Fatalistic Suicide

Although we might be inclined to think of suicide as an essentially personal act, it is hard to deny larger social forces at work. French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s seminal work ‘Suicide’ (1897), for instance, tried to explain how suicide is a social fact, a phenomena actually correlated to a society’s levels of integration and regulation. More specifically, his idea of fatalistic suicide–one occurring in societies with overly high levels of regulation–seems particularly relevant in today’s modern world characterized by ever competitive schools and workplaces.

The recent suicide–the fourth this year–of a 19-year-old mathematics student at South Korea’s prestigious engineering college KAIST due to distress over low grades has sparked concern amongst the nation now debating whether South Korea’s “unabashed pursuit of overachievement has gone too far”. This report from Asiaone also reports how the suicide rate in Singapore increased last year, citing increased levels of stress and anxiety as chief causes.

Ask yourself: Why do societies with particularly high levels of regulation correlate with higher suicide rates?

Do you buy Durkheim’s larger argument about describing suicide as a social, rather than personal, phenomena? 

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One thought on “Fatalistic Suicide

  1. What first comes to mind on this topic is Japan and Seppuku–Honor motivated suicide by Samurais– emblematic of Durkheim’s theory that a structured, regulated society is leads to greater suicide rates.

    Although I think that Durkheim’s observations are based on valid trends (conditional agreement), I think that her views generalizes the relationship between the individual and society. (Evaluation) Later research shows how the occurrence of one suicide often leads to a chain of suicide within a family/clan, suggesting that suicide may be due to genetically predisposed psycho-depression and/or the power of suggestion, much like how media reports of subway suicides often prompts a spat of copycat suicides. (Example)

    So while Durkheim’s observation holds true, to attribute Singapore’s rising suicide rates to anxiety and stress alone does not capture the complexity of how society and communities work. (Reiterating evaluation)

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