Durkheim, Emile - Social Solidarity and Suicide

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. Two concern structure models are described below.

Emile Durkheim is one of the classical figures of sociological theory. Concern structure models arise at several points in Durkheim’s work. Below I outline the concern structure of his concept of social solidarity as summarized by Sztompka (Sztompka, 1993), and his categorization of suicide as summarized by Best (Best, 2003).

Social Solidarity


Durkheim described two forms of social solidarity: a mechanical form based on uniformity, command and control and an organic form that protected individual rights and interpersonal diversity, developing collective commitment through the institution of civil society. Social solidarity can be described in terms of four functions, as follows:

P – Economic Structures
A – Social Control
E – Character of activities/main social bond
I – Position of the individual

P – Economic Structures (Can be Mechanical or Organic)
Mechanical Order: Isolated, self-ruling, self-sufficient groups with tight internal roles.
Organic Order: Complex division of labour, interdependence, common market rules.

A – Social Control (Can be Mechanical or Organic)
Mechanical Order: Retributive justice – harsh repressive laws to punish nonconformity and disruptions of order (criminal law).
Organic Order: Restitutive justice – civic rights and contracts to repair failures of commitment and reciprocity (civil law).

E – Character of activities/main social bond (Mechanical or Organic)
Mechanical Order: Similar narrow moral, religious and political consensus.
Organic Order: Diverse and differentiated but complementary priorities and beliefs.

I – Position of the individual (Mechanical or Organic Societies)
Mechanical Order: Collectivistic focus on group identity and community standing.
Organic Order: Individualistic focus on autonomy of action and evaluation.



Durkheim described four different kinds of suicide, each one of which can be interpreted as a failure to regulate problems arising in one of the quadrants of concern, as follows:

P – Egoistic suicide
A – Anomic suicide
E – Fatalistic suicide
I – Altruistic suicide

P – Egoistic suicide
This is the suicide of an out-of-control person, inadequately integrated into society and only weakly aware of social norms and expectation. The person is not part of the shared collective sense of conscience or obligation, and is likely to react rashly and impulsively to problems and frustrations. Someone who credibly threatens suicide if a romantic partner abandons them might fall into this category.

A – Anomic suicide
Anomie means “without rules” and it refers to the floating sense of uncertainty one feels in situations where there are no customs or guidelines available to indicate what the right ways to react or respond might be. Some people commit suicide because some institution they believe in is under attack and about to collapse, and they would rather die than live in the world of the aftermath where their name, significance and social role would all be completely different and unrecognizable. Suicide bombing may be partly a symptom of the anomie people feel when their avowedly hegemonic rule structure is patently subordinate to another more hegemonic structure in real life.

E – Fatalistic suicide
This is the suicide of hopelessness, of finding all doors already closed by a repressive social order and all passions choked by punishing self-regulation. Strangely enough, Durkheim viewed this as a rare and unimportant style of suicide, but over the course of the 20th century it has come to dominate our notions of it (Durkheim’s dates are 1858-1917). Teen suicide is typically fatalistic, as are some instances of prison suicide and poverty-related suicide.

I – Altruistic suicide
Altruistic suicide is the opposite of egoistic suicide. It is the product of over-integration into the “conscience collective”. It stems from exaggerated social reactions of guilt, shame, unworthiness, debt or duty. The person is so fully regulated by these social imperatives that they maintain no separate identity as a person with any distance from the group or any capacity to deflect social stigma.

The four styles might be summarized most simply as:

P – Egoistic: Not constrained enough by social/emotional norms – wild.
A – Anomic: Weak/weakening socio-cognitive rules create too much uncertainty – lost.
E – Fatalistic: Overly strong socio-cognitive rules negate too many options – bleak.
I – Altruistic: Over-constrained by social/emotional norms – obliged.

1. Sztompka, P. (1993). “Civilizational Incompetence: The Trap of Post-Communist Societies.” Zeitschrift Fur Soziologie, Heft 2, 85-89.
2. Best, S. (2003). A Beginner’s Guide to Social Theory. London: Sage Publications.
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