And what of the suicide-rate among Catholic converts; is this lower or higher than among other Catholics, and among other religious groups? This in turn raises the problem whether suicides of Catholics are being accurately reported since the religious prohibition against suicide in the Catholic church may well lead to serious complications. The suicide rate for Protestants everywhere shows itself as higher than that for Catholics, and often for the Jews.
If this holds true, then the most individualistic Protestant sects should show the highest suicide rates. For example, in the United States, Unitarians should show a very high rate, and high-church Episcopalians a very low rate. We do not know. The religious environment may be strictly linked with psychiatric interpretation of suicide. But to what do these common sentiments and beliefs refer?
Catholic sentiments and beliefs seek to relieve the individual of guilt, make all sins expiable, establish an intricate, hierarchical system of father-substitutes, and an ingenious, poetic image of the mother. Calvinism, and to no small degree, Lutheranism, deal with sin repressively and individualistically. In early Protestantism, the unconscious is thrown back upon itself, and later only exclusively non-religious social sanctions hold it in check.
Consummated suicides are higher among men than among women, but it seems that attempted suicides are higher among women than among men. The suicide-rate is believed to increase with age. But is this not possibly because early frustrations are aggravated by failures in middle life? And what relation is there between middle-age suicide-rates and failure in intimate marital and familial relations?
The suicide-rate increases, according to the statistics we have, with advance in age.
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It is particularly high among the aged. Several problems arise here. First, is it that there is less reluctance to admit that death resulted from suicide when the individual is aged? These questions, and others, must obviously be to the forefront in the new branch of medicine called geriatrics, particularly in the light of what has been termed our aging population. Suicide-rates are relatively high among the highest income-groups. Wealth, the touchstone of success in our type of society, is no assurance of immunity.
Is this because of overprotection in infancy and youth? And what of suicides among selfmade men? Dublin and Bunzel come to the conclusion that there is no simple causal relation between economic factors and suicide. In the midst of a shooting war, suicide-rates tend to decline; so the statistics say. What looks like courage may be suicidal proclivity; and anyway one may not contemplate suicide if the chances are greater that life may soon be over.
As far as the civilian population is concerned, the whole question of the impact of war upon psychic desiderata remains to be investigated. Suicide and Marital Status. Marital status and suicide are presumed to be strictly interrelated. Divorced men have a higher suicide-rate than the undivorced, divorced women a higher rate than undivorced women but lower than divorced men. What of suicide-rates among the divorced who have re-wed? Among the widowed, childless marriages give high rates. But the interpretation of such phenomena seems to require generalization based on psychiatric case-histories, and some understanding of the relation of marital status to emotional life as patterned before marriage, divorce, or widowhood.
And what of suicide-rates of the widowed who re-wed? If marriage protects against suicide, particularly fertile marriage, why does it not protect all such marriages? Is it that the suicide-potential overcomes even the devotion to spouse and family in the case of suicides? And if so, how did the suicide-potential get so powerful? Suicide and the Negro. The rate for Negroes is very low compared to whites, in our society. Is this because systematic oppression and under-privilege lead individuals to be adjusted to the misery and tragedy of human existence which is visited upon all?
But here a serious check must be made by studies of suicide among upper-class and welleducated Negroes, and among low-income and poorly educated Negroes. Do Negroes who are on the margin of upper-class white standards of living, materially and intellectually, commit suicide more than do other Negroes?
But Negro women have a rate somewhat closer to white women, than Negro men have to white men. Here intimate knowledge of the private lives of such Negro women would be of help. Also questions of high and low coloration may be necessarily involved throughout the problem of the relation of Negroes to suicide. Suicide and Curative Therapy. Where, from analytic-room and clinic, the suicidal proclivity originally appeared high in given individuals, and curative therapy proved successful, what is the suicide-rate in later life among these individuals? Has the proclivity been redirected towards life?
And what kind of life? VII To raise these hypotheses is certainly not to answer them. Since the respect for human personality in our society is so great, we hold as a fundamental value an abhorrence of suicide. This in turn raises the problem of what to do about combatting suicide. It is not administrative devices that will bring fewer suicides, but kindly ministration based on the tragedy of humanity in being imprisoned by irrational biology and psychology whose depths we have only just plumbed, and which in turn are nursed by prudery and squeamishness in acknowledging them as realities.
