Emile Durkheim’s Analysis of the Problem of Anomie and Its Connections

According to Durkheim, anomie is a breakdown of social norms and it is a condition where norms no longer control the activities of members in society. Individuals cannot find their place in society without clear rules to help guide them. Changing conditions as well as adjustment of life leads to dissatisfaction, conflict, and deviance. He observed that social periods of disruption leads to higher rates of suicide.

While suicide is an individual act, Durkheim argues that the suicide rate is a social fact; something that is external to any individual. It is a product of the social structure of any given society. Durkheim figured by examining the different types of suicide, he could identify key elements of social organization. He then collected several European nations’ suicide rate statistics, which proved to be relatively constant among those nations and among smaller demographics within those nations. He discovered a collective tendency towards suicide among White, Protestant males. Of equal importance to his methodology, Durkheim drew theoretical conclusions on the social causes of suicide. He proposed four types of suicide, based on the degrees of imbalance of two social forces: social integration and moral regulation. Integration is the extent of social relation binding a person or group to others and regulation is defined as the normative or moral demands placed on an individual that comes with membership in a group

Egoistic suicide resulted from lack of social integration. Individuals who were not sufficiently bound to social groups were left with little social support or guidance had higher rates of suicide. An example Durkheim discovered was that of unmarried people, particularly males who, with less to bind and connect them to stable social norms and goals, committed suicide at higher rates than unmarried people.

The second type, altruistic suicide occurs when individuals are too filled with society. It is also results from lack of social integration and is the opposite of egoistic suicide. The self lose significance, where individuals are so integrated into social groups that they lose sight of their individuality and became willing to sacrifice themselves to the group’s interests, even if that sacrifice was their own life. The most common cases of altruistic suicide occurred among members of the military.

On the second scale, that of moral regulation, lies the other two forms of suicide, the first of which is anomic suicide. Anomic suicide was divided it into four categories: acute and chronic economic anomie and acute and chronic domestic anomie. Each involved an imbalance of means and needs, where means were unable to fulfill needs.

Acute economic anomie is when traditional institutions such as religion and government fail to exercise the moral restraints on a capitalist society. Chronic economic anomie is the gradual diminishing of social regulation. Durkheim’s example of was the ongoing industrial revolution, which deteriorated traditional social rules and often failed to replace them. Obtaining wealth and property was not enough to make individuals happy, as was demonstrated by higher suicide rates among the wealthy than the poor.

Acute domestic anomie is sudden changes in individual’s life that results in an inability to adapt. Widowhood is an example of this type of anomie. Chronic domestic anomie refers to the way marriage regulates the sexual and behavioral need amongst men and women. However, marriage provided different regulations for each gender. Bachelors tended to commit suicide at higher rates than married men because of a lack of regulation and established goals and expectations. On the other hand, marriage has traditionally served to over regulate the lives of women by further restricting their already limited opportunities and goals. Unmarried women, as opposed to unmarried men experienced chronic domestic anomie suicide less. The final type of suicide is fatalistic suicide. This type is only discussed briefly because it was seen as a rare phenomena in the real world. Examples include those with over regulated, unrewarding lives such as slaves, childless married women, and young husbands. The reverse situation, namely excessive regulation without integration also leads to fatalistic suicide. The slave is integrated only through ties to his or her master, and his or her future is in the hands of others.

Durkheim distinguished between anomic suicide and egoistic, altruistic, and fatalistic suicide according to the relation of the actor to his society. When men become detached from society, when they are thrown upon their own devices and loosen the bonds that previously had tied them to their world, they are prone to egoistic, altruistic, and fatalistic suicide. When the moral regulations surrounding individual conduct are relaxed and fail to curb human weaknesses, people are prone to anomic suicide.

Mildred K. Pearson

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