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Lecture 4

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Classical Sociological Theory October 1, 2012 Emile Durkheim’s “Suicide” Pop Quiz: “Practical Consequences” by Emile Durkheim True or false? 1. According to Durkheim, suicide is normal (p 363) 2. An increasing rate of suicide is the inevitable price of progress (p 368) 3. Moral penalties- such as refusing a regular burial to people who commit suicide- would reduce the suicide rate (p 371) 4. In modern society, the altruistic form of suicide is disappearing (p 373) 5. As a new barrier against suicide, Durkheim proposes the corporation (p 378) General Class Notes/Announcements  Attach the comment/mark sheet to position paper before handing in  Beginning of course reader has instructions on writing position papers  Must hand position paper in to, as well as in class  Test format: true/false, multiple choice  Zimmel’s “Web of Affiliations” is an optional reading, won’t be held responsible for it  Note that p 98 is missing in the reader (for the Durkheim reading) Suicide Before Durkheim 1. In Catholic religion:  Believe that life has been lent to us, and only God should decide when we die  Suicide is disobedience to God and will be punished in the afterlife  Possible exception: martyrdom (when one is told they must give up their religious beliefs or be killed, then suicide may be considered acceptable) 2. In French law:  We don’t have the right to take any lives (whether it be murder or suicide)  The law is above us, therefore the state can perform capital punishment 3. In philosophy:  Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), author of “Essays” (1580), which discussed his opinions on different issues, including suicide  Montaigne considered reasons against suicide: people who commit suicide do it for petty reasons (eg. wealth) and forget important values, they believe it’s a show of character against society (Montaigne disagrees), they think things will only get worse when in fact they may improve  Montaigne considered reasons for suicide: it is a sign of freedom to choose when and how we die, it is a solution for suffering (according to him, giving in to suffering is madness)  Montaigne’s conclusion: suicide is acceptable only under some circumstances (when you’re suffering, or if staying alive will lead to a worse death) 4. Durkheim’s distinctive approach:  Moral judgements are neither central nor clear  Causes of suicide are social, not individual  The outcome (suicide rate) is social, not individual  Put responsibility on society, rather than blaming the individual “Suicide” by Emile Durkheim (1897) 1. Why study suicide? a) A test case: People at the time were saying psychology was the only ‘human science’ that society needed, and sociology was unnecessary. By choosing to study suicide, a phenomenon which was considered to be individual and not due to social causes, Durkheim figured he could show people how sociology was important. b) An index of social solidarity (mechanical and organic): Solidarity is a feeling of community. Mechanical solidarity is traditional (from older societies); the basis of mechanical solidarity is likeness (similarity), people feel connected because they’re all doing the same work (eg. peasants). Organic solidarity is modern (from modern society); the basis of organic solidarity is interdependence (cooperation and reliance on others), however, this lack of atomization could be wishful thinking on Durkheim’s part. Durkheim is not saying that there is more/less suicide in either type of society, he’s simply saying the types of suicide are different. Suicide is normal and present in all societies. It can be used as an index of social solidarity. 2. Rates, race and imitation a) Rates as social facts: In psychology, we analyze the individual. In sociology, we analyze the “super individual phenomenon” (group). Because suicide rates remain fairly constant over time, they can’t be explained by individual behaviors. b) Race: theory and evidence: Durkheim critiques the theory that says certain races are more likely to commit suicide. First, we can’t assume races are pure, and second, race doesn’t have fixed characteristics- they change over time and place. He considered the suicide rates for 3 races and found large variatio
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