In the long tradition of Western thought, Durkheim joins with psychoanalysis in emphasizing that the life of reason has many enemies, the chief of which today is the failure to apply what we have discovered on sound evidence, to the social world about us. That he did not have our evidence at his disposal is an accident of birth and history; but, to use some of his own words in the preface to Le Suicide: Today this word, little known and almost discredited a decade ago, is in common use.
Representatives of the new science are increasing in number and there is something like a public feeling favorable to it. Much is expected of it. It must be confessed, however, that results up to the present time are not really proportionate to the number of publications nor the interest which they arouse. The progress of a science is proven by the progress toward solution of the problems it treats.
Unfortunately, there is good reason why sociology does not appear in this light, and this is because the problems it proposes are not usually clear-cut. It is still in the stage of system-building and philosophical syntheses. Brief studies and hasty intuitions are not enough for the discovery of the laws of so complex a reality. And, above all, such large and abrupt generalizations are not capable of any xxxiv preface sort of proof. All that is accomplished is the occasional citation of some favorable examples illustrative of the hypothesis considered, but an illustration is not a proof.
Besides, when so many various matters are dealt with, none is competently treated and only casual sources can be employed, with no means to make a critical estimate of them. If it should continue, sociology would soon relapse into its old discredit and only the enemies of reason could rejoice at this.
There is nothing necessarily discouraging in the incompleteness of the results thus far obtained. A science so recent cannot be criticized for errors and probings if it sees to it that their recurrence is avoided. Sociology should, then, renounce none of its aims; but, on the other hand, if it is to satisfy the hopes placed in it, it must try to become more than a new sort of philosophical literature.
Such auxiliary subjects as history, ethnography and statistics are indispensable. But this is not conclusive. If he proceeds accordingly, even though his factual resources are incomplete and his formulae too narrow, he will have nevertheless performed a useful task for future continuation. Conceptions with some objective foundation are not restricted to the personality of their author.
They have an impersonal quality which others may take up and pursue; they are transmissible. It is in this spirit that the work here presented has been conceived. On the other hand, by such concentration, real laws are discoverable which demonstrate the possibility of sociology better than any dialectical argument. The ones we hope to have demonstrated will appear.
Of course we must have made more than one error, must have overextended the facts observed in our inductions. But at least each proposition carries its proofs with it and we have tried to make them as numerous as possible. Most of all, we have striven in each case to separate the argument and interpretation from the facts interpreted.
Suicide: A Study in Sociology
Thus the reader can judge what is relevant in our explanations without being confused. Moreover, by thus restricting the research, one is by no means deprived of broad views and general insights. On the contrary, we think we have established a certain number of propositions concerning marriage, widowhood, family life, religious society, etc. There will even emerge from our study some suggestions concerning the causes of the general contemporary maladjustment being undergone by European societies and concerning remedies which may relieve it.
One must not believe that a general condition can only be explained with the aid of generalities. Sociological method as we practice it rests wholly on the basic principle that social facts must be studied as things, that is, as realities external to the individual. There is no principle for which we have received more criticism; but none is more fundamental. Indubitably for sociology to be possible, it must above all have an object all its own. It must take cognizance of a reality which is not in the domain of other sciences.
But if no reality exists outside of individual consciousness, it wholly lacks any material of its own. In that case, the only possible subject of observation is the mental states of the individual, since nothing else exists. From this point of view the essence of marriage, for example, or the family, or religion, consists of individual needs to which these institutions supposedly correspond: On the pretext of giving the science a more solid foundation by establishing it upon the psychological constitution of the individual, it is thus robbed of the only object proper to it.
It is not realized that there can be no sociology unless societies exist, and that societies cannot exist if there are only individuals. Moreover, this view is not the least of the causes which maintain the taste for vague generalities in sociology. But it seems hardly possible to us that there will not emerge, on the contrary, from every page of this book, so to speak, the impression that the individual is dominated by a moral reality greater than himself: Rather they will be felt to be real, living, active forces which, because of the way they determine the individual, prove their independence of him; which, if the individual enters as an element in the combination whence these forces ensue, at least control him once they are formed.
