Emile Durkheim was a French philosopher who was born on 15 April, 1858. Durkheim acknowledged Comte as his master. On a sociological perspective when Comte and Spencer were considered as the founding fathers of Sociology, Durkheim is considered as the grandfather and the systematic approach to study the society began with him.
Durkheim's theory of 'suicide' is related in various ways to his study of the division of labour. It is also linked with the theory of 'social constraint'. Durkheim has established the view that there are no societies in which suicide does not occur.
Rejecting most of the accepted theories of suicide, Durkheim on the basis of his monographic studies claims suicide as primarily a social phenomena in terms of the breakdown of the vital bond of life. Durkheim in his classical study of 'Le Suicide' which was published in 1897, demonstrates that neither psycho-pathic factor nor heredity nor climate nor poverty, nor unhappy love nor other personal factors motivate along form sufficient explanation of suicide.
According to Durkheim, suicide is not an individual act nor a personal action. It is caused by some power which is over and above the individual or super individual. He viewed "all classes of deaths resulting directly or indirectly from the positive or negative acts of the victim itself who knows the result they produce" Having defined the phenomenon Durkheim dismisses the psychological explanation. Many doctors and psychologists develop the theory that majority of people who take their own life are in a pathological state, but Durkheim emphasises that the force, which determines the suicide, is not psychological but social. He concludes that suicide is the result of social disorganisation or lack of social integration or social solidarity.
Types of Suicide
Emile Durkheim classified different types of suicides on the basis of different types of relationship between the actor and his society.
(1) Egoistic suicide:
According to Durkheim, when a man becomes socially isolated or feels that he has no place in the society he destroys himself. This is the suicide of self-centred person who lacks altruistic feelings and is usually cut off from main stream of the society.
(2) Altruistic suicide:
This type of suicide occurs when individuals and the group are too close and intimate. This kind of suicide results from the over integration of the individual into social proof, for example - Sati customs, Dannies warriors.
(3) Anomic suicide:
This type of suicide is due to certain breakdown of social equilibrium, such as, suicide after bankruptcy or after winning a lottery. In other words, anomic suicide takes place in a situation which has cropped up suddenly.
(4) Fatalistic suicide:
This type of suicide is due to overregulation in society. Under the overregulation of a society, when a servant or slave commits suicide, when a barren woman commits suicide, it is the example of fatalistic suicide
Critical evaluation of Durkheim's theory:
Although Durkheim's theory of suicide has contributed much about the understanding of the phenomenon because of his stress on social rather than on biological or personal factors, the main drawback of the theory is that he has laid too much stress only on one factor, namely social factor and has forgotten or undermined other factors, thereby making his theory defective and only one sided.