In order to answer the question posed it is important to firstly define what is meant by the important terms, we can then analyse Durkheim s views and the way that they have been used to explain the complex issues surrounding suicide. The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology defines anomie as ‘An absence, breakdown, confusion or conflict in the norms of a society. Marshall B. Clinard stated that anomie is “ A sense of confusion and (is when) people become disorientated from their world”.
Anomie is also one of the ways that Durkheim categorised the different types of suicide. Durkheim believed that social causes were the explanation for suicide and they could be examined and separated into four different categories, namely anomic, altruistic, egoistic and fatalistic, by their differences and similarities, Durkheim also states that of being morphological, his classification would be aetiological. (Durkheim, 1952 p147) Durkheim believed that anomic and egoistic are the commonest forms of suicide.
Anomic suicide is when there is said to be insufficient rules, the individual often finds themselves in a new situation where they are unsure of the conditions and expectations and the rules which govern this new situation (Durkheim, 1952 p147) It is not only unfortunate circumstances which put an individual in this situation, it can also be fortune, which leaves no limits, and hence the individual becomes disillusioned and unsettled, as they have left their old regulated ways and they are now in an unstable situation where they cannot predict the future.
They often feel unaccepted by their new state and also from what they were used to. Anomic suicide is often attributed to either economic boom or depression. In a depression the individual is catapulted to a position below what they are used to, they are often no longer able to afford the comforts and luxuries that they once had, they need to learn to cutback (Durkheim, 1952 p252).
They are now in a period of unbalance, as they need time to adjust to their new situation, the future appears bleak and they do not understand the new rules which now govern their lives, they are moving in the opposite direction for any goals or aims they might have had in life, and so they are now forced to change aspirations for ones which seem suitable to their new life. With all this deregulation people are now much more susceptible to suicide. Clinard states that the “Disruption of the collective order allows man aspirations to rise beyond all possibility of their fulfilment. ” Which also leads to increased suicide rates.
An example of this is shown in the economic crisis in Vienna in 1873, there were 141 suicides in 1872 before the crisis, and in 1873 when it started there were 153, when the crisis climaxed in 1874 there were 216 suicides. We can clearly see here how the suicide rates increase dramatically during a period of economic upheaval when the balance is disturbed in an individual life.
The same also applies when the individual gains an increase in prosperity or power, they often feel like they do not belong, their goals and hopes have been achieved and they no longer know where to set their sights, with an increase in desires they often become less disciplined which means even less order in their lives (Durkheim, 1952 p253). Disappointment comes from not knowing one limits, and the higher one rises, the further one has to fall, hence why an increase in suicide rates is often seen in economic boom – because the collective order has been upset. Altruistic suicide is when a person kills himself because they are too integrated into a group (Durkheim, 1952 p19
An example of altruistic suicide occurs in some societies of the Hindu religion, here men are told that once they have born a son they have no other role in life and in order to achieve life purpose they must kill themselves (Durkheim 1952 p223). Altruistic suicide is similar to anomic in that both are passionate (Durkheim, 1952 p284), however the type of passion is very different, as anomic involves more negative feelings, where as altruistic is more positive, people often believe that they are doing a good thing by committing altruistic suicide.
Egoistic suicide is formed from a lack of integration into a group, rather than a lack or excess of rules. People who are prone to egoistic suicide are often highly intelligent, they feel segregated from everyday society, they withdraw and begin meditating and analysing (Durkheim 1952 p281) by doing this they endanger discovering that there is no real purpose for life, and so they kill themselves (Durkheim 1952 p288).
Egoism is similar to anomie as by becoming less integrated the individual has separated himself from the rules controlling his situation (Durkheim 1952 p288), both are unregulated in their lives, however where one has no basis for living the other has nothing to aim for. Fatalistic suicide is the other category which Durkheim spoke of, it can be perceived as the opposite to anomic, as here the rules placed on the individual life are too great (unlike anomic where the rules are too weak) they are unable to control their life, their desires have been quashed and so their futures appear pointless (Durkheim 1852 p276). Along with the praise Durkheim received for his work on suicide, he also received much criticism. For example, it can be said that Durkheim did not clearly distinguish between egoistic and anomic suicide – he categorises some suicides as a fusion of both, but how can a suicide be a combination of opposites
Hendin states that Durkheim is ‘making the psychology of suicide seem irrelevant by the way he labels social facts as ‘things. Christie Davies believes that Durkheim s theory is approached too simply (Davis lecture notes 2000) (although others have criticised him for trying to explain everything). Durkheim did not spend any time considering that some suicides may have been meant to be only an attempt, para-suicides which for whatever reason went wrong, and resulted in accidental deaths.
Halbwachs (1930) argues that several of the factors that Durkheim isolates as being associated with a high rate of suicide are in fact combined in the conditions of modern urban life, and that perhaps the major explanatory factor in suicide is the difference between rural and urban ways of life, so a higher suicide rate among the unmarried, divorced or those who live alone could be because of a lack of integration in urban areas, and also because often in cases such as these there are no family or friends who might cover up any evidence of suicide (Giddens 1987 introductory sociology p493).
Durkheim is also shown to sometimes give data which does not correspond with his ideas, for example in rural China more women commit suicide than men, contrary to Durkheim s predictions, also suicide rates are higher in the rural areas here than in the urban areas. Durkheim s theories were based on data from European countries; Durkheim has been criticised because when applied on a global scale, differences arise in suicide rates contrary to his predictions.
Durkheim was also proved wrong when he stated that soldiers commit altruistic suicide because their social group excessively regulates them, so one would think from this that the suicide rates should rise in times of war because of the super excessive regulation. In actuality the suicide rate for soldiers falls in times of war, contradictory to Durkheim s model. Durkheim received much criticism for the accuracy of his data, and the examples that he used in order to back up his models.
Durkheim has produced an interesting and valid piece of work that explains why and when suicide occurs he developed his own theories looking past what was traditionally believed about the cause of suicide. Durkheim found that the numbers of suicides are greatest at the extremes, i. e. when they are highly regulated or integrated or under regulated/integrated. Durkheim defined the sub groups as anomic, altruistic, egoistic and fatalistic.
Durkheim has however been criticised for the way in which he used his data, often contradicting himself, and not applying his theories on a global scale. Durkheim did not consider the factor of intent during his studies, and some sociologists believe his work to be problematic, Sacks (1963 p3) maintains that ‘in terms of the history of sociology nothing is more tragic than that Durkheim s ‘Suicide should be conceived as a model investigation (Giddens 1987 p487).
Most believe, however, that Durkheim work is probably the best theory on suicide and is a valuable tool in the understanding of this subject, Selvin (1965 p113) claims that ‘Sixty years after it first appeared in print, Emile Durkheim s Suicide is still a model of research…few if any later works can match the clarity and power with which Durkheim marshalled his facts to test and refine his theory. (Giddens 1987 p487). Through this essay though I hope to have shown how Durkheim s work is valid,but not flawless.