The former made all the maps contained in this book; the latter has enabled us to combine the elements necessary for Tables XXI and XXII, the importance of which will appear later. For this purpose the records of some 26, suicides had to be studied to classify separately their age, sex, marital status, and the presence or absence of children. Mauss alone performed this heavy task. These tables have been drawn up from documents of the Ministry of Justice not appearing in the annual reports. They have been most kindly submitted to us by M. Tarde, Chief of the Bureau of Legal Statistics.
His assistance is most gratefully acknowledged. The intrinsic nature of the acts so resulting is unimportant. Though suicide is commonly conceived as a positive, violent action involving some muscular energy, it may happen that a purely negative attitude or mere abstention will have the same consequence. In one sense, indeed, few cases of death exist which are not immediately or distantly due to some act of the subject. Shall suicide be considered to exist only if the act resulting in death was performed by the victim to achieve this result? Shall only he be thought truly to slay himself who has wished to do so, and suicide be intentional self-homicide?
Intent is too intimate a thing to be more than approximately interpreted by another. It even escapes self-observation. How often we mistake the true reasons for our acts! We constantly explain acts due to petty feelings or blind routine by generous passions or lofty considerations. The soldier facing certain death to save his regiment does not wish to die, and yet is he not as much the author of his own death as the manufacturer or merchant who kills himself to avoid bankruptcy? Whether death is accepted merely as an unfortunate consequence, but inevitable given the purpose, or is actually itself sought and desired, in either case the person renounces existence, and the various methods of doing so can be only varieties of a single class.
They xli xlii introduction possess too many essential similarities not to be combined in one generic expression, subject to distinction as the species of the genus thus established. Of course, in common terms, suicide is pre-eminently the desperate act of one who does not care to live. But actually life is none the less abandoned because one desires it at the moment of renouncing it; and there are common traits clearly essential to all acts by which a living being thus renounces the possession presumably most precious of all.
The common quality of all these possible forms of supreme renunciation is that the determining act is performed advisedly; that at the moment of acting the victim knows the certain result of his conduct, no matter what reason may have led him to act thus.
All mortal facts thus characterized are clearly distinct from all others in which the victim is either not the author of his own end or else only its unconscious author. Suicide is the one appropriate; there is no need to create another, for the vast majority of occurrences customarily so-called belong to this group. We may then say conclusively: Our knowledge of animal intelligence does not really allow us to attribute to them an understanding anticipatory of their death nor, especially, of the means to accomplish it.
Some, to be sure, are known to refuse to enter a spot where others have been killed; they seem to have a presentiment of death. The motive energy aroused by his irritation is discharged by chance and at random; the creature happens to become its victim, though it cannot be said to have had a preconception of the result of its action. On the other hand, if some dogs refuse to take food on losing their masters, it is because the sadness into which they are thrown has automatically caused lack of hunger; death has resulted, but without having been foreseen.
Hence in the following we shall treat human suicide only. It shows indeed that suicides do not form, as might be thought, a wholly distinct group, an isolated class of monstrous phenomena, unrelated to other forms of conduct, but rather are related to them by a continuous series of intermediate cases. They are merely the exaggerated form of common practices. Suicide, we say, exists indeed when the victim at the moment he commits the act destined to be fatal, knows the normal result of it with certainty. This certainty, however, may be greater or less.
They result from similar states of mind, since they also entail mortal risks not unknown to the agent, and the prospect of these is no 1 A very small but highly suspicious number of cases may not be explicable in this way. Horse-breeders state that horses are by no means averse to incest. On this whole question see Westcott, Suicide, p.
Thus the scholar who dies from excessive devotion to study is currently and not wholly unreasonably said to have killed himself by his labor. All such facts form a sort of embryonic suicide, and though it is not methodologically sound to confuse them with complete and full suicide, their close relation to it must not be neglected. For suicide appears quite another matter, once its unbroken connection is recognized with acts, on the one hand, of courage and devotion, on the other of imprudence and clear neglect. The lesson of these connections will be better understood in what follows.
