Suicide, Social Causes and Emile Durkheim's 1897 Study - Essay Sample

Published: 2023-11-26
Suicide, Social Causes and Emile Durkheim's 1897 Study - Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  History Sociology Society Social issue
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1790 words
15 min read


In 1897, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote his book Suicide, a case study of the concept of suicide and how social aspects contribute to suicide cases among the population (Zhang, 2019: 2). Durkheim's research at the time was unique because it provided a different explanation for why individuals commit suicide apart from the psychological reasons that many doctors and psychologists. Durkheim defines suicide as "all classes of deaths resulting directly or indirectly from the positive or the negative acts of the victim itself who knows the result they produce" (Sun, 2020: 431). The paper aims to examine the work of Emile Durkheim "Suicide," the literature review, limitations of the study, and its significance.

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Durkheim’s Study of Suicide

In his book, Durkheim forms his view of why people commit suicide with each individual's social bonds with others in society. Durkheim claims that suicide results from the social bonds between an individual and the society breaking, leaving the person with no other option but to take their own life. The sociologist Emile Durkheim conducted a methodological study on suicide using statistical data collected from numerous countries in Europe at that time. Emile Durkheim used data previously collected by other scientists in their research. Durkheim analyzed the data collected, focusing on the suicide rates among individuals from various social groupings and demographics (Condorelli, 2016:185). Durkheim categorized his data into multiple groups, religious belief, gender, marital status, those with children and those without, occupation, and based on the time of peace or war.

From his analysis, Durkheim found out that in terms of religious belief, there more rates of suicide among Protestants than among those in the social category of Catholics (Condorelli, 2016:185). On gender, there were more rates of men committing suicide than the number of women. More unmarried individuals commit suicide than individuals who were married. The rate of individuals who commit suicide who have no children was higher than those who had children (Condorelli, 2016:185). Basing on occupation, the number of soldiers who committed suicide was higher than the number of civilians committing suicide. During the time of peace and war, the data Durkheim was analyzing revealed more suicides in times of peace than when there was war.

Durkheim’s Theory of Suicide

After analyzing the data available, Durkheim developed a theoretical explanation of why people commit suicide based on his interpretation of the data he used in his study. Basing on his studies, Durkheim's theory on suicide claims that an individual takes their own life not because it tit their own choice to act that way but rather it is a result of some other power that rules over them (Sun, 2020: 429). According to Durkheim, individuals commit suicide as a result of two forces that influence them to sacrifice their life, social integration, and social regulation. Lack of social integration and regulation impacts the chance of an individual committing suicide because when the bonds holding individuals together break, they are isolated from the rest in society (Sun, 2020: 437).

According to Durkheim, when social factors, social integration, and social regulation break, the individual loses his / her control resulting in higher chances of committing suicide (Lempert, 2018:116). By his explanation, Durkheim emphasizes social functions in either increasing or reducing the rate of suicide among individuals. Hence, the rate of suicides in society correlates with the variations in the social institutions, which play a vital role in integrating and regulating the actions taken by an individual (Sun, 2020:451). When there are no stable social institutions, the rate of individuals committing suicide in that society will be high compared to a community that has strong and stable social institutions.

Types of Suicide

Durkheim claims that suicide, therefore, occurs in four different ways because of the level of destruction on the two social factors, social regulation, and integration.

Altruistic suicide

According to Durkheim, when individuals are under a lot of social regulation, they are likely to commit suicide to further the needs of the society in which they live (McCartan, 2017:1). When people belong to a specific group in society, they tend to follow that group's purpose and go out of their way to make sure they fulfill their obligations to that group. The needs of the group or society come first to the needs of the individual. Because the individual is extremely integrated, they follow whatever the group demands, even giving their own life (McCartan, 2017:1). The people who commit suicide in this context are usually feeling a lot of responsibility in achieving the society's objective. For example, those individuals who commit suicide bombings because they are integrated into the organization and feel they have to act that way for their society.

Fatalistic suicide

Fatalistic suicide results from oppressive social regulations that an individual feels he/ she cannot continue to exist. In this case, the individual chooses to take their own life to be free from these conditions (McCartan, 2017:1). When individuals feel the society they live in does not allow them to express their feelings and restricts them from self-actualization, they opt to commit suicide to be free from such oppression. For example, in societies where women are not allowed to express their views and get punished because of going against society's rules, they can decide to take their own life. However, Durkheim further states that this type of suicide is scarce in society since no community is extremely over-regulated.

