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The Durkheim Theories On Mental Health Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3504 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“Women’s sexual needs have less of a mental character, because, generally speaking, her mental life is less developed” (Suicide 272). Durkheim believed that women were “natural” and that they have less desires than men to fulfill. Therefore, it is more instinctive for women to find satisfaction than men because women were more natural or, in other words, biological. On contrary, men have infinite desires creating an unsatisfactory behavior in which he is unlikely to be content due to these unlimited social desires. There is no regulation to restrict those desires to a set value that he can comprehend. As Durkheim further states in Suicide, there is no compensation or relief in the women, where the men dominated the social world, the women were restricted to the private world where they were “naturally” restrained from social obligations, therefore, limiting participation and benefits (272). Because of these “factors” the needs of women are already pre-determined.

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In order to retain Durkheim’s emphasis on social integration and regulation, many factors need to be taken into consideration in making his theory consistent regarding women. I think that, in order to create a more consistent theory, Durkheim should have made women an autonomous category that requires further examination, and not rely solely on his interpretations of suicide and men to explain the variations in women and suicide. Additionally, I think that psychological factors would have to account for some of these variations in his findings regarding women when compared to men. Men and women hold different values regarding shared beliefs. Furthermore, they may have contrasting sets of shared beliefs. It is quite possible that men hold different notions regarding certain shared beliefs when compared to women. Furthermore, woman and men hold contrasting responses to the same social environment that surrounds them (Johnson 881). For instance, Durkheim does not explain the differences in the perception of marriage and divorce between men and women. He simply states that women are easily satisfied through natural or biological means suggesting women are excluded from the social realm. He relies on his explanation for man, and, further attributes the factors for women suicide solely to these explanations. By doing this, Durkheim emphasizes exclusively upon his theory of man and suicide regarding social integration and moral regulation.

Another factor that could have altered the results of his findings would have been unreported suicides for women. Additionally, he should have been more crucial regarding attempted suicide for women in his evaluation of suicide regarding regulation and integration. “Although Durkheim admitted that attempted suicide fit his definition of suicide as a behavior, he excluded it from his typology because attempted suicide fell short of actual death” (Kushner and Sterk 1141). Durkheim exclusively defined suicide by successful suicides, therefore, renouncing suicidal behavior and risk factors as integral parts of his work. Furthermore, Kushner and Sterk argue that had Durkheim included attempted suicides, women would have outnumbered men suggesting their dissatisfaction with their social roles (1141). Given this notion, Durkheim’s theory of suicide caused by the deterioration of customary social order would be contradicted by the women’s unaccounted number of suicidal behavior. Furthermore, factors such as attempted suicide, suicide regarding marital status, and suicide itself among women should be properly attributed to social causes rather than biological, or what Durkheim terms “natural”. Had these numbers been accounted for, an argument around social causes could have validated his theory further by, perhaps, suggesting that the drastic changes to the economic sphere forced mandatory changes to customary male roles in the private sector, which could have induced the suicidal behaviors of women due to the deterioration of customary social order at the time.

1b) Based on Durkheim’s theory of suicide, if women, during Durkheim’s time, were to have the same opportunities to participate in the economic sphere as men did, I think that his theory would be either more or less reliable and valid depending on the results. His theory would probably be more reliable and valid because if women had the same opportunities, his theory would not have to rely solely on the explanation of man and suicide regarding regulation and integration. As he solely relied on this notion, the inclusion of women in the economic sector would provide a better explanation in formulating generalizations of suicide based on social integration and moral regulation.

Based on his theory, if women had the same opportunities as men, I think that their increase in participation would lead to more suicides. I believe that most of the suicide would be of the anomic type in this case. If women were increasingly being introduced to the economic sphere, I think that the rapid change in society would lead to an increase in suicide for women due to the deterioration to conventional societal norms. Like men changing roles at the time, my assumption would be that women are more likely than men to commit suicide due to confusion and rapid change in goals. Furthermore, no “regular” form of behavior can be followed because of its newness. Women would be more likely struggle than men with this drastic change as women were once expected to be in private sector rather than the public.

Although Durkheim’s definition of anomic suicide can be attributed to drastic changes and changes in normative roles, his definition of egoistic suicide is an ideal model regarding the emergence of individualism in women in the economic and public sectors of society. Obedience, submissiveness, and passiveness to the social collective would hypothetically deteriorate in the sphere of the woman, therefore, increasing greater emphasis on the individual causing decreased social integration. In this case, the person would have to rely more on the individual rather than the collective. Because social integration has decreased, the chances of suicide are greatly increased due to a nonexistent set of shared beliefs. As the role of the collective is increasingly being overwhelmed by the role of the individual, the purpose and meaning of life is further reduced to where the only notion that is absolute is that of the individual. “When the social component is weak, the self-interested passions expand and ambitions become limitless” (Johnson 883). Ambitions and goals become limitless because authority can no longer confine the individual to the collective order. It is also imperative to note that although a career will give them a resource in order to find purpose and meaning, the sudden drastic change in the role of women would continue to play a crucial role in the suicide in woman. Therefore, a combination of Durkheim’s definitions of egoistic and anomic suicide would be the ideal model used in explaining these circumstances of suicide.

