identify and explain two types of suicide; Egoistic and Altruistic. Humans are innately social beings who must create social bonds with others in order to reach our full potential. Certain events can through of the equilibrium that must exist in order to have a balanced and healthy society. For example, economic disasters like the recession that we have been going through for a few years. When that occurs individuals are shifted into new and different social classifications. This disrupts established social hierarchies and this can in-turn disrupt the relationships that individuals have with their community.
Durkheim unknowingly touches into the human condition. For humans to react in such drastic ways such as suicide in reaction to social changes, it confirms how fragile humans really are. Social regulations are the idea of an “exterior force” (1897: 257) acting upon an individual. Durkheim confirms what we already subconsciously know; “Men would never consent to restrict their desires if they felt justified in passing the assigned limit” (1897: 257). While one may have “will-power” we don’t have the ability to regulate our wants versus our needs if no limitations are present. Man responds to authority, so an exterior authority must exist to regulate what man wants versus what man needs. In order for these social regulations to work they have to be customized to each individual. The “authority” must “assign” limitations to each individual according to their social class in society (1897: 257). This prevents the poor for reaching too high and the wealthy from reaching too low. Durkheim brilliantly explains that these regulations make men “moderately improve” and have an “average contentment” (1897: 258). The regulation controls them just enough to be docile. This begs the question of, “What if we were all born equals?” Social class hierarchies are a overarching theme in Durkheim’s Suicide. I found myself agreeing with his ideas about the simplicity that can come with poverty and the misery that can come with wealth. “Poverty protects against suicide because it is a restraint in itself” (1897: 260). He makes it sound so simple but aren’t those living in poverty looking to the rich wishing for the wealth they had. On the other hand Durkheim writes, “The less limited one feels, the more intolerable all limitation appears” (1897: 261). With wealth comes greed and “immorality” (1897: 261) but then can one who is poor never rise socially without being immoral?
Durkheim’s writings on suicide are what got me interested in sociology. I had never thought of social forces like integration and regulation before, however, once I understood the concepts I would begin to recognize Durkheim’s theories everywhere. Durkheim writes, “Time is required for the public conscience to