Egoistic suicide

When individuals feel they do not belong to a particular group in society, they tend to disconnect from the rest of the group. This sense of not belonging results from little or no social cohesion between the individual s and the group they associate with (Condorelli, 2016:374). Individuals who lose their self-worth and identification in their society tend to choose to take their own life to escape this feeling. Losing social integration with family members and peers can lead to an individual taking their own life (Condorelli, 2016:374). For example, an individual suffering from AIDS in a society where they shun those with the disease will lose social cohesion with the rest of the individuals; such isolation may lead to the individual taking their own life.

Anomic Suicide

The lack of social direction and regulation in times of social and economic changes in the individual's life can result in the individual committing suicide (Lempert, 2018:112). Durkheim identified various forms of disconnection that individuals experience due to changes in social institutions, economic disconnection, or domestic disconnection/ anomy. Economic anomy occurs in two ways, acute and chronic anomy; acute economic suicide happens when an individual's economic status changes suddenly, leaving the individual confused (McCartan, 2017:1). Chronic economic suicide results from the individual taking his/her own life as a result of going through a long period of economic hardship. Domestic disconnection also occurs in two ways, acute domestic suicide results from failure to adapt to new family dynamics (McCartan, 2017:1). For example, the loss of a family member resulting in an individual taking their own life because they feel disconnected from their usual experiences.

Limitations of Durkheim’s Study of Suicide

The first limitation of Durkheim's study is his choice not to acknowledge that there are other factors apart from social factors that cause people to commit suicide (Condorelli, 2016:374). We cannot ignore the psychological explanations for why people commit suicide. Both psychological and social factors play a role in the people committing suicide, and emphasis should be placed on both of them when studying why people take their own lives. Individual explanations of suicide are as crucial as other factors contributing to its occurrence (Lempert, 2018:123). Variables such as depression, which is psychological, play an essential role in influencing the individual into committing suicide.

The second limitation of Durkheim's study of suicide is its overemphasis on religion as the leading force influencing an individual to commit suicide. Lack of strong religious affiliation alone cannot cause people to commit suicide even though it plays a specific part in influencing people. According to Condorelli (2016:374), Halbwachs (1930) criticized the role of religion was overestimated in the works of Durkheim, Halbwachs suggests that other factors like urban and rural differences. Overemphasizing religion as the primary social reason people commit based on a few individuals does not accurately represent.

The third limitation of Durkheim's study is the reliability and validity of the data he uses for his analysis. After collecting information on the rates of suicides among the population from different areas in Europe, Emile Durkheim fails to determine whether the data he is using is reliable; he uses the data from other research conducted by other individuals. Durkheim fails to consider how interpretations and reconciliations of the data led to the individual determining whether death resulted from suicide or not (Condorelli, 2016:268). In statistics, when the data used for a study is unreliable, it tends to provide misleading explanations of the concept of suicide.

Significance of the Study

Despite these limitations, the study has helped many develop more elaborate theories that try to explain the concept of suicide in society. Durkheim was the first sociologist to take the initiative to try and explain the complexity of suicide using social factors as contributors to people taking their own life. According to Zhang (2019: 3), the work by Emile Durkheim provides a framework for the development of sociological studies by other individuals in the field. This study has allowed other sociologists to start using empirical studies to understand individuals' actions in society. Durkheim's study on social influences has an impact on the thoughts of an individual in teaching and learning sociology in modern society.

Durkheim's work is crucial because it offers a different explanation apart from the psychologist explained that many studies use to explain suicide. Not all cases of suicide are a result of psychological problems; some of the cases are a result of social factors that influence individuals to take an act of committing suicide (Zhang, 2019: 3). Through his study, Durkheim can provide a way for society to handle the cases of suicide among individuals. Understanding how social factors result in suicide cases helps develop social solutions that can help reduce the rates of suicide among individuals.


Condorelli, Rosalia. 2016. "Social complexity, modernity and suicide: an assessment of Durkheim's suicide from the perspective of a non-linear analysis of complex social systems." SpringerPlus 5.1: 374.

Lempert, David. 2018. "The Psychology of Cultural Suicide and Cultural Change." Journal of Globalization Studies 9.1:107-128.

McCartan, Delaney. 2017 "A Thematic Analysis of an Online Suicide Forum. Exploring the Relevance of Durkheim's Typology of Suicide." (1) Retrieved September 2, 2020 (

Sun, Feiyu. 2020. "Self-preservation and sociology's modern moral personality: Dual structure in Durkheim's Suicide." Chinese Journal of Sociology 6.3: 427-456.

Zhang, Jie. 2019. "The strain theory of suicide." Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology 13:1-10.

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