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Durkheim Chart

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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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