By J Maxwell Atkinson
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Additional resources for Discovering Suicide: Studies in the Social Organization of Sudden Death
Though this may not, according to Pierce, be one of the 'contemporary meanings of the term', substantial parts of Durkheim's writings reveal exactly such a view of societies. His extended discussion of 'normal' and 'pathological' social types in Chapter 3 of The Rules of Sociological Methods abounds with organic imagery and explicit statements which stress the similarities between organisms and societies . Initially he invokes the notion of old age in what seems to be a case against the crude version of functionalism presented above: 28 Discovering Suicide People argue about this question as if, in a healthy organism, each element played a useful role, as if each internal state corresponded exactly to some external condition and, consequently, helped to maintain vital equilibrium and to diminish the chances of death.
Indeed it may well be that Durkheim tends to be attributed a more important role in this than is due. It is noticeable, for example, that the English translation of Suicide did not appear until 1951: Furthermore, it has been argued that a ' serious interest in Durkheim's work did not develop in the United States until the 1930s (Hinkle, 1960) which, if Durkheim were the dominant influence on the growth of positivism, might suggest that such an orientation in American sociology would not have become firmly established until after that time.
His method of analysis provided a model for the investigation of variations in the rates of other social 'pathologies' and 'Social Pathology' emerged as one of the specialisms of sociology. Similar theoretical formulations to that provided by Durkheim in Suicide, however, proved less easy to come by than the statistics for computing the rates, but when the theoretical breakthrough did come, it was derived directly from what Durkheim had had to say about suicide. Thus in 'Social Structure and Anomie', Merton (1938) rediscovered for sociology one of the central concepts employed by Durkheim in his theory of suicide, and adapted it to produce what purported to be a theory which accounted for a range of different types of deviant behaviour.