Émile Durkheim on Suicide & Society: Crash Course Sociology #5



so the fact that we have a society at all is kind of amazing think about it people with different interests different maps with money members of different subcultures races and sexual orientations somehow all managed to hold together in this thing we call society a thing that at least kind of works but it doesn't just hold together society has to somehow endure periods of intense change without falling apart political change technological change population growth economic crises all these things can be massively disruptive sometimes we might even worry that the fabric of society won't be able to take the stress and it's these questions of how society hopes together and how to understand why it goes wrong then emile durkheim one of the founders of sociology tried to answer Oh [Applause] you know who knows a thing or two about social disruptions frame emile durkheim lived in France from 1858 to 1917 which means that he lived almost his entire life under France's Third Republic founded in 1871 but despite being the Third Republic it was the first stable Republic in France's history between 1800 and 1871 France was governed by two Republic's two monarchies and two empires but the turmoil wasn't just political France was also dealing with major economic technological and cultural changes as industrialization took hold and the traditional authority of the Catholic Church weakened given all this it should be no surprise that their kind was concerned with the question of what kept societies together so that he could make sure that his didn't fall apart again and this was the task of sociology as he understood it sociology was to be a truly scientific study of society with it we could understand its normal and abnormal functioning we could diagnose how it was changing and we could deal with the consequences to Durkheim sociology was to society what biology and medicine were to the human body he actually thought of society as a kind of organism made up of different parts which all had to function well together in order for that organism to be healthy this basic understanding of society in terms of structures that fit together and which function either well or poorly makes Durkheim the founder of the structural functionalist paradigm that we discussed in episode tip now if sociology was to be a true science then it needed well-defined methods and Durkheim focused a lot of his effort on this problem he was committed to sociology as an empirical endeavor in his ambitious book called suicide is really the first piece of sociological work to use statistical methods as its primary mode of argument Durkheim was also the first in the field to think in terms that we now consider standard in sociology like thinking about the problem of operationalize in variables and puzzling over how intangible concepts like social integration or solidarity can be reflected in things that we can actually measure and beyond this question of method lies an even bigger question if sociology is of science then what is it studied there kind of thought that any science needed a well-defined object of study and the object for Durkheim was the social fact in his book rules of sociological method he defines social facts as consisting of manners of acting thinking and feeling external to the individual which are invested with the coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him okay there are three things to highlight in this definition first is the fact that it's really broad social facts include everything from political systems to beliefs about right and wrong to suicide rates to holiday celebrations and architectural styles second notice that social facts are external to the individual this might seem a little confusing I mean how can a way of thinking be external to a person but what Durkheim means here is that social facts have a life outside of you or me for instance if you give gifts at Christmas think for a second about why that's not something that you came up with on your own giving gifts at Christmas wasn't your idea it's a social fact with an existence that's external to you if you don't celebrate Christmas the strength of Christmas is a social fact in the u.s. means you've probably already experienced the third thing that I want to highlight the idea that social facts are powerful and coercive and they can make you do things you otherwise wouldn't don't believe me let's go to the thought-bubble imagine a hypothetical family at a hypothetical Christmas none of them want gifts and all of them have better things to do than spend money buying gifts for anyone else in fact none of them are even that committed to celebrating Christmas at all and yet come Christmas morning there's a pile of presents under the tree and there's a tree there in the first place why well maybe no one was willing to say that they didn't want a gift or maybe they all said that but they each brought gifts anyway because they were afraid that the others would too the point is the specific explanation for the behavior and this family doesn't really matter what's important is that we can see here the power of a social fact even in the situation where no one directly involved believes in it if that's not an external coercive power I don't know what is that this doesn't just happen with gift-giving at Christmas social facts include all kinds of things they help dictate how you interact with your neighbors and how you relate to society social facts in their coercive power represent a form of social cohesion which points us back to our original question how societies hold together and how they can go wrong thanks that level starts and answer to the question of social cohesion is what he called the common or collective consciousness the common consciousness is basically the collection of all the beliefs morals and ideas that are the social facts in a given society and like with gift-giving at Christmas these beliefs aren't necessarily held by everyone they're just the beliefs that hold coercive power they're the ideas that people give like to interactions with one another so common consciousness holds a society together but what are the problems what is social dysfunction what if society is an organism then dysfunction must be thought of as a disease now you might think that something like crime would be a social dysfunction but by Durkheim thinking crime can't be a disease because every society has it so you might not like crime but some amount of crime is normal in the same way you might wish you didn't have to sleep but that doesn't make sleeping a disease it's just a normal part of the way the human body works and just like sleep Durkheim argued that crime serves the purpose for example he said that crime helps strengthen the common consciousness to him crime and punishment were a kind of public lesson in right and wrong when someone is judged and punished that shows us both society's morals and how strong those morals are crime can also point to possible changes in the common consciousness when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat move to the back of the bus she committed a crime but her crime set off a citywide bus boycott that resulted in the law being struck down so crime in and of itself isn't necessarily a dysfunction but just like how sleeping 18 hours a day everyday might be a sign of disease if the level of crime in society becomes excessive it would eventually stop serving these functions and the society could no longer function normal and that's what social dysfunction is for Durkheim something that impedes the normal functioning of society since Durkheim is a structural functionalist social dysfunctions always have larger structural causes they're created by some underlying problem with the social organism Durkheim applied this idea in his famous book on suicide now it might be strange to think of suicide as social at all but Durkheim argued is there was actually a very strong link between societal structure and people taking their own lives and he found this link in a dysfunctional aspect of his society namely in a lack of social integration when Dirk I looked at the statistics on suicide in Europe over the 19th century he saw a massive increase on that coincided with the shift from traditional to modern society their current argued that traditional societies like those of feudal Europe were highly socially integrated people knew their place in society what that place meant and how they related to other people but modern society over the preceding century has suffered from a loss of social integration the decreasing importance of religion and of other traditional ways of thinking resulted in a smaller weaker common consciousness and a less intense communal life as a result people were less strongly bound to their society they didn't necessarily feel they had a place in it and couldn't understand how they fit this Durkheim argued resulted in a dramatically increased suicide rate now suicide is certainly personal acts motivated by personal feeling or psychological conditions but Durkheim showed how these personal feelings were not purely personal and that they were influenced by the structure of society in this case he argued that the values holding society together were being pulled apart and so people lost their sense of place feelings of isolation or meaninglessness could be traced back to large social changes and Durkheim in diagnosing the problem believed he had a solution it's a high suicide rate with a disease Durkheim's prescription was to strengthen social organizations especially those based around the workplace because that's where people were spending more and more of their time he figured that these organizations sort of like workers guilds could help provide people with that sense of place that they were lacking now many sociologists today see that there comes work on suicide was undermined by the poor quality of statistics at the time but still he used those statistics in new ways as evidence and tests for theories of society and you can see in his research how Durkheim tried to answer big questions society is composed of social facts and bound together by common consciousness this normal functioning can evolve but it can also be disrupted by rapid change and that their kind believed is where sociology steps in by studying society scientifically and understanding social facts sociologists can diagnose the disease and prescribe the cure today you learned about Emile Durkheim and some of his later ideas we talked about social facts and how he framed sociology as a science we introduced the idea of common consciousness and tried to understand how it binds society together and we looked at suicide as an example of how their crime applies as concepts to a specific social problem but there are lots of other ways to understand the purpose of sociology and we'll see a very different understanding next week as we continue our whirlwind tour of the founding series with a look at Karl Marx crash course sociology is filmed in the doctor Cheryl C Kinney studio in Missoula Montana and it's made with the help of all of these nice people our animation team is thought cafe and crash course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud if you'd like to keep crash course free for everyone forever you can support the series at patreon a crowdfunding platform that allows you to support the content you love speaking of patreon we'd like to thank all of our patrons in general and we'd like to specifically say our headmaster of learning david such as thank you for your support you