As Durkheim stated in Suicide, the relationship between suicide and religious factions also has to be considered when considering the suicide of women had they have had the same opportunities to participate in the economic sector as men did. Based on Durkheim’s theory regarding religious factions, the degree of social integration and moral regulation are also at play when explaining suicide rates. Just as religion had an effect on the suicide rates for men, the same theories based on religion are likely also to have the same effect on women. For instance, the idea of belonging to a group in order to give meaning and purpose to life would be universal among both men and women because integration is regulated by shared beliefs and norms. between a group of people. Religion serves as a purpose to give meaning for people outside of themselves. In other words, it creates a connection to the group in which they share similar beliefs and norms. It is the strength of this “common conscience” that is used to measure suicide rates between religions.

Considering Catholics, Protestants, and Jewish women, the increasing participation in the labor force would likely have a large effect on suicide for each respective religion; although it is likely they are affected in varying degrees based on the strength of common conscience or a set of shared beliefs. Using Durkheim’s theory, Protestants would be the group most affected by the increase of women into the labor force because the religion has a lesser hold on its followers when compared to the other two. For example, although Protestants condemn suicide as equally as Catholics, there are no external marker to prevent suicide as in Catholicism. Based on Durkheim’s research, Catholics would be least affected followed by Jews due to the strength of common conscience. As the common conscience of the collective becomes stronger, the protective powers employed by religion also becomes stronger. Although the strength of common conscience measures suicide between religions, all three would be affected by the increase in women to the economic sphere because this diminishes the collective to some extent regardless of religion. The individual and the collective are opposites that react to one another. As one gets larger, the other gets smaller. As women become more aware and responsive towards the individual, the collective will diminish causing social disintegration. Therefore, suicides would increase over all types of religion if the population of women were to increase in the economic sector of society.

2a) According to Durkheim, religions are collective representations of reality, in which they reflects society. Durkheim used the relationship between religion and its followers to describe the relationship between the individual and the society. Religion is a social entity that is constant through time. Through religion, there is a system of symbolism and communication that is shared by its followers. It is a symbol that represents the society. Religious rites and beliefs form one element of this system that is real to its followers. Durkheim states that religious rites and beliefs cannot exist without each other. They are inseparable because one cannot understand rites without first understanding beliefs. Beliefs are a form of thought that concerns sacred things that are treated with respect so strong that they have special properties and powers. According to Durkheim, the distinction between the sacred and the profane were the primary domains involved in religion; in which the main function for this distinction is to divide the world into two categories or perspectives. In order for something to become sacred, the human attitude must cause them to become sacred. Nothing can simply become sacred unless people adjust their attitudes in order to assign and validate it as sacred in all its properties. However, they have the flexibility to be both positive and negative, but share the same ambiguity among the people who create it through their attitudes. Unlike the profane, which occurs on a daily basis, sacred things do not belong in the realm of daily life, nor does it rely on the knowledge of the individual. Because it is incorporated within the collective consciousness, this power of sacredness elicits such vigor and passion in terms of respect that it binds people to moral obligations. In fact, it serves as a purpose to transcend the individual beyond his or herself because it is greater than the individual. Through these strong, shared beliefs and rites, religion assists people with the means of cohesively binding to one another.

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2b) Durkheim defined mechanical solidarity is a when a system of shared beliefs and moral values is born into a society, where they guide the lives of people in a society. The system of shared beliefs and morals are often referred to as the collective consciousness. Mechanical solidarity creates cohesion through similarities where shared moral beliefs define moral obligations. “The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a society forms a determinate system with a life of its own. It can be termed collective or common consciousness” (Divisions 39). Individuals of the society take on the life of the cultural belief system as their own. Durkheim described these types of society that were governed by mechanical solidarity as primitive societies. In this type of society, there is minimal differentiation in labor where individual beliefs and freedoms must be weaker than the collective. The system of mechanical solidarity creates simple rules that everyone can follow. It accounts for everyone. Most people under mechanical solidarity use similar methods in order to achieve subsistence; and if their goal of sustaining society was achieved, the collective would persist. Because of the homogeneous nature of mechanical solidarity, each member of the society is directly bound to the society. Additionally, they are bound on equal levels to the society through their similarities. Members of the society are attracted to one another because they resemble one another (Divisions 60). Finally, mechanical solidarity persists even when the individual doesn’t because it is the manifestation of the common collective or consciousness. Without the individual, the collective will still thrive because once moral rules have become strong, emotional feelings, they cannot be changed without reducing social cohesion. It is equally important to note that it is possible for these rules to lose their power to bind people; and that reestablishing them by force or laws would be useless because the rules no longer validate the collective consciousness as strongly as they once did, if at all anymore.

