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Emile Durkheim: Sociology Essay, Research Paper

Emile Durkheim: Sociology

1. Describe where you searched and the resources you found. Cites your most interesting sources.

Our class text book written by Macionis, explained that Emile Durkheim was ” a pioneer of sociology” who studied suicide. Interested to know more, I went to the main library at San Diego State University. I sat down at a computer and opened the SDSU Library PAC. PAC is an acronym for Public Access Catalogue, a database of all the books in the SDSU library. I did an author search and found a book by Emile Durkheim titled “Suicide: A Study in Sociology,” translated from French to English by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson.

I went to the 3rd floor and retrieved the book. This version of “Suicide” began with an editor’s introduction that summarized the book. After reading the 32 page summary by George Simpson my interest took me in another direction.

I went to a computer with an Internet connection and searched for information on the affects of loneliness. The search resulted with an article from the health and science section of the Boston Globe newspaper, titled “Loneliness can be the Death of us.” Written April 22, 1996 by Judy Foreman.

This article talked about how “…social isolation can have severe medical consequences, and close ties with people can significantly increase health and longevity.” The article also mentioned “The Roseto Effect,” a scientific study supporting the article’s claim that loneliness and isolation cause death and disease.

I went back to the computer catalogue, but this time I looked under periodical indexes and opened the expanded general academic index. Then I did a word search for “The Roseto Effect.” I got one listing, an article published in the August 1992 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 82, No. 8, pages 1,089-92, titled “The Roseto Effect: A 50 Year Comparison of Mortality Rates.” The librarian told me the journal was available on the fifth floor. I found it on the shelf, July though December of 1992 issues were bound together inside a blue, hard back cover. The American Journal of Public Health has a well educated readership. It is not the type of periodical I normally read, so I found it interesting to look through. One thing I noticed were the advertisers: American Association of Retired Persons, Basic Books, Harvard University, Howard Hughes, Plenum Publishing, Roche Laboratories, Rockefeller Foundation, Seabury and Smith, Connaught Rabies, Columbia University, Computer Outfitters and GEICO Auto Insurance.

2. According to your sources, what is the latest information and data offered on this topic?

One of the first studies of the power of social support was in 1897 by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim. He wrote about the findings of his study in his book titled, “Suicide.” In this book Durkheim uses his structural/functional interpretation of human behavior to explain the uniquely human phenomena of suicide. Durkheim identifies four types of suicide. Egotistic suicides result from too much individualism. Egotists kill themselves as a way of gaining the attention of other people. Anomic suicides occur in times of norm conflict or normlessness (anomie means without norms). Altruistic suicides happen when someone kills himself or herself for the good of the remaining members of the group. Fatalistic suicides arise from extreme social regulation, when people kill themselves because they’ve lost hope. At a glance, suicide may look like an individual, personal act unrelated to society as a whole, but Durkheim establishes that all four types of suicides are due in part to the victim’s faulty social relationships with his or her community. Durkheim’s research led him to conclude that the major factor affecting suicide rates was the degree of social integration of groups. He found that the extent to which an individual is integrated into group life determined whether he would be likely to commit suicide. Durkheim also found that unmarried men and women were more likely to commit suicide than those who are married.

The latest information and data I could find on this subject is in a modern context. Today it is more popular to study heart disease than suicide. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans; and although slightly fewer people in France die from heart disease, with or without their daily red wine, it is still the number one killer there too. That is why I think that if Durkheim were alive today he would be very interested in the Roseto study. It is a modern version of his own study.

The Roseto study shows the power of social support to increase life expectancy, which is the important factor that it has in common with Durkheim’s study of suicide. The modern twist is that it more specifically shows the power of social support to decrees the rate of heart disease.

The Roseto Study is a longitudinal study of the inhabitancy of Roseto, Pennsylvania, an Italian-American town in eastern Pennsylvania. The population of Roseto has been studied intensively for over fifty years. It has been studied because it was found to have had a strikingly low rate of myocardial infarction (heart attack) during the first thirty years it was studied when compared to Bangor; an immediately adjacent town, and Nazareth, another nearby community. The risk factors for heart disease such as smoking, high-fat diet, diabetes, and so on were at least as prevalent in Roseto as in Bangor and Nazareth. All three communities were served by the same hospital facilities, water supply, and physicians. Why was the incidence of heart attacks so much lower in Roseto?

