Social integration is the degree to which an individual feels connected to the other people in his or her group or community.

Durkheim’s Study of Suicide

The term social integration first came into use in the work of French sociologist Émile Durkheim. Durkheim wanted to understand why some people were more likely than others to take their own lives.

Durkheim’s term for a lack of social integration was anomie. He concluded that three characteristics put some people at a higher risk of suicide than others, and that anomie was partly to blame:

  • Gender (male): In most societies, men have more freedom and are more independent than women. While this might sound like a good thing, it can lead some men to feel that they have few significant relationships with other people and that it would be an admission of weakness to seek advice or comfort from others. This can lead to feelings of being cut off from a group or community.
  • Religion (Protestant): Durkheim felt that Protestants were more likely to commit suicide than Catholics or Jews because the religious practices of the latter two religions emphasize the development of closer ties among their members. People who do not develop close ties with others are more likely to commit suicide.
  • Marital status (single): Durkheim used the idea of social integration to explain the higher suicide rate among unmarried people. He concluded that people who were not married had fewer connections to other people and were less likely to feel part of the larger community.

Durkheim’s connection of social integration to the suicide rate is still relevant today. People who attempt suicide are much more likely to say they feel lonely and isolated from others and claim to have few significant relationships, confirming what Durkheim hypothesized over one hundred years ago.

Group Dynamics

The term group dynamics implies that our thoughts and behaviors are influenced by the groups to which we belong and that, in turn, we influence how the group as a whole thinks and behaves.

Example: Children’s behavior is influenced by the behavior of other children. Clothing styles, speech patterns, and mannerisms spread quickly among groups of children. When a few children in a classroom begin using a particular expression, soon all the kids in the class will be using the same expression.

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