Comments
  1. Some illogical comparisons, like saying that crime is like sleep. But With that introduction, I did not expect a lot of common sense anyway. Gave a thumbs up, anyway

  2. i'm trying to read Durkheim for a third year sociology unit and struggling badly so I really appreciate this thank you 😅

  3. This just saved my introduction section of my year three geography paper on international students integration challenges

  4. … I am really worried about orientalist aproach here as suggesting Durkheim founded "structural functionism". He may have given some concrete background for the attitute towards society but hee merely pointed what can easily be found in Ibn Khâldun.

  5. On the point of crime, it would also be odd if there was no crime in a society. It might show that either there is something with the law, or how it get's enforced. For example, suppose there was a country without crime. That could be because there is no system of law, and it's basically the purge, or because the society is so terrifying that people aren't even willing to think about committing crimes.

  6. While I can define each (collective con. and social facts)…I am unsure on when to use them when speaking about them.

    For example…couldn't I say

    There is a collective consciousness that footballs is for guys

    There is a social fact that football is for guys

    or

    There is a collective consciousness to dress formally to a fancy dinner.

    There is a social fact to dress formally to a fancy dinner.

    To me, any deviation from either…wouldn't that cause you to feel like a social outcast?
    They both seem to be norms, and thus…external and coercive?

  7. Durkheim will be surprised to find out that people in the 21st century are actually living in a permanent dysfunctional society.

  8. I would LOVE to see a crash course on Medical Sciences. Like medication, diseases, surgeries, tools, etc. It would be so interesting.

  9. I've recently been thinking about goin for my masters in Sociology, my BS is in communications, is that too far off?

  10. 4:15 i wouldn't say that people choosing to maintain a christmas tradition is coercive. sure they may have had mixed feelings about whether or not to "do christmas" but having mixed feelings about a thing is not synonymous with having solely negative feelings about a thing. the fact is that mixed feelings involve both positive and negative reasons for doing something. and if a person is not actually coerced by someone else into doing a thing then what other option is there but to say that their positive reasons won out?

  11. Could you please take a time to pause when speaking its kinda difficult to digest the ideas when you speak fast and not taking the time to pause.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *