1. Getting Ready: Familiarize yourself with Durkheim’s ontological assumptions, epistemology, and goals, and his theory of suicide, paying attention to the following concepts: integration, regulation, collective consciousness/conscience collective, social solidarity, moral cohesion, and ritual. Make sure you understand how these concepts come together to create a theoretical framework that helps us to understand acts of deviant behavior beyond suicide. Specifically, in this assignment you will be asked to expand Durkheim’s theory of suicide and use it to explain why some people engage in deviant or illegal behavior and why others are less likely to do so.
2. Collecting the Data: Think of two people you know, one of whom has never been in trouble
with the law and who almost always lives up to social norms and expectations (i.e., is considered
non-deviant). The other person should be one who has engaged in illegal or deviant activities
(e.g., underage drinking, illegal drug use, breaking curfew, very young sexual activity), whether
or not s/he has been in official trouble with the law.
Thinking about the concepts that Durkheim provides to help us understand suicide (as
a form of deviant behavior), create a short interview guide that will guide conversations with the
above two people.
Remember that integration can include membership in any type or organization, club, or family
involvement. Here are some examples: Did the individual enjoy school and feel a part of the
social life at school? Was s/he involved in sports, clubs, church groups, or other extra-curricular
activities? Did s/he have a job after school?
Regulation includes the ritual involvement in these groups. At home, did the family get together
for regular activities (e.g., evening meals, family meetings or vacations, weekend activities,
church attendance)? If involved in extra-curricular activities, how often did clubs meet? What
did coaches expect of him or her? E.g., An individual might belong to a club that meets only
rarely or s/he might belong to a team that practices daily where attendance and hard workouts are
required. Or you will likely find that both people you interviewed belonged to families
(integration) but that one family does little more than share living space (low regulation) while
the other expects all members to eat meals together, go boating (or another activity) together, go
to religious services together (higher regulation).
So, rather than asking, “Were you integrated into society as a child?” you might ask, “What clubs
or after school organizations did you belong to? Tell me about those–what you did, how involved
or included you felt,” etc. Rather than asking about levels of regulation in the groups that your
respondents belonged to, ask them what routines or rituals the groups regularly went through,
how often they met, what they did when they got together, etc. Ask also about how “close” they
felt to these groups (as a measure of solidarity and moral cohesion) and ask what the group’s
beliefs were and how strongly the individual believed in the legitimacy of those beliefs (as a
measure of collective consciousness). For example, Boy/Girl Scouts profess a belief system that
might differ from the beliefs of a gang.
Don’t be afraid to wander from your interview guide, and try not to talk in sociological jargon.
Remember that feelings of “closeness” of or “belonging” can be substituted for “solidarity” or
“moral cohesion” and that “What beliefs or values did you learn from the group” can be
substituted for “What was the group’s conscience collective?”
The point is to determine individual levels of integration, regulation, solidarity or moral cohesion
with the group, and the extent to which the individual had internalized or felt allegiance to the
collective consciousness of the groups to which s/he belonged. Remember that Durkheim tells us
that ritual builds solidarity and moral cohesion and that those are the forces that regulate us by
binding us to the collective consciousness of the group.
Keep notes of the answers you get and/or, with the individual’s permission, tape record the
conversations so you can refer back to them later. Be sure NOT to record the individual’s real
name on your notes, in your tape recordings, or in your paper. In your paper, you should provide
a pseudonym (false name).
3. Writing the Paper:
A. Setting the Theoretical Framework: With accuracy, completeness, precision, clarity, depth,
and breadth (see the Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking), explain Durkheim’s ontology,
espitsmology, and goals, as well as his theory of suicide, including the concepts integration,
regulation, collective consciousness/conscience collective, social solidarity, moral cohesion, and
ritual delineated in “Getting Ready,” (above). (80 points)
B. Presenting the Data: Provide a “thick” description that tells me about the lives of the two
people you have chosen to interview. A thick description provides a level of detail that allows the
reader a sense of having been present at the interview and a good idea of what the person’s life is
(or was) like. (20 points)
C. Analyzing the Data: With accuracy, completeness, precision, clarity, depth, and breadth and
an appropriate amount of elaboration on your explanations, use the theories and concepts to
explain why one of your research subjects has engaged in deviant behavior and why the other has
not (or at least has never been caught). You need to associate specific examples of integration,
regulation, solidarity, moral cohesion, ritual, and collective consciousness for each subject. If
these individuals’ lives cannot be explained using the concepts and theories, draw on other
theories (perhaps Marx or Weber have something to add here) or create new concepts to explain
what you believe accounts for their differences in life experiences.
The point here is to use concepts and theory to understand the life experiences of your “sample.”
If you believe Durkheim’s theory and concepts are inadequate for your analysis, you may draw in
theories you have learned in other classes, ideally weaving in additional concepts with those
offered by Durkheim. If you reject the theories entirely, you must provide a full explanation why
none of the concepts fit before you offer an alternative theoretical analysis.
D. Using logic –that is, drawing conclusions based on your data: What conclusions can you draw
from your data and your analysis about the effects that the conceptual variables have on social
behavior? What variables, concepts, or theories might add to the theories? (10 points)
E. Implications: If your analysis and conclusions are correct, what are the implications for efforts
to reduce juvenile delinquency, suicide, and other forms of deviant or criminal behavior?
Thinking more in terms of social policy, what recommendations would you offer to the governor
or the mayor of your city to reduce rates of juvenile delinquency? Be sure to discuss the
implications fully (10 points).