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Durkheim: The Study of Suicide

The study of suicide was a study of social solidarity.

Social solidarity: the degree to which a society is integrated, united, or held together as a solid whole.

The opposite of high solidarity is a high degree of individualism: If people are highly individualistic, then social solidarity is low. This is what modern times bring.

Low social solidarity will lead to a high suicide rate. Individualism will lead to greater reliance on self, less direction from an anchorage in group standards for guidance, with suicide becoming a more realistic option for many.

Testing and Evidence

Catholic versus Protestant

Small communities versus cities

Married versus single

People with children versus those without children

Women versus men

Non-college educated versus college educated

The beauty of Durkheim’s study of suicide is that he studied a “very personal” action that is often viewed from a psychological viewpoint, and used it to illustrate how “sociological forces” impact the “rate” of a very personal decision. These rates are somewhat predictable from year to year, from society to society.

When one thinks about it, it is rather amazing that such a personal, devastating decision is strongly impacted by the society in which one is embedded.

Chapter 3: Humans Are Embedded in Social Organization

Where do social patterns come from? How do they arise in the first place? How are they reaffirmed? Altered? Done away with? The simplest answer is social interaction. As people interact, they develop social patterns—organization. Where interaction stops, social patterns die out. Where interaction is segregated, more than one set of patterns develop separate social organizations. Where interaction is interrupted, where many new actors enter in, where new problems arise for those in interaction, the social patterns are altered.

Social interaction is the key to understanding social patterns and social organization. The key to understanding social interaction is social action.

Social action, according to Weber, takes place when the actor “orients his acts” to others and is thus influenced by these others. The actor takes account of others, or acts for others. The actor forms his or her acts in order to influence others, or to communicate to them, or to compliment or criticize them, or to fool them, or to make

Copyright © 2005 Mount Vernon Nazarene University Adult and Graduate Studies

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