In 1882, a small group of Italians left the village of Roseto Val Fortore in Italy, and moved to eastern Pennsylvania. There they founded a new town which they built to look just like their original Italian village. They even named the new town Roseto. The group continued to practice their original Italian recipe for community. A close knit community with lots of social support. They lived in extended family households, their lives were centered around the family and they built their houses close together. They lived this way until the late 196Os.

In the 1970s, Roseto shifted from extended family households with strong commitments to religion, relationships, and traditional values and practices to a less cohesive, fragmented, and isolated community. This loosening of family ties and weakening of the community in Roseto was accompanied by a substantial increase in death due to heart disease. During this time, the mortality rate rose to the same level as that of the neighboring communities.

The Roseto study is the modern version of Durkheim’s 1897 study of suicide; and in that sense it is the latest information and data on the topic. It shows us a little different angle of the same basic human need. The need for social support.

3. What are the major questions that are raised by this topic? Explain these questions and if possible what kind of research is needed to answer them.

Fifty years ago most people lived in the same neighborhood in which they were born. They had the same neighbors and they kept the same job for most of their life. They had the same co-workers during most of the time they worked. They had extended family living nearby whom they saw regularly. Today none of these things are true for most Americans. Today many people barely know their neighbor. If they become ill they might not have anyone who would drive them to the hospital. If they were broke they might not have anyone who would loan them money. There has been a radical shift in our society away from the social structures that used to provide us with a sense of connection and community. Now that we know social support is important for health, happiness and increased life expectancy, what should we do to counter these alienating forces? Joining a gang has become a popular way for young people to gain a sense of community and family. Joining a religious sect, a cult or a hate group is another. Virtual on-line communities have become common place as people learn to use the Internet.

Should doctors begin to prescribe social support to their patients the way they prescribe a healthy diet, exercise and a program to stop smoking? Medicine today seems to focus on drugs and surgery. I am not sure doctors in this country learn much about the power of social support in there medical training. “Touchy-feely” concepts tend to get overlooked, ignored or even denigrated. Another obstacle is the fact that most doctors today are being forced to see more and more patients in less and less time. If a physician has to see a new patient every eight minutes, he or she might not have time to discover that the patient is lonely. Even if the doctor is not skeptical, he has the training and knows the patient needs social support, how would he or she prescribe it?

In order to be beneficial does the social support have to come from other people or can it come from a pet? Does it only matter how much social support a person gets or does giving social support equally improve health and increase life expectancy. If it is as beneficial to give social support as it is to get it, can caring for a plant, or creating art fulfill your needed daily dose of social support? Some people feel cared for by their religion. Are they decreasing there risk for suicide and heart disease?

You may conclude that some research needs to be done in order to answer these questions. I am not sure research will help. What is verifiable in this case may not be what is most important. Science involves measuring, but not everything that counts can be counted. What is most meaningful when measuring social support? Are both the number and the quality of relationships important for happiness, health and increased life expectance? It is easier to measure the number of relationships than the person’s perceptions of the quality of those relationships. What if the way people feel about those relationships is the only factor that matters?

4. What did you learn from these sources that challenges a belief that you previously held or offers information that you didn’t have before?

I think I actually pride myself on being skeptical and even hostile to “touchy-feely” alterative medicine. The idea that social support can affect disease and death seemed to be at odds with the fundamental precepts of modern medicine. My immediate response is to categorize any medical method that does not involve drugs or surgery as hogwash. Maybe I should re-think this prejudice.

I found it hard to believe that something as simple as social support could make a difference in the rate of suicide or heart disease until I remembered two experiences. First, I remembered how good it felt to be a part of a large group of friends, when I was a young boy. Second, I remembered the Gulf War. I was in Spain when the Gulf War began. Americans huddled together to watch CNN as the war unfolded on television. Americans who had never met before suddenly seemed to care passionately about each other’s welfare. We felt unified. The strong sense of community “intoxicated” me. It strongly influenced my feelings, thoughts and actions. It was powerful and it felt good. Remembering these experiences helped me understand how a strong caring community with plenty of social support could make a dramatic difference in people’s lives.

I learned that loneliness and isolation affect our health in several ways. They increase the likelihood that we may engage in behaviors like smoking and overeating that adversely affect our health. They decrease the likelihood that we will make lifestyle choices that are life-enhancing rather than self-destructive. They also increase the likelihood of disease and premature death independent of our behaviors, through mechanisms I do not understand.

The American male gender role does not give men a lot of situations in which they are encouraged to talk about their feelings in a group. We do not get a lot of practice at opening our hearts to others. Perhaps this is one reason why more men then women have to have their hearts opened “manually” by a physician, during coronary bypass surgery.

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