If, instead of seeing in them only separate occurrences, unrelated and to be separately studied, the suicides committed in a given society during a given period of time are taken as a whole, it appears that this total is not simply a sum of independent units, a collective total, but is itself a new fact sui generis, with its own unity, individuality and consequently its own nature—a nature, furthermore, dominantly social.
Indeed, provided too long a period is not considered, the statistics for one and the same society are almost invariable, as appears in Table I. This is because the environmental circumstances attending the life of peoples remain relatively unchanged from year to year.
To be sure, more considerable variations occasionally occur; but they are quite exceptional. It is interesting to note that they do not take place with the extreme slowness that quite a large number of observers has attributed to them, but are both abrupt and progressive. This is because every breach of social equilibrium, though sudden in its appearance, takes time to produce all its consequences. Thus, the evolution of suicide is composed of undulating movements, distinct and successive, which occur spasmodically, develop for a time, and then stop only to begin again.
On Table I one of these waves is seen to have occurred almost throughout Europe in the wake of the events of , or about the years — depending on the country; another began in Germany after the war of , in France somewhat earlier, about at the height of the imperial government, in England about , or after the commercial revolution caused by contemporary commercial treaties.
Perhaps the same cause occasioned the new recrudescence observable in France about Finally, a new forward movement began after the war of which is still evident and fairly general throughout Europe. The relative intensity of this aptitude is measured by taking the proportion between the total number of voluntary deaths and the population of every age and sex.
We will call this numerical datum the rate of mortality through suicide, characteristic of the society under consideration. It is generally calculated in proportion to a million or a hundred thousand inhabitants. Not only is this rate constant for long periods, but its invariability is even greater than that of leading demographic data. This is shown assuredly by comparing the way in which both phenomena vary in several periods.
This we have done in Table II. To manifest the relationship, the rate for each year of both deaths and suicides, has been expressed as a proportion of the average rate of the period, in percentage form. From this comparison it appears that at each period the degree of variation is much greater with respect to general mortality than to suicide; on the average, it is twice as great. For example, in France from to , it was in each successive ten-year period In France, for example, as we have just seen, it oscillates, from to , around 23 deaths per 1, inhabitants; during the same period in Belgium it was successively With the 4 Wagner had already compared mortality and marriage in this way.
Accordingly, to a much higher degree than the death-rate, it is peculiar to each social group Table II Comparative variations of the rate of mortality by suicide and the rate of general mortality A. This xlix l introduction is proved by examining this same table.
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During the three periods there compared, suicide has everywhere increased, but in this advance the various peoples have retained their respective distances from one another. We need not state the actual nature of this tendency, whether it is a state sui generis of the collective mind,6 with its own reality, or represents merely a sum of individual states.
Although the preceding considerations are hard to reconcile with the second hypothesis, we reserve this problem for treatment in the course of this work. This predisposition may therefore be the subject of a special study belonging to sociology. This is the study we are going to undertake. The two questions are obviously quite distinct, whatever relation may nevertheless exist between them. They may perhaps cause this or that separate individual to kill himself, but not give society as a whole a greater or lesser tendency to suicide.
As they do not depend on a certain state of social organization, they have no social repercussions. We do not recognize any more substantial a soul in society than in the individual. But we shall revert to this point. Therefore among the factors of suicide the only ones which concern him are those whose action is felt by society as a whole. The suicide-rate is the product of these factors. This is why we must limit our attention to them. Such is the subject of the present work, to contain three parts.
The phenomenon to be explained can depend only on extra-social causes of broad generality or on causes expressly social. After that, we shall be better able to state precisely what the social element of suicide consists of; that is, the collective tendency just referred to, its relations to other social facts, and the means that can be used to counteract it.
