Emile Durkheim’s Theory Of Suicide Essay

Structural functionalism argues that society is built on value consensus, which is a shared society of norms and values. They believe in each society, institutions work co-operatively to encourage harmony within society (Hodder. 1994). Durkheim, a positivist sociologist, argued that society is based on social facts which need to be observed and tested scientifically (Giddens. 1986). Through his empirical study on suicide, Durkheim concluded that although suicide was a solitary act, it was a social fact triggered by causes of society.

He found that too less or too much of integration and regulation can be a problem, Protestants had higher suicide rates as opposed to Catholics – Durkheim established a link between egoistic and anomic suicide (White and Haines. 2008). Based on statistics, he found that only when norms are unclear in society, does suicide increase. In the same way, crime is also made up of social forces (Smith. 2008). However, positivists such as Douglas (1967) argued that Durkheim relied heavily on official statistics, in which the validity is often questioned.

However, this idea that society is only made up social facts has been criticised by Giddens (1986), who argued that human activities cannot be treated as though they were determined by social causes. Society therefore, cannot be similar to natural events and seen as based on social facts. We create society at the same time as we are created by it’ – ‘the double involvement of individuals and institutions’, meaning that actions by individuals are created by oneself and not causes of society (Giddens. 1986, p. 11).

According to Durkheim, crime is existent in all societies in different forms. Through the use of statistics, the development of criminality is established for example; in France, criminal acts have increased by 300 per cent. He believed that crime is something which disrupts the collective conscience, but changes with time – what some may view as criminal may not be in another society. There cannot possibly be a ‘society of saints’, there will always be differences in society due to the differences in cultures (McLaughlin et al. 013, p. 71). Crime significantly helps to uphold social boundaries and mark what is acceptable and what is not, for example; plagiarism in universities which students are aware is unacceptable. Furthermore, crime strengthens an integrated society, and helps to create social change by reinforcing the collective conscience and unifying society (McLaughlin et al. 2013). For example, the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015 (Mirror, 2015), where numerous individuals were killed, encouraged the togetherness of society.

Around the world, famous landmarks were lit up in the French national colours to show support and a uniting society. This perspective of social togetherness and enforcing social solidarity is therefore evident and still applied to society today. Durkheim explained that society is split into two (division of labour), the first – a pre-industrial/traditional society: he called this type ‘mechanical solidarity’ wherein individuals share a collective conscience, consisting of universal norms and a low division of labour.

In this society, the collective conscience is more rigid as society is united (Giddens. 972). The second type of society was a complete shift towards modernity (Smith. 2008), also known as “organic solidarity’ (Giddens. 1972, p. 7). This society was more ‘heterogeneous in terms of wealth, ethnicity, religions and beliefs’ (White and Haines. 2008, p. 57). He argued that there comes a state in society where everything is unstable, a change in society occurs. The change from a pre-industrial society to an industrialised society creates a society of’normlessness’ or ‘anomie’, where norms became unclear due to rapid social change.

An uncertainty of norms is the reason as to why crime exists, there is no sense of togetherness, only individuality and a separation of the division of labour from shared business to private properties. Durkheim stated that offenders may face a stage of normlessness and lack of collective conscience, and as a result turn to crime. This stage of anomie, particularly in the modern ‘organic society’, differentiates individuals based on their specialities.

The norms become blurred and individuals become unaware of what is right or wrong in society (Lilly, J. Robert et al. 2007). An example of anomie in society is the summer riots of 2011, making news headlines across England. Durkheim would argue that this incident is a lack of norms; offenders being unaware of the adequate norms in society. The article (The Telegraph. 2011) called it a ‘crumbling nation’, supporting Durkheim’s theory of anomie, as individuals in the riot may have been unsure of the norms in society and as a result showed acts of rioting.

This suggests that the functionalist theory can yet be applied to society today and explain why people commit acts of crime and deviance. Through Durkheim’s idea of anomie, Merton also claimed that crime occurs in democratic societies where everyone sets out to achieve cultural goals. However, the legitimate ways of achieving the goals are not always available, therefore individuals turn to crime (Cote. 2002). One main criticism of functionalist theory is that they fail to talk about victims, often victims are ignored by major criminologists (Fiona and Haines. 008). Functionalist perspective tends to focus little on the individual or offender and puts more emphasis on completing the needs of society (Hodder. 1994). If an individual in the primitive society commits a crime, the punishment is repressive- an act of retribution from the collective views of society (Giddens. 1972, p. 6). However, Durkheim stated that after a modern society took shape, the repressive sanctions such as mutilation and torture were replaced by restitutive sanctions and punishment became less severe (Spitzer. 1975).

Crime in the modernised society became more prevalent due to the differences in culture and individualisation (Giddens. 1976). Although crime and deviance can be good, it can also disrupt the collective conscience and be a threat to society (Giddens. 1972). Removing crime completely is impossible as differences will form, no matter how small, crime is inevitable and will occur anyway (McLaughlin et al. 2013). However, sometimes crime is pathological and can put society at risk, it therefore has to be prevented or lessened (McLaughlin et al. 2013).

Through formal social controls, crime can be limited for example, law and order. People who do not follow the law are presented with fines, curfews, electronic tagging and often prosecution (Carrabine et al. 2014. If a ci committed, there are ‘formalized criminal procedures’ such as trials where both the victim and offender become aware of the situation (Carrabine et al. 2014, p. 318). Formal social controls may not have anything to do with the collective conscience, however, it does help to create a certain type of closeness with members of society.

In modern society, restitutive punishment is not a form of vengeance – the offender is not punished for his wrong doing, instead it is something which helps the offender to obey values in society and not commit the same crime again (Giddens. 1972). An example where laws are very highly regarded is America, it is very policy orientate with laws and interrogation processes (Cote, 2002). Aside from laws, education can also be a form of social control, helping the individual to learn what is seen acceptable and what is not in society.

Durkheim’s view on informal social control is similar to Hirschi’s social bond theory, as Hirschi believed that attachment and religion refrain people from committing a crime. An emotional bond, adequate socialisatio and respect for authority may help to prevent crime (Carrabine et al. 2014). Although Durkheim explains how crime is caused, crime rates differ as some countries may have more crime than others. For example, America has more violent crime as opposed to Japan. This view therefore, does not explain why crime rates fluctuate in some parts and not others.

It simply goes into a deep explanation of the cause of crime (Carrabine et al. 2014). Furthermore, Marxist theory argues that functionalism particularly Durkheim ignores capitalist interference and exploitation of the proletariats. They see crime and deviance as a tool of justification for the exploitation, he ignores the act of power in the legal system choosing to ignore certain crimes. They argue that formal social controls for example the police force, legal systems are put in place to assert social control, upper class crimes such as white collar crime are often unrecorded (Carrabine et al. 014).

However, Durkheim and Merton’s theory of anomie is still relevant to society and can often create moral panic which still occurs in society today. Thus, the functionalist perspective on crime is useful to an extent as many of the views are applicable to modern society. Durkheim’s view on punishment provides a model for social control and is still applicable to society, as law and order is highly regarded in most societies (Spitzer. 1975).