Emile Durkheim on Suicide


Emile Durkheim:

Emile Durkheim, French sociologist, in 1897 published his study on suicide. It was the first methodological study of suicide. The work is a kind of case study of suicide, unique for its time and first major work on the subject.

Types of Suicide:

Emile Durkheim categorized three major types of suicides.

Egoistic Suicide:

Egoistic suicide is highlighted historically by variations among European religions in suicide rate. Egoistic suicide is the result of ‘excessive individualism,’ the absence of social cohesion.

Cohesion Reduces Suicide:

  • married less vulnerable than unmarried
  • married with children less vulnerable than married and childless
  • large families less vulnerable than small families
  • suicide declines during wartime, other periods of external threat

Altruistic Suicide:

Altruistic suicide is especially common in preindustrial societies, but can be found anywhere

  • September 11th Suicide Bomber
  • Martyr Memorabilia in Gaza

Altruistic suicide is the result of ‘massive cohesion’. Altruistic suicides arise out of a sense of duty to the group.

Anomic Suicide:

It is highlighted especially by rapid economic fluctuations. ‘From top to bottom of the ladder, greed is aroused without knowing where to find ultimate foothold.  Nothing can calm it, since its goal is far beyond all it can attain.  Reality seems valueless by comparison with the dreams of fevered imaginations.  Reality is therefore abandoned.’

Anomic Suicide occurs when social order is in sudden or dramatic change, and social control is thus weakened. Our expectations concerning material entitlements become uncertain.

Three Questions About Suicide:

  1. In a time of rising unemployment, WHY is suicide highest at the beginning of the cycle?
  2. WHY has the once strong correlation between divorce and suicide ceased to exist?
  3. WHY are suicide rates highest not during the Winter but just before and after Winter?


  • Unemployment is only isolating, stigmatising at the onset of cycle.
  • Divorce was once highly stigmatising, denoted personal failure, but no longer.
  • People vulnerable because have gotten through winter and things haven’t improved OR have had a bad summer and assume that winter will worsen situation.


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