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Émile Durkheim Sociology 100

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1 Émile Durkheim Sociology 100
“The sociologist must take as the object of his research groups of facts clearly circumscribed”

2 Émile Durkheim Modified positivism Instrumental in the acceptance of sociology as an academic discipline Structural functionalism The Division of Labor in Society; Suicide; The Elementary Forms of Religious Life

3 Method Maximum objectivity Positivism
Only that exists which can be measured Functionalism: social constructs explained by what they do in society Unconcerned with individual motive & experience Like Weber, concerned with ideas & beliefs, but unlike Weber, is not particularly concerned with the content of those ideas as he is their function in social coherence “Organic” vision of society Society functions as something like an organism

4 Method “The progress of a science is proven by the progress toward solution of the problems it treats. It is said to be advancing when laws hitherto unknown are discovered, or at least when new facts are acquired modifying the formulation of the problems even though not furnishing a final solution. Unfortunately, there is good reason why sociology does not appear in this light, and this is because the problems that it proposes are not usually clear-cut.” (35) Still in the system-building stage “The sociologist must take as the object of his research groups of facts clearly circumscribed, capable of ready definition, with definite limits, and adhere strictly to them.” (36) “By such concentration, real laws are discoverable which demonstrate the possibility of sociology better than any dialectical argument.” (37)

5 Method “Sociological method as we practice it rests wholly on the basic principle that social facts must be studied as things, that is, as realities external to the individual.” “If no reality exists outside of individual consciousness, it wholly lacks any material of its own” In which case psychology would be the only meaningful social science. “It is not realized that there can be no sociology unless societies exist, and that societies cannot exist if there are only individuals.” (38) “The individual is dominated by a moral reality greater than himself: namely, collective reality.” (38)

6 Method The social fact Has objective existence apart from any individual, constrains individual actions, exists apart from the individual mind Marriage Family Education Murder Property Religion The individual Social facts are socially-constructed, but they nonetheless real, “they will be felt to be real, living, active forces which, because of the way they determine the individual, prove their independence of him; which, if the individual enters as an element in the combination whence these forces ensue, at least control him once they are formed.” (39) Social facts are the facts appropriate to sociological study

7 Suicide What is suicide?
“All cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result.” (44) Not a question of motive: “Intent is too intimate a thing to be more than approximately interpreted by another. It even escapes self-observation. How often we mistake the true reasons for our acts!” (43) A soldier facing certain death to save his comrades, a mother dying for her child, a martyr for her faith, all are suicides of different classes

8 The Project “If, instead of seeing in them only separate occurrences, the suicides committed in a given society during a given period of time are taken as a whole, it appears that this total is not simply a sum of independent units, a collective total, but is itself a new fact sui generis, with its own unity, individuality and consequently its own nature—a nature, furthermore, dominantly social.” (46) Suicide rates trend up or down in social groups (47) The project is to determine why this happens, not to discover individual motives for suicide.

9 The Project “The suicide-rate is therefore a factual order, unified and definite, as is shown by both its permanence and its variability. For this permanence would be inexplicable if it were not the result of a group of distinct characteristics, solidary one with another, and simultaneously effective in spite of different attendant circumstances” (51) These circumstances vary between groups and times

10 Non-social Causes of Suicide
Psychological factors Mental illness Heritability ‘Cosmic’ factors Geography Imitation

11 Non-social Causes of Suicide
Mental illness Maniac suicide Suicide due to hallucinated danger or shame Melancholic suicide Extreme depression. Tend to plan own death carefully, be persistent in attempts Nightmare suicide Irrational compulsion to die, suicide when individual stops fighting the urge Automatic/Impulsive suicide Irrational, unresisted urge to suicide

12 Non-social Causes of Suicide
While mental illness may be the cause of individual suicide, it cannot explain suicide rates within a given social group Women more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness, men more likely to commit suicide Mental illness rates higher among Jews than among Protestants and Catholics, but suicide rates much lower Suicide rate increases with age, but mental illness more common among those under 35 While a high rate of mental illness often coincides with a high rate of suicide, there is no systematic correlation

13 Non-social Causes of Suicide
Heritability Maybe suicide runs in families Durkheim: There could be some such cases Several generations kill selves in same ways But there are cases of imitative suicides where no family relation exists At any rate, the existence of such families could not explain suicide rates in a given society

14 Non-social Causes of Suicide
‘Cosmic’ factors Suicide caused by geography Climate shaping character Tocqueville Suicide caused by weather or temperature Cold weather, gloomy skies, prolonged confinement in winter cause suicidal thought & behavior

15 Non-social Causes of Suicide
But, statistically: High & low suicide rates change across time, geography does not In 1870, Northern Italy has the highest suicide rate, then Central, then Southern. By late 1890s, Southern Italy has the highest rate, with Northern having the lowest More suicides happen in warm months than in cold

16 Non-social Causes of Suicide
Imitation A single suicide causes others to imitate it, causing a contagion of suicide But there is no geographical spread of suicides Suicide can look like an epidemic, but it does not show the geographical spread of a real contagion However, it does become more or less common in particular times and places

17 Social Causes of Suicide
“Every proved specific difference between causes [...] implies a similar difference between effects. Consequently, we shall be able to determine the social types of suicide by classifying them not by their preliminarily described characteristics, but by the causes which produce them. “Without asking why they differ from one another, we will first seek the social conditions responsible for them; then group these conditions in a number of separate classes by their resemblances and differences, and we shall be sure that a specific type of suicide will correspond to each of these classes.” (147)

18 Social Causes of Suicide
“We shall try to determine the productive causes of suicide directly, without concerning ourselves with the forms they can assume in particular individuals. Disregarding the individual as such, his motives and his ideas, we shall seek directly the states of the various social environments (religious confessions, family, political society, occupational groups, etc.), in terms of which the variations of suicide occur. Only then returning to the individual, shall we study how these general causes become individualized so as to produce the homicidal results involved.” (151)

19 Social Causes of Suicide
Egoistic suicide Altruistic suicide Anomic suicide

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