Introductory Lecture Brym speaks about Durkhind, introducing the course, as well as the concept of culture and focusing particularly on Durkhind's suicide studies during 19th century France.
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September 15th, 2010
•Durkhind, Suicide. French book. Durkhind recognized (first professor of
sociology in france, one of the first in the world) that most people think of
suicide as a very personal and non-social/anti-social action. The person who
commits suicide kills all of society at least for one person. We think suicide is
a deeply psychological issue, the result of extreme depression and despair.
Typically committed in private and is a rejection of society and everything it
stands for. Durkhind shows that suicide has very deep social causes that we
aren’t aware of. By demonstrating this, durkhind made clear the importance
of sociology. He collected statistics from gov’t sources & mental institutions
to try to find out the relationship b/w the rate of suicide in particular
categories in the pop and their rate of mental illness (neurasthenia). If he
could find in any particular category the higher the rate of mental illness than
the higher the rate of suicide, this would be evidence that suicide is the
consequence of a capitalogical mental state. If there was no relationship
between high suicide rates and high rates of mental illness, he would have to
•The rate of anything is the number of cases or instances of a particular
phenomenon per 1000 or 100000 people. It is not the absolute number of
cases that occur in a category. We can compare groups of different size
according to some standard.
•Durkhind wanted to figure out why the rate of suicide might differ among
different categories of the population. Wanted to compare women & men, the
different religious groups (catholics protestants & jews), wanted to compare
age. He found no relationship b/w the rate of any type of mental illness and
the rate of suicide. He could not find that suicide is the result of any known
mental disturbance within big groups of people.
•He found that women are more than twice as likely as men to be admitted to
a mental institution, but only 1/3 of the suicide rate of men during this time.
Similarly, he looked at different religious groups and found that the group
with the highest rate of mental illness (jews) had the lowest rate of suicide.
How do you explain the fact that men are more likely to commit suicide than
women, protestants more than catholics, catholics more than jews, married
people less likely than unmarried people etc etc?? The answer he gave and
what he sought to demonstrate in his book was the suicide rate is
affected by the level of social solidarity of the groups in which one
happens to be embedded.
•A group’s level of social solidarity is determined by the frequency
with which its members interact and the degree to which they share
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beliefs, values and morals. The greater the degree to which group
members share beliefs values and morals and interact more frequently, the
lower the rate of suicide.
•Late 19th century france, most women spent their lives busy with the intimate
details of family life; raising children, taking care of the emotional needs of
the family etc. They had very frequent intimate interaction with a number of
people in their immediate and extended families. Men worked abroad and
had relationships with others that weren’t so intimate and frequent. There
was not so much sharing of beliefs, morals and values with the strangers they
met while at work. Women are involved in groups that have a much higher
level of social solidarity. Jews had a lower suicide rate because they were a
part of a group that were forever persecuted. This group was very tightly knit
and shared to a very high degree values beliefs and morals. They tended to
interact to a very limited degree with people outside of their group.
Protestants weren’t necessarily put through much persecution. They were
based on each individual finding their own path to god. Catholicism had a
strict order; in order to reach salvation you have to follow by the book.
Protestants had a higher suicide rate than catholics because their solidarity
was less. Old people also have a lower social solidarity; their friends die, they
are going to die soon and leave behind their families.
•Suicide rates are lowest at intermediate levels of social solidarity
and highest at low and high levels of social solidarity.
•Aspects of the patterns of relations that exist between individuals
point directly to the social aspects behind suicide.
•Circumstances shape what path a life will follow.
•Egoistic and anomic suicide, altruistic suicide – chapter 1 of new society.
•As social solidarity increases, the rate of suicide declines . **GRAPH**
•Altruistic – people sometimes kill themselves for the good of the group to
which they belong. i.e. a soldier decides to throw himself on a grenade thats
about to explode to save his peers. Most armies are intense solidaristic
organizations. A deep sense of uniformity and commitment to ones fellows in
•Where levels of social solidarity are extraordinarily high, the rate of suicide
will increase, but it will be altruistic suicide – committed for the greater good
of the social institution.
•There is a curvilinear relationship between suicide rate and social solidarity.
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