Saturday, January 31, 2009

Is Durkheim Applicable Today?

Durkheim's depiction of anomie in his publication 'Suicide' is relevant today, in part. Durkheim says that anomie is a central cause of suicide and one of the ills of modern society. We can see this phenomenon of anomie occurring with our recent economic crisis. Social and moral norms are confusing, and are thus leading to deviant behavior. Financially powerful people all over the world are committing suicide. The recession is affecting all classes of people. According to popular media, people are starting to lose their jobs, the stock market is plummeting, wealth is disappearing, businesses are closing, and suicide is on the rise. However, middle class people are less likely to commit suicide than financial big-wigs because their family relationships are closer, their financial losses are never that disproportionate, and their religious beliefs are stronger. For the upper class, wealth and status are very intertwined with the self.

According to Durkheim, people commit suicide because society has failed to give them a sense of self, or because they have excessive or deficient social integration. As we can see from the 2008 economic recession, this is true. However, Durkheim fails to elaborate that there is a genetic basis for suicide risk. Studies show that low seratonin levels and other psychiatric illnesses are leading causes of suicide (CMAJ 2000). With the advancement of medical research, Durkheim would have had no way of knowing the genetic basis of suicide in the 19th century. Undoubtedly, there are environmental reasons for suicide, but it is inaccurate to say what we know today that there are not internal influences for suicide, as well.

How applicable is Durkheim's theory of Suicide today given what we know about medicine and psychology?

Basky, G. 2000. Suicide linked to seratonin gene. CMAJ. 162: (9).

Stern, L. 2009. Killer economy? Newsweek. (January 14, 2009). Retrieved from: Accessed: January 31, 2009.


  1. To begin, I am not well versed in psychology or medicine but I believe Durkheim's theory upon suicide continues to apply to the present. There remains a number of individuals whom do not feel attached or integrated to society and commit egoistic suicide. It is possible that these individuals have low seratonin levels yet if they were to integrate themselves into an environment which discourages suicide and provides them with a deep sense of their importance then they may not commit egoistic suicide. What is more, because unlike Durkheim's time, we are privileged with advancements in medicine, individuals with low seratonin levels may have an opportunity to stabilize their physical body and not commit suicide for biological factors.

  2. On Monday Febriary 2, a man committed suicide by jumping off I-10 by the spaghetti bowl. Sadly, this is the third time that someone has committed suicide on this location. Durkheim rejected Tarde's Theory of imitation that argues that people commit suicide because they are imitating others. Can you defend Durkheim argument that against Tarde's? What about for the similar economic recession-related suicides?

  3. Alma that wouldn’t be classed as imitation but rather an 'ideal' spot that guarantees a successful suicide. Suicide spots are common. For eg: the Severn bridge connecting England and Wales. Imitation refers to more to the identification of personal feelings in another person who has committed suicide and the social forces you’re surrounded by. For eg; The Bridgend suicides - From Jan 2007 - Dec 2008, 24 young people in this small town committed suicide... Alot of them knew each other and were influenced by one another’s actions. As for Durkheim, his theories still appear to be very relevant, especially considering the recent riots in the UK.