Social Theory Pages

Durkheim Chart


under continuous construction (just like life!)

horizontal rule



Modernity and Suicide

(a heuristic and pedagogical synthesis)

This diagram depicts the relationship between two major pieces of Durkheim's social theory: his analysis of modernity and tradition (contained in The Division of Labor) and his analysis of the forms of suicide (contained in Suicide).

I obtained it by setting Durkheim's four types of suicide along two major axes: egoistic vs altruistic, anomic vs. fatalistic. The first axis tracks the degree of a society's individualism versus its group-centeredness: for Durkheim, a key part of its social structure. The second tracks that society's degree of adherence to rules versus its normlessness: for Durkheim, a key part of its culture. I have labeled thus labeled the horizontal axis "structure" and the vertical one "culture", to indicate that in Durkheimian anthropology these two need not vary together. (Mary Douglas produces a similar differentiation of "group" (structure) and "grid" (culture) in the 1973 version of her Natural Symbols, though she does not trace it to Suicide.)

The horizontal axis also distinguishes a society's division of labor. "Differentiated" societies are more individuated; "segmentary" societies are more group-oriented. Individual/group and differentiated/segmentary are both attributes of social structure.

The dividing line between traditional society and modern society--"mechanical" and "organic" solidarity, to use Durkheim's terms--does not run vertically, however; it runs from the upper left to the lower right. Anomie is a modern problem, as fatalism is a traditional one--at least in Durkheim's thinking. Separating the structural and cultural axes makes this clear. Locating Durkheim's concepts diagrammatically helps students see the relationships between various parts of his oeuvre.

-- Jim Spickard

Social Theory Pages prepared by Jim Spickard, Professor of Sociology, University of Redlands.
Copyright 2001.

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