Durkheim's Method of Sociological Analysis

Outline the primary features of Durkheim's approach to sociological analysis, and discuss how this may be used to comprehend suicide rate.

Durkheim was a French positivist, with an focus on functionalism, which revolves around a natural analogy where in society, is seen as an organic total with each aspect working to maintain the others, like the body. Its main interest is finding how these parts create a stable whole.

One of the key areas of Durkheims methodology is the give attention to social facts, they are communal phenomena and ways of thinking and behaving that restrain individuals in some manner or other and can include institutions like the status and education. They seem from collectively produced rules and procedures, be they religious or secular and are beyond our control as individuals. Due to these communal facts people have littler or no control over their own activities, rather than building their own world they are simply directed by the system as world needs certain interpersonal behaviours and phenomena to survive. These social facts are offered from technology to technology and shared among the individuals. From this perspective it isn't individual will that drives behaviours but instead the normal norms and values of contemporary society that condition ones consciousness. "Not only are these kind of behaviour and considering external to the individual, nevertheless they are endued with a engaging and coercive electric power by virtue of which, whether he wishes it or not, they impose themselves upon him" (Durkheim, 1895 pp50). These public facts form the basis of an collective awareness, which Durkheim sees as 'the body of values and sentiments common to the average members of an society' (Durkheim, 1893). This collective consciousness stimulates solidarity, forging the bond between individuals in a society, creating a kind of order and steadiness. Without a form of moral consensus there would be discord and disorder "From where interest is the one ruling for every individual discovers himself in a state of was with almost every other" (Durkheim, 1973, p89) Because the collective consciousness is a communal truth it too constrains individuals to do something in conditions of the greater good and then for the nice of the culture and is deeply imprinted on the average person as without it there would be no modern culture as we realize it. These public facts can have problems if indeed they regulate too much or not enough, without enough control the average person would surrender with their own wants and needs, with too much they would feel repressed, inevitably both will lead to deviance, that being heading against the norms and worth of culture.

From a collective awareness come two types of solidarity, organic and natural and mechanical. Organic solidarity is based upon a dependence that individuals in an advanced society put on each other. It is common among societies where the department of labor is high. Though individuals perform different tasks and frequently have different prices and interests, the order and success of society is determined by their reliance on the other person to execute their specific duties. Mechanical solidarity on the other side is based after the similarities among individuals in a culture, within it people feel connected through similar work, education and religious practices. It primarily is present in societies that have a low department of labour where this is little interdependence between individuals and where there is a basic or insufficient organisation and in comparison to societies with organic solidarity there may be more value put on religion, contemporary society and its hobbies and there's a greater collective consciousness and less emphasise placed on individualism, that being where you count number yourself as an individual alternatively than part of an organization, placing yourself first etc (Haralambos 2004 pp??). From organic and natural solidarity and individualism can come anomie, this is a sense of normlessness, where norms themselves are unclear, divided or unregulated "If the rules of the conjugal morality lose their power, and the common obligations of couple become less respectable, the emotions and appetites ruled by this sector of morality can be unrestricted and uncontained, and accentuated by this very release; powerless to fulfil themselves because they have been free of all limits, these feelings will produce a disillusionment which manifests itself visibly. . . "(Durkheim, 1972, p. 173) He mentioned that it was common in societies that possessed a less described collective awareness and an increased amount of individualism". . . The status of anomie is impossible whenever interdependent organs are sufficiently in contact and sufficiently intensive. If they're close to one another, they are immediately aware, in every situation, of the necessity which they have of one-another, and consequently they have a dynamic and permanent feeling of shared dependence. "(Durkheim, 1895, p184)

