Chapter 1 - A Sociological Compass
Lecture 1 Suicide
- Is a couple hundred years old idea that you can understand society and how people interact
with each other scientifically.
- Emile Durkheim a classical scientist Do social forces exist?...how do they affect
behavior? Social forces have the most powerful influence on human behavior.
How do social forces relate to suicide?
The Sociological Perspective
- regarded to be carried out only by antisocial people
- society is opposed to suicide but social pressure and social interactions causes it.
- suicide is considered supremely to be an antisocial and non-antisocial act for 3 reasons:
o it is condemned by nearly everyone
o typically committed in private far from publics intrusive glare
o rare 11 suicides for every 100 000 people in Canada
Individual/psychological interpretations of suicide
- Society is more important reasons for suicide than psychology.
The Sociological Explanation of Suicide:
- he examined association between rates of suicide and rates of psychological disorders for
different groups from European govt statistics and France hospital records.
o found out that as psychological disorders go up, suicide rates go down (inverse
o people facing psychological stress are less likely to commit suicide social integration
plays a major role (some societies are highly integrated while some are poorly integrated)
modern societies such as Canada are poorly integrated
- found more women than men in insane asylums but more men committed suicide than females
- psychological disorders occurred at maturity but suicide rates increase w/ age
o this relationship varied inversely
- argued that suicide rates varied as a result of social solidarity in different categories of the
o the more beliefs and values a members of a group share and the more frequently and
intensely they interact the more social solidarity the group has
o the more social solidarity = less likely to commit suicide
o Durkheim expected that groups with high-solidarity have lower suicide rates than those
with low-solidarity, BUT only to a certain point.
if people did not interact, social solidarity would be weak
e.g. intense interaction: sitting down and having group discussions
not intense: saying hi to someone on the street
o showed that married adults are half as likely to commit suicide compared to unmarried
o marriage creates social ties that bind the individuals to society o women are less likely to commit suicide because they are involved in more intimate,
social relations with their families.
o society has a lot of subcultures undermine social integration e.g. life cycles
(infancy, childhood, adolescence), religion, ethnicity, culture, etc.
o Jews had highest rate of psychological disorders but had lowest rates of suicide
o Jews less likely than Christians b/c persecution turned them into a group that is more
defensive and tightly knit.
o Elderly more prone than the young and middle aged because they live alone, lost a
partner dont have jobs/hobbies/friends.
o complex division of labour leads to low social integration
there are approx. 4000 jobs in Canada, which means many different occupations,
which leads to subcultures weaker social integration
- a persons likelihood of committing suicide decreases w/ the degree to which he or she is
anchored in society
o when social solidarity is intermediate = less suicide
o when social integration is strong = altruistic
o when social integration is weak = egoistic and anomic suicide
- results from the poor integration of people into society b/c of weak social ties to others
o e.g. someone who is unemployed is more likely to commit suicide than someone who is
employed because the unemployed person has weaker social ties.
o modern development where there is more deviance from the norm and the society is more
tolerant of these deviances more crime, abuse, drugs so people dont are not as
concerned as what other people think of them.
- Solidarity types
o Mechanical solidarity high levels of social solidarity (i.e. traditional)
social approval is important everyone seems to know everything
o Organic solidarity weak levels of social solidarity (i.e. modern)
Durkheim says that as we move to organic solidarity, social integration declines,
and it leaves the ego weak and exposed.
A healthy ego has to have a lot of social integration it is constrained,
buried, and mixed within the group a healthy personality must be
constrained having no constraints is bad for society.
Three examples of people who had no constraints and were thus
vulnerable and isolated wealthy people
o Elvis Presley
o Anna Nicole Smith
o Michael Jackson
if you take constraints away, you get egoistic and anomic suicide
o When people are tied down with responsibilities, the probability of them having suicide is
E.g. during WWII, London was bombed by Germans during the Blitzkrieg and
people had to sleep in subways, send their children away, go to the countryside,
etc. life was horrible for them suicide rates were actually low because
people face collective dangers, they find themselves together (social integration). Collective danger = social integration = less suicide lonely, isolated
people kill themselves.
o Therefore egoistic suicide the lower social integration, the higher the risk of suicide
- Durkheim called suicide in high solidarity settings, altruistic suicide
o Soldiers who knowingly give up themselves to protect their comrades commit altruistic
suicide emphasize valour
o occurs in shame societies (deviance from norms causes shame) also honor societies
o a traditional society is one in which integration is too high a person becomes too much
a part of the group. these societies are small, good, observant good social control
o people only stand out when rules are broken commit suicide to atone to their violation
honour is lost.
- Anomic suicide occurs when vague norms govern behaviour
likely to be high among people living in a society lacking a widely shared code
takes place when a society goes through a rapid change
rapid change at macro level = weak society
o Modern society changes rapidly, which causes anomy, which Durkheim call norm-less-
ness norms are guides to conduct; how to behave, how to act, etc rapid change
= old norms no longer work
Robert Murton = when society encounters rapid social changes, norms dont
work, so the ways of living that are left do not work any longer.