Suicide (book) - Types of Suicide

Types of Suicide

Durkheim defines suicide as follows:

...the term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result. —Durkheim, 1897

He also distinguished between four subtypes of suicide:

  • Egoistic suicide reflects a prolonged sense of not belonging, of not being integrated in a community, an experience, of not having a tether, an absence that can give rise to meaninglessness, apathy, melancholy, and depression. It is the result of a weakening of the bonds that normally integrate individuals into the collectivity: in other words a breakdown or decrease of social integration. Durkheim refers to this type of suicide as the result of "excessive individuation", meaning that the individual becomes increasingly detached from other members of his community. Those individuals who were not sufficiently bound to social groups (and therefore well-defined values, traditions, norms, and goals) were left with little social support or guidance, and therefore tended to commit suicide on an increased basis. 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 married people.
  • Altruistic suicide: is characterized by a sense of being overwhelmed by a group's goals and beliefs. It occurs in societies with high integration, where individual needs are seen as less important than the society's needs as a whole. They thus occur on the opposite integration scale as egoistic suicide. As individual interest would not be considered important, Durkheim stated that in an altruistic society there would be little reason for people to commit suicide. He stated one exception, namely when the individual is expected to kill themselves on behalf of society – a primary example being the soldier in military service.
  • Anomic suicide: reflects an individual's moral confusion and lack of social direction, which is related to dramatic social and economic upheaval. It is the product of moral deregulation and a lack of definition of legitimate aspirations through a restraining social ethic, which could impose meaning and order on the individual conscience. This is symptomatic of a failure of economic development and division of labour to produce Durkheim's organic solidarity. People do not know where they fit in within their societies. Durkheim explains that this is a state of moral disorder where man does not know the limits on his desires, and is constantly in a state of disappointment. This can occur when man goes through extreme changes in wealth; while this includes economic ruin, it can also include windfall gains - in both cases, previous expectations from life are brushed aside and new expectations are needed before he can judge his new situation in relation to the new limits.
  • Fatalistic suicide: the opposite of anomic suicide, when a person is excessively regulated, when their futures are pitilessly blocked and passions violently choked by oppressive discipline. It occurs in overly oppressive societies, causing people to prefer to die than to carry on living within their society. This is an extremely rare reason for people to take their own lives, but a good example would be within a prison; some people might prefer to die than live in a prison with constant abuse and excessive regulation that prohibits them from pursuing their desires.

These four types of suicide are based on the degrees of imbalance of two social forces: social integration and moral regulation. Durkheim noted the effects of various crises on social aggregates – war, for example, leading to an increase in altruism, economic boom or disaster contributing to anomie.

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