Durkheim's study of suicide has been criticized as an example of the logical error termed the ecological fallacy. Indeed, Durkheim's conclusions about individual behaviour (e.g. suicide) are based on aggregate statistics (the suicide rate among Protestants and Catholics). This type of inference, explaining micro events in terms of macro properties, is often misleading, as is shown by examples of Simpson's paradox.
However, diverging views have contested whether Durkheim's work really contained an ecological fallacy. Van Poppel and Day (1996) have advanced that differences in suicide rates between Catholics and Protestants were explicable entirely in terms of how deaths were categorized between the two social groups. For instance, while "sudden deaths" or "deaths from ill-defined or unspecified cause" would often be recorded as suicides among Protestants, this would not be the case for Catholics. Hence Durkheim would have committed an empirical rather than logical error. Some, such as Inkeles (1959), Johnson (1965) and Gibbs (1968), have claimed that Durkheim's only intent was to explain suicide sociologically within a holistic perspective, emphasizing that "he intended his theory to explain variation among social environments in the incidence of suicide, not the suicides of particular individuals."
More recent authors such as Berk (2006) have also questioned the micro-macro relations underlying Durkheim's work. For instance, Berk notices thatDurkheim speaks of a "collective current" that reflects the collective inclination flowing down the channels of social organization. The intensity of the current determines the volume of suicides (...) Introducing psychological variables such as depression, an independent cause of suicide, overlooks Durkheim's conception that these variables are the ones most likely to be effected by the larger social forces and without these forces suicide may not occur within such individuals.
Jennifer M. Lehmann critiques Durkheim's major works such as Suicide from a feminist, Structuralist Marxist, multiculturalist perspective, and a Deconstructionist method, in Deconstructing Durkheim (Routledge 1993); Durkheim and Women (University of Nebraska Press 1994); and chapters and articles in Sociological Theory (1990); Current Perspectives in Sociological Theory (1991); American Sociological Review (1995); and American Journal of Sociological Theory (1995).
Read more about this topic: Suicide (book)
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