Sociological Analyses of Suicide
Most analyses of suicide tend to begin with
("Suicide: A Study In Sociology",
1897) and this one is no exception, since Durkheim's contribution to both our
understanding of suicide and the methodological principles involved in the study of
social phenomena represent one of the most significant developments in sociological
forms of analysis.
Suicide: A Study In Sociology
" remains one of the most significant books in the
history of sociology for two main reasons:
1. It was the first attempt to apply a set of systematic principles of scientific
investigation to a specific social phenomenon (suicide). These principles had been
elaborated, by Durkheim in his earlier book "The Rules of Sociological Method",
2. Having outlined the principles involved in the scientific study of society, Durkheim
attempted to demonstrate the way in which we could apply those principles to the
study of any social phenomenon.
A phenomenon such as suicide, for example, could, Durkheim argued, be analysed
scientifically and the causes of that phenomenon elaborated.
Durkheim believed that, in order to understand social life we had to analyse human
behaviour in terms of its explicitly social characteristics and, for this reason, the study of
suicide was a particularly appropriate choice of subject matter because:
1. Up until Durkheim's analysis, suicide had been "explained" in terms of:
The basic idea here being that people, as free-thinking individuals, simply made the
choice of whether or not to kill themselves in a kind of "social vacuum". Suicide, in
this respect, was seen to be a fundamentally psychological phenomenon.
In this respect, suicidal individuals were explained in terms of such things as
"madness", racial characteristics, "innate predisposition’s" and so forth. In this sense,
suicide was explained in terms of individuals possessing some form of inherent
biological condition that caused them to commit suicide.
2. Durkheim argued that if it could be established that suicide - apparently the most
personal of individual, psychological, conditions - had social causes then it would help
to establish sociology as both a new discipline and, most importantly, as the scientific
study of social phenomena.