To best describe mechanical solidarity, Durkheim used the crime and punishment to explain how it functions in a mechanical society. As Durkheim states in The Division of Labor in Society, “we do not condemn it because it is a crime, but it is a crime because we condemn it”, it is the people who agree to what is a crime and what is excluded (40). “An act is socially evil because it is rejected by people” (Divisions 40). A criminal violation is not an attack at an individual, but an emotional attack against what the collective holds as dear. These violations lead to repressive sanctions where a form of vengeance is used where its purpose is to maintain cohesion in society by sustaining the common consciousness in all its vigour (Divisions 63) Therefore, the purpose of punishment is to have an effect on the collective rather than the perpetrator. In fact, Durkheim states in The Division of Labor in Society that the purpose of punishment is to heal the wounds inflicted on the society rather than the individual (63). It is not to avenge the victim, but to avenge the common conscience. Crime, in fact, draws the collective together, strengthening their bond. Therefore, based on this notion, people in mechanical societies are linked through similarities in thought, beliefs, and even practices. As these shared similarities become strong, linking individuals to each other, it takes a life of its own in the form of the collective. Through these beliefs and concepts, they are transferred into the authoritative figures that govern. Therefore, it is the authority that is the embodiment of the collective and not vice versa (Divisions 43). It relies on the collective consciousness in order to strengthen and maintain its authoritative power.

2c) Durkheim associates organic solidarity to labor modern society where people do different things for subsistence. In organic solidarity, because people do different things and are spread out geographically, various forms of beliefs and morals exist within society. The primary factor that organic solidarity is based on is differences. Although differences exist between individuals, they still rely on one another because as the division of labor expands, it forces individuals to be less reliable upon themselves. They become less self-sufficient through the many differences caused by the division of labor. However, as the division of labor expands, it also forces us to rely on each other to perform “specialized” functions to adhere to our needs. The more specialized it is, the more personal it becomes (Division 85). Interdependence is the primary element in creating cohesion in an organic society. We learn through differences that we need one another. According to The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim states “it does not cause individual wills to move towards common ends, but only causes things to gravitate around those individual wills in an orderly fashion” (73). This type of cohesion is created through our need for one another and the services we have to offer. It is self interest that forces us to seek out others. What is created through the need for each other because of self-interest are contracts that are beneficial to both parties. “The contract is indeed the supreme legal expression of cooperation” (Division 79). Although, in most cases, many unwritten provisions are acknowledged by both parties, however, it is through shared social values that govern the validity of contracts and, in the process, create cohesion. In order to create moral regulation, the validity of these contracts are by society in which they are deemed as either acceptable or unacceptable. For example, society deems drug dealing as an unacceptable form of contractual agreement. All of these values including the requirements of the contract are imposed by society in order to satisfy the interests of the society rather than the parties involved in the contract. Therefore, contracts are entirely regulated by society. Contracts must conform to procedures. For instance, in order to marry, blood must be drawn. Additionally, they must be within the restrictions of the law before they are recognized as valid whether it makes itself present or not. And, furthermore, these rules and procedures cannot be changed because they are valued by society. Although relationships varies from individual to individual based on self-interests, we are committed to values that underlie the process and/or procedures. The function of these rules are not to link together the different parts of society, but to detach them from one another in order to make visible the barriers separating them (Division 75).

According to Durkheim, a just division of labor was based on natural abilities and preferences such as intelligence and drive. However, unjust contracts exist in mechanical societies. For example, people can be born into subgroups that may not have the resources in order to maximize their chances for success. Standards such as language preference and norms are already set and modified accordingly, therefore, gaining access would be much more difficult for disadvantaged groups. In order for freedom to occur the existence of social regulation and rules are required. Social regulation and rules are needed in order to have rites where everyone can pursue something to some degree. According to Durkheim, “individuality cannot arise until the community fills us less completely” (Divisions 84). This is the only way freedom is achieved or, at least, realized.

As organic solidarity emerges, mechanical solidarity disintegrates. It becomes more general and less specific. For example, God was infinite in every aspect of life, however, in modern times, politics among many other things have separated themselves from religion declaring themselves as separate entities. Because organic solidarity has no moral content on its own, it must work together with mechanical solidarity and its general values. The individual consciousness is dependent on the collective consciousness because it cannot create cohesion alone due to its inability to apply the same rules to everyone. It is apparent that in organic solidarity, a form of mechanical solidarity still exists in the consciousness of the individual. Durkheim states ” there is in the consciousness of each one of us two consciousness: one that we share in common with our group in its entirety, which is consequently not ourselves, but society living and acting within us (mechanical); the other that, on the contrary, represents us alone in what is personal and distinctive about us, what makes us an individual (organic)” (Division 84).


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