Below are references on the general bibliography of suicide: Report on the mortality and vital statistics of the United States, , 11th part. Statistisches Jahrbuch der Stadt Berlin. Other useful information will be found in the following articles: Platter, Ueber die Selbstmorde in Oesterreich in den Jahren — In Journal of the Statistical Society, Studies on suicide in general: Under no circumstances can the hypothesis be dismissed unconsidered. We shall examine these two sets of factors successively, to see 1 Bibliography. Lunier, De la production et de la consommation des boissons alcooliques en France, Paris, I The annual rate of certain diseases is relatively stable for a given society though varying perceptibly from one people to another.
Among these is insanity. Falret5 and Moreau de Tours use almost the same terms. The latter, to be sure, in the same passage where he states his doctrine, makes a remark which should subject it to suspicion: Bourdin, in a brochure which at once created a stir in the medical world, had enunciated the same opinion even more unreservedly.
Suicide itself is either called a disease in itself, sui generis, a special form of insanity; or it is regarded, not as a distinct species, but simply an event involved in one or several varieties of insanity, and not to be found in sane persons. Actually it is partly a social phenomenon. We shall return to this point. From considering suicide as a disease sui generis, general propositions have been set up which are belied by experience.
The other proof, however, if obtainable, would be conclusive. If suicide can be shown to be a mental disease with its own characteristics and distinct evolution, the question is settled; every suicide is a madman. But does suicidal insanity exist? In traditional terminology of mental pathology these restricted deliria are called monomanias. At times, for example, he has an unreasonable and absurd desire to drink or steal or use abusive language; but all his other acts and all his other thoughts are strictly correct. Therefore, if there is a suicidal mania it can only be a monomania, and has indeed been usually so called.
See Brierre de Boismont, p. In short, monomania is merely one extreme emotion in the order of impulses, one false idea in the order of representations, but of such intensity as to obsess the mind and completely enslave it. Thus, ambition, from being normal, becomes morbid and a monomania of grandeur when it assumes such proportions that all other cerebral functions seem paralyzed by it.
A somewhat violent emotional access disturbing mental equilibrium is therefore enough to cause the monomania to appear. Moreover, many suicides are completely indistinguishable from other men except by the particular act of self-destruction; and there is therefore no reason to impute a general delirium to them. This is the reasoning by which suicide, under the appellation of monomania, has been considered a manifestation of insanity. But, do monomanias exist? For a long time this was not questioned; alienists one and all concurred without discussion in the theory of partial deliria.
Today however this opinion has been universally discarded. The non-existence of monomanias cannot indeed be proved from direct suicide and psychopathic states observation, but not a single incontestable example of their existence can be cited. Clinical experience has never been able to observe a diseased mental impulse in a state of pure isolation; whenever there is lesion of one faculty the others are also attacked, and if these concomitant lesions have not been observed by the believers in monomania, it is because of poorly conducted observations.
He declares himself divinely inspired; entrusted with a heavenly mission he brings a new religion to the world. This idea will be said to be wholly insane; yet he reasons like other men except for this series of religious thoughts. He believes himself called upon to reform not only religion but also to reform society; perhaps he will also imagine the highest sort of destiny reserved for himself.
If you have not discovered tendencies to pride in this patient, you will encounter ideas of humility or tendencies to fear. Preoccupied with religious ideas he will believe himself lost, destined to perish, etc. Finally, apart from these special manifestations, there always exists in these supposed monomaniacs a general state of the whole mental life which is fundamental to the disease and of which these delirious ideas are merely the outer and momentary expression.
Its essential character is an excessive exaltation or deep depression or general perversion. There is, especially, a lack of equilibrium and coordination in both thought and action. The patient reasons, but with lacunas in his ideas; he acts, not absurdly, but without sequence. It is incorrect then to say that insanity constitutes a part, and a restricted part of his mental life; as soon as it penetrates the understanding it totally invades it.
Moreover, the principle underlying the hypothesis of monomania contradicts the actual data of science. The old theory of the faculties has 9 Maladies mentales, p. They are too completely interconnected for insanity to attack certain of them without injury to the others. With yet greater reason it is totally impossible for insanity to alter a single idea or emotion without psychic life being radically changed. For representations and impulses have no separate existence; they are not so many little substances, spiritual atoms, constituting the mind by their combination.
