Chapter 1 – A Sociological Compass
The Study of Suicide
Becoming rarer, only 11 suicides occur annually out of 100 000 Canadians
→World average suicide rate is 16
We tend to focus on the individual’s state of mind, rather than the type of society
they live in.
Sociology can reveal the hidden social causes of an apparently non-social/anti-
social phenomenon of suicide.
Emile Durkheim at the end of the 19th century stated that suicide is more than just
an individual act of desperation due to a psychological disorder.
→He states that they are directly linked by social forces
Durkheim first started by examining the association between rates of suicide and
rates of psychological disorder from several different groups.
The idea that psychological disorder causes suicide is supported, only if the
suicide rate tends to be high where the psychological disorder is high, and where
suicide rates are low if psychological disorder is low.
However, Durkheim analyzed European government stats and hospital records which
didn’t reveal or support the above…
He discovered that slightly more women were in insane asylums, but that the ratio
from male to female suicide was 4:1.
Jewish members in France had the highest rate of psychological disorders, but
actually had the lowest suicide rate.
As a result, psychological disorder and suicide rates are not directly related, but
Durkheim argued that there are differences in social solidarity in different
categories that cause suicide
→These differences make members look foreign to each other, they have little to
relate to in terms of values and beliefs and as a result they keep quiet and do
not interact much with society, resulting in depression and eventually suicide
→To prove this, he found out that married adults are half as likely to commit
suicide as unmarried adults, because marriage creates social ties and a moral
cement that binds the individual to society
→Women are also seen as less likely to commit suicide because they are more
closely tied to the familial social relations than men
→Jewish are less likely to commit suicide than Christians because of the
persecution they have received which has made the a more tightly-knit society
→Seniors are more likely to commit suicide than teenagers because they are most
likely live alone or to have lost a spouse, or do not work anymore and have a
lack a wide network of friends
Types of Suicide according to Durkheim
Durkheim states that suicide rates decline, and then rise as social solidarity
increases. Anomic suicide occurs when there is low social solidarity in a society with vague
norms that govern behaviour. This is when the individual does not share the same
code of morality as the society they belong in.
Egoistic suicide also occurs when there is low social solidarity, however this
occurs when there is anti-social behaviour between the individual and others when
they have weak ties to others. For example, someone being unemployed and unmarried,
rather than being employed and married.
As social solidarity increases, the above suicide rates decrease until it reaches
an all-time low, however after the mid-point of the curve… it starts to increase
again as social solidarity actually increases as well. (Graph is on pg. 6)
Altruistic suicide occurs when norms tightly govern behaviour. Soldiers who
knowingly give up their lives to protect comrades commit altruistic suicide.
Suicide in Canada Today
The rate of suicide was low in Durkheim’s France, but it is higher in Canada today.
→Durkheim’s theory of social solidarity will help explain this
Consider the following:
• Those who attend religious ceremonies are down whether it is in a church,
synagogue, mosque, temple, etc. It used to be 50% of Canadians attending weekly in
the 1960s, now it is 25% and 15% for those born after the 1960s
• Unemployment is up, especially for youth it used to be 3% in the 1960s but is now
up to 10% and was twice as high for those under 24 than for those above
• Rate of divorce has increased six fold since the early 1960s, births outside
marriages are also much more common resulting in more single-parent families
In short, it shows that social solidarity is much lower than it was before, less
firmly rooted in society and less likely to share moral standards, young people in
contemporary society are more likely to commit suicide than those back in
The Sociological Imagination
You live in society, but society also lives in you.
Social Structures are what determine what you do and what you think, they
influence your actions and shape who you are.
C. Wright Mills (1959) called the ability to see the connection between personal
troubles and social structures the sociological imagination.
Origins of Sociological Imagination
The Scientific Revolution
Began around 1550 and encouraged the view that sound conclusions about the workings
of society that must be based on evidence and not just mere speculation
People link the Scientific Revolution to ideas like Copernicus’ theory that the
Earth revolves around the Sun, this is also where the “scientific method” came into
place, for example Galileo used his telescopic observations to prove Copernicus’
The Democratic Revolution
Began around 1750, suggesting that people are responsible for organizing society
and that human intervention can solve problems.
Prior to the Democratic Revolution, people mainly believed that God ordained the social order, the American Revolution and the French Revolution undermined the
The Democratic Revolution proved that people could replace unsatisfactory rulers
and that people could control society.
The Industrial Revolution
Began about 1775 which created a whole new set of social problems that attracted
the attention of social thinkers.
Growth of industry, masses of people moved from the countryside to city, worked
agonizingly long hours in crowded and dangerous mines and factories, and lost faith
in their religions.
Scientific Revolution suggested that a science of society was possible, while the
Democratic Revolution suggested that people could intervene to improve society.
→They created a social imagination
Auguste Comte and the Tension between Science and Values
French social thinker Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) coined the term sociology.
Tried to place the study of society on scientific foundations, as he said that he
wanted to understand the social world as it was, not as he or anyone else imagined
it should be.
Comte adopted the scientific method in the study of society.
Comte witnessed the democratic forces unleashed in the French Revolution, the early
industrialization of society, and the rapid growth of cities.
→As a result, he urged slow change and preservation of what was traditional in
Durkheim, Marx, and Weber stood close to the origins of traditions in sociology:
A fourth theoretical tradition arose which was Feminism.
Sociological Theory and The