Imbalances in the quantity of regulation induced by sociable facts and the amount of integration from solidarity are one of the main factors within suicide, less advanced societies having too much integration and rules and professional societies have too littler of either. Durkheim said that suicide was a public act, not totally an individual one revolving surrounding the relationships between the individual and modern culture. He found that there was a correlation between your suicide rate and various social facts. For instance he found that suicide rates were higher in protestant countries than catholic ones, he also found that there was a low rate during times of public and political upheaval due to the amount of solidarity that such events creates (Durkheim in Marsh, pp66-69). He organized four types of suicide, depending on the degree that individuals were involved in contemporary society and on the degree that their behaviour was governed. The four types being egoistic, anomic, altruistic and fatalistic. Egoistic suicide is common in industrial societies with high levels of division of labour and originates from a higher amount of individualism, which stems from a minimal amount of integration due to a poor collective awareness from the communal groups that they actually belonged; in place society allows the given individual to break free it "In cases like this the bond attaching man to life relaxes because that attaching himself to contemporary society is itself slack" (Durkheim in Marsh pp67). This type of suicide Durkheim said accounted for the variations of suicide rates between Protestants and Catholics, with Catholicism's requiring a higher amount of conformity, compared to the Protestant cathedral that encouraged the given individual to interpret the religious text messages in their own way without stigma. Another type of suicide common in industrial societies is anomic which results from a minimal amount of regulation. It occurs when norms and prices are disrupted by public change, procuring thoughts of uncertainty within the individual. "Whenever serious readjustments take place in the communal order, if due to a sudden growth or even to an unexpected catastrophe, men tend to be more inclined to self devastation" (Durkheim in K. Thompson, 1971, pp109) Durkheim discovered that suicide rates rose during positive as well as negative directions of public change. He mentioned that there was a rise following the crash of the Paris stock market in 1882 and the conquest of Rome in 1870 by Victor-Emmanuel which led to rising incomes and living expectations but also a rise in the suicide rate.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is altruistic suicide that originates from a higher amount of integration and strong sense of society and stable collective consciousness. This form of suicide is mostly present in pre-industrial societies who have mechanical solidarity. This was seen as a personal sacrifice for the nice of the group "This sacrifice then is imposed by modern culture for sociable ends" (Durkheim in Marsh, pp68). It is not done since it seen as the best option but more out of a feeling of duty to said group. For you to definitely do this work out of work then they will need to have little self price, the individual being completely submerged into a group and sense like simply a part of a greater thing, thus highly integrated. "For modern culture to have the ability to compel a few of its associates to eliminate themselves, the individual personality can have little value. For as soon as the latter starts to create, the right to existence is the first conceded" (Ibid, pp68) Various types of this can be seen throughout record, Vikings considers it dishonourable to die of old age or sickness and so concluded their own lives to avoid communal disgrace. Durkheim placed no importance on fatalistic suicide, saying that it had more place ever sold than in modern societies. It occurred when society constrained an individual so much that they were repressed, sensing that that they had no futures or dreams.

One of the major criticisms of Durkheim's analysis is his ideas of integration and regulation. Durkheim offers no hint as to how you might measure integration or rules for example - he simply asks us to suppose that such "underlying" principles are significant in relation to the explanation of suicide. He assumes that suicidal tendencies results from a deviation from normal levels of integration and legislation. We are given no idea precisely what is a normal level, so we can not say just how much legislation and integration is normal or abnormal (Web ref 1). However with some work, it could be possible to create various test associated with theses concepts, so that we could measure them among different communities in society. A second criticism is the fact that his work on suicide is based upon official figures from the 19th century He provides us little idea about the dependability of the source of the information and the techniques used in recording them could not depend on scratch, some could be wrong, given that they were hand written things could be misread and so on. Another factor is usually that the dedication of suicide consists of is procedure for interpretation by many people such as policemen, doctors, coroners etc (Ibid). In this esteem, we've no real way of determining either the consistency or validity of suicide statistics. The coroner is the one who decides whether death was scheduled to suicide or not and different factors can sway his judgment towards it not being so. The individual's verdict depends upon their outlook on their work and on their outlook on suicide. Some would be complete in the analysis whilst others would take into account not intruding upon the rights and emotions of the making it through relatives. For example if the victim was Catholic, since traditionally the Catholic Church view suicide as a sin, the coroner may make his decision based on the effect that the stigma that a suicide verdict bears may have on the family members. It is known that coroners in Catholic countries such as Italy and Mexico are more-reluctant to classify a dubious death as suicide than coroners in non-Catholic countries. Another simple truth is that some countries suicide is grouped as a criminal offense, in such countries, coroners have a tendency to be more-reluctant to classify a fatality as suicide than in countries where such a law does not apply, for example when suicide was against the law in Britain the abuse was that deceased property would be ceased by the state of hawaii, so it would be justifiable to consider a suicide as something else to avert any more tragedy. Also where the victim was covered against death, coroners have a tendency to be less inclined to classify loss of life as suicide than in occasions where there is none, as this action can void the coverage. One final criticism is the fact that he does not take into consider specific action as a reason; however he will briefly acknowledge it but remarks that it does not have any part in sociology (Ibid)


  • Durkheim, E (1973). Moral Education. Macmillan USA
  • Durkheim, E (1975). On Morality and Modern culture. revised ed. Chicago: Chicago University Press
  • Durkheim, E (1982). THE GUIDELINES of the Sociological Method. revised ed. London: The Free Press.
  • Durkheim, E (1997). The Department of Labour in Population. modified ed. London: The Free Press
  • Haralambos and Holborn (2004). Sociology themes and perspectives. 6th ed. London: Collin
  • Marsh. I (1998). Classic and Contemporary Readings in Sociology. London: Pretince Hall.
  • Thompson. K and Tunstall. J (1983). Sociological Perspectives. 9th ed. London: Penguin Books

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