They are merely external manifestations of the general state of the centers of consciousness, from which they derive and which they express. Thus they cannot be morbid without this state itself being vitiated. The apparently local disturbances given this name always derive from a more extensive perturbation; they are not diseases themselves, but particular and secondary manifestations of more general diseases.
If then there are no monomanias, there cannot be a suicidal monomania and, consequently, suicide is not a distinct form of insanity. III It remains possible, however, that suicide may occur only in a state of insanity. If it is not by itself a special form of insanity, there are no forms of insanity in connection with which it may not appear. It is only an episodic syndrome of them, but one of frequent occurrence.
Perhaps this frequency indicates that suicide never occurs in a state of sanity, and that it indicates mental alienation with certainty? The conclusion would be hasty. For though certain acts of the insane suicide and psychopathic states are peculiar to them and characteristic of insanity, others are common to them and to normal persons, though assuming a special form in the case of the insane.
To be sure, alienists state that most of the suicides known to them show all the indications of mental alienation, but this evidence could not settle the question, for the reviews of such cases are much too summary. Besides, no general law could be drawn from so narrowly specialized an experience. From the suicides they have known, who were, of course, insane, no conclusion can be drawn as to those not observed, who, moreover, are much more numerous. The only methodical procedure consists of classifying according to their essential characteristics the suicides committed by insane persons, thus forming the principal types of insane suicide, and then trying to learn whether all cases of voluntary death can be included under these systematically arranged groups.
In general, specialists have paid little heed to classifying the suicides of the insane. The four following types, however, probably include the most important varieties. The patient kills himself to escape from an imaginary danger or disgrace, or to obey a mysterious order from on high, etc.
The quality characteristic of this condition is its extreme mobility. It is a constant whirlwind. One state of mind is instantly replaced by another. Such, too, are the motives of maniacal suicide; they appear, disappear, or change with amazing speed. These hallucinations must not be confused with those tending to deceive the patient as to the risks he runs; for example, to make him mistake a window for a door.
If it is later repeated it will be for another motive. The most trivial incident may cause these sudden transformations. One such patient, wishing to kill himself, had leaped into a river—one that was generally shallow. The man went peaceably home at once, no longer thinking of self-destruction. Pleasures no longer attract; he sees everything as through a dark cloud. Life seems to him boring or painful. From that moment she contracts an extreme disgust, a definite desire for solitude and soon an invincible desire to die. Firmly resolved to throw herself into the river, she seeks the remotest places to prevent any rescue.
But after a year the inclination to suicide returns more forcefully and attempts recur in quick succession. Hallucinations and delirious thoughts often associate themselves with this general despair and lead directly to suicide. However, they are not mobile like those just observed among maniacs. The fears by which the patient is haunted, his self-reproaches, the grief he feels are always the same.
If then this sort of suicide is determined like its predecessor by imaginary reasons, it is distinct by its chronic character. Falret, Hypochondrie et suicide, p. Patients of this category prepare their means of self-destruction calmly; in the pursuit of their purpose they even display incredible persistence and, at times, cleverness.
Suicide: A Study in Sociology - CRC Press Book
He is obsessed by the desire to kill himself, though he perfectly knows he has no reasonable motive for doing so. But throughout this resistance he is sad, depressed, with a constantly increasing anxiety oppressing the pit of his stomach. Hence, this sort of suicide has sometimes been called anxiety-suicide.
Here is the confession once made by a patient to Brierre de Boismont, which perfectly describes the condition: I perform my regular duties satisfactorily but like an automaton, and when spoken to, the words sound to me as though echoing in a void. My greatest torment is the thought of suicide, from which I am never free. It is as though the patient had voided this impulse. Impulsive or automatic suicide. In the twinkling of an eye it appears in full force and excites the act, or at least its beginning. Egoistic Suicide continued, 4.
The Social Element of Suicide 2. Good binding and cover. That we do have a connection to the larger picture is largely thanks to the pioneering thinker Emile Durkheim. He recognized that, if anything can explain how we as individuals relate to societ. Ria Christie Collections Condition: Spaulding and Simpson ed.
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Summary There would be no need for sociology if everyone understood the social frameworks within which we operate.