A beginner's guide to social theory by Shaun Best

By Shaun Best

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Systems are made up of a large number of system/ environmental oppositions, which are in their own way engaged in different processes of reconstituting a social system as a synthesis of subsystems and environment. Everything which is part of the system is involved in these processes of self-production. The elements which make up the system have no given period of life; everything must be continually reproduced. Without the capacity to generate its own independence from the environment, the social system would cease to exist.

Society is treated as a concrete object which we can study in an objective fashion. The subject matter of sociology is the social fact, and Durkheim's ®rst rule of the sociological method is to treat social facts as things. The characteristics of a social fact are that it: · · is external to the individual; exercises a constraint upon the individual. The social fact can consist of ways of acting and/or ways of thinking which have a degree of power or coercion over the individual. Even within unorganised crowds there are collective sentiments which put pressure upon individuals to conform to the crowd behaviour.

On a sociological level, Durkheim wanted to show that wider social forces were at work, and that the causes of suicide were not only of a personal nature. However, at the outset we have to say that Durkheim had a rather odd de®nition of suicide: the term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result. An attempt is an act thus de®ned but falling short of actual death. (Durkheim, 1952: 44) Durkheim's four types of suicide Following his own rules of the sociological method, Durkheim attempted to classify suicides and came up with four logical possibilities.

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